Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eye For An Eye, March 1995

Connie Chung was the second woman to anchor the evening news (Barbara Walters was the first). Sharing the spotlight with co-anchor Dan Rather seemed prickly, but Chung was definitely a rising star. As per her agreement with CBS, Connie Chung premiered her own primetime news magazine, Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, a producer-heavy tabloid affair seeking to make a dent in the ratings.

In an early telecast in March 1995, while interviewing Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's mother, Kathleen, Chong was offered a juicy tidbit from Mom Gingrich. Newt had asked her not to mention his feelings about First Lady Hillary Clinton. Connie, playing to the producer's whim, asked Mom Gingrich to whisper it in her ear. Just as Ms. Gingrich leaned in and whispered "he thinks she's a bitch," the microphone's recording level was amplified, catching it all on tape.

Newt Gingrich was furious. He accused the news magazine of taking advantage of his mother's lack of sophistication, and a flood of other media outlets began covering the hot story. Other networks saw no hypocrisy in repeatedly playing the Eye to Eye clip to capitalize from it. It was an embarrasment to CBS, Dan Rather, and CBS Evening News. By May, Chung was demoted and she walked away from the CBS network and Eye to Eye. Connie Chung's award-winning career in journalism never recovered, and television news continued its downward spiral into sensationalism.

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