Ira Rosen, longtime producer at 60 Minutes, has written a book about his career in TV news. The book begins in the pre-computer era, when producers would play what Rosen calls “airport roulette”--heading to the airport and buying a ticket on the next flight available, whether it was to Detroit or San Francisco or Miami. Upon arrival, the producer would buy all the local newspapers and see if there was a story worth pursuing for 60 Minutes.
Rosen writes at length about working with fabled correspondent Mike Wallace, who could be brutal on producers--especially young, inexperienced ones--but repeatedly cranked out ground-breaking reports.
“Mike’s abuse, I was to learn, affected people in different ways,” Rosen writes.
“The least harmful way was that your back went out. Allan [Maraynes] walked around with a back brace. The tension of the job led other producers to develop heart disease or cancer at an early age. One lucky producer ‘only’ got ulcers, which he nicknamed Myron, Mike’s real name. For me, my back would go into spasms during my entire time working with Wallace.”
Rosen details a number of 60 Minutes reports that changed the world, including one on insider trading within Congress, another on the American and Soviet inventors of the hydrogen bomb, and a 2017 report on the opioid crisis. Others, including a Bill Whitaker interview with Kim Kardashian, not so much.
Rosen told B+C that being a 60 Minutes producer was like being Superman. “You have these superpowers to right the wrongs of society,” he said. Upon retiring, he added, “Now I’m back to being Clark Kent.”
Rosen also offers compelling close-ups of the correspondents, including Wallace, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft and Katie Couric. “The truth was that she was lazy and disengaged,” he said of Couric, “and thought she was smarter than all of us who worked on the show. She wasn’t.”
Rosen also details the newsmag’s missteps, including the erroneous Dan Rather report in 2004 related to President Bush’s National Guard service, and former chairman Jeff Fager getting fired for harassment in 2018.
Besides his nearly 25 years at 60 Minutes, Rosen also chronicles his time at ABC, where he worked on Primetime Live, and worked with Chris Wallace, son of Mike. He finished his career back at 60 Minutes, retiring in 2019.
“When I first arrived at 60 Minutes in the 1980s, there was a sense of mission, a calling--we felt we were doing the work of the Lord. But as time went by, I felt that the stories we produced were getting softer, the producers younger and more inexperienced, and the sense that each show we did should make a difference no longer seemed to matter,” he wrote.
“Now I would stand outside my corner office, located at the nexus of correspondents’ and producers’ rows, and listen for the shouting and laughter that was once commonplace but is now gone. It felt like I was working in a library. I simply didn’t want to be there anymore.”
Ticking Clock is an entertaining, well written account of a storied TV series, and the colorful personalities that made it up. It also offers valuable pointers for anyone considering a life in TV news.
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