Lesley Stahl of CBS News is 80

60 Minutes for 30 years

Lesley Stahl
CBS News, 2018

I was watching 60 Minutes in November. Lesley Stahl was reporting on the mountain gorillas of Rwanda making a comeback. “Visiting mountain gorillas is no walk in the park. It’s an uphill hike for more than an hour at an altitude of 8000 feet, through that farmland that once belonged to the gorillas just to get to the park.

“Lesley Stahl: Are you out of breath?
Tara Stoinski: Yes. [LAUGHS]
Lesley Stahl: Or is it just me?”

And I thought that reporter must be close to 80! And she was. She must love the gorillas, which she first covered back in 1987.

It occurred to me that I had been watching Lesley Stahl for nearly half a century. As she noted in her 1999 book Reporting Live (1999), she, Connie Chung, and Bernard Shaw were the ‘affirmative action babies’ in what became known as the Class of ’72.” As such, she was assigned to cover, in June 1972, a “third-rate burglary” in the Watergate complex. Like Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, the seemingly insignificant story really launched her career.

She was a White House correspondent during the presidencies of Carter, Reagan, and part of Bush 41. Also, she moderated the CBS Sunday morning program Face The Nation between September 1983 and May 1991.

Since March 1991, she’s been a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Thirty years is as long as Steve Kroft and the late Ed Bradley were on the show; only Morley Safer and Mike Wallace, both of whom started in 1968 are now deceased, were on longer.


Lesley Stahl received 13 Emmys, plus numerous other awards. One was for “a shocking 2015 report on how some police recruit vulnerable young people for dangerous jobs as confidential informants.” One was for a series based on her “unprecedented” access at Guantanamo Bay prison facilities. “Another [was] for an eye-opening story about China’s huge real estate bubble… She won her 13th Emmy for her interview with the widow of a slain hostage that offered a rare look inside the technically illegal process of negotiating with terrorists.”

Stahl has gotten the big interviews. Former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, the then-new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and many, many more. She has managed to greatly annoy some of the powerful, including Trump (2020) and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007).

“She and her husband, author Aaron Latham, live in New York. They have a daughter, Taylor Latham, and two granddaughters. Jordan and Chloe, the subjects of her book, ‘Becoming Grandma: the Joy and Science of the New Grandparenting.'”

The October Surprise in 2020

“autocratic malarkey”

hydrochloroquineI woke up in the morning, and suddenly, it made sense, in a Bizarro world sort of way. Many pundits said there was no October surprise in 2020. I would disagree. The surprise was djt getting COVID.

He flies on Marine One to the hospital on a Friday. By Sunday, he’s riding around in a limo, waving to supporters. And on Monday evening, he’s back at the White House, defiantly ripping off his mask, saying “Screw you, COVID.” A week or so later, he’s off doing dozens of his rallies before tens of thousands of his adoring acolytes, including five events in four states in one day.

Now, you and I may see this as grossly irresponsible behavior, creating a bunch of possible super-spreader events. But to his fans, he is portraying Strength and Resilience.

It’s like in that old Saturday Night Live skit. He is the Arnold clones, Hans and Franz. He’s going to “Pump you up.” Meanwhile, the other guy, he says, is hiding in his basement like a “girly man.”

Never underestimate the appeal of toxic masculinity, especially mixed with half-truths. My gut says that the big blue wave didn’t come because those mysterious undecided voters leaned red. And possibly because his supporters lie to pollsters.

“The unhinged, dangerous, Democracy-destabilizing thing”

He gave a speech at the White House around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday in which he prematurely declared victory. This despite the fact that “millions upon millions of legitimate votes were still being counted. As Vanity Fair noted: “The goal, in all of its authoritarian bluster, was to get out in front of a result that might not land in his favor.”

Now, “the networks quickly and aggressively called bulls**t on Trump’s remarks, either breaking away from the speech or butting in with fact-checks. ‘We are reluctant to step in but duty-bound to point out when he says, ‘We did win this election, we’ve already won,’ that’s not based in the facts at all,’ said MSNBC’s Brian Williams.

His colleague Nicolle Wallace put it this way: ‘It’s straight-up autocratic malarkey, and what we have to keep in mind is that he’s not the boss of the counting…”

“CBS threw up a graphic stating, ‘CBS NEWS IS NOT PROJECTING A WINNER IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE,’ and Norah O’Donnell described Trump as ‘castrating the facts…’

“But perhaps the most noteworthy analysis was that seen on Trump’s frenemy network, Fox News… At a historic and uncharted moment like this, it was crucial to have a respected veteran newsman like anchor Chris Wallace telling the viewers what they needed to hear.

