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Q & A

JUDY WOODRUFF : Turning to CNN

July 25, 1993|STEVEN LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Judy Woodruff, formerly with public television's "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," joined CNN as co-anchor of two weekday newscasts, "Inside Politics" with Bernard Shaw and "The World Today" with Frank Sesno, on June 7.

The 46-year-old veteran broadcast journalist covered the White House for NBC beginning in 1977. She reported on the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and became Washington correspondent for the "Today" show in 1982.

In 1983 Woodruff moved from NBC to PBS to serve as chief Washington correspondent for "MacNeil/Lehrer" and the anchor of "Frontline."

She talked about her latest transition with Times Staff Writer Steven Linan.

Why did you decide to leave PBS for CNN?

When (CNN president) Tom Johnson first came to me last December, he said, "Would you ever consider leaving 'MacNeil/Lehrer'?" and my first reaction was, "No. I love where I am. I've been here for 10 years. It's a great place to be, but why do you ask?" And he said, "I'd like to talk to you about a position in our Washington bureau" and we talked about the opportunity to cover Washington in some depth and expand on CNN's coverage of the capital.

I'm intrigued by what CNN has done. I think they've shown, particularly in the last few years, that they are setting the pace when it comes to not just breaking news but all sorts of news of importance to American and international consumers. And I ultimately decided I wanted to be a part of it. Having said that, it was a very difficult decision. I'd been with "MacNeil/Lehrer" 10 years. I am very close to the people I worked with there. They're like family and it was a very gut-wrenching decision. But I did make the decision finally in April, and here I am.

And you feel good about that decision?

Yes, it's been exciting. I mean it is an adjustment. I have to get used to introducing commercials .

You've worked for commercial, public and now cable television. What primary differences do you see in their approach to the news?

The difference primarily for me is in the format and in the mission. At NBC, there was very much the traditional, commercial network commitment to news with the focus being on the evening newscast and the morning newscast. At "MacNeil/Lehrer," it was a one-hour national program focusing on giving people in-depth coverage, looking behind the headlines, helping the audience understand the story. Here at CNN, the focus is broader. They are putting news on around the clock and trying to do it better and better every day. But it is a much bigger operation. It is an operation that is geared heavily to getting the news on accurately and getting it on quickly. And I think people turn to CNN for that reason.

What's your strong suit as a reporter?

I'm very, very curious. And I don't like to stop working on a story until I think I understand it. And a lot of times that takes many, many questions before I think I understand it. I'm persistent, I'm curious and I have a natural love of politics and government. I really love the process and I love trying to figure out what makes politicians tick and what makes people who are successful in politics tick.

Your husband (Wall Street Journal Washington bureau chief Albert Hunt) was quoted as saying you have less ego than almost anyone he knew in the business. True or false?

He may have been--how do I put this?--fudging a little bit. I have some ego. I think he meant I may have less compared to some other people in Washington. We have some fairly monumental egos running around this town. But on the other hand, you must have some ego to survive in this business, so I confess to having some .

I came across a quote you once gave: "I love asking questions and hate answering them." Do you really feel that way and why?

Yeah, I really do. I'm much more comfortable probing an issue or finding out about someone else, and I guess I've basically been a fairly private person most of my life, even though I've had to get used to answering questions about what I do. I'm still fairly private. There's a part of me that I don't like to share and if you're interviewing me and you're a good reporter, you're going to want to ask questions to get to the bottom of what I'm talking about or who I am or whatever. So I like to reserve that little bit of privacy.

Would you ever see yourself as part of a story?

I'm uncomfortable with that. I really came up as an old-fashioned journalist. Someone who covers the story and reports on the story but doesn't make herself part of the story. And I feel very strongly about that.

And the idea of being a celebrity is not appealing?

Well, there's an inevitable amount of celebrity that comes with being on television because a lot of people see you and they feel they know you and they write you letters or they call you, and I accept that. I enjoy hearing from viewers and meeting people who've seen what we do on television. But I'm not interested in going Hollywood. Is that the term? I don't need to be on the cover of People magazine. Not that they'd ever want me on the cover, mind you. I mean they probably wouldn't if they wanted to sell them.

"Inside Politics" and "The World Today" air at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays on CNN, respectively.

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