10 Plus 1: Questioning Mark

Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush: CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller has covered them all.
(CBS)
The Brooklyn native, who logged more miles covering President Clinton that any other member of the White House press corps, is still all but living at the White House. Below, the man who has become something of an unofficial White House historian for the modern era shares his thoughts on the news business, the secretive nature of presidential administrations, and how he'd be happy driving a subway train.

So, what do you do for a living?
I cover the White House for CBS News. Principally radio, which I love, though I do TV pieces for the Saturday Early Show and occasionally the Evening News on weekends.
What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
The news business. Its practices, ethics and missteps all warrant greater coverage. Also advertising. Especially the commercials that pay our salaries. A lot of bogus claims go unchallenged and unreported. I constantly burden my colleagues with my unsolicited observations about these things.
What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
Nothing strange ever happens to me. Weird, perhaps. Bizarre, maybe. But nothing strange, except that my colleagues put up with my strangeness.
If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
Aside from my CBS colleagues, there's not a more friendly, courteous and collegial person in the press corps than TIME's Mike Allen.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I always wanted to be a New York subway motorman. Still think it would be a great job, when they're not on strike.
What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
The length of our radio reports. When I first started at CBS in 1988, a reporter could file a piece of a minute or more. Now, we're restricted to about 35-seconds - including a soundbite. It's a trade off. The spots contain less information, but the story count is higher in our five minute newscasts. On big, breaking stories, I'll be asked to open the newscast - and can then go a minute or so. It's a rare treat.
What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
Can't remember the last novel I read. Am plowing through three volumes of LBJ's secretly-recorded phone calls with top aides, Cabinet secretaries, even members of the press. It's the most fascinating historical materials I've ever come across. The recordings offer unmatched insight into LBJ's policies and personality. C-SPAN plays some of the recordings on weekends.

Recent movies: "Munich" and "Good Night, And Good Luck." Hate standing in line, so don't go to movies very often. I wait for DVDs or watch movies on the press plane.
What is your first memory of TV News?
As a kid in New York, I remember being highly impressed with the reporting of the late WABC-TV anchorman Roger Grimsby. His writing was so sharp and concise. He could tell complicated stories in very few words. It had a great influence on me.
Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Not married. No kids. But I'd recommend journalism to anyone with a love for covering the news and writing about it. It's a tremendously satisfying and fulfilling way to make a living.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I've encountered far too many of both to mention here. And sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
Finally, here's a question from reader Rebecca, which has been re-phrased for clarity:
Do you think the Bush administration has been more secretive than any other and, if so, do you think this administration's style of dealing with the press will become the template for future administrations -- both Democratic and Republican?
Thanks for the question, Rebecca. Every administration I've covered, dating back to Gerald Ford, is secretive. And the Bush Administration is no different. This Administration is more secretive about process than was the Clinton Administration. Officials then were more inclined to offer insight into the president's thinking. From Day One, Pres. Bush made it clear to his aides he doesn't want them discussing his psyche with reporters. Every Administration is inclined to provide only the information that makes it look good. And despite a President who tries to enforce discipline, the headlines are full of stories the White House would rather not be reading. Even innocent questions are not answered. I recently tried to find out the budget for Camp David. I wanted to know how much the operations at the Presidential Retreat cost taxpayers. Neither the White House nor the Pentagon would say. So much for the right to know.

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