Connie Chung Reflects On News, Family And Fighting With Humor Connie Chung, whose award-winning career began in 1969, was the first Asian and the second woman to become a nightly news anchor at a major network. In a "Wisdom Watch" conversation with host Michel Martin, Chung reflects on the discrimination she faced in her field, mistakes she has made, controversial interviews and her desire to make something of the "Chung" family name.

Connie Chung: On News, Family, Fighting With Humor

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time for our Wisdom Watch conversation. That's the part of the program where we talk to those who've made a difference through their work. We decided to reach out to a broadcasting pioneer: award-winning broadcast journalist Connie Chung. Her career in the news business has spanned more than four decades. She began as a copy girl in her hometown of Washington, D.C.

She went on to stints at CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN. She is the first Asian and the second woman to anchor one of America's major network newscasts. And of course she's known for her many exclusives including interviews with Chinese leader Li Peng on the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as basketball star Magic Johnson after he announced that he was HIV positive.

She has won many, many awards, as you might imagine, and I'm sure she won't mind our mentioning that she's also a wife and mother. And Connie Chung is with us now to tell us how she did it all. She's with us from our bureau in New York. Connie Chung, thank you so much for joining us.

CONNIE CHUNG: Michel, it's so good to be with you.

MARTIN: I've always wanted to ask you, how did you get the broadcasting bug?

CHUNG: In college I summer interned on Capitol Hill between my junior year and senior year. And prior to that I couldn't figure out what I wanted to major in. I watched reporters and watched what they did. And I was working for a congressman who was a former newspaper man. So he got me a little interested in writing. So wrote press releases for him.

By the time I went back in the fall, I decided I would switch to journalism. I was all set by the time I graduated in the sense that I knew what I wanted to do. I decided to go into television journalism because it was still fairly young then in 1969. And print journalism was beginning to die already. In Washington, D.C. an afternoon newspaper called The Evening Star folded.

So I plowed forward. I don't know, I was mighty driven. And for a small, diminutive-size Chinese person who grew up in a very loud family and never spoke up in my life, it was dramatic.

MARTIN: How were you received?

CHUNG: Well, I had these three great things going for me. I was young and experienced - and inexperienced. I was a woman and I was Chinese. So I never knew when people were giving me a hard time which reason it was, except when they would say, oh, this is yellow journalism or you slant the news. I fought with a sense of humor. I wouldn't let them get my goat by taking it seriously even if they meant it seriously.

MARTIN: Is there a story that stands out in your mind that - where you said to yourself, boy, I really made it? Or something that if people think Connie Chung, that's what you want them to think.

CHUNG: Well, I think there were different stages of that. Early on when I worked at CBS, I worked at a local station in Washington, D.C. first for just a couple of years, from copy person to on-air reporter. And then suddenly in 1971, CBS News, to make up for all the years of discrimination against women and minorities, decided to hire four of us: Leslie Stahl, Sylvia Chase, Michelle Clark and me.

Michelle was African-American, Leslie was a nice Jewish girl with blond hair, I was, of course, Chinese, and Sylvia Chase was a shiksa with blonde hair. So we had every combination and permutation to take care of business.

At any rate, CBS would hire new reporters and call them reporters. But then after some magical moment when they decided that you deserve the title of correspondent, they anointed you with that. So that was the first time - I think I made the correspondent title in about maybe two years, I think. That was the first time I thought, oh, I've made it.

It was more or less, I think, when I thought the other individuals with whom I was working, for instance, camera people and producers, felt as if they didn't have to berate me anymore for how I wrote or how I produced things or reported. Prior to that I think I was - went through a heavy hazing period.

MARTIN: A pivotal moment came in 1993 when you became the co-anchor of the "CBS Evening News" with Dan Rather. And I will just play this clip from your first broadcast. Take us down memory lane. Here it is.

CHUNG: Oh, my God.





CHUNG: For President Clinton, a lurch to the center. An exclusive CBS News poll showing the president having to scramble to regain popularity lost.

DAN RATHER: The killing fields of Bosnia. Shelling kills children on a soccer field in Sarajevo, while the world watches in horror.

CHUNG: And "Eye on America." Tonight, rich kids, poor kids, and yellow school buses. Why mixing could be fixing.


WENDELL CRAIG: This is the "CBS Evening News" with Dan Rather and Connie Chung.

RATHER: Good evening, and welcome, Connie.

CHUNG: Thank you, Dan.

Oh, my God, I really haven't heard that in eons. That's, that's great.

MARTIN: The reaction was kind of interesting. I mean there were some media critics who said that it demeaned the institution of network evening news broadcast. But obviously other people were, you know, thrilled. Did you want to do that job?

