After retiring following 30 years of interviews, investigations and international coverage for ’60 Minutes,’ Steve Kroft was on the other end of that show’s interviews on Sunday – from his Long Island home.
Kroft retired on May 19 at age 73 after 30 years with “60 Minutes.” The show was all about three numbers on Sunday: 60 minutes, 30 years and one correspondent.
The news magazine when he retired said it would “celebrate his 50-year career as a journalist with a special tribute broadcast this September” and made good on that promise on Sept. 8.
Although he has a Manhattan home, Kroft spoke to correspondent Lesley Stahl from his Long Island home at age 74 – as the clock continued to tick even after he left the show.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a great amount of respect for people who left their professions when they were on top,” he told longtime colleague Lesley Stahl. “I felt that this was the time for me to go.”
She said that she was interviewing him at his home on the Peconic Bay, a quiet, picturesque place from which he spoke.
Stahl ended the interview, saying she would leave Kroft and his wife Jennet Conant “at their home on Long Island.”
That was only after an hour-long retrospective of 30 years that filled all 60 minutes of the show – excluding commercials.
“There were other things that I wanted to do, that I still had the energy to do,” he said, describing what it was like to write and present pieces for the show. “It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time to do it, to make it good. Eventually, you come up with a hard deadline.”
Kroft made May 19 his “deadline” to depart the show, after bringing a private, personal side to many public figures, mixing profiles with investigations.
“You gave us depth,” Stahl said. “You brought ’60 Minutes’ to places that no other television journalism could have gone without you. And I think we still need it.”
Stahl interviewed politicians and performers, such as the Eagles, showing how members worked together, but didn’t necessarily like each other.
He interviewed Clarence Thomas, Jay Lenno and Clint Eastwood, as well as taking cameras to places like Chernobyl.
“I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do,” he told Stahl of how he felt after meeting network journalists. “I wanted to be a foreign correspondent.”
Kroft joined “60 Minutes” in 1989, working on the show along with legendary TV journalists such as Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner and Ed Bradley, a virtual Mount Rushmore of investigative journalism – where he would carve a space for himself.
The show described him as the “news magazine’s longest-tenured reporter,” after having reported nearly 500 ’60 Minutes’ stories.
“Steve Kroft’s reporting for ’60 Minutes’ has been as important as any correspondent’s in the history of this broadcast,” ’60 Minutes’ Executive Producer Bill Owens said when he announced the retirement. “Steve, with his sharp eye for detail, rich writing and demanding journalism, has set the bar at ’60 Minutes’ for three decades.”
Kroft joined CBS News in 1980, working everywhere from Central America to London and New York and winning five Peabody awards before doing his final ’60 Minutes’ segment on bank fraud.
He traveled to Chernobyl, when the region was radioactive, winning an Emmy award. Hidden cameras and controversy were no stranger to his career.
His interview with Bill and Hillary Clinton was seen by 34 million people following the 1992 Super Bowl, according to the show.
Kroft’s interview with President-elect Barack Obama attracted 25 million viewers in November 2008.
He graduated from Syracuse University in 1967 and began a career in journalism in the U.S. Army as a correspondent and photographer for Pacific Stars and Stripes in Vietnam.
He got his master’s degree from the Columbia Journalism School in 1975 and worked in Jacksonville and Miami, winning awards for reporting on political corruption and drugs. CBS News hired him in 1980 and he was named a correspondent in 1981.
When Kroft told Stahl that he was retiring because he felt it was the right time, Stahl looked back, after strolling with him on the beach on camera.
“We don’t think that 74 is old,” she said. “Some of us, anyway.”