Lesley Stahl On Mike Wallace and '60 Minutes'

When it comes to tackling a story for '60 Minutes,' Lesley Stahl has the sophistication of a lady and the eye of a tiger. It is these qualities and many more that earned Stahl multiple Emmys and other awards and solidifying her as one of the most respected journalists in the world.  An edited version of our phone interview with her follows

by Ilyssa Panitz • More.com Celebrity Reporter
lesley stahl image
Photograph: CBS News

More: Have you ever been out on assignment and feared for your safety?
LS: I have been out on stories where I should have feared for my safety but didn’t. When you are in the eye of the storm you don’t feel it. It is when you get home you say to yourself, What was I thinking?

More: Give me an example.
LS: I was in Iraq and went to Tikrit when Saddam Hussein was still alive. We just went blindly into that area.

More: Which story has had the greatest impact on you?
LS: There are all kinds of impacts, such as emotional, outrage, and the impact famous people have on you. I think the stories that touch upon sick children are the ones that get to me and linger. I have done stories where kids inadvertently got a blood disease. I have done stories on severely autistic children. It is just heartbreaking to see what they and their families go through. It is those stories that affect me the most.

More: Is that the mom in you coming out?
LS: I think it is me the human being. Anybody would be affected when they are talking to a parent who is completely heartbroken.

More: You also mentioned famous people?
LS: That is the third category, where you end up either admiring them even more or you are so disappointed you just want to cry.

More: Who disappointed you?
LS: I have had government officials storm out over certain questions. Nicholas Sarkozy of France walked out over an innocent question. I remember interviewing Boris Yeltsin when he was president of Russia and he stormed off. You want to know that people in a position of power have a sane temperament. It is disappointing to see when they don’t.

More: Of all the Hollywood and world leaders you have interviewed, has anyone ever left you starstruck?
LS: Starstruck, no, but a few people silenced me, when I was at Face the Nation. One was General Arnold Schwarzkopf. I was interviewing him over the TV lines, where he is looking into one camera and I am looking into the other. Now that is tough, because when you do that you can’t assess their emotional state. You also can’t determine if they are really angry. Anyway, I was talking to him during the first Iraq war and I can’t remember what I asked him but I do remember he got really angry and shut me down. The other was Margaret Thatcher, who chastised me on-camera. She told me off after I asked her a question she didn’t like three different times.

More: What was the question?
LS: She had come to the United States at the height of the Iran–contra scandal. She was also an ally of Ronald Reagan, who was taking a beating because his government had not been forthcoming and honest about selling arms to Iran. Not only weren’t they truthful to the American public, they weren’t honest with the British government either. I was asking her how she could trust his administration. She responded by saying, “We have a wonderful relationship.” I asked it again, and then a third time. It was then she responded by saying something like, “Why does it seem I love your country more than you do?” I was like, “Whoa!” She really sliced me up on the air. I had nowhere to go.

More: Who is one person you have never interviewed and would love to talk to.
LS: I always wanted to interview Nancy Reagan. Actually, I did interview her when she was the first lady. But I wanted to interview her again because she was much more powerful and effective in Reagan's second term than anybody has written about or has admitted to. I just wanted to see if I could get her to talk about that. First ladies totally fascinate me.

More: Why?
LS: They are all more powerful than we realize. Some of them kind of, sort of admit it, like Hillary Clinton. Then they get slammed for it. A couple of them are very powerful yet keep their heads down.

More: Michelle Obama?
LS: Yes, Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Barbara Bush—all of them. These women are the last people the president talks to and probably the one person the president can trust.

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