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Q & A

HATTIE KAUFFMAN: Consuming Job

August 11, 1991|Susan King

Hattie Kauffman is very busy these days. A frequent contributor to the CBS series "48 Hrs.," Kauffman is the national correspondent for "CBS This Morning." Last week she began double duty on that series as its new consumer affairs reporter.

Kauffman, a four-time Emmy winner, was a special correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America" from 1987 to 1990 and has been with "CBS This Morning" for the past year. The Pacific Northwest native previously was a reporter and anchor for six years at KING-TV in Seattle.

Kauffman talked about her new duties as consumer affairs reporter and her life as a correspondent with Susan King.

Will you be covering a wide range of subjects as consumer affairs reporter?

At first glance, when you hear "consumer affairs" it sounds like it is so limited, but it's really not because every one of us is a consumer. As soon as we wake up we make a consumer decision--What am I going to have for breakfast? When you turn on the TV you are being advertised to.

The alarm radio goes off and right away you are a consumer of that radio program and a target of those advertisers. So the stories will cover a very broad range. They won't all be stories about consumer fraud or dangerous products or that sort of thing. There will be simple how-tos, like how do you find an insurance company which is is not going to go under and take your pension.

We will have to do some investigative reporting, but obviously if you are on three times a week you can't have three exposes. Some stories will be hard-hitting and others will not. You might think of consumer affairs reporting as real dry. Yet, there is a human side to all of this and that is the real challenge--to make it human.

Have you ever done consumer affairs reporting before?

This is a change. It's different. I am learning more and more about it. I am going to be a very well-educated consumer.

I have been a national correspondent for CBS and a special correspondent for "Good Morning America." But I think it's a change that reflects what is going on out there in American society, especially with recession and times and money being tight. How you spend that money is something that matters a lot to America. I think, that in a sense, it's an extension of my continuing assignment as national correspondent.

Do you think you will investigate viewers' complaints?

Yes. I think our relationship with the viewers will develop. In fact, it won't take long before we have calls and letters coming in and some of those we will follow up on.

A lot of local stations around the U.S. are eliminating their consumer affairs' segments due to pressure from advertisers. Do you fear companies will apply pressure not to do hard-hitting stories?

No. I was told from the start that CBS is committed to this. Some of it is not just our own investigating of this or that product or fraud or consumer fraud; we will be highlighting the consumer watchdog groups around the country. We also will be following various bills (in Congress) designed to protect consumers.

I want to make clear that if someone comes forward and says a certain product caused them harm, we don't automatically believe he is telling the truth. It's not like we are going to be there to be manipulated and used. We have to work closely with our legal department. One thing that happens is you realize that almost everybody out there has an agenda.

Was it difficult for a woman reporter to be taken seriously when you began working 10 years ago?

Sometimes when I look back it's been a struggle. When I was a local reporter in Seattle for the NBC affiliate, after the big blast of Mount St. Helens there were several other eruptions. I wanted to get one of those assignments. And I went to the the assignment desk and said, "Send me up there," because it seemed like they were always sending the guys.

So one day I brought in big hiking boots and a parka and put them at my desk so I would be ready if there were any kind of rumblings. I got the assignment. I got on the helicopter and flew up there. There are some things you have to do to prove you are ready.

Did your status at the station change after that?

I started getting all the forest fires and hunting accidents (laughs).

How did you get hired for "Good Morning America"?

I began back in Seattle at first as an apprentice reporter and then I was hired as a general assignment reporter. I began to anchor the weekend news and I did that for the next three years. When my contract was coming up, I decided to throw a line in the water and see if anyone would bite. I hired an agent and sent out tapes. I always wanted to be a network correspondent. I always wanted to be someone who traveled the world and saw news happening. Just to be there, you are experiencing history. It is something that excites me still. And "Good Morning America" gave me that opportunity.

What history did you experience?

There was a Reagan-Gorbachev summit back in 1988, and a crew and I traveled into Siberia into a village in which we were the first Westerners to visit. We were there to shoot the village, but the village all came out to stare at us.

During the Persian Gulf War I was covering the families stateside, and to be there with them and to watch what is going on every day--the waiting and waiting and waiting. And then, as you saw, the rallies, cheering and yellow ribbons. It ended up being a real happy story.

"CBS This Morning" airs Monday-Friday at 7 a.m. on CBS.

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