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The Public Eye Chat With…George Osterkamp

It's Thursday, and that means it's time for the Public Eye Chat. This week's subject is San Francisco-based Producer George Osterkamp. You can read excerpts, and listen to the full interview, below.

to listen to the interview.
Brian Montopoli: You produced one of the more popular YouTube videos in recent memory – John Blackstone's demonstration of the iPhone. And you do a lot of Silicon Valley stuff. What do you think of the media coverage of the iPhone so far? If I was Apple I'd be fairly happy with the coverage thus far, although I guess you could argue that the product deserves the hype.

George Osterkamp: I agree – if I were Apple, I would be thrilled at the coverage so far. I think it's been masterfully handled by Apple. You know, there's been a limited amount that we can cover. The phones have not been available to use, or to experiment with, so a large part of the coverage has been about what Apple says the phone will do. And those things sounds great. The coverage may not be so good in the future if the phones don't work, or if people hate the keypad, the virtual keypad instead of the real keypad…

Whether it's been by design, or whether it's been just a production kink, we have not been able to handle the phones, to use the phones.

Brian Montopoli: Has that been frustrating?

George Osterkamp: Extremely. Extremely.

Brian Montopoli: How has it affected the coverage?

George Osterkamp: Well, I think the coverage isn't as critical as it will be when we're actually able to use it. Although I would say Apple has been very pleased with the coverage so far, the phones will have to merit that coverage to continue to get praise. Apple's on a big limb. They've created a lot of interest. That'll either be sustained by the success of the phone, or the interest will take a much different direction if the phones don't work.

Brian Montopoli: You've done a lot of work overseas, including in China. Can you talk to me about the different levels of freedom you've had in different countries, and specifically in China?

George Osterkamp: I really like working overseas. I love to see the contrast. It's been the best thing about my time at CBS News -- the plane ticket to interesting countries. In some countries they're able and interested in controlling what you say a good deal more than in this country.

China is getting more and more free…you know, the censorship – it probably wouldn't even be fair to call it censorship. But in China they are definitely interested in what you report, and if you want access, which is something journalists always need, you normally have to get permission from the authorities to travel around China and to interview people in China.

It's not the tightest place I've been. I have to say – I was in Vietnam, on the 25th anniversary of the war, and it's the only time I've been arrested working for CBS News. And I was arrested for interviewing a poet. It was a dissident poet in Hanoi. And she was not a person the government thought should be interviewed.

Brian Montopoli: And so what happened when you were arrested?

George Osterkamp: Well, we were talking to her in a café, and a carful of plain-clothed police came up, and they took my crew and myself into custody. We were questioned for a few hours and then we were released.

Brian Montopoli: Were you frightened? When they were questioning you, what were they asking?

George Osterkamp: They were saying, "Why did you interview this person?" They were saying, "What did you intend to do by interviewing this person?" And yes, it was frightening. You know, they didn't threaten, they didn't put us in rooms with bars, but we were clearly in their control. Far from home, not able to call the embassy or anybody else for help, quite totally at their mercy. It was unnerving.

I have to say my crew, which was based in Beijing and had been arrested many times, was much more calm about it than I was. And in the end what the authorities wanted was an admission from us – and that's how they put it – "Do you admit that you interviewed this poet, who you had no advance permission to interview, against the laws of Vietnam?"

Brian Montopoli: And you admitted as much?

George Osterkamp: I admitted as much.

Brian Montopoli: You told me earlier today about your favorite story, when we talked briefly. And that involved South Africa's election. And I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about why that was your favorite story.

George Osterkamp: Well I loved being in South Africa at the time of their first election because it was such a – as opposed to so many stories we do, which are about tragedy or misery, this was a terrifically happy story. A story of South Africa's emergence from apartheid rule to democracy. I was there for the election, and I remember on election day, interviewing people who were standing in long lines waiting to vote. And some of these people were grandparents – people in their '60s and '70s who had never cast a vote in their lives. And they were going to cast their first vote. And the excitement, and the thrill of being able to vote for Nelson Mandela, to be able to vote for one of their countrymen – it was just wonderful to behold. It was hard to do that story without welling up in tears occasionally, thinking what democracy meant.

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