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10 Plus 1: Producer Kia Baskerville On Traveling With The White House

Producer Kia Baskerville has been at CBS News since 1995, covering the White House under President Bill Clinton and now, President George W. Bush. Below Kia tells us about what it was like making small talk with the president and posing a question to Louis Farrakhan that ended up causing a stir. Read on for more on Kia…

What do you do at CBS News?

I am a producer for the White House and Special Events units so I am often traveling around the world helping to put the President of the United States (or POTUS) on television. I also help plan the network coverage of special events such as former presidents' funerals, inaugurations – basically any breaking news stories or special events like rallies protesting the war, etc.
What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
I don't think there is just one single issue out there, but I think more stories on the environment would be great. I think there are so many things we can do to save our planet from our own destruction: investing in more hybrid vehicles, stricter emissions testing, protecting our rivers and streams from chemical runoff from farms, etc. I think climate change is the biggest story out there right now. We have one planet and it is up to us to save it!
Give us a great behind the scenes story.
Well, there are so many. I could tell you about traveling with Bush on 9/11 or how I took Dan Rather's bags out to Denver and lost them, or the time I almost got run over by two presidents driving in a golf cart.

But instead I will talk about my first real encounter with George W. Bush.

It was when I had about 15 minutes of down time prior to a live broadcast with President Bush back in either 2002 or 2003 (tough to remember because the years start running together!) CBS was the network pool for a speech by the president regarding the war in Iraq. A network pool is simply when one network not only operates or covers an event for themselves, but shares their footage with the other nets involved in the pool - in this case, CBS shot the speech for ABC, CNN, FOX and NBC as well.

My job this particular day was to cue or give the president a two-minute countdown prior to his walk out into the Grand Foyer where he was to address the nation. The Grand Foyer is a large hallway in the East Wing of the White House.

I introduced myself when he walked in and gave him instructions on what he should do and when. He was happy to hear that I had things figured out and graciously accepted the plan. We were ready for action except we had about 15 minutes to go before the broadcast. This was one of the first times I had ever met President Bush. I really didn't know how to "small talk" with a president. Everyone wonders what you would ever say to a celebrity or a president if you had the chance to meet them and now was my chance. Luckily, he broke the ice by noticing what I wore, and asked if I had gone to the University of Texas – I had the khaki colored pants with the bright orange dress shirt so, go figure... Anyway, I told him that the colors had nothing to do with my alma mater, the University of the District of Columbia, by the way - Go Firebirds!

We had a good chat about schools, and random things in general – you would have thought we were at a cocktail party and not about to do in a serious network broadcast. Anyway, much to my surprise he was a blast to talk with and he asked to take a picture with me at the end of the speech. That was a great perk!

Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to?
I was once sent by a producer to a news conference to ask Louis Farrakhan a question about the Million Man March back in 1995. Being relatively new to CBS, I didn't really think I could challenge the producer on their particular question. I'd rather not get in to what the question was, but let's just say, I knew it would cause a stir … boy, did it ever! You would have thought I asked him something like, "when is the world going to come to an end?" because a hush came across the room like you only hear in the movies. What I can say about that is, lesson learned … if I am ever sent somewhere -- whether it's a press conference or an interview -- I think long and hard about whether or not the question is relevant and ethical or just flat out stupid.
If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
Modeling … selling shoes …who knows!
Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
Public Eye … otherwise, I don't usually read blogs … I typically like to read the papers online to keep up with the most current news or when I am looking for a new vacation spot.
What's the last really great book or movie you found?
Well, my husband turned me on to The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov a few years ago and I never had a chance to finish it – lost the book! I am definitely going to get another one and finish it up. Books I have on my nightstand to read or have at least started: Bram Stoker's Dracula; The Arrogance of the French by Richard Chesnoff; Marley & Me by John Grogan; The Thunder of Angels by Donnie Williams and Wayne Greenhaw; White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

I typically will pick up a number of books throughout any given year and start to read them without ever really finishing any of them, but I mean well.

As for movies, I truly like to be entertained, whether I am scared out of my mind or crying or laughing in to the next day. Last good horror flick I saw was "The Sixth Sense." I have seen a lot of funny movies, but I really enjoyed, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." I laughed for hours … my humor stretches far and wide!

What is your first memory of TV news?
Dan Rather in the anchor chair … I thought he was God when I first watched him on TV.
If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
We have to hold public figures to what they say. If they say things that aren't true or contradict themselves, we need to call them on it. We have a responsibility to be fair, accurate and careful.
Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Former President Bill Clinton was the most fascinating and intimidating person I have ever covered. As for who has been the biggest jerk, I honestly can't say I have met him or her yet.
Finally, a question from PE reader Lillian D.: I'd like to have your impression of how American journalists are viewed in some of the countries to which you have traveled with the President? Do they generally see journalists as presidential groupies or do they see them as representing American citizens?
I have personally had very good experiences with foreign journalists while overseas. They have always treated us with respect and understand that we have a job to do. One can only hope that we are not viewed as presidential groupies because we work very hard to cover the White House in a fair and balanced manner. Whenever we first arrive in a country, it looks as if we are all a part of the White House, moving in one big bubble together with White House staff, but actually we're very independent of the White House and nothing is free or "on the government." We don't work for the president, we work for the American people.

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