Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes: “Messy backroom brawls involving competing personalities and enormous egos.”

From a Washington Post review by Susan Benkelman of the book “Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at ’60 Minutes'” by Ira Rosen.

Television news producers operate outside the spotlight, figuring out story angles, sweating the details and persuading reluctant sources to go on camera. They also manage impossibly difficult personalities, get blamed for segments that go off the rails and generally don’t get credit for things that go right.

Ira Rosen lasted 40 years in this environment, some of that time spent as a producer for the legendary Mike Wallace, who in Rosen’s telling was as intimidating behind the scenes as he was on camera, bullying producers until they were literally sick. “The tension of the job led other producers to develop heart disease or cancer at an early age,” Rosen writes in his memoir, “Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes.” One producer named his ulcers “Myron,” Wallace’s birth name.

Rosen, it seems, found his own way to manage the stress: He took notes.

The result is his inside account of his career as a producer that included 25 years at CBS and 15 at ABC. In his period at the networks, he won awards uncovering government fraud and corporate malfeasance; telling the stories of gangsters, con men, spies and corrupt officials; freeing the wrongly convicted; and landing interviews with the hardest of the hard-to-get.

But the essence of Rosen’s book involves the stories behind those stories. From it viewers of “60 Minutes” will learn that the polished, disciplined news program they see each Sunday night is — or was — a product of messy backroom brawls involving competing personalities and enormous egos with varying levels of talent.

Years of belittlement from self-important correspondents have obviously stuck with Rosen, given what he writes about them. . . .

Of Diane Sawyer, he says: “Though I loved [her] intelligence and commitment to the work, I hated her two-faced qualities. If she was overly friendly and began to kiss you on the cheeks to say hello, chances are she was trashing you behind your back.”

Steve Kroft, with whom he worked in his second stint on the program, “seemed fueled by a deadly mix of narcissism and self-destruction.”

Katie Couric, with whom Rosen worked on a 2008 interview with Hillary Clinton, “was lazy and disengaged, and thought she was smarter than all of us who worked on the show. She wasn’t.”. . .

The heart of the book involve his work with Wallace, whom Rosen joined in 1980 after getting noticed for his work on a local TV show in New York City. By then, Executive Producer Don Hewitt had perfected the television news magazine genre he invented. The show was wildly successful, and Wallace was a TV icon. Working for him, Rosen writes, meant learning the art of interviewing from the “Picasso” of the form.

Rosen was an unlikely hire, and Wallace was initially unimpressed. But he says he clinched the job when he told Wallace he’d played tennis at Cornell. “Mike thought that if I didn’t work out as a producer, he could get six months of good tennis out of me before firing me,” Rosen writes.

If that has an old-boys-network feel, the rest of the book verifies the hunch. The toxic masculinity of the show is a recurring theme — Wallace, he writes, was a bra-strap-snapper and behind-grabber in the early days — and it’s a dynamic that would come to take on greater prominence in the “60 Minutes” narrative.

Rosen recounts the mood at the network in 2017, after eight women told The Washington Post that “CBS This Morning” co-host Charlie Rose, then a contributor to “60 Minutes,” had made unwanted sexual advances toward them. Later, the New Yorker broke a story on sexual misconduct allegations against CBS chief executive Les Moonves, a story that included allegations that “60 Minutes” Executive Producer Jeff Fager allowed harassment in the news division, which he denied. . . .

It’s no surprise that Rosen’s advice to other journalists would involve source development. Persuading people to talk was at the core of his job. The book details story after story of his efforts to get people to tell him things, and then say those same things on camera.

Often it was a delicate negotiation, and it sometimes involved, yes, flirting — or something like it. He told Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, who had earlier propositioned him, that he would go home with her if she could deliver any tapes of Donald Trump at Epstein’s compound. It’s not clear if he was joking. In any case, she never did.

One source Rosen worked hard to cultivate was 2016 Trump campaign architect Steve Bannon, who sat for an interview on “60 Minutes” in 2017. Bannon, with whom Rosen exchanged more than 1,000 texts, “trusted me in a way he never trusted any reporter,” Rosen writes. And he says that at times he acted as Bannon’s “therapist-friend” and kept their conversations private, even though they were on the record unless otherwise specified.

All this source-tending would be suitable material for a course in journalism ethics. But Rosen’s account leaves a reader with the feeling that such cozy relationships are a necessary part of success in big-time TV.

Wallace might have been the Picasso of interviews, but his producer had to be the master of landing them in the first place. Without them, the lifeblood of the program would be gone — no exclusive, no uncomfortably close camera angle, no confrontation and, ultimately, no “60 Minutes.” The pressure was enough to give you a Myron.

Susan Benkelman, a writer and editor, has served as director of accountability journalism at the American Press Institute and as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and Congressional Quarterly.

Also see the New York Times review by Jim Windolf of the 60 Minutes book—the opening grafs:

Ira Rosen probably would have liked nothing more than to mark the end of his long career in TV news by writing a gruffly charming reminiscence of the kind that journalists tend to publish after age 65, one of those sometimes gritty, sometimes glamorous accounts filled with anecdotes of hairy deadlines, scenes of life-threatening encounters in far-flung locations and a dash of gossip to season the narrative. But Rosen, who won 24 Emmys in 40 years for a body of work that included investigative reports on politicians, business leaders, gangsters and spies, had a problem that kept him from writing that kind of thing. The problem was that he spent most of his career at “60 Minutes” — and for decades the “60 Minutes” workplace was a pit of sexual harassment and everyday abuses.

As he writes in “Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at ‘60 Minutes,’” Rosen found success thanks to his working relationship with the show’s top correspondent, Mike Wallace, who had won the admiration of millions with an interviewing style that made powerful men sweat and stammer as they tried to worm their way out of his inquisitions. Rosen also describes enduring years of misery thanks to Wallace, whose workday behavior — sexually harassing women in the office; subjecting colleagues to tirades and tantrums — belied the righteous enforcer he played on camera for some 50 years. . . .

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