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a NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
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March 3, 1999
  In the world of high profile interviews, the name of the game is who you "get." And so far this year, no "get" has been bigger than Barbara Walters' 20/20 interview with Monica Lewinksy. Media correspondent Terence Smith and guests take a look at what it takes it land such an interview.



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February 24, 1999: The story behind the story of Juanita Broaddrick.

February 17, 1999: Is there too much sex on tv?

February 5, 1999: The controversy surrounding People Magazine's cover story on Chelsea Clinton.

February 3, 1999:
Are we living in an age of tabloid journalism?

January 18, 1999:
Five college newspaper editors reflect on the impeachment trial.

January 13, 1999:
A look at the growth of netowrk news magazines

December 30, 1998:

What where the other big stories of the 1998.

December 23, 1998:
The world reacts to Clinton's impeachment

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TERENCE SMITH: For over a year, many of the central figures in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal have been seen -- but not heard.

(Correspondent): Mrs. Tripp, what did Ms. Lewinsky say in her conversation -

TERENCE SMITH: But now -- one-by-one--they are breaking their silence and coming forward to tell their stories in exclusive television interviews.

ED BRADLEY: I'm Ed Bradley.

The year of the "get."
TERENCE SMITH: For the correspondents who land them, these celebrity confessionals are journalistic trophies -- the big "gets" as television producers call them -- interviews like Ed Bradley's encounter with former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey on "60 Minutes" last March -- or Diane Sawyer's with Independent Counsel Ken Starr on "20/20" last November -- or Jamie Gangel's taped conversation with Linda Tripp on NBC's "Today" Show on the morning the Senate voted on the articles of impeachment. Days later, CNN's Larry King interviewed Tripp live in the studio, and then the woman whose sexual harassment suit started it all, Paula Jones.

Most recently, Lisa Myers of NBC interviewed Juanita Broaddrick, the woman known as Jane Doe #5 in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. She alleges that President Clinton, while serving as attorney general of Arkansas in 1978, assaulted her sexually. And coming next, the get of all gets, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Barbara Walters' taped interview will be featured on a special two-hour edition of ABC's "20/20." Independent Counsel Starr imposed some limits on what could be discussed.

BARBARA WALTERS: -- not restrictions on us but these are restrictions on Monica -- and the major one was that she could not comment on Ken Starr's investigation per se -

TERENCE SMITH: The interview may not contain hard news, but Ms. Walters says it is illuminating nonetheless.

BARBARA WALTERS: In this interview she takes us through the entire relationship, the whole rollercoaster ride of this relationship from that first day when she shows her thong to the way she feels about him now. You understand her; you understand the relationship; you understand the parts of her that aren't so wonderful.

TERENCE SMITH: ABC has defined the interview as a special, which permits it to quadruple the normal advertising rates for that time period. A 30-second commercial will cost $800,000, almost a Super Bowl-sized price. All told, ABC should make some $35 million from the two-hour interview. Monica Lewinsky will not be paid for her ABC appearance but she will receive $660,000 for a separate interview with Britain's Channel Four Television.

Her book, Monica's Story, will bring in several million more. Altogether, she may earn as much as $6 million from her story. But roughly half of that will go to taxes and agents' commissions. In addition, she is said to owe some $2 million in legal fees, transportation and security. So in the end, Monica Lewinsky's story -- the biggest get of them all -- may not get her much.

The players.
TERENCE SMITH: Now for more on what television executives, journalists, and viewers win and perhaps lose in the get game, we're joined by Jeff Zucker, executive producer of the "Today" show on NBC; Ken Auletta, media columnist for New Yorker magazine; and Carol Ross Joynt, a producer who for the past 15 years has focused on the art of wooing guests. She's secured interviews for Ted Koppel, David Brinkley, Larry King, and Charlie Rose. Welcome to you all.

TERENCE SMITH: Carol, let me begin with you and ask: How does it work? What are the tricks of the trade? How do you persuade people to come on your broadcast, rather than another one?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT, Television Producer: I have always believed, especially in the 90's, that booking is what journalism has evolved into in broadcasting, and I think that at its best, it is journalism. At its worst, it's mudwrestling, but I try and I think most of the other bookers I know use the basic principles of Journalism 101: persistence, persistence, persistence, do a lot of research, and don't be afraid to go to the phone book.

TERENCE SMITH: And you send flowers from time to time.

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: You send flowers; you send candy. But I think that gets blown way out of proportion to the numbers of times that bookers are just making phone calls, making relationships, and doing good journalism.

TERENCE SMITH: Jeff, Jeff Zucker, why is it so important to a broadcast such as yours to be the first?

