I saw CBS vice president Betsy West standing in the CBS building's eighth-floor lobby, waiting for the slow, unreliable elevators, and we laughed at how awful the previous night had been, how hurried and harried we all had been trying to get the story on. There had been shouting and impatience and flashes of anger. She laughed and said, "That's as close to the sausage making as I ever want to get." I'd told her that we'd all gotten sausage all over us and that was as close as I ever wanted to come to missing my deadline. We both felt good about the story and agreed that it had looked polished on the air, in contrast to the carnage left behind in the editing rooms and the offices where we had done our scripting.
This behind-the-scenes carnage was not particularly unusual in television. For fifteen years at CBS I had pushed back against deadlines to perfect a script, to change a shot, to make a story better. I had never missed a deadline, never put on a story that I did not feel comfortable with.
There was nothing more important to me, or to any of us at "60 Minutes," than getting the story right, no matter how limited the time or how tough the topic. I had a well-earned reputation for being able to "crash," to get a story on quickly and competently.
For whatever reason -- probably because I grew up in a large, loud, distracting family -- I was able to focus when others couldn't. I could keep writing when the room was full of people yelling at the top of their lungs. I was able to think clearly when the clock seemed to be ticking too fast.
The previous year, I had "crashed" an entire hour overnight for "60 Minutes Wednesday." Dan had done interviews with Ron Young and David Williams, the two Apache helicopter pilots who had crashed and been captured in Iraq. Rescued by U.S. Marines, the two men had been pursued by countless reporters and producers for an interview. My wonderful friend and associate producer, Dana Roberson, helped me talk the two pilots into trusting us to tell their story.
Steve Glauber, a veteran "60 Minutes" producer, had worked round the clock, flying to the other side of the world and then back from Kuwait in forty-eight hours, carrying precious videotape. He had done touching and important interviews with the rest of the pilots' unit, men and women who had mourned the two lost airmen after the crash. The unit members had vowed to find their comrades and had flown out on mission after mission wearing headbands with the two pilots' names on them.
We did the interviews with the pilots at two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. They were great. But now I only had a few hours to script and organize the editing of the broadcast, in order to make it to air the following night. And all of it had to be overseen and approved by Jeff Fager, then the broadcast's executive producer, and his right hand, senior producer Patti Hassler.
With their help and guidance, I was able to get the script done. The editors were phenomenal and put together a beautiful, heart-wrenching, and illuminating hour.
But there had been more than a few furrowed brows. Editor David Rubin had been doing his trademark shrieking down the hall from my office as he cut in pieces of digitized tape. Everyone was dead tired and on a brutal deadline. By airtime, we were all staggering around like the undead. But we had done it. And the next day, we'd had the same kind of tired but happy conversations we were having on September 9.