Lesley Stahl talks about Trump, journalism and ‘Becoming Grandma’ – Detroit Free Press
Lesley Stahl, a veteran TV journalist whoÂ cutÂ her teeth on coverage of the Watergate scandal for CBS News, will be in Southfield next month for an event at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
She became a cornerstone of the “60 Minutes” team in 1991Â and continues that work today, well into her 70s.
Stahl talked with the Free Press by phone about her upcoming visit, about her work for “60 Minutes,” politics and her new book, “Becoming Grandma” ($27, Penguin Random House).Â She andÂ her husband, Aaron Latham, have a daughter, Taylor, and two granddaughters, Chloe and Jordan.
Here’s what we asked, and what she had to say:
QUESTION: As a pioneer for women in the news business in the 1970s, you covered the Watergate scandal and the administrations of Jimmy Carter, Ronald ReaganÂ and George H.W. Bush for CBS. What were the challenges you faced then as a woman in the industry? Was there a battle for respect and credibility then?
ANSWER: Yeah, but it wasnât as difficult for me, anyway, as (for) a lot of my friends at other news organizations and in other fields. I was definitely, positively, no mistake about it, hired because of affirmative action. The word went out in 1972 that all three networks were looking for women and minorities.Â I was working as a reporter in Boston. I applied, got the job.
It was clear what they were doing, and in fact, the affirmative-action hires were really brought in as apprentices. I was hired to work in the Washington bureau with Bernie Shaw and Connie Chung. We called ourselves the affirmative-action babies. It was so strange because in case we didnât understand our status â and we laughed about it. We were just happy to be in the door; there was no resentment about itâÂ but Iâm telling you, they gave us little childrenâs desks that were in a corridor. … We would never sit there because it was so ridiculous, but we at least had something to put our papers on.
It was funny, and honestly, we were green and working amongÂ the finest collection of journalists certainly in broadcast news, and I could even put you up against newspapers and magazines because we had Marvin Kalb and Roger Mudd and Dan Rather. It was the showcase of the cream of the cream in broadcast journalism.
I felt that my bosses wanted us to succeed and they put some effort into bringing us along and helping us. I really felt they wanted me to make it. I didnât feel anybody was out to put me down.
I didnât have a rough time, and I donât have stories of sexism. The ones I have are kind of funny, to me, anyway, like the little childrenâs desks. We really were grateful to be in the door. Itâs kind of wonderful that women donât feel that anymore.
Q: Who was your biggest mentor back in those days? Who helped you the most in becoming the journalist you are today?Â
A: The bureau chief was Bill Small. He made it clear to us youngins that we was committed to this program. So that was very important when the man at the top sends out the word, âWeâre going to help these kids.â
We had a fabulous journalist and human being, his name was Ed Fouhy, who ran the evening news operation in Washington for CBS. Then, it was just a matter of watching the senior correspondents, trailing after them, and doing radio, lots of radio. It was really by observation, and just the atmosphere.
Q: What do you think is theÂ perception of women in journalism today, especially in the context ofÂ the challengesÂ veteran reporter April Ryan has faced in her recent White House coverage?Â
A: I see an awful lot of women in news organizations. A lot. It doesnât mean that there arenât going to be instances of harassment. Iâm actually right now reading now about women who are still sexually assaulted in the military, obviously, the tech industry, and about this jewelry company where the women got together and pressed charges.
And there certainly isnât equal pay. …So yeah, there are injustices. … We are almost equal at “60 Minutes” in terms of reporters, and if you watch, there are more and more women on the air at “60 minutes,” and I just think weâre coming along.
I guess the thing that is really a stunner to me isÂ that it is still so many years after affirmative action came forth â in my case, in 1972 â and we are still â you and I are still right now â on the phone discussing this. Who would have thought, really? Who would have thought?
I really donât think that young women who come into a newsroom or a hospital or a law firm feel privileged. I donât think thatâs the emotion they feel. A lot of them feel like,Â âHey, I earned this.â
Q: You had a rare sit-down conversation with Donald Trump on “60 Minutes” during his campaign, and then you scored another one just a few days after he won the election â not just with him, but with his entire family. Looking back on those episodes, what did you learn that maybe the rest of us didnât notice or didnât see?
A:Â I saw particularly in the second interview, which was just three days after he was elected, I saw a reflective man. I saw a man who was interested in serious ideas.
I think he was a little shell-shocked. … Even though he told us he thought he was going to win, I donât think he did. I think it was just beginning to wash over him. So I got a more subdued Donald Trump than I think almost anybody has seen in any other extended interview.
There was no combativeness. He was soft-spoken.
And I really, by the way, I genuinely liked his wife, Melania, who I’d never met before. She has a delicious sense of humor, and she stands up to him. Sheâs a strong woman, both strong and warm. I didnât think based on everything Iâd seen up till thenÂ that thatâs the way sheâd be. She surprised me. That was my big surprise.