JEFF ZUCKER, "Today Show": Well, I think, you know, you always want to be first just - I mean, I think that's the oldest game in the book. The New York Times wants to be first; Time magazine wants to beat NewsWeek; "20/20" wants to beat "Dateline;" the "Today Show" wants to beat "60 Minutes," "Good Morning America," because you know that the first time somebody tells their story is when there's going to be the greatest interest. When there's the greatest interest, there will be the greatest ratings, and, you know, we're in this game for both journalism, because actually the one thing about what Carol said is I think that journalism may be in part booking but it's also in part - in large part - the interview, and you know, this journalism is about that interview, and it's about bringing the biggest number of eyeballs to the set to watch that interview, just as Time, Newsweek, or the New Yorker wants to bring the greatest number of readers to its magazine, and that's why it's important to be first.

"A kind of mindless arms race."
TERENCE SMITH: Ken Auletta, is there any harm in any of this?

KEN AULETTA, New Yorker: Well, I mean, I think it's true that we all - we all try and cajole and be persistent to get people to talk to us, and there's no difference between a journalist and a booker in that regard; we all do the same thing in that sense. But I think the harm is that oftentimes there's a kind of mindless arms race that goes on here to get people who are hot. Now, I don't think our mission in journalism is just to get as many people in the tent as we can. Obviously, we'd like to; I want to write a piece for the New Yorker and have as many people read it as possible. But there are some subjects that it seems to me we get excessive about, and many of the guests that appear on these tabloid shows - and not just the tabloid shows but many of the magazine shows that are now tabloid on the networks - are - we're searching for that hot candidate, that hot person who hasn't been talked to before - to get that biggest audience we can, and we don't stop and think whether the person is important and worthy of say of two hours' of network time as Monica Lewinsky is going to get.

TERENCE SMITH: In other words, a celebrity culture, Carol, more than news?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: Well, it's - I'm sure this has happened with Jeff also. One of the big debates we used to always have at "Larry King" was the - just how important it was to be first. And I sometimes felt that we benefited from being second, because the big guest of the week would go on with Barbara Walters or Oprah or the "Today Show" and it would be a taped interview. They might say things that they thought about a little bit more after they heard it on tape, buzz would develop over the weekend, and then they'd come on "Larry Live," and we'd have a bigger audience. We'd get a bounce from the tape interview they did first.

JEFF ZUCKER: You know, Terry, to Ken's point about -- about the people that you talked about in your tape setup to this entire conversation, I think that the public is actually better off for having heard from all those people that we have heard from in the last year. I think Ken's right, that there does come some point where some of the people who are being chased for some of these gets probably aren't worthwhile. But I do think that the people you talked about in your taped setup spot to this segment, the public is better off from having heard their stories.

  News or entertainment?
  TERENCE SMITH: Well, looking at those interviews, Ken, are they news or are they entertainment?

KEN AULETTA: Well, sometimes they're both. My own take is that too often they are more entertainment and driven by entertainment values and driven by not a news value that says, "Is this an important subject that we feel we have to illuminate, that we feel we are educating in some way the public and giving them stuff they need to know?" -- or are we driven by a concern for ratings and for maximizing our profit?

JEFF ZUCKER: But, Ken -- but, Ken, which of those guests that Terry talked about in his opening segment weren't newsworthy?

KEN AULETTA: No, I think Monica Lewinsky is newsworthy. I, frankly, would not give her two hours, and I'd be fired the next day. But, you know, okay, but that's a decision that ABC and Barbara have made for whatever reasons and they may still.

TERENCE SMITH: Jeff, were you in the running, the "Today Show", for the Lewinsky interview?

JEFF ZUCKER: Of course. And, you know, hopefully in time we'll be second, as Carol alluded to. But, you know, I think that everybody wanted the Monica Lewinsky interview and, you know, I think everybody understands why Barbara Walters got it.


CAROL ROSS JOYNT: What about John King? Is that where you draw the line? Would you -- because I was saying to Terry that it would seem to me that I bet he's already on the tops of some people's list.

TERENCE SMITH: Let's explain that John King is the now-convicted murderer in the Jasper, Texas, dragging death case and pretty much as horrific-

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: And that's one I wouldn't want to have to go after.

JEFF ZUCKER: Personally, I think that it's not something we have or will or would want to pursue.

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: But you know what I mean, that that can become suddenly the compelling -

JEFF ZUCKER: But I think that may be a good example of what Ken is talking about, --


JEFF ZUCKER: -- which is not important.

