5 Questions For… Judy Woodruff

By Alissa Krinsky Comment

Judy Woodruff has been covering politics for more than 30 years, first with NBC, then PBS, and later CNN. She has returned to PBS, and is senior correspondent for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Woodruff is married to journalist Al Hunt. They have three children and are active in raising awareness about Spina Bifida.

1. TVNewser: Compared to the 1970’s, White House coverage in 2007 is…
Woodruff: There’s just a lot more of it. Reporters then were as tough and competitive as now. The main change is that, back then, we at NBC — where I worked — aimed at two network television deadlines a day: the Today Show and Nightly News, as well as radio. Today, with cable news and the internet, deadlines are 24-7.

2. TVNewser: The state of women in television news today:
Woodruff: Women have a larger presence in television news than a few decades ago. There are far more women on the air, and as producers, copy editors, writers, videographers, and sound technicians. Women have opportunities to cover beats that formerly did not welcome them: war and politics are noteworthy examples. But there still is almost no room at the top. None of the network news divisions is headed by a woman and very few of the very top producers; a notable exception is Linda Winslow of the NewsHour. We cannot talk seriously about closing any gap until this changes.

3. TVNewser: My work on behalf of Spina Bifida research…
Woodruff: When our son Jeffrey was born in 1981, my husband, Al Hunt, and I had never heard of Spina Bifida. We quickly learned it was — and still is — the most commonly occurring disabling birth defect in the United States. Fortunately Jeffrey was born with a mild case, and growing up, he was able to do most things other kids his age could do. But we learned a great deal about the devastating effect that Spina Bifida has on the tens of thousands of children and adults who deal with what is truly a complex set of disabilities. Then, our Jeff had a terrible setback at the age of 16, that changed his life, and the life of our family. Before that time, and since, Al and I have done what we could to raise awareness of Spina Bifida — including through an annual “roast” — a benefit dinner here in Washington every fall — where we turn the tables and let the politicians roast a journalist. We’ve been fortunate that so many prominent journalists — starting with Bob Novak, and including Jim Lehrer, Tim Russert, Sam Donaldson, William Safire, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Schieffer, Larry King, Tom Brokaw, Lesley Stahl, Don Imus, Barbara Walters, Bernard Shaw, Dan Rather, Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, Don Hewitt, Pat Buchanan and Tony Kornheiser have agreed to be roasted. This year, it’s ABC’s Bob Woodruff — the roast is Monday, October 29th, at the Omni Shoreham — and tickets are available! All the proceeds go to the Spina Bifida Association of America and to research toward finding the cause of this heartbreaking birth defect.

4. TVNewser: My Southern upbringing shaped me…
Woodruff: I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma — and lived on or near several U.S. Army bases, in New Jersey and Missouri, as well as in Germany and Taiwan — where my father was stationed before he was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia — near Augusta. Moving there, in 7th grade, exposed me to a part of the United States I’d never known — and to a way of life that was all new. Though I’ve always considered myself only half a Southerner, because I’d lived all over the world before moving there, to this day, I can’t shake that hint of a Southern accent! I guess that’s because I don’t want to!

5. TVNewser: The biggest difference(s) working in commercial versus public television news:
Woodruff: There are no commercial breaks in public television and, at the NewsHour, we are given time to thoughtfully develop stories and interviews.