Journalist Lesley Stahl, a longtime correspondent on the legendary CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, is renowned in the field as a savvy newswoman. Starting at CBS in 1972, she has served numerous roles at the network as a journalist for over 40 years.
Stahl recently spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about working in a previously male-dominated field and how the #MeToo movement has impacted her industry – even her own network.
Juggling career and motherhood
An author and Emmy winner, Stahl joined CBS in 1972 as an affirmative-action hire. “They were desperate for women,” she said. Her list of credits includes White House correspondent, Face the Nation moderator, and 48 Hours Investigates host.
Stahl married author Aaron Latham in 1977, and the couple welcomed daughter Taylor in 1977. When it came to parenting, Stahl knew that there were certain aspects of motherhood she couldn’t participate in without jeopardizing her career, such as nursing. “The men didn’t breast feed, we’re not going to show up at the office and be different from the men — we’re just not,” Stahl said.
Through her daughter’s young years, Stahl revealed she had to work insane hours. “It was crazy, I was crazy,” Stahl shared, adding that she didn’t necessarily struggle with ‘mom guilt’. “I always said to my daughter, ‘A little of me goes a long way,'” she said.
’60 Minutes’ firing
The #MeToo movement made a great impact in Hollywood, and also in the world of journalism. Top anchors including Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Bill O’Reilly were taken down by allegations of sexual misconduct, with accusations still popping up today. In September 2018, CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves stepped down in the wake of similar circumstances.
Putting a spotlight on the sexual harassment that has permeated Hollywood and journalism is Ronan Farrow’s new book, “Catch and Kill.” Farrow wrote a piece for The New Yorker in July 2018 that focused on CBS, where he wrote that 60 Minutes was thought of as a “toxic” work environment, according to the Hollywood Reporter. At the time, then-executive producer Jeff Fager had been accused of sexual misconduct, which he denied. “It’s top down, this culture of older men who have all this power and you are nothing,” a producer was quoted as saying in Farrow’s article. “The company is shielding lots of bad behavior.”
The Hollywood Reporter stated that staffers at 60 Minutes felt that Farrow mischaracterized their workplace, where many were in support of Fager. Stahl was one of his defenders. “Jeff was not the person who was portrayed in The New Yorker,” she said. “Jeff was not a sexual predator. He wasn’t.” Fager was later fired in September 2018 for sending a threatening text to Jericka Duncan, a CBS News correspondent who was reporting on misconduct claims about him in a follow-up New Yorker piece.
Eyes wide open
In light of the recent revelations being brought to light by the #MeToo movement, Stahl has reevaluated her own environment. “My eyes have been opened,” she revealed to the Hollywood Reporter. “There was an element of a boys club, even for me. But I didn’t feel it at the time because I put blinders on. I love what I do. I’m able to focus on my work. And then I go home. But I have had a little bit of an education about myself.”
As an example of the need for today’s new mindset, she brought up a conversation she had in the mid-1990s with a female producer on her team. “We were on a story, in the car together. She told me how afraid she was to ask for time off to go to a soccer match or take her kid to the doctor,” Stahl shared. “And I said, ‘What?! You’re afraid of me?’ She said, ‘Yeah, because I think you’ll think I’m not as available as the guys.’ I was absolutely stunned.”
The exchange made Stahl realize that much hadn’t changed between between the 70s and the 90s. “I came to CBS News in 1972 and that was an issue. And when I had my child in 1977 it was an issue. And that it was still an issue in 1994 just blew me over. That was well past the time that that should have been wrung out of working mothers’ minds,” she said. “My generation felt that we needed to prove that we were exactly like the men in every way. That we were as available, could go anywhere, cover any subject, do it as well as the men. We were the provers.”
Today, Stahl still relishes her career and is consistently motivated to follow the next story. “I’ve always just wanted to stay in the game. I always loved what I was doing, loved covering the White House, loved doing Face the Nation,” she said. “From the minute I got into journalism, my main goal was just to survive. And I wake up now and say, ‘Oh my God! You did. You did survive.'”