CHUNG: Oh, yes. I think I had always dreamed of it. I had always dreamt of being Walter Cronkite. You know, all that, you know, Walter, good evening, this is Walter Cronkite. Oh, man. I thought boy, if I could sit in his chair one day. But I always thought it was a dream. I never thought it would really happen. So when I got to sit in half of his chair, it was a mighty big deal in my mind. I was thrilled. It was difficult for Dan Rather because he had occupied that chair by himself, and to move over a few inches to make room for me or anyone was not an easy thing.

MARTIN: You had covered major stories by that point. You certainly earned your stripes in the field. Just why do you think that that didn't work?

CHUNG: I think a half-hour newscast on the network is a difficult broadcast to have two people. Sitting next to each other seemed like playing patty cake, you know what I mean? It didn't have a raison d'etre, I think.

MARTIN: Are you glad you did it?

CHUNG: Oh my God, yes. Very.

MARTIN: How come?

CHUNG: Well, good heavens. I mean there were so many good stories that I ended up covering as an anchor - the Oklahoma City bombing. I anchored, alone, Nixon's funeral. It was really quite exciting. You know, I mean otherwise, unless I were the anchor, I think someone else would have been covering those stories.

MARTIN: But you also had a signature interview program called "Eye To Eye With Connie Chung" that started in the mid-'90s. You had these one-on-one interviews with people.

CHUNG: But I think...


CHUNG: That was a mistake too. In other words to try...

MARTIN: Really?

CHUNG: Oh, sure. To try to do an evening news and your own magazine show, that's too much. The evening news deserved my full attention. And my husband kept telling me that. He told me a lot of things over the period of my career, and he was always right, but I never listened to him.


CHUNG: It was really quite remarkable, you know...

MARTIN: Your husband is also broadcaster, Maury Povich, for those who are not aware.


MARTIN: He's the host of his own syndicated program.

CHUNG: Right.

MARTIN: Well, how come you didn't listen?

CHUNG: I think I was strong-willed in many ways and thought I knew what was best for me. It's really funny but honestly, I can name chapter and verse of many things that he told me that - don't worry about that, worry about this.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you though, one of the, I'm wondering what you think your signature was as an interviewer. I know I have my own sort of personal idea about that. I'm curious what you think yours, what do you think?

CHUNG: You have your own?


CHUNG: But will you tell me what yours is too. If - I'm going to tell you.

MARTIN: Nobody wants to know.

CHUNG: Yeah, they - I do.



MARTIN: All right. You show me yours, I'll show you mine.



CHUNG: All right. Here we go. I think I'm really normal and ordinary. And so, therefore, when I talk to someone I am just kind of like your neighbor or your girlfriend or someone you went to school with or something like that. And so, I think when I sit down with someone, they trust me. They know that they're going to do whatever it is for television, yet they feel as if they're telling me. And I could be dead wrong. What do you think yours is?


MARTIN: Well, no. I want to talk about you.


MARTIN: I'll tell you later.




MARTIN: One of the things that I'm curious about is that...

CHUNG: I so want to know.

MARTIN: OK. I'll tell you later. But one of the...


MARTIN: ...that I'm so curious about is that you have a reputation for being an extremely nice person. You don't traffic in gratuitous gotcha questions. Your questions are always based on real things that people really want to talk about.

CHUNG: Thank you.

MARTIN: But you've had like these two kind of famous blowups where people just got all wiggy with you.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And I'm always curious about why you think that happened.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: One, of course, was that when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who appeared on "Eye To Eye" walked out on one of your questions.


MARTIN: Do you know why he did that?

CHUNG: Sure. I was giving him a hard time about the smaller companies that Microsoft would roll over. And I kept needling him about them. I wouldn't let it go. He walked out. It was quite momentous I thought.


CHUNG: You wonder why people sit down and do interviews, and they know full well they're subjecting themselves to any question. And they know full well that these issues exist and yet, you know, he walked off.

MARTIN: There was the other one where you got all kinds of public criticism - that you were interviewing Newt Gingrich's mother.

CHUNG: What happened was I had said to Mrs. Gingrich, just between you and me, kind of you know how older women who don't want to utter a word that is not so pleasant like, he's got cancer, or he had an affair? Well, she was doing that all during the interview. And then when we got to this moment and I said well, why don't you just whisper it to me, just between you and me? Because she knew full well that it was going to be on television. And that's what happened. She answered it, but Mr. Gingrich turned around and said that I was not being nice to his mother and I, she didn't know if she was on television. Quite the contrary. She did.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our Wisdom Watch conversation with renowned journalist Connie Chung. She's talking about her career. And hopefully now, I was hoping I could get you to talk a little bit about the rest of your life, because to my recollection, you are also one of the first prominent female journalists who talked openly about your need, desire to balance your work with having a family.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: I remember a major interview that was done with you about that. And I also remember this very interesting reaction from people saying, oh, she shouldn't talk about that. It's making it harder for women in the business, that kind of thing.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And can you just talk a little bit about that, if you would?