Q: If you had the chance to interview Trump again for “60 Minutes,” what would be the most pressing issue you would address?Â
A:Â Every day, thereâs a new pressing issue. What would it be today?Â Weâre just bouncing from one major new policy on the plate or new direction heâs taken the country or executive order that (former President Barack) Obama signed thatâs being undone or a new ones that are being imposed.
I just feel that the country is being changed so rapidly and surprisingly. Itâs the most rapid change day-to-day that Iâve seen in my career as a journalist.
Q: You are seemingly timeless. Youâve been able to defy the ageism that affects so many women in the industry. How have you done it?
A:Â Do you really think that?Â You know, I am struck by â and I have been for a long time â about how men and women in our industry, and I mean television, are surviving at the same rate. I donât see women being at any disadvantage. Now, I could be wrong. I have not seen a survey. I have not looked at numbers, but thatâs my impression. You can correct me. You can go find the actual statistics. But I look around and I donât know. I think the people who came in with me, the men and the women, are leaving at the same age, generally.
Q: Youâve got a new book out, “Becoming Grandma,” about how becoming a grandmother changes you. Could you tell Free Press readers about how that book came to be?
A: I wrote a book many years ago called âReporting Live,â and editors …Â have been calling me over the years since that book to urge me to write another book. And so I was having lunch with one of these, with a publisher now, and he was asking me to write a book about “60 Minutes.” Whoa, right? And I said, if I wrote a book about “60 Minutes” while Iâm still there, either it would be so boring no one would read it or none of it would be true, or Iâd be fired.
So thenÂ we just then had lunch, and I kept talking about my granddaughter, and he said, at the end of lunch, âYou know, thatâs your book.â I said, âWhat?â He said, âBeing a grandmother.â I said, âOh, come on.â And he said, âNo, think about it. Think about it.â
I guess one of the first realizations that made me think ‘Maybe thereâs a book here’ was that I have several girlfriends who are step-grandmothers. They talk about their grandchildren exactly the way I talk about mineÂ âÂ the same emotional attachment, the same craving to be with them. It was exactly the same. I thought, ‘Thatâs so interesting.’ You would think adoring these little kids was biological or there was some DNA connection, but here are these women loving these little kids as a grandmother, a real grandmother.
And then, I just began to ask around, wanted to find out whether there was a bio-physiologicalÂ attachment to these kids, and I found out there was. I found out about animal grandmothers, and all of a sudden, I realized, you know, thereâs enough here to fill a whole book. I called the publisher up and I said let me try to write a proposal. And I wrote a proposal with all the disparate things and said each one would be a separate chapter, and they bought it. That was it.
Q: Can you tell our readers about how becoming a Lolly, which is what your granddaughters call you,Â has changed you, and your view about whatâs important in the world?Â
A:Â You get, as a grandmother, a new purpose. An added-on purpose, which becomes almost a central purpose, and itâs delicious. You have a whole new way of loving that youâve never experienced before. This is unlike loving your child, because youâre not responsible for that child (in the same way you are as a parent, when)Â your jobÂ is to be a policeman, “Donât do this!Â Donât do that!”Â and makingÂ sure they have clothes and food and all that.
As a grandparent, all you have to do is love them and love them completely, naturally. Itâs unfettered, and itâs pleasurable, itâs a whole new world. That purpose is to just help your own kid in any way you can. One of the things that I came upon was that not all grandparents have a smooth easy go of it. There are some dark corners to this subject.
But generally, overall and for the most part, itâs just the most joyous experience of your life. …Â You know, even if we donât live nearby, we have Skype and Facetime. (Technology) makes it easier to stay in their life.
Q: Youâre coming … May 3Â to speak at an event at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. Can you talk about what people who attend the event will hear that day?
A:Â I will definitely, absolutely talk about being a grandparent. I write an awful lot about your generation (Generation X) in the book, and in many ways, itâs a mother-daughter book.
You know, how do mothers today help their daughters, and how much do their daughters want that help? But Iâm also going to be compelled to talk about politics today, and how journalism fits in our society, the changes weâre confronting. Iâll talk a little about my job, and whatâs going on the country. I think I have to, and I think the audience will want me to.
Q: Whatâs next for you?Â
A: Well, my next story for “60 Minutes.” â¦ I guess Iâll do this as long as I and my bosses feel that Iâm not in any way diminished, mentally or physically.
Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.Â
If you want to go
Lesley Stahl is the speaker at the Lois Linden Nelson Womanâs World eventÂ May 3 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 27375 Bell Road, in Southfield.Â The event runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Stahl will speak at noon, followed by lunch. Tickets for the luncheon and speaker begin atÂ $54. Speaker-only tickets areÂ $36. Students pay $18. Buy tickets by callingÂ 248-357-5544, Ext. 48, or online at www.llnwomansworld.org.Â