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Getting The VP Scoop: How It Was Done

(DENVER) At 12:46 a.m. EDT last night, CBS News director of political coverage Steve Chaggaris hit "send" on his blackberry. He had typed out the subject line minutes before: "CBS News can confirm Biden will be Obama's running mate."

While most of the country was asleep at that moment, the CBS News Broadcast Center in New York City came alive. Kevin Hechtkopf, a producer, sent out an email alert to subscribers, CBS radio broke into their regular coverage, and television correspondent Priya David took her seat in the anchor's chair to interrupt Craig Ferguson's show to let the network's viewers in on the big political news.

All of this happened within ten minutes.

"Rightly or wrongly, it's one of the few things in the campaign that people have no idea what's going to happen, but it generates such a huge amount of interest," Chaggaris, who broke the news for CBS News, said. "At the same time, we really wonder, is it going to be a game changer? People think it's going to be a game changer every time but it usually turns out it isn't."

Chaggaris' email was the culmination at CBS News of weeks of prodding phone calls, overanalyzing of Obama's schedule and attempts (some of them, admittedly, ridiculous) to decipher any "hints" that might indicate when he would make his VP selection.

"The interesting thing about this year compared to previous years is that the Obama campaign was extremely tight-lipped," Chaggaris said. "There were only about five, six, maybe seven people in the campaign who knew what Obama was thinking—what Obama was doing in this whole process—which made it that much more frustrating for us trying to figure out who it was because these seven people were not telling anybody, so there was no opportunity for a leak as in past years."

When Chaggaris first got the word from Democratic sources that it would be Biden, the information was given to him on an off-the-record basis. He then received a phone call indicating that the news was about to be broken. Chaggaris then went back to his sources and asked them if he could report what they had told him off-the-record, once it became public. The sources agreed.

"As a journalist, of course you always want to be ahead of the game, and for us it's sort of gratifying to have that," Chaggaris said. "For our network, it's always good to be ahead of any story, and for CBS to be out there ahead of this than the other broadcast networks, it's going to be a source of pride I think for people within CBS, so I'm happy to have contributed to that."

Because of Chaggaris' work, CBS News was able to break the news before its competitors at NBC and ABC. But Chaggaris doesn't harbor any illusions about the importance of "breaking the news" in the long-run.

"The only people who remember are the people inside the beltway—the people in this business," he said. "And even then it's sort of like, 'Do you remember who broke it in 2000?' It's bragging rights, I think, but I don't think anybody outside our business knows or cares."