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10 Plus 1: Producer Marc Lieberman On L.A.'s Occupational Hazards

(CBS)
Marc Lieberman joined CBS News as a researcher in Washington, D.C., back in 1992. He's worked out of the CBS bureau in New York and is now based in Los Angeles as a producer covering the western U.S. His experiences at CBS have gotten him lost in a marijuana field in Northern California and berated by a pro baseball player wielding a bat. Read on for more on Marc's occupational hazards…

What do you do at CBS News?
I'm a producer in the Los Angeles bureau. We cover the western U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii -- although unfortunately I've never been assigned to either of those states. It's an exciting job -- finding stories, traveling to interesting places, and meeting fascinating people at the heart of nationally significant issues. And I get to work with an extremely talented group of people.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
There isn't one single issue I would choose. I think we need to pay closer attention to whether federal and local governments are truly prepared to handle another big terrorist strike or natural disaster. I'd also like to see more stories on whether the nation is making progress on the road to energy independence -- and more coverage of the environment, a crucial issue here in the west. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I think we should also report even more deeply on government efforts to compel reporters to reveal confidential sources.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
A few years ago, I worked on a story about marijuana farms run by foreign drug cartels inside U.S. national parks. The cartels decided it was easier to grow and harvest the drugs here rather than smuggle them across beefed-up, post-9/11 borders. Toward the end of the harvest season, we linked up with some heavily-armed park rangers at Sequoia National Park in California. They agreed to let us tag along on a raid.

The rangers hiked in at dawn, flushed out and captured two growers, and then gave us the all-clear to hike up. We began our ascent behind our escort, a National Guardsman. For hours, he led us on a winding route up steep hillsides so dense with brush we had to crawl on our stomachs and backs while lugging our equipment. We later learned he hated the news media and intentionally took us the wrong way. He eventually led us to a spot where our radios, phones, and my cameraman's GPS receiver did not work. Then he peeled off, leaving us alone with a rookie park ranger unfamiliar with the terrain. When the ranger started hollering through the trees for help and directions, I realized we were in trouble and might have to overnight in the woods.

Somehow, we managed to meet up with the other rangers, but they were already on the way back from the marijuana fields. It was too dark too shoot and too late to get our interviews. Lesson: if you're going to embed with the marijuana-fighters, bring your own guide along.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
I can't think of one that I objected to on philosophical grounds. I think everyone in the news business has been assigned stories where they asked, why are we doing this? You do your job and bring your skepticism with you. Sometimes we start on stories, and then everyone realizes there's a problem, and the story gets killed.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I'd probably be an attorney, but I've always admired the risk profile and creativity of entrepreneurs. Otherwise, as my "Evening News" Executive Producer Rome Hartman wrote in his "10 Plus 1" -- if I won the lottery, I'd follow Duke basketball full-time.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I often check blogs when I'm researching a story. I've found many good interview subjects by reading their online musings. I read a variety of national and regional newspapers online, as well as National Journal's Hotline, rtumble.com, tvnewser.com, and of course, dukebasketballreport.com.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
Two recent books I enjoyed are The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. The latter is a surprisingly realistic fictional account of student life at a university with a big-time athletics program. I picked it up after the Duke lacrosse scandal broke. I'm currently reading Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine.
What is your first memory of TV news?
Sitting at the dinner table watching Walter Cronkite sign off for the last time as anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
I'd want to somehow slow it down, without compromising our ability to deliver information as fast as the public demands these days. In the rush to get information out on cable news and the Web, it seems many stories get blown out of proportion, especially when they're slapped with an on-screen, "BREAKING NEWS" label. Sometimes it takes time to recognize the proper context in which we should place a story.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I've been fortunate enough to come across many interesting people in my travels. Bill Clinton certainly ranks up there. He was elected president four months after I started working in our Washington bureau. Participating in our daily coverage, I got to witness up close the highs and very lows of his presidency.

Another person who stands out was a sheep rancher in the tiny town of Meeker, Colorado. We profiled him shortly after the Columbine High School shootings, as part of a series about the role of guns in America. In our piece, he talked about why he believed guns were vital to his livelihood and his worry that Columbine would lead to tougher gun control legislation. He took us along as he drove his sheep into the high country and showed us why he needed guns to fend off coyotes that preyed on his flock. I was fascinated by this man who lived an authentic western lifestyle, which seemed so distant from Washington, where the policy debate was taking place.

Without question, the two the biggest jerks I've covered are both former Major League Baseball players. One of them cursed me out while waving his bat at me after an interview. Another, a Hall of Famer, hunted me down after a news conference and berated me for asking questions he didn't like. Call it an occupational hazard.
And finally, a question just for Marc: We often get questions from readers about the news industry's lack of focus on stories outside of New York and Washington. Do you think stories on social trends, governmental trends, etc., in the western U.S. are overlooked by CBS, by television news in general?
I worked in New York and Washington before moving to L.A., and I remember watching coverage of the L.A. riots, Malibu wildfires, and Northridge earthquake thinking, "Who's crazy enough to live there?" Now that I'm here, I wish we had more time to report on western issues like the environment and battles over public land use. But it's good that the "Evening News" is focused on foreign news and government. That's where the news pendulum is right now, and I know it will swing back here some day – I just hope not for another earthquake or celebrity trial!