So, what do you do for a living?
I watch, listen to, talk about and read about news day and night and then spend each day trying to figure out how you pack the world into 22 minutes each evening and keep viewers engaged at the same time.What is not being covered enough at CBS News?
Everything. I take to heart the complaints about war coverage and think there's never enough time to cover the good as well as the bad. I think everything from China's ascendancy to the AIDS epidemic, bitter politics to bitter cultural wars, sports to entertainment all provide exceptional stories that we don't get to cover fully. But I also think people (especially in ivory towers) don't realize that while we strive to cover it all and cover it well we also are employed to sell papers, and we have to do both to survive.What's the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
There have been so many it's hard to keep count. When I worked in local news in New York with the renowned anchorman Roger Grimsby, the station got so cheap it sent us to cover Live Aid in Philadelphia in a beat-up courier car with a broken gasoline gauge. Guess who spent much of an evening on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike with no gas?If you had 10 broken fingers and no gas in the car, which colleague would you want to be there?
On the network level, nothing can compare with the day Dan Rather and I finally got the Saddam Hussein interview in Baghdad. Surreal isn't a big enough word. At one point, we were being held in a "safe house" in Baghdad where a tuxedoed butler served us drinks and snacks. I sat there for hours staring at a plate of chocolate éclairs avoiding them because I was simply too anxious to eat. I found out later Saddam had them smuggled in fresh daily from some famous Paris bakery. Later that day, I was shocked when the dictator himself was waving his arms in the air down a long hallway of his palace to get me to come on over for a chat in his office. There he showed incredible insight and knowledge of American politics and media -- interesting for a guy who didn't believe in freedom or democracy for anyone HE personally knew!
As noted above, I have been there, and Grimsby was one I'd take in any situation... along with many others I have worked with. Your guest last week, Susan Zirinsky, is one. Dan Rather always has your back, my longtime deputy Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, there are too many to list!If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
I would have gone on to finish college and probably tried to join the Foreign Service. I wound up doing this because a TV station in New York offered me a dollar more per hour than a United Nations' clerk job I was going to do one summer. I never left.What is the biggest change at CBS during the time you've been here?
The explosive growth of the web. We were late paying attention to it and now we need to be more deeply tied to it to have a future.What are the last three books you've read or the last three movies you've seen?
I read a lot so I'll give you my three most recent favorites: Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons," Ian McEwen's "Saturday" and Benjamin Kunkel's "Indecision." On the movie front, "Walk The Line," "Capote" and "Batman Begins" are recent faves.What is your first memory of TV News?
Unfortunately, the first really vivid memory I have of KNOWING the news was on and KNOWING what was happening was Bobby Kennedy's assassination.Would you want your child to go into the news business?
Absolutely. Being engaged with the world, traveling, meeting people from all walks of life with fascinating stories, watching history unfold, it sorta doesn't get much better than this.Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
The most fascinating person I've covered is Bill Clinton -- all angles of that life and career have been interesting. And I hate to say this because I like her music so much, but Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders was not so nice to deal with.And finally, a question submitted by reader Will G.:
Is there one newscast or show that you wish you could forget, and one that you are particularly proud to be a part of?
It's easy to remember the broadcasts that made you feel proud of your work -- there are several I will never forget: Our first half hour on 9/11, the first day of the war in Iraq, and the day the snipers got caught outside Washington, DC. A colleague of mine who was attending a big journalism workshop on the day of the snipers capture called me after that newscast and said the room burst into applause at the end of our show.
On the downside, the broadcasts that made me feel truly awful were the ones where a technical problem or an incompetent person would cause an on-air disaster -- and I won't name any single one because then you'd be able to figure out who was to blame and I'm just not that mean-spirited. There's one story I wish had never happened and we were trapped in for weeks -- the 2000 presidential election aftermath. Much of the bitterness and ugliness of American politics these days was born in that mess.