The Interview: Asking Hard Questions

Byron Pitts is National Correspondent for CBS News.
We're supposed to ask hard questions.

I've read some of the comments/criticisms of Katie's interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards: Wow! It's good to know people watch her work so closely. We can all benefit from critiques. But my goodness, some of the comments have seemed "over the top." One week she's "too soft." The next week she's "too tough."

Any journalist worth their salt is supposed to ask tough questions and make no apologies for it. It is both the great blessing and burden of a free press. Our viewers and readers expect it and deserve it. John Edwards is seeking the most powerful office in the world at a time of so much uncertainty around the world. Americans deserve to know: is he up for the job? And, God forbid, if there's a turn in his wife's health, could he still focus on the nation's business?

Like or dislike Katie Couric or her questions, they were necessary. Like or dislike John Edwards or Elizabeth Edwards or their answers, hearing and seeing their response was a worthwhile exercise.

And it seems to me, Katie wasn't simply asking questions stacked on a sheet of paper, but asking questions that she once had to ask herself as her husband battled cancer. Since the interview aired I've run into sky cabs, cabbies, housekeepers, and a host of others all talking about "Katie's interview." (Granted these aren't people who 'blog' all day, they actually work outside.) Some thought she was right on, others thought she was way off. "The Edwardses were brave." "The Edwardses are being foolish." Opinions varied to say the least. And who says there is a single right answer?

But thank God, the discussion is taking place. People are talking about a topic that at some point seems to touch every household. So isn't that a good thing? Isn't that what journalists are supposed to do?

Today, Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" spoke for a lot of us. "Katie did an outstanding job with the interview," he said. "She asked the questions we all wanted to hear answered and she asked the questions the Edwardses were anxious to answer. I'm proud of the job she did and I'm proud to have her on our team."

I couldn't agree more.

Don Hewitt, the legendary creator of "60 Minutes," knows this business better than anyone. He told us today: "They (The Edwardses) wanted the interview, they objected to nothing, they volunteered information before she asked them. I have no idea why people are upset. It isn't like she brought up the subject. They responded to every question with no hesitation and didn't seem to think there was anything out of the ordinary. I have no idea what people are talking about. If they have a complaint, it's not with Katie. It's with Edwards and his wife for making themselves available."

Despite all the talk about ratings, journalism was never meant to be a popularity contest. It's our job to shed light and seek truth. Good and reasonable people can disagree. But good and reasonable people welcome truth, in her many forms.