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CBS News' Lesley Stahl: "We wanted to prove we could do any story as well as a man ... I don't feel I have to prove that anymore"

Lesley Stahl reflects on career at CBS News

"60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl's name is synonymous with high profile political reporting — interviewing presidents and world leaders as well as traveling to nuclear disaster sites and war zones. But when she began her career in television in 1972, women were rarely seen in such reporting roles.

Stahl says she came to CBS during what she calls an "affirmative action wave" for women at networks, but soon found herself reporting on history in the making when she was assigned to cover a break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building.

"It was a local Washington, D.C. break-in. So they sent the new kid," Stahl says of a story that eventually led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

That new kid went on to make history of her own, becoming the first woman White House correspondent for CBS News in 1978. But some progress was slower. It would be four decades before the network named Susan Zirinsky as the first female president of the news division.

"It's a little late but it's great," Stahl said of Zirinsky, who officially took the helm of CBS News in March, which also happened to be the start of Women's History Month. The two women first starting working with each other during Watergate, when Zirinsky was a college student who came to work at CBS as a researcher.

"She is so perfect for this job," Stahl said. "She knows more about CBS News, our culture, our DNA, than almost anybody... and I am so happy for us, I'm so happy for CBS, that we got someone of that caliber, that depth of experience to be our leader."

Lesley Stahl

Such strides for women in journalism were a long time coming. "I guess the big surprise for me is that it's it's come along so slowly," Stahl said. "Why is it taking so long? I can't explain it. There's been a tipping point, though, I know it. And women are doing extremely well."

Part of that tipping point, Stahl said, came in the . "I think we've seen women find their voices..There are enough of us that women can feel safe to come out and say this is unacceptable. ... I think it's great," she said. At the same time, "I fear I fear a backlash, if it starts to taint men who are innocent... so I'm worried about a backlash. But fundamentally, it's fantastic."

Stahl's advice for women coming up in journalism is simple: read everything. "You can't just get up in the morning and read a little packet on your subject... you need that backlog of information to really be able to, in an interview, follow up with a subject, to ask interesting questions. So my advice is always just read all the time."

It's a bit of advice Stahl still takes to heart. And though she has already accomplished so much, and says she has nothing left to prove, she still can't imagine a point at which she would retire from journalism.

"At the very beginning, I think I and the other small little group of us who came in as affirmative action hires, we wanted to prove that we could do any story as well as a man and that they could count on us as well as much as they could count on a man. And I do think we set out as a community to prove that," she said. "I don't feel I have to prove that anymore. I think women have shown that across the board."

Stahl said she remembers thinking at the start of her career, "What is your goal, kiddo?" And now: "I think I think I've accomplished it: My goal was to survive. Doing what I love to do," she said. "Everybody's always saying to me, 'when are you going to retire?' And you know that one day CBS will tell me that I have to retire because I won't do it."