Suppose you gave a party and 60 minutes showed up at the door. Would you let them in? Would you evict them? Would you commit hara-kiri?
Those were the choices that confronted the Chase Bank at the American Bankers Association convention, when 60 Minutes came to Honolulu to "get the bankers."
The banking industry was taking its lumps. Profits were lagging. Loans to foreign governments weren't being repaid. Financing to bankrupt corporations were being questioned. And it was getting difficult for poor people to open bank accounts.
Understandably, few bankers at the Honolulu convention cared to share their thoughts on camera with 60 Minutes. Some headed for cover when the cameras approached. Others barred the unwanted visitors from their receptions. In at least one case, a 60 Minutes cameraman was physically removed from the hall. By the convention's third day, the 60 Minutes team was decrying its retreatment at the hands of the bankers as the "most vicious" it had ever been accorded.
By the third night, correspondent Morley Safer and his 60 Minutes crew were streaming and itching for a confrontation.
That's when 60 Minutes showed up at our party.
For 10 years, with your intrepid author as its public affairs director, Chase Manhattan had sponsored a private convention reception for the media. It combined an informal cocktail party, where journalists and bankers could chat and munch hors d'oeuvres, with a more formal, 30-minute press conference with the bank's president. The press conference was on the record, ni-holds-barred, and frequently generated news coverage by the wire services, newspapers, and magazines that regularly sent representatives. NoTV cameras were permitted.
But when we arrived at Honolulu's scenic Pacific Club, there to greet us- unan- nounced and uninvited- were Morley and the men from 60 Minutes, ready to do battle.
The ball was in our court. We faced five questions that demanded immediate answers.
First, should we let them in? What they wanted, said Safer, was to interview our president about "critical banking issues." He said they had been "hassled" all week and were "entitled" to attend our media reception. But we hadn't invited them. And they hadn't had the courtesy to let us know they were coming. It was true that they were members of the working press. It was also true that our reception was intended to generate news. So we had a dilemma.
Second, should we let them film the press conference? Chase's annual convention press conference had never before been filmed. TV cameras are bulky, noisy, and intrusive. They threatened to sabotage the normally convivial atmosphere of our party. Equally disconcerting would be the glaring TV lights that would have to be set up. The 60 Minutes crew countered that their coverage was worthless without film. Theirs, after all, was a medium of pictures, and without pictures, and without pictures, there could be no story. As appetizing as this proposition sounded to us, we were worried that if we refused their cameras, what they might film instead would be us blocking the door at an otherwise open news conference. So we had another problem.
Third, should we let them film the cocktail party? Like labor leader Samuel Gompers, TV people are interested in only one thing: "More!" In the case of our reception, we weren't eager to have CBS film the cocktails and hors d'oeuvres part of our party. We were certain the journalists on hand would agree with us. After all, who wants to see themselves getting sloshed on national television when they're supposed to be working?
Fourth, should we let them film a separate interview with our president?
Because few top people at the convention were willing to speak to CBS, 60 Minutes was eager to question our president in as extensive and uninterrupted a format as possible. Safer wanted a separate interview before the formal press conference started. So we also had to deal with the question of whether to expose our president to a lengthy, one-on-one, side-room interview with the most powerful- and potentially negative- TV news program in the land.
Fifth, should we change our format? The annual media reception/press conference had always been an informal affair. Our executives joked with the journalists, shared self-deprecating asides, and generally relaxed. Thus, in light of the possible presence of 60 Minutes, we wondered if we should alter this laid-back approach and adopt a more on-guard stance.
We had 10 minutes to make our decisions. We also had splitting headaches.
1. Would you let them film the press conference?
2. Would you let them film the cocktail party?
3. Would you let them film a separate interview with the president?
4. Would you change the format of party?