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10 Plus 1: If Mark Phillips Weren't In News...He'd Be In Pago Pago Writing Junk Novels

Correspondent Mark Phillips has been at CBS News since 1982, spending time as a correspondent based in the Moscow, Rome and Washington bureaus before returning to the bureau where he started, London. Below, Mark shares some of his thoughts on why "if true…" is one of his least favorite phrases in journalism and why most of his behind-the-scenes stories contain a bit too much bathroom humor for a family Web site. Read on for more from Mark…

What do you do at CBS News?

I'm a correspondent based in London.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
We have tended to cover issues only after they turn into events for the obvious reason that events are much easier to take pictures of. Arguments over policy are often interesting but are more difficult to illustrate on television, which is why the events they spawn often catch us by surprise.
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
I prefer to stay away from bathroom humor, but let's just say that there are often times when news and plumbing are not found in the same place.
Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
Yes. Usually by holding my nose and doing it anyway. I do have one rule though. I won't do a piece I know to be founded purely on speculation no matter who else might be reporting it. The phrase I hate more than any other in journalism is "if true..."
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Sitting on a yacht in Pago Pago writing junk novels.
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I often look at the blogs that are the flavor of the week but quickly become bored with them. They're usually too self-indulgent with much too much chaff. I prefer to use the Internet to read newspapers from across the country and around the world and to do primary research by going to direct sources for information. Also they have fresher sports scores.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
There hasn't been a really great movie since "Casablanca." I'm a fan of Anthony Beevor's historic treatments. His latest is a revisit to the Spanish Civil War and his histories of the Battle of Stalingrad and the Fall of Berlin should be required reading.
What is your first memory of TV news?
Probably Cronkite and the Kennedy assassination is the most vivid.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
I'd have the networks put their major newscasts on when people are home. Nine or 10 p.m. would be nice.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
I suppose Pope John Paul II in his heyday was hard to beat for charisma. I've never seen a politician match his ability to work a crowd of millions in a place like Poland or Latin America. Then again, he had a tried and proven script.

The jerks would fill volumes but, as some of them are still in office, I'll hold fire.

Finally, a question just for Mark: There are about a million and one surveys that say the American public doesn't trust the media. Do you find the same view to be true among British media consumers?
The British media tend to be structured differently from the U.S. model in that the newspapers, at least, are assumed to be rooted in a specific area of the political spectrum. The Daily Telegraph, for example, is a Conservative paper (The Torygraph), The Guardian's approach rests on the soft left, The Sun on the Murdoch right (although it had supported Tony Blair's New Labour in the last three elections.) The point of this is that the public generally knows what it's getting and from where. The American model is changing as well, with the emergence of Fox News and talk radio on the right and the accompanying criticism of the mainstream 'Liberal' media.

Public trust of the media is at a relatively low ebb in Britain too, ranking at about the same level as public trust of politicians. But the debate about what you believe in the media has a long history here of being based in a political context.

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