Connie Chung, Television Journalist
Connie Chung talks about her family's move from China to Washington DC, her first job at a local television, the rigorous hazing women were subjected to, and how she made history as the first Asian person to co-anchor a major network's national news.
In Connie Chung's MAKERS interview, the pioneering television journalist talks about her family's move from China to Washington D.C., her first job at a local television station, the rigorous hazing women were subjected to, and how she made history as the first Asian and second woman to co-anchor a major network's national news.
CONNIE CHUNG: The business that I've been in requires sticking your neck out. You can't sit back and wait for the story to come to you. You have to go pursue it. Dig, push, and be bold.
My parents and my four older sisters were all born in China. They arrived in Washington, DC. Less than a year later, I was born. In China, all you want are boys. So when they had yet another girl, it was like, eh, all right. I always wanted to be the son that my father never had. So I was going to make Chung memorable. With five girls, I could never get a word in. So I was the quiet little sister.
I'm Connie Chung.
They couldn't believe it when I got into television news and I had to speak to the world. And my father was such a news buff. We would watch Uncle Walter every night, Walter Cronkite. He was the man. So early on, when you could only see my hand holding a microphone-- that's Connie's hand. He was just eating it all up.
It was a little local station, and the only job they had open was for a secretary. And I thought, oh god, typical. I did that for several months, but they had an opening for a writer. It was the late '60s. The Civil Rights Act had passed in '64. There was a heavy push to hire women and minorities. So I became the writer in charge of the assignment desk.
There was this one reporter who was really lazy. So I'd say, why don't you watch the desk, and I'll do the story? I know you don't want to do it. So then I'd do stories. They finally let me go on the air, and then a short time later, CBS News, the network, was getting such pressure to hire women.
So in 1971, I was hired along with Michele Clark, black, Leslie Stahl, a nice Jewish girl with blond hair, and Sylvia Chase, a shiksa with blonde hair. Everybody was a male. I mean, everybody, the staff, the producers, the executive producers, the Bureau Chief, the people we covered on Capitol Hill, the White House, the State Department, men.
We all went through a very rigorous hazing period. There were camera people who, they didn't want to take orders from us. Or else I'd be covering some senator on Capitol Hill, and he'd say, "Well, sweet little lady, what sweet little question do you have for me?" And I just stuck it to him. They pitted the women against each other. Who would get the woman job? Leslie Stahl and I would frequently be told to go cover the First Lady doing something that we knew would never get on the air.
Ed Bradley would go up to the assignment editor and say no. But I really had a hard time saying no. There is this mentality on my part-- the good little girl, fear of being fired, fear of being uncooperative, fear of being the five-letter B word. Every step of the way, there were issues being a woman. The only way we could move forward was to do our job and do it better than anyone else.
- Here's to Connie Chung.
- (SINGING) Here's to LA. News to LA. And from our newsroom comes the history of the day.
- This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and Connie Chung.
DAN RATHER: Good evening, and welcome, Connie.
CONNIE CHUNG: Thank you, Dan. When I was first told that I would be co-anchoring with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, I couldn't believe it. Walter Cronkite was my idol, and I always wanted to be Walter Cronkite. I didn't think that that would ever happen. There are always these self-doubts, but I felt like I did know how to do the job. But it was very clear from the beginning that Dan Rather didn't want me there. He would not have wanted anyone there. He was very gracious upfront.
DAN RATHER: See you tomorrow.
CONNIE CHUNG: But you ask someone who's been in the job forever to move over and make room for somebody else, it's a recipe for disaster. It was a constant battle. I would have appreciated it if the boss had said, you know, it's over. I want to tell you face-to-face. But that didn't happen. They told my agent, and then he told me.
DAN RATHER: I'd like to take this moment to wish my longtime friend and colleague, Connie Chung, good luck and godspeed.
CONNIE CHUNG: I lost my dream job. It was completely devastating. Remarkably, though, my husband and I had been working on adoption for a couple years. The firing occurred on a Friday. The next day, we get a call that our son was going to be ours. It was, oh my god. My life just went flip. Lose the job, get our son. Woo! I had a baby when I was almost 50. It worked well for me. Everything that happened in my career was meant to be.
One thing that women really need to remember is sing your praises the way the men do. Sing your own praises. I was indispensable. You're welcome.