Journalist Q&A: Andrea Mitchell, NBC News

Andrea Mitchell is a household name for political and national affairs news junkies. As NBC News' Washington-based chief foreign affairs correspondent, she appears on programs including Today, Hardball, Morning Joe, and the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. She's also the host of the daily Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC.

Name: Andrea Mitchell
Title: Chief foreign affairs correspondent, NBC News; host, Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC
Outlets: NBC News, MSNBC
Preferred e-mail address: nightly@nbcuni.com
Web site: www.msnbc.msn.com

Andrea Mitchell is a household name for political and national affairs news junkies. As NBC News' Washington-based chief foreign affairs correspondent, she appears on programs including Today, Hardball, Morning Joe, and the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. She's also the host of the daily Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC.

How would you describe your daily responsibilities?

Andrea Mitchell: Strangely enough, it really is reporting. Structurally, the day gets a little convoluted, but what I am doing is trying to dig up stories and find as much information as I can about foreign policy and domestic, because I've always covered politics. And so I start the day early in the morning, usually for the Today show and Morning Joe, following up on what I have been pursuing all night – and often it is in the middle of the night because of foreign deadlines – and it's reaching sources and getting the latest information and using it on different platforms. So if it's the Today program, it's the best information that I have, usually more structured with tape and interviews and a live component. And on Morning Joe, it's more analytical and more conversational, but it is also fact-based. That's the added value that I think I bring. And then for my own program, I am generally working late the night before with my producer in New York, via e-mail and phone, and my producer here and coming up with the best lineup to reflect the best breaking news. We like for the 1 o'clock program to be as up-to-the-minute and comprehensive and fact-based as possible.

How would you describe the content of Andrea Mitchell Reports? Is it a wrap up or on certain topics?

Mitchell: It's certainly is the latest information of what is happening that day. We'll be cutting to the president or Robert Gibbs or other breaking news, generally politics and foreign policy, but we would not ignore something, whether it be weather or some other dramatic story. We did do Michael Jackson stories, when it was very compelling and based on breaking news. But generally it is the latest on healthcare, or another domestic issue. We have as much news and analysis from White House sources and congressional players, as well as foreign policy. And as you know, we've taken the show on the road, so we have been around the world, with Hillary Clinton on location in Asia, in Africa. I've done the show from the Aspen Ideas Festival. I did the show from Wasilla, AK, when I was covering Sarah Palin. So we have the great fortune of a really talented team, and we are able to move on a minute's notice.

What do you see as the dominating issue for the rest of the year? Is it healthcare or something else?

Mitchell: I think it's healthcare. I think there will be a renewed focus on energy policy and cap and trade, but I think the president's success on that will depend on how well he does on healthcare and the economy.

How do you see the direction of your show changing, if at all? Obviously the way news is delivered is changing quite a bit.

Mitchell: Well, we post our interviews as soon as they happen. We have a wonderful team that makes sure that we get our interviews on the Web. We've made a lot of news, and we broke a lot of news during the transition. I was the first to report that Hillary Clinton, was being considered as a leading choice to be secretary of state. I reported that Tim Geithner would be treasury secretary, that Bill Richardson was going to have to pull out [from consideration for commerce secretary]. We had the first interview with Richardson last week when he was meeting with the North Koreans. And so we try, in all formats, to make sure that we have information first and have, I think, the best analysis and political commentary, as well. And so if it's Pat Buchanan and Bob Shrum arguing with each other, it's an informed conversation. Sometimes it gets pretty heated, but we also have the benefit of all the MSNBC and NBC News talent. We have David Gregory, coming on, and Chuck Todd, and Savannah Guthrie, and Pete Williams, Kelly O'Donnell, and so our top correspondents from around the world – Richard Engel, from Afghanistan and Iraq. And that is the great virtue of having our broadcasters and our MSNBC contributors.

Is there a must-have element for a story that interests you?

Mitchell: Certainly urgency and passion; something that is both compelling and of importance to the American people. Healthcare fits that. This election was the most extraordinary political two years that I've ever witnessed, and we were on the road all year with it, covering Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from the field, going to every debate site in the primaries and the general election with our show. And so it's the immediacy of compelling narrative. I think that in watching all of the reminiscences of the great Don Hewitt, he had it right – tell a story.

Do you see any differences in how you'll cover the upcoming midterm elections from previous elections? Or even from 2008?

Mitchell: I think that technology is leaping so quickly, that the “Macaca moment” that was YouTubed that caused George Allen to fade as a presidential contender will now be replicated a thousand-fold. And that is probably an underestimate of the influence of all of the social networking sites, and that was affecting the way we covered the Iranian election. And so if that is what we are seeing from overseas, you can imagine the effect here at home. It creates a much bigger burden on us to verify information, and to make sure that we are still fact-based and doing our job as journalists and monitors.

Was the Iranian election a sign of things to come in that so much of what people knew came from social networking?

Mitchell: Yes, certainly the way we are able to penetrate totalitarian regimes. Iran is unique in that it has such a young population that is so wired, in contrast to, say, certainly North Korea and even Cuba and other regimes that try to impede free exchanges of information. And Iran is a template for what is to come.

Because healthcare is dominating the conversation, are there any topics that you are not getting to cover as much as you'd like?

Mitchell: That's a good question. I think we need to spend more time on Afghanistan, and on really understanding what the challenges are and what the game plan is and the end game there. We haven't returned to, as much as I think we should, to Iraq and Iran, and we've got 133,000 troops in Iraq and a higher casualty rate than before the Americans withdrew from the cities. And I should say on the domestic front, we haven't focused as much as we could on the deficit and some of the other fiscal issues because we've been so focused on healthcare.

Is it also fair to say that citizen reaction to events is getting more media coverage than in the past?

Mitchell: I think it's more technology, because if you go all the way back to 1989, when catastrophic health insurance was first proposed, it was a group of senior citizens literally attacking the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in Chicago and literally banging on his car – Dan Rostenkowski – that caused Congress to repeal legislation that they had passed. And it was the public uproar over congressional pay raises – they were doomed by talk radio shows. So there have been instances where public reaction has affected public policy. But it is the velocity of it, and things are happening much faster and much more intensely now because the technology has advanced

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