CHUNG: Sure. First, I forgot to get married and then I forgot to have a baby. So finally, Maury and I finally got married when I was 38 after seeing one another for seven years - long time. And then when I turned 40, he keep saying, you know, I know you want to have a baby. He had two children from his previous marriage - two daughters. He didn't really have any burning desire to have another child. He said - it was very loving. He said, I know you want to and we're just going to do this. And I go like, oh, no, I got another convention to cover. I got another election to cover.

The difficulty was when a woman is over 40 it doesn't just sort of, you can't snap your fingers. I was supposed to do another program - a magazine program - at CBS called "Face to Face." And I was going to be the only correspondent for the hour-long magazine program once a week. I knew I couldn't do that. So unfortunately, I went to the staff that had already been assembled and had been working with us, the producer and I, and told them I couldn't do this program that was scheduled to go in the fall, because I was doing - I didn't tell them I was doing in vitro fertilization. But that's what it ended up being because I had a miscarriage problem. And so we were trying to figure out a way to overcome that.

And as it turned out, we decided to adopt a son. We were going to adopt an American boy - a little Maury - and a Chinese baby girl - a little Connie. So once we got our boy and we went through the sleepless nights and all of that, we decided we're fine. We don't need two.


CHUNG: Never mind about the little Chinese girl. You know, we're tired. And now he's 15. And he's going to be 16 very soon.

MARTIN: Wow, almost an empty nester - almost.

CHUNG: Oh, God.

MARTIN: But, you know, you mentioned your sister. Do you mind if I mention that you are the 10th of 10 children?


MARTIN: You know, your father was an intelligence officer in the Chinese Nationalist government. That your parents had, as we mentioned, 10 kids.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Five of them died as babies.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And the remaining children immigrated with your parents to the United States in 1945. You were born here after they came to the United States. I was wondering whether that legacy marked you in some way.

CHUNG: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Did you feel...

CHUNG: Oh, yeah. It was profound. I think it was, you know, in China you don't want girls. You throw girls in a bag and put some rocks in a bag and you throw them in the river, because girls go live with their husbands in their husband's family. So the patriarch of the male family becomes larger than life. So when my parents, they had these boys interspersed with the girls. It was very disappointing to my parents and to the grandparents on both sides. And then when I was born in the United States and I was the 10th and I was yet another girl, it was well, oh, my poor parents. So the fact that my father didn't have someone to carry on the Chung name, I really felt I wanted to make the name something.

MARTIN: Can I ask about your heritage? You still are, I think, among the most visible people of Asian descent though, in this industry. I mean what do you make of that?

CHUNG: It's the you can only have one Chinese cheerleader on the squad syndrome. That you can have one Chinese person or one Asian. You can have one black, one Hispanic.

MARTIN: Did you think it would be different by now?

CHUNG: Yes. But it's not easy to break these habits and these male traditions. The cavemen are still in charge...


CHUNG: the networks, they are. Forgive me, but they're all white males and you can't get away from that.

MARTIN: I understand that you also prefer the term Asian to Asian-American. Why?

CHUNG: It's because in those old days when I was growing up, hyphens indicated half and half. And so I didn't consider myself half and half. You know, both my parents were Chinese so I'm Chinese. But I'm so Americanized because I grew up here. I was born here. I mean I'm about as American as anybody - Barack Obama, you know.


CHUNG: So I'm just Chinese.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, do you have some wisdom to share?

CHUNG: I would say to women who are trying to juggle it all, you can't really do it all 100 percent. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to do everything. And just tell your husband, or your significant other or whoever that other person may be, if you have another person in that household: Nothing is written that says you have to do it. So you share the duties. If it doesn't get across, then chill a little.

MARTIN: Yes, ma'am.


MARTIN: Chill out. That's it. That's what's up.

CHUNG: Yeah. Don't worry about it.

MARTIN: Connie Chung is an award-winning broadcast journalist. She has reported and anchored for CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN. She's won three Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, among many other awards, and she was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Connie Chung, thank you so much for joining us.

CHUNG: Michel, will you tell me about your interviewing technique?


CHUNG: What you think your - will you?

MARTIN: I will. I think that I am well-prepared and I've copied this from you. I'm well-prepared and I don't ask questions that don't have a good faith reason to be asked.

CHUNG: Good. OK.


CHUNG: Excellent. I'll take that with me. I'm going to take it to the bank.

MARTIN: All right. Take care. Thank you.


MARTIN: Good luck with everything. Yeah.

CHUNG: OK. Thank you. Thank you so much.


MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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