President plans Niles visit Monday

Published 12:29 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
BENTON HARBOR -- CNN's Paula Zahn introduced herself to The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Monday night at Lake Michigan College Mendel Center as a "proud member of the too-liberal, too-conservative, anti-business, corporate-controlled, unpatriotic, super-patriotic, alarmist and pacifying, pompous and trivializing, bossy and groveling, over-reacting and under-playing, expendable and valuable, praised and condemned and loved and hated American press."
Network news is "probably the most frequently criticized of all of them. And yet, I wouldn't want to work in any other field."
Her daughter thinks Zahn "lives in a box," but she is also accomplished in other areas and demonstrated the cello-playing for which she received a college scholarship.
Like Pennie Eckman of Dowagiac, she attended Stevens College in Missouri. Zahn delighted Eckman by signing an autograph to a fellow "Susie."
TV tries to tell stories with pictures, but sometimes pictures themselves become the story, from charred American contractors' bodies dragged through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, and flag-draped coffins of U.S. war dead to CBS airing a dead Princess Diana in her Paris car wreckage.
Coffins, where television and newspapers presented images already available on the Internet, posed the question, "Are they grim realistic reminders of the wages of war or were they an invasion of the privacy of the grieving families? The Pentagon and White House were not happy," but studies show that "some of the same people who say they are outraged by the pictures secretly admit they very much want to see them. You avoid the news at your own peril. It's like forfeiting one of the rights of citizenship."
Zahn said, "We go to great pains to make sure we never put on the air information from our correspondents that would endanger the lives of our troops in the field. We're sensitive, too, about airing criticism of military strategy when our troops are clearly in harm's way. As human beings and Americans, we want our country to win this war."
In 1989, eighth months pregnant with her daughter, her "enormous belly" got her an interview with Fidel Castro.
She met Princess Diana during another of her pregnancies. Diana, stroking Zahn's belly, confided she would like to have more children and correctly predicted a baby boy: "I'm right half the time."
Reality is less glamorous. Viewers never saw her reporting for work at 4 a.m. or going to bed at 8:30 p.m. or her injured leg elevated behind the anchor desk. "Wolf Blitzer and I log more on-air hours than any journalists in the television news business."
She answered critics of the "rocky reconstruction phase" in Iraq who question whether the media dug deep enough or whether they dropped the ball because they were "bamboozled" by the military to the point they helped "sell" the war with their "cheerleading."
Zahn is athletic as well as musical. The mother of three played golf in college, skied semi-professionally and ran 30 miles a week.
She underwent intensive physical therapy after shattering her knee skiing on a Colorado mountain. She slipped her shoes off and faced the podium barefoot in the name of comfort.
As a cellist Zahn performed at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops "for one of my biggest musical highs. Some of the greatest musicians of the world had made music there, and here I was. The biggest high came when the whole cello section stood up and gave me a standing ovation, followed by the rest of the orchestra, and then followed by the the audience. There's nothing like that."
Her golfing prowess helped launch Zahn's journalism career when a round with a CBS radio executive led to internships and her first job in broadcasting. Frequent moves took her to Dallas, San Diego, Houston, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, but it was reminiscent of following her father's IBM sales career. In her family IBM stands for "I've Been Moved."
She remembers "the ritual" of watching news with her parents -- Walter Cronkite, occasionally David Brinkley -- and discussing issues during dinner. She remembers being encouraged to be inquisitive and to ask questions.
Her mother was a well-read college professor. Her father had been a soldier in World War II and Korea. Zahn also became hooked on public speaking in high school.
Her junior year of college she studied at Prince Charles' college in Cambridge, England, following a BBC documentary unit.
Zahn joined ABC and substituted for Joan Lunden on "Good Morning America," which led to hiring for a 10-year stint at CBS, including the Morning News and the Evening News Saturday edition.
She also served as prime time co-host of the 1992 Olympic Winter Games and co-anchored the 1994 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France, and in Lillehammer, Norway, respectively.
The Emmy-winning journalist joined Fox in 1999 as anchor of its evening news. Her first day at CNN was on Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks. She now hosts CNN's weeknight prime time program, "Paula Zahn Now," and "People in the News."