Steve Kroft on Romney and Obama as TV guests, and the amazing challenge of filling job openings at ‘60 Minutes’

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Steve Kroft. ()
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Veteran "60 Minutes" journalist Steve Kroft, who, by his count, has interviewed Barack Obama a dozen times, said his show hasn't yet scheduled an interview with the Republican presidential candidate.

Speaking at the New York City chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists' annual awards dinner last night at the Waldorf Astoria, Kroft said, "We'll continue to interview the presidential candidates. I'm not sure Mitt Romney has agreed to sit down with '60 Minutes.'"

(Obama was at the same hotel but in a different area, raising money with Bill Clinton and Jon Bon Jovi.)

When I asked him what kind of guest he thought Romney would be, Kroft first muttered something about not wanting to touch the question with a "20-foot pole." 

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Stephen Shepard, the founding dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, asked Kroft what Obama is like "up close and personal."

Kroft said, "He's obviously engaged. He is, personally, a little distant."

"Distant, meaning not a lot of small talk?" asked Shepard.

"No, uh-uh," said Kroft. "He comes in and he's very cordial. He'll remember the last time we talked. He'll remember what, you know, maybe what clothes I was wearing. We have this thing where, we're both, uh, former smokers trying very hard. Um, every I see him now he gives me a couple of pieces of Nicorette gum, which is fine. If he's out, then I will give some to him. That's sort of the running joke."

Shepard asked if Kroft thought Obama still snuck a few cigarettes, privately. Kroft hesitated to answer, and the audience of cynical reporters laughed.

Finally, in response to the question, he recalled something he was once told by Reggie Love, Obama's body person. "We were down there once for an interview and he said, 'Boy you should have been around here yesterday. It was awfully smokey,'" Kroft said.

When the conversation got to the subject of journalism itself, Kroft said finding talent for the legendary CBS News show was problematic: "The challenge for the show ahead is going to be finding replacements," he said.

The room full of journalists listened intently to this part of his remarks.

Noting the death of "60 Minutes" mainstays like Andy Rooney and Mike Wallace, Kroft said, "We have to refill the talent pool and that's not that easy right now. We've been looking for someone to hire really as a full-time correspondent for a number of years and have had difficulty finding somebody that has all of the skills that we need in '60 Minutes' that wants to come work on the show, and kind of give up their life and to travel around the world."

That's because "so many people think they can make more money right now, you know, anchoring a talk show in the afternoon for one of the cable news networks and not having to leave," he said. "And so it's hard to find somebody who's got foreign experience, Washington experience, economic experience, who is pretty well-rounded, that is smart, that can do interviews."

Later in the evening, a woman in the audience asked Kroft to describe the job opening. She sounded amazed that show would have trouble finding qualified journalists. 

"To find someone who's 40 years old and has got, you think, a strong future and is incredibly well-seasoned, there just aren't that many people around who are interested in doing this job. I know it sounds really crazy. I think there is more money right now in being an anchor man and I think that people feel that the cable news networks created all of these anchor positions, and it's just been hard to try and find someone who we think is good who wants to do it really badly who says, 'I'd love to be on "60 Minutes," that's all I want to do.'"

CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated incorrectly that The Deadline Club is affiliated with the New York Press Club.