What do you do at CBS News?
I am a national correspondent for "Sunday Morning," which means I have the best job in television news! I do stories on everything from art and entertainment to politics and policy, and have plenty of time do them -- anywhere from 5-12 minutes -- which is extremely long after working for the "Evening News" where most things needed to be under two minutes.What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
Foreign news.Give us a great behind the scenes story.
Oh, there are so many!Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
When I was CBS News law correspondent ... a source would occasionally tell me that something big was going to happen ... but not exactly what it would be. I would request a crew to be stationed at FBI headquarters or some other law enforcement office ... or someplace where the source told me a subpoena might be served. We'd get pictures of suspects being brought in ... or agents searching a property ... only later would I learn what was actually going on! Sometimes there is a whole drama going on off camera ... that the audience never sees. When I was covering the White House I was doing a live talk-back with the Morning News from a roof top near the United Nations, where the president would be speaking later in the day. While I was live on the air, the Secret Service came up and started demanding that my producer (Jim McGlinchy, now a senior producer on the "Evening News") shut down our feed because, despite our permit, we were in a security zone. I had no idea what was going on as I chatted on about what the president would be saying later in the day ... but out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jim holding out his arms to try to stop the agents from approaching our camera. A few years ago, a huge crowed gathered as I was doing the on-camera section of a story in a very dangerous neighborhood in Port au Prince, Haiti. Suddenly, I saw a man approach our cameraman Mario DeCarvalho. The two seemed to be arguing, but I was too far away to hear what they were saying. The next thing I knew, Mario was shrugging his shoulders, popping the cassette out of his camera, and giving the tape to the local man, who seemed to be objecting to our presence in his neighborhood. Worried that the man was taking not only my stand-up (which was easily replaceable) but also all of the tape we'd shot earlier in a clinic for impoverished children, I started following him, begging him to return our property. Suddenly I heard Mario call out: "Rita, could you please come over here right now." I immediately turned and walked back to Mario ... who said: "I gave him the tape because he pulled a gun on me ... now we have to leave very quickly." Mario, our producer, soundman and I all jumped into our vans. The crowds tried to block our car ... but our experienced Haitian drivers were able to get us out of the neighborhood. The good news is that Mario had changed tapes just before shooting the stand-up and our morning's work was safe.
Once in a while, our "Sunday Morning" Executive Producer Rand Morrison asks me to profile someone who just doesn't interest me. Fortunately, a simple, "No thanks" is usually accepted.If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
In the past, when I was CBS News' White House correspondent and before that, the law correspondent, it was really just a question of covering what was going on ... it wasn't a matter of "objecting" to a story. Occasionally I might have disagreements with producers on the "Evening News" (the broadcast I usually worked for) about whether someone under investigation should be the subject of a story, which, quite frankly, can be devastating not only to the individual, but to his or her entire family. In the final analysis, it's usually left up to the reporter.
We are much more likely to have stories that the reporter wants to see covered, and the daily broadcasts just don't feel they have time for.
I honestly don't know. I have wanted to be a reporter for as long as I can remember.Do you read blogs? If so, which ones? If not, what do you read on the Internet?
I rarely read blogs, unless someone forwards me a link. I usually check the CBS Web site during the day ... but most of what I read on the Internet is research on stories I am doing. I double check everything, but the Internet is a good place to start.What's the last really great book or movie you found?
I am in the middle of doing a story about the actor Robert Duvall, and just saw "Tender Mercies," the film he won an Oscar for. I saw it when it first came out in 1983, but it's well worth watching again!What is your first memory of TV news?
My parents used to watch John Cameron Swayze. Sometimes (this is my impression at least) that included commercials featuring a dancing pack of Camels with human legs! My sisters and I would dance around the house, pretending to be a pack of cigarettes.If you could change one thing about the profession of journalism, what would it be?
I'd like to see everyone who claims to practice journalism be held to the same standards of accuracy and fairness that broadcast network news divisions and major newspaper are held to.Who is the most fascinating person you've covered and who is the biggest jerk?
Bill Clinton is probably the most fascinating person I've ever covered ... because he is both brilliant and flawed. I have never met anyone more charming ... or more exasperating. There are a lot of candidates for the biggest jerk award ... but since I still have to cover a lot of them, I think I'll decline to reveal their names!Finally, a question just for Rita: How do you go about asking a question that you know is going to make someone uncomfortable?
This is a really good question ... because it's not really fun to ask something someone doesn't want to answer.
I usually try to broach the question as gently as possible ... unless it's with a politician who is trying to wiggle out of something and has to be repeatedly asked the same thing over and over again in increasingly blunt language.
One place where I felt a gentle approach would work best was with former President Jimmy Carter ... who lost his bid for a second term in 1980. The exchange ... as aired ... went like this:
Rita Braver: You've been quoted as saying that you think maybe you've had a better ex-presidency than presidency.
Jimmy Carter: Well, that may be true. Certainly my reputation has been better in the post-presidential years than maybe in the White House. But I think that when people look back on what we did in the White House, I think there's a lot there of justifiable pride.
Braver:So you don't look back and say, "Oh, I wish I wouldn't been a better politician, I wish I would have gotten re-elected?"
Carter:Well, that would have been nice (laughter). I wish I could've gotten the hostages out earlier. I wish that the Democratic Party hadn't been split down the middle. I had a major Democrat run against me for re-election as you know...
Braver: Senator Kennedy...
Carter: and so forth ... but nah, those are not the things that I worry about.
Of course people are always free to reply: "I just don't want to talk about that." Other times they surprise you ... and even though you've been told it's a delicate subject, they have a lot to say. For example, country singers Vince Gill and Amy Grant. They met in the early 1990s, became friends, and both ultimately left their previous marriages -- they both insist -- not for each other. But as my story said:
They were married in 2001, to the consternation of some in the world of Christian country music, where Amy began. Some stations even stopped playing her music.
Rita Braver: There was a lot of controversy and criticism surrounding your courtship and marriage.
Vince Gill: Uh, huh.
Braver: was that hard for you to handle?
Gill: Sure it was, yeah, it was basically, it was people attacking my character, you know, and attacking her character. I marveled at the shots she had to take. It was just awful to watch your partner and just want to stick up for her and go "Man, how can you, how can you say this, how can, you know, how do you take this?"
The one thing you can never do is promise not to ask something just because it might make someone uncomfortable if you need it for your story. I generally don't believe in asking something merely for the sake of putting someone on the spot!