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Lesley Stahl Writes It Down

Every Sunday night, she's a welcome visitor in millions of American homes. But 60 Minutes is only the latest chapter in Lesley Stahl's groundbreaking career.

In 1974, she became the first woman to co-anchor election night coverage. She was also the first woman to cover the White House for CBS News. Now she reports her own story in a new book called Reporting Live.

Stahl started at CBS News in 1972, when she was 30. (She says she considers that her real birthday.) In the early '70s, the television industry generally was making efforts in affirmative action to hire more women and minorities, and Stahl addresses her own struggle to prove herself as a serious journalist and not merely a "token woman."

"I didn't think it was hard because I was a woman. I made a decision never to think, 'It's sexism.' If I had a problem, it was me, and I had to work on it," Stahl tells CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras.

Stahl also says that she never thought of her work as "hard" at the time. "I thought about what I had to do," she explains.

Those were the days when she was discouraged from smiling on the air, because women "had to try extra hard to convey authorityÂ… Those were the days, if you found out that the doctor you were going to see was a woman, most people changed the appointment. That wouldn't happen today in a million years, nor would they turn off the tube if a woman is telling them the news."

Her break came when she was assigned to cover a "third-rate burglary," which turned out to be the beginning of the Watergate scandal. Stahl says Presidents Nixon and Clinton are handling their problems totally differently. Mr. Nixon couldn't hide his emotions and neither could his wife, Pat. The Clintons, on the other hand, have perfect masks, in Stahl's opinion. No one seems to know what they're really thinking. Hillary seems very protective of Bill, which was not the case with Pat Nixon at all.

In the case of President Clinton, says Stahl, "I think the public perceives a sense of unfairness going on here, the partisanship. Mr. Nixon whipped up a lot of that [public sentiment]. He went around the country, attacking the press as part of the 'liberal conspiracy' out to get him. Mr. Clinton has done that, not [citing] the press, but the 'conservative conspiracy'."

Before Mr. Nixon's downfall, Stahl says the press "couldn't go anywhere without catcalls and heckling and booing at us."

Public attitudes changed after the Watergate scandal, as journalists enjoyed "a spurt of new appreciation. And it's been going downhill ever since," says Stahl. "[In the eyes of the public], I think we're way down there with lawyers."

Stahl says she does not have a favorite president. "I admired some of them for some things, and I began to study their foibles and character flaws," she explains. "And they all ad them. Every one of themÂ… You go from one extreme to the other. With Jimmy Carter, he liked details and worked very hard. But he couldn't sell his policies and had trouble seeing the big picture.

"Reagan was the opposite: No details. Selling was his forte."

In writing her book, Stahl tried to bring that same uncompromising assessment to her own flaws.

"If I'm going to report on the presidents and tell youÂ…what I thought of them and their little flaws, I'd better do the same with myself. I was tough on myself," she says.

On a more personal level, Stahl was among the first women correspondents to have a baby and to face the responsibility of juggling her home life and a high-profile career. She went back to work after only three weeks of maternity leave.

"Because I was insecure," she recalls. "I thought, 'If I don't demonstrate right away I'm not different than I was, I won't get good assignments.' I felt - foolishly, insanely, actually - that I had a need to prove I was exactly the same as before."

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