We tried. We honestly tried to uphold a more intellectually refined discourse in honor of NBC News correspondent and former KYW reporter Andrea Mitchell, whose new book, Talking Back … to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels, details the 59-year-old’s illustrious career. We discussed her classical music radio show at Penn, her chats with feared dictators, and even the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, which she says were actually far worse than the media portrayed. Then we brought up her husband, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, and, well, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Old habits, you know.
Exit Interview: Tell me about your radio show at Penn, Musica de Camera.
Andrea Mitchell: It was a pretentious way of saying “chamber music.” The show’s theme song, if you will, was the third movement of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute.
EI: Are you a total Ivy League snob?
AM: Not total. Only partial. It came out of my background as a violinist and pianist.
EI: Is it true you were also Candice Bergen’s roomie?
AM: No. That was misreported in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Candice Bergen was in my class at Penn, and we were in the same dorm. But I knew her, and she was not only one of the nicest, but one of the most glamorous freshmen.
EI: Would other girls in the dorm draw mustaches on her photos and hang them on her door?
AM: Definitely not. She was very popular. Very well-liked.
EI: Were you two party girls?
AM: I can’t speak for anyone besides me. Obviously, I was.
EI: Clearly, judging by that radio show.
AM: I was a wild and crazy girl.
EI: When it comes to dictators you’ve covered, who was the toughest interview: Fidel Castro or Frank Rizzo?
AM: Probably Castro, because he starts his interviews around midnight. He stays up all night. It puts anyone interviewing him at a distinct disadvantage. Frank Rizzo helped shape my career by toughening me up as a reporter, teaching me how to stand up to strong, powerful men, and how to talk back.
EI: We have a copy of your book, and I love it when the publisher gives us a list of “suggested interview questions.”
AM: Oh, I’m so sorry. Don’t hold me responsible for those!
EI: Have you been interviewed by someone who only asks you those pre-fab questions?
AM: I’ve never seen the questions.
EI: We just happen to have them. Here’s my favorite [in the tone of a host from The View]: “You’ve covered the Jonestown Massacre and visited refugee camps in Darfur. How do you stay focused on your story in the face of human tragedy?”
AM: It’s hard to cover disasters without becoming emotionally engaged. As a reporter, you are trained to keep a distance. In the hurricane coverage, you’ve seen a change in that. Reporters have become very involved in challenging the assertions of government officials at every level. I have concerns that some of my colleagues are going to wake up months from now and have a delayed reaction to everything they’ve witnessed.
EI: As in post-traumatic stress?
AM: Yeah, because they saw some things that were too horrible to even talk about on television. Trust me, we did not reveal everything that we saw down there. I wasn’t there, but I’m talking about my colleagues.
EI: How bad was it?
AM: Since I was not an eyewitness, I shouldn’t speak to it, but I know they saw some truly horrific things, with, you know, people who were dead and dismembered, and other kinds of horrors. Far beyond what you could ever talk about on television.
EI: Who have you interviewed that turned out to be the opposite of what you expected? Maybe you thought you’d hate Kim Jong Il but then, hey — turns out he’s quite the little charmer.
AM: [laughs] No, Kim Jong Il was exactly what I expected. With the platform shoes and the teased hair, or weave, or whatever the heck it is. It’s sort of a Donald Trump hair thing.
EI: But when he says “You’re fired,” it has a whole different meaning.
AM: It does! Castro was surprising in that I didn’t expect him to be as well-read as he was, and as up to speed on contemporary economic issues. I thought of him more as a Cold War icon, and he’s actually on the Internet.
EI: Let’s discuss the rock star in your family. Your husband.
AM: I thought you were talking about me. No offense. He’s my rock star.
EI: Is it true that your nickname for him is Sweet Pea?
AM: [sighs] That’s classified.
EI: How did he woo you?
AM: Very slowly. [laughs]
EI: You first met him during an interview about the federal budget. Was there an instant spark from such a sexy topic?
AM: You don’t think deficits are hot?
EI: Well, I imagine him having a few glasses of wine, talking about “working capital positions” and his “long hedge,” then getting slapped.
AM: Everything can be misinterpreted. That’s the joy of being with Greenspan. He has so many levels of meaning.
EI: Did he ask you if you wanted to see his prime rate?
AM: Not hardly.
EI: Who balances the family checkbook?
AM: [laughs] Not me. Would you expect I’d be in charge of family finances?
EI: Probably not. So when Sweet Pea resigns in January, will we see him on QVC pimping your book?
AM: Um, I think he’ll have more important things to do.