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: I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend and colleague Mike Wallace.
Lesley Stahl: It was shocking. Although he hasn’t been here for about five-years we are still absorbing it. Don’t forget it comes on the heels of Andy Rooney, Don Hewitt and Ed Bradley. It is the World War II generation, really. It is the end of the era.

More: What does Mike’s passing mean for 60 Minutes and for the industry?
LS: You say that in the sense of it being a closing. But Mike along with Don Hewitt created a whole new form of broadcast journalism, which is 60 Minutes. They made it extremely serious, they gave it the highest standards and it still lives. It does not go away. It is his voice, it is his toughness and it is his interest to getting to the bottom of things. Mike stayed here for 40-years to make sure this wouldn’t die and it won’t.

More: As friends and colleagues share their favorite memories, what were yours?
LS: My mind is darting all over the place. There are a thousand but there are three in particular that stand out. I have known Mike since I got to CBS. We even covered election nights together. In the beginning, I would lean over and quietly pick up the phone and call my mother. Somehow Mike caught onto this. He was so smart and nothing got past him. I have no idea how he figured it out because I would whisper. Mike would teased me so unmercifully saying, “Calling mama again?” It was like the towel snapping thing he did with the guys. It was then I thought, “Wow, I am one of the guys.” Mike just brought me in and I loved him for it. Another memory was when I got to 60 Minutes everyone told me, “It is a men’s club. You will be cut out.” But Mike never let that happen. That was huge. The third memory that comes to mind was when he called me into his office and gave me a lesson in being a tough interrogator. He said the most important thing is you ask the toughest questions and not be embarrassed. Ask your questions without shame. Now go practice!” Mike was a real mentor.

More: He meant many things to you.
LS: I think this is as important as his journalism, which was brilliant. Mike came forward and admitted he had depression. He did it at a time when depression was still a stigma and people did not understand that depression was not a sign of weakness. Here was the toughest guy in the world admitting this and then using his own experience to do public service announcements and encourage people to go get help. 

More: Actors get hit by the acting bugwhen did you get bit by the journalism bug?
LS: I was probably in my late twenties. I was working for the mayor of New York, on his speechwriting staff. The press office was right next door to where I was, so I decided to walk in and ask, “What do you do all day?” When the person I asked answered me, I remember thinking, Why didn’t anyone tell me about that?

More: So no reporting experience?
LS: I wasn’t on the school paper and there weren’t any journalism courses where I went to college.

More: But you just knew?
LS: It was a thunderbolt moment that went Boom! It was then I just knew.

More: As a woman, what has been the toughest obstacle to overcome in this business?
LS: That wasn’t my personal experience. I came into this because of affirmative action—at least at CBS. I was hired in 1972 when affirmative action was very popular in the country. In fact, it was so popular, CBS wanted people to know they hired a couple of women.

More: Did you ever deal with sexism?
LS: I didn’t have a bad experience even when I came to 60 Minutes, when I was the only woman on television. Because I work in an environment where there are a lot of women, I never found any of that to be true.

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