Armed guards dragged NBC's chief foreign correspondent from a photo-op last month after she asked the President of Sudan a tough question. Typical. Andrea Mitchell, who recounts a similar incident in Syria in her new book, Talking Back ... To Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels, spoke with TIME'S Barbara Kiviat about journalism and hubby Alan Greenspan's romantic ways.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR TOUGHEST INTERVIEW? Margaret Thatcher, with Fidel Castro a close second. Thatcher is really tough because she's so smart and unwilling to take any grief from anyone. And Castro isn't easy. First of all, he likes to start interviews at midnight. He's very smart and very well read, and his answers are very long. It's hard to get him off his ideological speech.
ONE OF YOUR EARLIEST GIGS WAS COVERING FRANK RIZZO, THE CONTROVERSIAL MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA, WHO YOU SAY TRIED TO GET YOU FIRED ONCE A WEEK. YET YOU CRIED WHEN HE DIED. AMONG THE PEOPLE YOU'VE COVERED, WHO WOULDN'T YOU CRY FOR? The President of Sudan. But, you know, there's almost always something good about almost anyone you meet. One of the things I learned over the years is that everyone has human frailties and needs. Take a step back from the daily give and take, and you realize they're all people with families and egos, and there's often reason to feel sympathetic.
WHAT PART OF THE WORLD DO WE IGNORE THAT WE SHOULDN'T? Africa. It is appalling that the famine in Niger could have been entirely prevented. It's wonderful that Americans responded so generously to the tsunami tragedy, but it really shouldn't take that sort of shattering event to get us to think about the rest of the world.
HAS AMERICA BECOME MORE POLITICALLY POLARIZED? In some ways, it's perception. We talk about our red-blue nation, but when you travel around the country, you discover that people really aren't all that different. I worry that whether it's the blogosphere or 24/7 news and other media, we tend to exaggerate differences and look for things that are edgy. It makes for better headlines, but it's not always the best approach to civics.
AREN'T YOU ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO CAN CHANGE THAT? You bet. It's something we try to deal with every night on Nightly News and every morning on the Today program. We can always improve. I'm very concerned about the lack of respect for the news media, collectively. I think we all have a responsibility to repair that.
YOUR HUSBAND, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN ALAN GREENSPAN, IS DUE TO RETIRE IN JANUARY. ONCE HE'S HOME ALL DAY, WILL HE DO THE COOKING? He's leaving the Fed but certainly not retiring. I would be very surprised if he is home. He hasn't decided yet what he's going to do--I'm sure he'll do some writing--but I don't think cooking is high on his list. Not unless we plan to starve.
YOU'RE FRIENDS WITH EVERYONE FROM DICK CHENEY TO TERESA HEINZ KERRY AND MARRIED TO A GUY WHO GETS CALLED THE SECOND MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE US. DOESN'T THAT COMPROMISE YOUR COVERAGE? I don't think so. It is a balancing act that many people in Washington perform. And my husband and I very carefully don't discuss his work. At times, it can be really frustrating. I'm a reporter. I want to know. Once, he came down to Little Rock to meet with the newly elected [President] Bill Clinton, and I was assigned to cover the transition there. I learned that he was in town from George Stephanopoulos' briefing.