'They're Off' Derby Luncheon

CBS’ Stahl says
working with ‘60 Minutes’ crew a challenge

By Don Ward

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 2005) – Watching the people arrive April 22 at the Galt House for the “They’re Off!” Kickoff Luncheon for the 50th Kentucky Derby Festival was like watching a Who’s Who of Louisville on parade.

Leslie Stahl

Photo by Don Ward

Leslie Stahl greets the press
prior to her speech.

Many women arrived donning their finest Derby hats and attire, while some of the men wore colorful spring jackets. Nearly 2,000 people in all assembled in the Galt House East Grand Ballroom for the 49th annual event and to hear this year’s keynote speaker, TV reporter Leslie Stahl of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
With the city’s 50th Kentucky Derby Festival about to begin, the spirit was jovial among the crowd as they circulated among Mayor Jerry Abramson, U.S. Rep. Ann Northrop, former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins, who is one of two Honorary Chairpersons of the event, and guest speaker Stahl.
After an hour of socializing, then lunch and brief remarks by the various dignitaries and corporate sponsors, Stahl took the stage to reminisce about her early career climb in a world dominated by men.
“It’s great to be here in Louisville, but I regret that I won’t be able to see the Kentucky Derby,” said Stahl, who covered Washington, D.C., politics for 20 years before joining “60 Minutes” as the only female correspondent and its co-editor. She is also co-editor of CBS’ “48 Hours Investigates.” She is a former moderator of “Face the Nation,” and in 1999 published a book titled, “Reporting Live.”
Stahl described “60 Minutes” as “almost the only show out there that is still presenting hard-nosed journalism that we all remember.”
She joked that she is often told she looks younger “because the guys I work with are so old.” Mike Wallace, for instance, is approaching 87. “And then there’s Andy (Rooney)” who is the same age.

Leslie Stahl

Photo by Don Ward

Leslie Stahl (right) chats with
Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson
during social time prior to the luncheon.

She said the “60 Minutes” newsroom is a regular office above a BMW dealership, but Rooney refuses to work there. “His office is across the street in another building.”
She said each reporter does different types of stories, which provides variety for viewers. “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt calls it a repertoire company, “with all of us playing different parts in a play.”
Stahl told personal stories to illustrate how TV images overwhelmingly outweigh the words reporters are saying. “I’ve learned over the years how powerful this visual language is in determining people’s impressions of the news.”
Perhaps her central message was her concern over the numerous sources of news and information that people receive today, many of them lacking credibility or in some cases truth. “We have to find some way to unify us again, so we hear all sides of a story.” She jokingly suggested a mandatory evening news program that everyone would have to watch to get the true news of the day.
Stahl said she would not be able to attend the Kentucky Derby but she was presented with a colorful jockey silks bearing the name “CBS” by Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton. Mayor Abramson presented her with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat with her name inscribed on it.
The Kickoff Luncheon is the second-oldest continually held event on the festival schedule, along with the Derby Ball. The Pegasus Parade, set for Thursday, May 5, was the first event in 1956.
Festival officials recounted the history of the nearly two-week long event, saying it began in 1956 with a budget of only $640 for a Pegasus Parade. Today’s budget tops $5.5 million, made possible by dozens of corporate contributions.

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