CBS News veteran Bob Anderson (above, left) visited Hunter College late last fall for a screening of a documentary on his late colleague and ’60 Minutes’ icon Mike Wallace. After the screening, Anderson spoke with Hunter Journalism Intern Rich Mendez (at right) about some of his most exciting experiences working alongside Wallace, as well as politics in the media and other subjects. Anderson also shared words of advice for student journalists. Read on for interview excerpts, plus audio clips from their conversation.
What is it like producing at “60 Minutes”?
The best part is that we’re totally eclectic, so you have a broad range of stories. You can do a photographer who’s taking pictures of endangered species at zoos around the world. Or you can interview [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Khomeni? It’s a fabulous set of experiences, one after the other, none connected to those that came before.
Tell us about your interview with Putin.
We did Putin with Mike Wallace years ago. Mike would ask the best stuff between the written questions that were in front of him. It wasn’t just going on to the next written question. It was playing off of an answer. And he did that so much with Putin that we ran out of time and his aides were saying we’ve got to wrap it up, and they wanted me to interrupt because they wouldn’t dare interrupt. So I slipped Mike a note saying that his aides were pressuring us to end the interview and Mike looked at Putin and said, “Mr. President, your aides are pressuring us to end the interview. But if I could ask just two or three more [questions].” And Putin said, “No one can pressure us, I’m the president.” And that was the most revealing answer we got out of him in the entire interview.
What about your experience interviewing Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Khomeni?
Mike interviewed the Ayatollah when no one else could, and he passed by a room full of journalists hoping for the interview as he went in for his exclusive, which brought him great joy. In that interview, he said, “President Saddat of Egypt says, excuse me, his words not mine, that you are a madman.” And the interpreter looked at Mike as if to say “You’re a madman if you think I’m going to interpret that.” And Mike said, “No, no, it’s what Saddat said, go ahead.” So it came through and the Ayatollah just stared at him and had no answer, shy of a stare. Whether they’re connected or not I don’t know, but within a few months, Saddat was assassinated.
What do you say to journalists who might be afraid to get into the industry because of some of the corporate strangleholds in some of the top newsrooms in the country?
You can find lots of reasons to not do something, one of them being fear. You can find reasons of corporate culture. You can find reasons of bias of one form or another. To hell with all of them. Don’t let them stand in your way. Hone your skills and let your skills prepare you forward. There is absolutely room at the highest levels for the people with the skills.
Is it commonplace for politicians to try to intervene when it comes to critical coverage of them, such as Hillary Clinton calling MSNBC to complain about coverage during her campaign, or Joe Biden calling different newsrooms to tell them to stop booking Rudy Giuliani, or [with] President Trump?
Trump would call all the time. We did a piece on the fellow who was [FBI Director James] Comey’s [deputy], Andrew McCabe. McCabe had launched the FBI investigation into Trump, and we interviewed him about why he did that. And Trump, then president, called our executive producer and said, “Oh, ya know, that guy’s a liar. Don’t put him on.” It doesn’t have any effect. Politicians are welcome to try to shape the news, but it’s up to journalists to not let them.
A report came out recently that showed that top newsrooms heavily favor interns from Ivy Leagues. What advice do you have for student journalists at Hunter College who might feel disenfranchised or demotivated by that report?
It’s unfortunately true. And it doesn’t just apply to journalism. It applies across the board. Having that Ivy League label is a plus, but that doesn’t mean you have to have it. That doesn’t mean that the world isn’t full of wildly successful people that didn’t go to the Ivy Leagues. And so I would totally ignore that bias and go in there and make yourself the best, and make sure they know that you are.
Do you have any advice for student journalists in general when applying for internships at top newsrooms?
What Dan Rather said to me 40 years ago was “get experience.” Get experience in college, get experience during your internship, wow them with the fact that you have all sorts of experience, and experience should be worth more to them than some Ivy League pedigree.