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2004: Lesley Stahl

(l-r) Susan Shi, Deedee Corradini and Lesley Stahl

Women and Politics Series

Lesley Stahl
Co-editor and correspondent for CBS News' "60 Minutes"
Anchor of "48 Hours Investigates"

FROM WATERATE TO ABU GHRAIB PRISON SCANDAL, CBS' LESLEY STAHL HAS SEEN IT ALL

During a 33-year career as a White House and foreign correspondent, Lesley Stahl has been an eyewitness to history. From her first assignment of what seemed then to be an "insignificant" break-in at the Watergate Hotel to interviewing Iraqi scientists after 9-11 on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, Stahl has been one of the premier women journalists in her field. For Lesley Stahl's biography, click here.

As she told a crowd of Furman faculty, students and Greenville community members Monday night, May 17, 2004 at the Gunter Theater, Peace Center, television and the pictures and information it conveys to citizens has the power not only to inform the public, but to shape and change its opinions.

About Lesley Stahl 

Stahl is currently co-editor and correspondent for CBS News' "60 Minutes" as well as anchor of "48 Hours Investigates." Prior to joining “60 Minutes,” Stahl was CBS News White House correspondent during the Carter and Reagan administrations and part of the term of George H.W. Bush. Her reports appeared frequently on the “CBS Evening News,” both with Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, and on other CBS News broadcasts.

She also served as moderator of CBS’ “Face The Nation” during much of that time, where she interviewed such newsmakers as Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Yasir Arafat and virtually every top U.S. official, including George Bush and Dan Quayle.

She has been awarded numerous Emmy Awards for her interviews on "Face the Nation" and was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy. Her lecture on "Television and Politics in America" at the Peace Center's Gunter Theater was part of the Richard W. Riley Institute of Government, Politics and Public Leadership's "Women and Politics" series. 

In a 90-minute talk Stahl recounted some of her most memorable assignments and injected her own commentary on the media's role in pressing current issues such as the upcoming presidential election and the shocking photos of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. 

During her years as a White House correspondent, Stahl said she became a "student of presidential leadership" and began to examine the different ways presidents and presidential-hopefuls used the media to portray a formidable image to the public. 

President Ronald Reagan, she said, used his Hollywood charisma to woo the public while President Bill Clinton struggled to stage a happy family in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal. With the ever-present "eyes" of the media watching, every move Washington makes is broadcast again and again over millions of television sets. However, these "eyes" can sometimes discern less of the truth than you think, Stahl said. 

Stahl recalled one of her most famous stories for "60 Minutes" -- an expose on the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign that aired the night before the election. In a blitz of images showing a benevolent Reagan appearing at nursing home openings and hospitals, Stahl narrated that Reagan had, in fact, cut the budget for such projects. Stahl feared the backlash of the White House the next day; instead, phone calls of praise began to pour in from Reagan's administration thanking her for the "positive" newscast and free advertising the night before. Stahl was befuddled. Her broadcast was obviously meant to question Reagan's budget cuts. It was then that she was told a stark reality that the news media had not been aware of before: "No one heard what you had to say in that piece," Reagan's staffer told her. "They just saw the pictures."  

It was then that Stahl realized the pure power of pictures. "Pictures drowned out my words," she said. "Pictures are emotional and passionate and are capable of influencing viewers much more than mere words. We form judgments about what we see, and our leaders are aware of this. Visual images are much more powerful and remain with us longer." 

Stahl came aboard CBS news in 1972 -- the same year affirmative action was enacted. While women may have made great strides in the past thirty years, Stahl was quick to emphasize that American women -- whether journalists or politicians -- had a long way yet to go. "Other countries have had female heads of state and prominent leaders. In America we have not seen one emerge, possibly because we are all individualists. We must continue striving for more women to become active on the political scene." 

As a pioneer in her field, Stahl's career hasn't been the easiest of rides. She had to defy stereotypes in a male-dominated industry and prove she had the charisma and tenacity to succeed. But looking back on her career and seeing all she has accomplished, Stahl truly believes she has played a pivotal role in shaping American culture. "I wake up everyday and I love my job. How can you not, when something new and exciting happens every day?"