“‘This is an extremely flammable situation, and the president just threw a match on it,’ Wallace said. ‘He hasn’t won these states. Nobody is saying he’s won the states. The states haven’t said that he’s won.’

“The question is, did the viewers believe him?”

Where he leads, they will follow

Apparently not. Because the media, he keeps telling them, is fake. This despite the fact the shift in vote count was predictable.

“Dozens of [his] angry supporters… converged on vote-counting centers in Detroit and Phoenix as the returns went against him Wednesday in the two key states. The folks pounding on the Plexiglass in Detroit chanting “Stop the Count” made the NBC News on Wednesday. I feared for the wellbeing of the election workers inside.

Demonstrators, some armed, gathered at the government office in Maricopa County, AZ yelling, “Kill Fox,” and “Count the Vote.” Reportedly, the group became so threatening that the work of counting the vote had to be ended for the evening.

What does one want in a president? I found this four-minute video from John Green (no relation) about the decency of Joe Biden rather touching. And this 20-minute piece of John Oliver on the incompetence of the coronavirus response infuriating.

But djt apparently overcame the COVID. So he must be America Strong, even if he leaves it to his idiot son-in-law to “Let the Markets Decide America’s COVID-19 Fate.”

His fans appreciate his disdain for “political correctness.” He orchestrates his rallies as places to express their anger: “Fire Fauci,” “Lock Her Up.” Yet they’re OK with him lying to them about the seriousness of the pandemic, pushing conspiracy theories, dismissing climate change, pandering to racists, using the government for personal gain, and ruining our international reputation.

Yes, he suggests he’s for individual liberty, but it’s for those who agree with him. Lower taxes but really for the rich. Smaller government when it involves human services or the environment, but not the military. 

My rational brain says his fans are crazy. But I also have to admit I’m just not experiencing his persona the same way as they do. And it’s not just the one person but Trumpism I just don’t grok.

Consume the news for every viewpoint

The need to know

I was on a Zoom meeting with some guys at church in September. The question was how do we consume the news. As I’ve said here before, I read a lot of newsfeeds from various sources.

Some are mainstream, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, LA Times, and Washington Post. Some are progressive, such as Truthout and the Daily Kos. I consume a lot of conservative material, such as Daily Signal and Red State.

Oh, and there are non-news sources that often have news stories such as Thomas Industries, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and NatGeo. I’ve discovered that I can read about the exact same unlying facts, and discover that the conclusions are quite different.

This explains why I can never seem to keep up with my email. Initially, I subscribed so that I could peruse a balance of articles. I want to be a good, informed citizen. Of course, I come to these with my own biases, my own POV, but I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong. And even if I disagree, it might be a good piece for blog fodder.

Since I started working the Census, it’s been more skimming and less reading. It is especially true with the daily newspaper, which doesn’t take that long to read, even on Sunday. Yet it tends to pile up periodically.


And TV news is worse. One guy in my group noted that by the time he sees the evening news – he watches ABC- he’s already gotten the gist of most of the stories presented. Largely true for me as well. I record both NBC and CBS, but I tend to fast forward through the stuff I’ve already sussed out. This is especially true of the unfortunate narratives of fires and floods.

Sometimes, there is a story after the first commercial break that’s unfamiliar to me. The later stories often highlight a twist I didn’t foresee. NBC has a series called Inequality in America. It has features about the digital divide or Americans going to Mexico to get COVID-related medications. I need more than Joe Friday “just the facts.” Context matters too.

When my wife was away on a recent Sunday visiting her mom, I partook in something I seldom do. I binge-watched. It was the previous week of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, plus JEOPARDY! I need to alternate; it keeps my mind in balance.

A recent CBS News poll asked, “When you get the news these days, do you feel…?”
Misled 63%
Angry 56%
Informed 53%
Anxious 46%
Confused 35%

I say now that maybe after the election, I’ll cut back. This is probably a lie. No matter who wins on November 3, I’ll still have an apparently unquenchable need to know.

How do you consume the news? By this, I don’t mean that you get info from “the Internet” or “Facebook”, but WHAT on the Internet, WHO on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.  

Keeping up with the news

“I read the news today. Oh, boy.”

CarolEarly in our marriage, I was mystified by how my wife didn’t know of events in recent history. And I don’t mean it happened the day before yesterday. It was a function of the fact that I read the newspaper regularly and watched at least one national news broadcast almost daily.

I won’t say it’s flipped entirely but it’s definitely changed. She gets up at 7 a.m. to get the news from overnight. I used to do that pretty much until the coronavirus struck. For me, I realized that there was a numbing sameness. The details would differ – 58,000 dead in the US, or 85,000, or 130,000. It’s surging in state X but declining in state Y.

