Carly Fleischmann Interviews Meredith Vieira

Transcript– March 13, 2011

I have only had the pleasure of having one older brother. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have three. What was it like growing up with three older brothers and how did it impact how you are as a person?

I have three older brothers: Edwin, Steve and Jeff. People always ask me if, growing up, I was the “princess” of the house, and I say no. I was, and still am, a tomboy. I wanted to be like my brothers, only better. If Jeff climbed half way up the jungle gym, then I had to scale it to the top. Back when I was kid, less was expected of little girls…but not in my home. My mother would always point to my brothers and say, “Anything they can do, you can do, too.” my brothers were always high achievers and I followed their example.

How do you juggle being a mother, wife and a career woman? Does any thing get put on the backburner because of the other one?

I have found through experience that the best way to juggle being a wife, mother, and career woman is to accept the fact that you will drop the ball from time to time. Nobody can be everything to everybody 24 hours a day. Having said that… When my middle child, Gabriel, who is now a sophomore in college, was in first grade, the class held a special day called colonial times. Every child was supposed to dress up in an outfit a child might have worn during the 1600′s. I was so harried at work that i forgot to mark the day on our calendar. Needless to say, Gabe showed up at school without a costume. He was the only one. His teacher helped pull together some clothes that worked well enough, but I know he felt embarrassed…and I felt like a total failure as a parent. I had let down my child. It took me a long time to forgive myself for being human. I was convinced Gabe would be traumatized for life. Of course he grew up to be a totally cool, self possessed young man. But I’m still carrying around some of that mommy guilt all these years later!

I have done a handful of interviews and I can’t pick which one I would call the best.  In all the years you have been reporting to date, who has been the most interesting person you have interviewed?

It’s impossible to pick just one person since I find people, in general, to be interesting for all sorts of different reasons. But, the one interview that stays with me is the interview with a little seven- year-old boy named Anthony. I met him in Chicago while doing a story on hunger in America for CBS news (back when I worked there as a correspondent in the 80′s). Anthony was an old soul in a child’s body.  His dad had abandoned his mom when he was a baby. His mother was an alcoholic. As Anthony said to me, “I don’t look for trouble…trouble comes to me.” he lived in a tenement, blew his nose on the sponge in the kitchen sink because they had no Kleenex, and dreamed about fish sticks, his idea of a fancy meal. And yet he was one of the strongest people I have ever met. He was determined to make something of himself.

 

After I shot my interview with him, I told him to stay in touch…that he could call me collect whenever he wanted.

For years later, he would call in to CBS on a regular basis. He became so well known that anyone who answered the phone would accept a “collect call from Anthony.” I think we became his life preserver…something to hold on to when things got rough back home. Anthony went on to become the first kid in his family to graduate from high school.

If you could sit down face to face and interview anyone throughout history, who would you choose and why?

I think I would probably choose Jesus Christ. I am not a particularly religious person, but Jesus has had a greater impact on mankind than anyone else I can name. Besides, I’d love to know if I am going to heaven!

I personally think being a reporter would be an amazing job but if you had the opportunity to explore another career path, where do you think you would find yourself? Why?

If I weren’t a reporter, I believe I’d be doing something with animals or kids. A few years ago, I did a story on the big apple circus’s outreach program known as clown care. I was allowed to take on a clown persona…Dr. Ditsie…and come along with the other clown
doctors as they visited sick children at a local hospital in NYC. As “Dr. Ditsie”, I told silly jokes and sang silly songs and helped these very ill children forget their illness. For that moment, they were just kids. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. When I left, the other clown doctors invited me to become part of the clown care program on a permanent basis. I would be incredibly proud to do so.

Have you ever interviewed someone you thought you really admired and respected and then found yourself disappointed in the aftermath of meeting them? Who and why?

I have met people I really admired from afar, who have disappointed me up close and personal. But I refuse to name any names. Partly, that’s because I’m a lady (even though I’m a tomboy!). But I also like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I caught them on a bad day. Or maybe I did a lousy interview and am blaming them for my shortcomings. But I have learned through experience…just because someone is a “personality”, it doesn’t mean they have one!

Who is your celebrity crush? Why?

My most recent celebrity crush is actor, Colin Firth. Not only is he brilliant on the big screen, but he dazzles in person. And, more importantly, he’s a kind and thoughtful man who loves his family and has his feet firmly planted on the ground. The morning after he won best actor for “the king’s speech,” I interviewed him on the show and got to polish his Oscar. I may or may not eventually get to heaven, but I sure was there that day!

Have you ever been promised an interview with someone and been cancelled on at the last second? Who was it? How did you handle it or who did you get to replace them?

I guess I am lucky because I’ve never had an interview subject cancel on me. Now watch…it will happen next week.

Richard Cohen, your husband, was diagnosed with cancer and ms. How did you react when you heard the news for the first time?

Richard told me he had ms on our first date. He had been diagnosed at the age of 25, years before I met him. I have to say, I wasn’t freaked out or put off at all. Maybe because my dad was a doctor, illness doesn’t automatically frighten me. Besides, I really liked the guy. The “like” turned into “love” and the rest is history. Nobody in life is dealt a perfect hand. Sure, we have good days and bad days. But so does everyone else. As for the cancer, he has survived two bouts of colon cancer. Everyday he demonstrates what it means to be strong. I am lucky to be his wife, and Ben, Gabe and lily are truly blessed to call him dad. However, he still leaves his socks on the floor and the toilet seat up and that drives me nuts!

What has been the biggest change to your life and your husband’s life since he was diagnosed with ms.

Richard and the kids and I have been living with ms for a long time. Ultimately, it’s a family illness. It doesn’t define us, but it can affect day to day life…which is why we take it one day at a time and try not to sweat the small stuff. And I think we have developed a wicked sense of humour over the years….the better to face life head on, come what may.

What role did Barbara Walters play in your life and did she have any big influence in the way your career is heading since you left the view?

Barbara Walters is a trailblazer for women in the television industry. I have always admired her talent and tenacity, especially in the face of the sexism she experienced early on in her career. She brought me over to “the view” and I will always be grateful to her for that. Since moving on to “today”, I haven’t had the opportunity to see her in person (since she is probably heading to dinner when I am heading to bed!), but I try to catch Bab’s and the gang on the tube weekdays at 11 here in NYC.

What do you think of the new talk show called the talk? Do you feel the idea was stolen from the view? Why or why not?

Believe it or not, I have never seen “The Talk,” although “Saturday Night Live” just did a spoof on it last weekend and they suggested it was a rip-off of The View.”

With all the pressures at work and stress you have at home, what three vices help you through your day?

Everybody needs some vices to get through the day. I think my three would be: chocolate, a glass of white wine, and reruns of the bachelor.  (Shoot me now!)

Do you think a nonverbal autistic person who can communicate could ever be a reporter and what advice would you give to that person?

You’ve already demonstrated through this project that you know how to communicate. But the key to being a great reporter is not what you say, but how well you listen. So listen well, Carly, and good luck.