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10 Plus 1: Producer Mary Walsh On Covering National Security

(Mary Walsh)
National Security Producer Mary Walsh began at CBS News as an assistant to the political director in the Washington bureau and moved on to be based in Atlanta, New York and Tokyo. Since 1993, she's been assigned to the Pentagon, and has covered the U.S. military here and around the world – including Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Germany, the Philippines and Korea. Today, Mary gives us a look inside those experiences, and tells us about what kinds of stories about U.S. troops she'd like to see more of and about some of the more grisly realities of combat first aid.

What do you do at CBS News?

I'm a producer on the National Security beat. I work with CBS correspondent David Martin covering the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
There are more than 160,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- I'd like to see more stories about what they're doing day-to-day. I'd like to "meet" those soldiers by hearing what they have to say about their experiences on the battlefield. The problem is, this kind of coverage is incredibly dangerous.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
Last year David Martin and I spent some time in Samarra, Iraq with Bravo Company of the 1st Infantry Division. When I walked into the base camp (a shell of a building -- one shower, no flush toilets) the first thing I saw was an area with stretchers and IV poles all set up for incoming wounded. I was talking to a soldier and noticed that along with ammo and other military gear he had a row of safety pins on his vest. I asked what they were for -- he said to close wounds. Combat first aid. That night there was an RPG attack. No one was hurt, thank God.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
No. If I have a problem I talk to my bosses we come to some kind of agreement on how to approach the story.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
My parents did a lot of charity work. I grew up wanting to have an impact on the world. So I'd probably being working for some kind of humanitarian organization like Save the Children.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I read and spend a fair amount of time on the Internet reading the Defense Department Web site and the Iraq coalition Web site. Also the Iraq casualties Web site.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
Book: The Places in Between, Rory Stewart's journey through Afghanistan.

Movie: I just watched "Hustle and Flow." Wow!

And TV documentary: Sorious Samura's "On the Frontlines of AIDS."

What is your first memory of TV news?
"Good night Chet, Good night, David" from the Huntley Brinkley news. And I remember the Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960. This really was back in the day!
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
I would go back to the days when television news was considered a public service and not a profit center for the networks. Sometimes we worry too much about how much a story will cost rather than the best way to cover it.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I've been around princes and presidents but the person who stays in my mind and heart is Lt. Charlie "Ace" Parker who landed on Omaha beach. He led his men to reinforce the Rangers who had scaled the cliffs at Point du Hoc. He was totally modest and matter-of-fact about what he had done -- the reinforcement Parker brought in were the only ones to make it to Point du Hoc that day. I got him on the phone him when I heard he was being inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame and I'll never forget -- he had to turn down his Benny Goodman to take the call.

Biggest jerk -- that would be the (drunk) Serb general who tried to throw our entire CBS News team into prison in Bosnia in 1991. That's another great "behind the scenes" story.

Finally, a question just for Mary: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been very critical of how the media covers the U.S. military -- that negative developments are emphasized more than positive ones. Do you find this view to be prevalent throughout the Department of Defense and the military?
Secretary Rumsfeld is not the only person at the Pentagon who holds this view but I rarely hear complaints from military officers. They may want "good news stories," but they're also frank about problems they're having -- finding enough money to keep their bases running, for example. They want the American people -- and the Congress -- to know about the challenges they're taking on and the sacrifices the men and women in the armed forces are making to fight this war.

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