Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kalb Report: What Makes 60 Minutes Tick

A very interesting Kalb report last night. Executive Producer Jeff Fager and Correspondent Lesley Stahl were the guests. A wide ranging discussion on how 60 Minutes has lasted as long as did. Some of the triumphs and some of the not so triumphant moments there.

I thought it was interesting that Lesley looked at the opening video montage of the Kalb report to see who was all pictured. She also knew the director of the show Robert Vitarelli who’d been at CBS for many years before coming over to the Kalb report.

Marvin pressed Fager on what the budget for 60 Minutes is. Jeff although pressed would not say. During the course of the evening mentions of costs of various things came up and the audience would laugh.

They both said that at 60 Minutes they don’t have meetings, don’t have memos, don’t have a hierarchy. A story idea is proposed on what is called a blue sheet (they didn’t exactly explain what that was). It was then either accepted or rejected. No explanation given. Lesley said that if someone felt strongly about it they would go back and plead the case for it. It sound like you got three cracks at pushing the story and after the third no it was dead. It sounded like if you made a good enough case the story would get done.

There was a discussion over the cigarette story where 60 Minutes caved to the corporate suits and modified the story because of fear of a law suit. This lead into a discussion about the Dan Rather story on Bush and the National Guard. Neither Jeff nor Lesley were directly involved in what happened so they didn’t have a great deal of insight into what happened.

Other topics of note:

Don Hewitt said you couldn’t just do a voice over for a story. You had to take the viewer along on the journey

Stahl talked about the time she was scammed by a supposed Iraqi defector who said Saddam had mobile biological weapons labs that traveled around the country on trucks. This was not true.

They review stories from the perspective of are you letting the person say what they have to say.

Only about 15 percent of their stories are reviewed by lawyers. It sounded like they had two lawyers that they’ve worked with for years. These would have been lawyers for CBS not specifically for 60 Minutes.

The one gotcha moment for Stahl was when she was on Face the Nation interviewing Margaret Thatcher. The topic was Iran Contra. Lesley asked how Thatcher could ever trust the US again. Thatcher said things were fine. Stahl pressed until finally Thatcher said words to the effect of how Thatcher seemed to like the US more than Stahl did.

Stahl also talked about her interview with Nicolas Sarkozy (there was an opening series of clips from 60 Minutes and they showed part of that interview) where he walked out. Stahl had asked a question about his wife and he left. Stahl said she was told by reporters not to ask that question. She was told French reporter would never have asked such a question. Stahl’s response was to say she wasn’t a French reporter.

During the question and answer session Stahl was asked what one person she wanted most to interview but hadn't. Stahl responded Nancy Reagan. Stahl wanted to try and find out just how much influence Nancy Reagan had.

It was a very interesting night.

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