It’s that I can no longer deal with what feels like ephemeral information. Is this part of the state in phase one or phase two? I know the “big-picture” stats, enough to know that just as Florida wanted to ban New Yorkers, now New York wants to keep Floridians out.

So when my wife asks me some drill-down questions, my standard response is “I can look it up.” Can we go inside this type of business? Since the rules will change in two weeks or two months, my brain says, “Don’t care!”

Part of the filtering involves listening to IMPOTUS, who will take both sides of many issues. Are we cutting back on testing? “Yes.” “No, I was kidding.” “I never joke about things like that.” There is no reason to pay attention when he constantly contradicts himself. My wife will ask what did he say about a particular issue. Heck, I don’t even know anymore.

Natal day

I prefer the more traditional ways my wife and I confound each other. It’s a matter of philosophy. She’ll ask me if I want to throw out the toothpaste squeezed to near empty. I’ll toss it AFTER I have replaced it. She’ll throw it out first. But her way, there’s no toothpaste until we get more. Now THAT’S an important issue!

Anyway, she’s having a birthday today. She very wisely is not on Facebook. So her friends contact me, and I convey messages to her because that’s what I do.

A pleniloquence about coronavirus?

Social distancing, Flatten the curve

Texas coronaYvonne Abraham wrote in the Boston Globe: “The week that the coronavirus changed everything.” And it’s true.

“One after another, the touchpoints of our lives have been falling away. The subtractions came slowly at first: flights from a handful of countries, conventions, political rallies, Little League tryouts. They’ve picked up speed as the week — has it really been only a week? — wore on. We are a danger to each other, our public spaces suddenly menacing.

“Who are we without all of the things that bring us together?

“We’re about to find out, as the coronavirus pandemic separates us, leaving us alone with our trepidation and, if we’re lucky, our loved ones.”

It’s gone from my church congregation sharing hugs and handshakes (February) to expressing love from a distance with a smile, a deep nod and a Vulcan greeting (March 1) to the doors being closed (March 15). While understandable, the transition is really difficult for me.

As an information junkie, I found that I have actually watched less news about COVID-19. This is not to say I KNOW less about it. It’s that the information overwhelms me from so many various venues.


My travel agent site recommends that I talk to my health care providers, plus “checking the CDC website, understanding how travel insurance works, and keeping informed with our coronavirus updates.” Airlines, hotels, cruises, and tour companies are “relaxing their change and cancellation policies to offer travelers a peace of mind.”

Almost every one of the canceled public gatherings I might have attended provides me with statistics and disease prevention protocols. Meanwhile, there is a battle against the spread of fake coronavirus news articles and unscientific products and advice.

Vanity Fair promised “binge-worthy shows for quarantine”. Entertainment and sports news is filled with disappointed, but understanding, folks, reacting to postponements and cancellations.

There’s a whole new vocabulary. Social distancing. Flatten the curve by staying home. Stop touching your face.

I suppose I should be worried. Someone posted conditions to be concerned about. I qualify on half of them.
If you’re over 50
If you have diabetes
If you have a heart condition
If you are overweight
If you have a compromised immune system
If you are a smoker

But as Mark Evanier noted: “I am not worried about the virus. I’m worried about not doing the right things in a tricky situation… If it turns out that this thing takes a lot fewer human lives than the Worst Case projections, I hope we don’t hear people saying the reactions to it and all these cancellations were foolish and unnecessary.

“I hope they say the fatalities were kept down by swift, smart action and responsible parties erring on the side of caution. And I really hope they say that it was an act of appalling negligence that we weren’t better prepared for this and that we won’t make that mistake again.”

Violating self-quarantine

We’re not going to get through the coronavirus issue unless we think of ourselves as part of a larger community. I most worry about those creatures with the XY chromosome. If you’ve been to most men’s bathrooms in 2019 or earlier, you’ve likely seen guys who wash their hands for two seconds, rather than twenty. Or often not at all.

Worse, from the March 6 Boston Globe: “A New Hampshire man who’d recently returned from Italy and had symptoms of the novel coronavirus had been told to quarantine himself, but instead attended an event last Friday at the Engine Room in White River Junction, Vt. A few days later, he tested positive for Covid-19…” Hey, we have to be in this together.

John Oliver.
Mel and Max Brooks.
He lies, again.
Years of Austerity Weakened the Public Health Response.
My Corona ~ Kevin Brandow (Parody ~ My Sharona by The Knack).
Facebook was marking legitimate news articles about the coronavirus as spam due to a software bug. The company is fixing the posts and bringing them back.