Don Hewitt's Favorite 60 Minutes Moments

Lesley Stahl Looks Back At Some of Don Hewitt's Favorite 60 Minutes Moments

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Whenever Don Hewitt spoke in front of audiences, he'd get the inevitable question: "What was your favorite story on 60 Minutes?"

As correspondent Lesley Stahl explains, he had many of them after 36 years and he liked to re-live the most memorable moments - the larger-than-life personalities and the classic confrontations.

The correspondents and Hewitt all sat in a circle when he retired in 2004, and reminisced about his favorite 60 Minutes pieces.

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"Mike, you've had a lot of great moments in television. I don't think there is one that will ever even approach your walking into the lion's den of the Ayatollah Khomeini right after he took 50 Americans hostage and facing him with the fact that...," Hewitt said to Mike Wallace.

"That he was a lunatic," Wallace said.

Mike Wallace and the Ayatollah

"The thing I remember most is your getting young Ron Reagan to tell you that if it weren't for his mother…," Wallace said to Stahl.

"I don't think he'd be where he is. I don't think he would have gotten to where he got to," Ron Reagan told Stahl.

Reagan even told Stahl he doubted his father would've become president, were it not for his mother. "I think if left to his own devices, he might, you know, [have] ended up hosting 'Unsolved Mysteries' on TV or something."

"That's the secret of this broadcast, it's the people," Hewitt said. "It is the ability to find people who can tell their own story better than you can. And your job is to bring it out of them."

Don's talent was more instinctual than intellectual, as he once admitted to Barbara Walters.

Asked what he thought his talent had been all these years, he told Walters, "Boy, if I knew I'd package it. I haven't the slightest idea. I don't think much comes from up here. I'm not very well read. I flunked out of college. I think it all comes from here. And I can't explain that either."

"I remember the day, I wandered into his office and I said, 'Muhammad Ali, the most virile man on Earth, is a shell. He can't even talk anymore. That's got to be a story.' He says to me, 'How am I going to interview him if he can't talk?' I said, 'Stupid, if he could talk, there wouldn't be a story. The story is that he can't talk,'" Hewitt said, recalling an exchange with Ed Bradley.

Over lunch, Ali's wife Lonnie told Ed that her husband was having flashbacks in his sleep, and that she was frightened because he would throw punches.

Remembering Ed Bradley

Ali, pretending to snore at the table, jokingly threw a punch at Bradley.

Don liked the profiles of sports legends and movie stars, but the big stamp he put on 60 Minutes was his pushing his producers and correspondents to take on controversial subjects, like Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

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And Don wanted his team to be fearless.

"People are sitting out there, voters, and they're saying, 'Look, it's really pretty simple. If he has never had an extramarital affair, why doesn't he just say so?'" Steve Kroft asked then-Gov. Bill Clinton and his wife in 1992.

The Clintons on 60 Minutes

Hewitt said his broadcast is not beholden to anyone. And if anyone ever suggested that 60 Minutes was elitist, Don became a feisty lion, defending his offspring.

"You see, there's an exclusionary sense that the network news only deals with the intelligentsia," Fox News host Bill O'Reilly once told Hewitt.

"Hey, I consider myself as much a regular American and a blue collar American as you do," Hewitt shot back.

"Well, I am glad you do," O'Reilly said. "But, those people's concerns aren't dealt with as much as they could be. Any validity to that?"

"No validity," Hewitt replied. "I do this broadcast for cops and firemen and hard hats."

And he knew that those cops and firemen and hard hats loved it when he had his team going after the bad guys.

"I always remember being in Philadelphia and a guy got up and he said, 'Why does someone who's quite obviously a crook decide to go on '60 Minutes'?' And Morley said, 'A crook doesn't believe he's made it as a crook until he's been on '60 Minutes,'" Hewitt recalled.

But if they refused to talk to 60 Minutes, Don would send his correspondents and producers out with a hidden camera.

Using Hidden Cameras