Facing Facts

Facing Facts

January 31st, 2014 by Mary Beth Torgerson in Local Regional News

Connie Chung

Although journalist Connie Chung became a household name in light of her trailblazing career as the first Asian and the second woman to anchor one of America's major network news programs when she co-hosted the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, Chung says it was never her intention to be a pioneer.

Connie Chung's Thoughts On...

The current state of the media

"When I first started back in 1969, there just weren't a lot of women in television news. I went into television because it seemed like it was a field that you could grow in.

Back then, a newspaper in my hometown folded and that was pretty early on but it was pretty clear that newspapers would eventually be on the wane and television was the new kid in town.

Now television has become the dinosaur and the Internet is the new kid in town. I'm sad about it. I hate to be such an oldie, but the fact of the matter is, television news really isn't the same. There's too much opinion in television news and I think today's news creates a combativeness and a negativity that I prefer to not have. I really don't want to turn the television on to hear people screaming at me."

Her son Matthew's potential career as a journalist

"Not a chance. He is so not the type of person who wants to be out there. He finds standing up in class just a horrible experience. He's very quiet and not a big talker."

Her husband, Maury Povich, and his talk show

"Determining the paternity of every child in America is a big job, so he has to keep going with his show. He keeps saying he comes back every fall after having the summer off and he thinks it's going to be his last season, but NBC keeps telling him they've sold the show again for another couple of years. He says, 'But I was going to go into assisted living at that time.' But he keeps doing it. I think it's a good thing. Otherwise, he would just be playing golf."

The most impactful stories of her career

"Watergate was such a huge story. It was the story of the decade ... the taking down of a president of the United States. The ones who covered it will never forget it. We all went through withdrawal symptoms after that like no other story will ever be as significant. It was just an amazing experience.

One thing that occurred that was just so memorable to me was when President Nixon was literally hiding in the White House and was hunkering down and not dealing with press. I was walking back in the White House toward the press room to keep the seat warm for the White House correspondent-I was just a cub journalist at the time-and I ran into Nixon himself who was at the northwest gate. Naturally I ran over to him.

The Secret Service swarmed around me, and I started talking to him and asking him questions about Watergate. When the other members of the press saw him, they started running over but the Secret Service kept them back. Of course he wouldn't answer any of my questions, but he asked me, 'How much money do you make?' I said, '$25-26,000 a year.' He said, 'You got to try to make more money than that.' What am I supposed to say to that? I'm talking to the President of the United States in the thick of Watergate, and he's asking me about how much money I make. What a total weirdo."

"When people say I'm a pioneer, I think 'What, me?' I was just a cub reporter and then-bingo. I think many times it's longevity that keeps you there and the desire to continue to improve. I wasn't raising a flag or burning my bra or anything like that," says Chung. "It was just one foot in front of another and then one day you realize you forgot to go to sleep and forgot to get married and forgot to have a baby.

Tune in to Connie Chung

Three-time Emmy Award-winner Connie Chung will serve as the keynote speaker for Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's 9th Annual IMPACT Leadership Dinner on Thursday, February 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit cwli.org.

"I just decided what career I would pursue and I was trying to keep my head above water," she says. "You struggle ... you set one little goal and another little goal, and that's what I did. I had my head buried in my work with dogged determination."

Just months after launching her CBS program Face to Face with Connie Chung in 1990, Chung made the controversial decision at age 44 to take a step back from her journalistic career to focus on having a baby with her husband, Maury Povich.

"A lot of the women who are contemporary, we would call ourselves news hens. We all had rude awakenings at some point when we realized that we had forgotten about our personal lives," she says. "Women tend to be so focused and tend to work so hard and carry the water. We can forget about our own personal needs."

Although Chung, who will deliver the keynote speech for the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute's February 27 dinner, says it was a "no brainer" for her to leave at the time, the huge blowback from viewers and critics left her wondering why it was so controversial for her to try to pursue both career and family. "It became a much bigger deal than I expected. I didn't think it was going to make news-I was just telling the truth. We released it in a press release and I ended up on the cover of People magazine with a headline like 'I want a baby,'" she says, laughing.

"I said, 'Please don't do that. Oh god, you don't have to do that ... and they did." With that candid public admission, Chung unintentionally became the poster child for women looking to become mothers later in life. The world watched as she and Povich tried to grow their family, crying with them through disappointments and cheering them on when they eventually turned to adoption.

In spite of the struggle she faced, Chung gave career women around the world a hope that they could have their cake and eat it too when it came to family and work. "I think it's really very difficult for women to have it all. I think we can in many ways, but we have to make our choices in stages. For some people, trying to have it all simultaneously is possible, but for other people it needs to be separated with a break.

In other words, taking a step back from one of those jobs," Chung says. "It depends on your personality. If you feel you have to give either 100 percent to your personal or professional life, then you probably do have to take a break from one.

"Men have a great capacity to compartmentalize and can separate their worries a little bit better. We women have to take a cue from the men on how to give ourselves a break. We worry a lot about the other parts in our lives when we should surgically remove ourselves from that home zone when we're at work and surgically remove ourselves from the work zone when we're at home. Women can't seem to do that because they're so much more dedicated than those lazy guys."

News(wo)man

Being a woman in the media field impacted more than just Chung's personal life. She had to learn to adapt to the male-dominated industry that, at the time, had very few repercussions for blatant sexism. Chung had to fight to gain the respect she deserved-and sometimes that meant fighting fire with fire.

"There was no such thing as politically incorrect behavior back then and there was so much sexism. So, I would engage in sexual innuendo before they would, and they were probably a little shocked that this delicate little lotus blossom was not a naive innocent flower," she says. "It sort of confused those poor boys and left their heads spinning a little. I seemed sweet and everything but I could play hardball. My thought was that nothing could offend me so go ahead and say whatever you want. They actually get bored when you offend them first. They become little girls hiding behind their mother's skirts."

Although the workplace isn't the same animal as when Chung got her start- and even when she decided to leave it-she says that women still have a long way to go in many industries to find a place of equality.

"I think for all women who have been in the workplace, we have a common story. We can all relate to the difficulties that we have starting early on when you're young and you don't have as much experience and being a woman in a male-dominated field," she says. "No matter what field you enter, it still seems to be male dominated.

There are very few career paths that are female dominated, but even when it comes to management of female dominated professions, it can be very male dominated. I think we all share a sisterhood of how to survive that kind of minority status and every woman's story has something that can help another one of her sisters."