  Pushing the envelope.
  KEN AULETTA: But it's not just that. If you're driven by a concern to maximize your audience and really to titillate them too often -- I'm not saying all the time -- then you're going to -- at some point, you're going to do live executions. You're just going to say, "God, we've got to get something that's new and fresh." And, Lord knows, a live execution is.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. Carol, I assume over the years there have been some big fish that have gotten away?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: Yes. I mean, there are -- one of my biggest fish, and I imagine she'll never do an interview, is Leona Helmsley. I don't know, Jeff may be getting somewhere with her, I don't know. But I found myself sitting at dinner with her one night with her giving me all the reasons why she should never do an interview, and though I'm working for somebody and they're paying me and I'm going to do everything I possibly can to get that interview, I find myself privately sitting there thinking, "She's right; there's no reason for her to do an interview." So that happens. But there were people I was probably never going to get -- Princess Diana.

JEFF ZUCKER: Carol, did you tell her that?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: No, of course not. I'm working.

JEFF ZUCKER: I wouldn't have.

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: But Princess Diana.

TERENCE SMITH: You tried to get her on?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: Of course. I mean, everybody wanted to get the big interview with Diana, and I wrote her letters probably monthly, and you assume they're just going into this big void. You get answers back, but they're not from Diana. And one night I found myself at a dinner in Washington, and she was there, and I was introduced to her, and when she heard my name, she said, "I get so many letters from you." I was stunned.

TERENCE SMITH: Did it help?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: No, it didn't do any help at all.

KEN AULETTA: But what about -- what about the other angle, when you work so hard to get an interview with someone, is there too often an implicit -- I don't mean explicit, I mean implicit-- condition that you're going to be gentle?

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: No, not at all.

JEFF ZUCKER: Speaking from my standpoint, absolutely not. I don't think so, Ken. I mean, I think that it's -- I think a lot of times what happens is that we can't afford that because, you know, we're only as good as our credibility, and also for the person that you're booking or that you're asking to do an interview with, you know, the best thing they can do is come on and do a credible, serious, hard-hitting, serious interview. It better serves them and it better -- it obviously, you know, is what's important to us.

  A matter of trust.
  TERENCE SMITH: But Carol, I would assume you do have to persuade the subject that there's some sympathy there - or some appreciation of their situation.

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: No. You know, newer booking -- what booking has become, as well as journalism, is that you're practically a lawyer negotiating also, especially nowadays when publishers control so much of who goes where, when, and how and there's contracts and so forth that have to be signed. But it is a relationship. At its best it's a relationship. The booker is the front line of that relationship, but in the end you're going to be putting the person you're after down with an anchor, host, talent, whatever you want to call them, another person, and they have to have a certain amount of trust toward each other. But the - what Ken was talking about, it comes up. People say, "Well, what about Larry's questions or Ted's questions or who?" And you just, you say, "Well, we don't go there, we don't talk about that, that's not dealt with."

TERENCE SMITH: Ken Auletta, there's another issue here. People have suggested that it's something very close to checkbook journalism, a backhanded form, perhaps. Is it?

KEN AULETTA: Well, I mean, there are some bookers with some tabloid shows that do actually pay and some newspapers pay. Most credible journalistic organizations, "Today Show" doesn't, Koppel doesn't pay the people, but if you have someone down for a weekend and you pay them first-class and maybe you bring some of their family with them, and you set them up with dinner and shows, I assume -- I read that that goes on, I assume that that goes on. And if you have someone doing a book and they are -- and you are the first stop on their book tour, there is real value to some of these things. Now, it isn't cash, it isn't a written check, but there's value exchanged.

TERENCE SMITH: Jeff, there's great value, I'm told, to authors who want to appear on the "Today Show". It is believed to be one of those shows that really sells books. So that's an incentive. But is there any problem with that?

JEFF ZUCKER: I don't think it's a problem as long as -- you know, as long as we're not -- you know, as ken said, we're not paying for that interview, we're giving them a platform to talk about their book, but, you know, we're interested in the book as well because we assume that this is a book that some -- that our audience should or would want to know about. You know, so just as we are interested in talking to that author, it works for the author as well, that it gives them a platform to sell their book and, you know, I'm hopeful that when Ken is finished with his next book, he'll want to stop on the "Today Show" and sell his book.

KEN AULETTA: In a minute.

JEFF ZUCKER: Done. Ken, done.

TERENCE SMITH: What about "Monica's Own Story"?

JEFF ZUCKER: In terms of coming on the "Today Show"?


JEFF ZUCKER: Well, I mean, her people know, Monica knows that we would love for Monica to come on the "Today Show." I think that actually this is a perfect example of what Carol was talking about that she's going to do this two-hour taped interview with Barbara. You know, I think that a little while later after that buzz has died down, the dynamic of coming on the "Today Show" for a live interview, a life television interview, is quite different than that two-hour taped interview and would probably work to her advantage and we'd love the opportunity to do that.

CAROL ROSS JOYNT: I was one of the people who thought Monica should never do anything, that she should just stay quiet and mysterious, but then you see her legal bills and she doesn't have that option.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. All right. Thank you all three very much about the get game.