Ed Garsten, CNN's Detroit bureau chief, discusses his 19 years with CNN
May 19, 2000
(CNN) – On June 1, 2000, CNN celebrates two decades of journalism as a cable news network. CNN currently has 37 bureaus, employs more than 4,000 people and delivers the news in 10 languages. CNN International, the world's only global 24-hour news network, is seen in more than 150 million households in 212 countries and territories worldwide, through a network of 21 satellites. As the network prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, CNN correspondents are joining chats to describe their memories of the past twenty years.
Ed Garsten, CNN's Detroit bureau chief since 1989, was one of the first 10 producers who was hired to launch Headline News in 1981. During his 19 years at CNN, he has covered the 1998 General Motors strike, the Jack Kevorkian case, the San Francisco earthquake, the crash of TWA flight 800 and Pete Rose’s dismissal from baseball. Garsten was also part of CNN's Emmy award-winning team that covered the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the subsequent raid on the James Nichols farm.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Ed Garsten, and welcome.
Ed Garsten: Hi, everyone, from a rainy Motor City.
Chat Moderator: When did you join CNN? What were your earliest experiences?
Ed Garsten: I joined CNN in November of 1981 as one of the first 10 producers to put Headline News on the air. We weren't sure we were actually going to be paid or for how long it would last, but it was a great adventure into the unknown world of 24-hour cable TV news. We didn't even quite have a building or computer but everything was built quite quickly and, next thing we knew, we had a network.
Question from DawnL: What is the most interesting story you have ever covered?
Ed Garsten: That's a hard one. I've enjoyed covering the quixotic world of Dr. Jack Kevorkian since before he was even known. Dr. K is a fascinating guy, at once entertaining, confounding and brilliant.
Chat Moderator: Is there a story or event that you would have liked to cover but didn't get the opportunity to and, if so, what was it?
Ed Garsten: I would loved to have covered the Persian Gulf War, but my family situation made that impractical. Still, I would have loved to see it first-hand.
Question from DawnL: Have you ever had the desire as a reporter to travel to war zones?
Ed Garsten: Travelling to a war zone is perhaps the ultimate reporting assignment, although nowadays the government manages the coverage so much that there is little opportunity for individual reporting.
Question from Tech1: What was the most important issue to you that you have covered in Detroit?
Ed Garsten: By far the most important issue out of Detroit has been the tug-of-war over automobile safety standards. The auto companies say additional safety systems make vehicles heavy and inefficient. But the government and consumer groups have kept the pressure on so that now our vehicles have some of the most advanced safety systems in the world.
Question from Mishkina: How much does the government regulate coverage? Do you think it's too much?
Ed Garsten: In general, government does not regulate coverage at all. Where the government's influence may come into play is whether or not you are given access to certain people or situations.
Question from DawnL: What do you remember most about the San Francisco earthquake and the Oklahoma City bombing?
Ed Garsten: In San Francisco, I remember how utterly stoic the people were about their misery. No one ever complained about losing their homes, their possessions or lifestyles. I was just amazed at how ready they were to simply move on to their next chapter.
I covered the Oklahoma City bombing from Michigan -- the angle concerning the Nichols family. It was surrealistic. The FBI raided the Nichols farm looking for bombing devices. We later met a friend of both McVeigh and Terry Nichols who told us how paranoid they were, to the point of believing the government would imbed computer chips in citizens' bodies to track their movements. Unbelievable!
Question from Carlos: What percentage of the stories that you cover actually get aired?
Ed Garsten: Actually, 100 percent of our stories see air on at least one of the CNN networks -- if not CNN, then Headline News, CNNfn or CNN International. Plus they are all fed out to our 700 local affiliates for use in their newscasts, so they all have quite a circulation.
Chat Moderator: Did you think, when you started with CNN, that it would ever become what it is today?
Ed Garsten: Never! We really had no expectations at all aside from simply surviving. We all felt like "news missionaries," happy to do it just for the adventure. I think most of us figured we'd be back in local news -- just to make a living -- within a few years.
Question from Di: Beyond the "big headline stories," is there one particular story that has profoundly affected you in some way?
Ed Garsten: Yes. About eight years ago, we profiled the people at animal shelters who have to put pets to sleep. It was by far the most gripping, sad, memorable story I have ever covered. To this day, I think about that at least once a week when thinking about the value of life and how disposable some people sometimes make it out to be.
Question from Radioflyr: Have you ever investigated a lead on a story only to have been deliberately prevented from covering it? If so, what and why?
Ed Garsten: I can't say that I've ever been totally prevented from covering a story. Absent cooperation from the subject of the story, we'll try to find other sources to nail it. Usually if I'm on to something worth telling, I'll tell it.
Question from Tech1: How does Detroit compare with other cities that you have reported from?
Ed Garsten: Detroit is by far one of the best news towns in the United States. For some reason, this town -- along with Michigan as a whole -- seems to be a focal point for social and industrial change. The industrial part is obvious with the auto industry centered here. We are literally never hurting to find a good story to tell here.
Question from DawnL: What was it like covering the TWA 800 story?
Ed Garsten: Talk about covering a story from afar! We spent most of our days shuttling between a hotel where the NTSB gave it's daily briefings and the coroner's office. We never did see the scene, so that was a bit frustrating.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any funny stories about the early days at CNN that you can share with us?
Ed Garsten: When we moved into the building where Headlines started, we were producing our shows when, all of a sudden, there was a loud noise, like a bang, bang, bang. Then a fireman's head poked through the hole in the wall he had just knocked out with a sledgehammer. Seems they built the place without a fire door and decided, while we were on the air, to simply punch one through the wall.
Question from Di: Who was the most impressive person you have ever interviewed, and why?
Ed Garsten: There are actually two, for different reasons. The first was Lee Iacocca. It may sound cliché, but he is indeed larger than life, a true American industrial hero. The bubble burst, though, when he came into the room with a big, stinky cigar and handed the wet thing to his PR person and told him to hang onto it until we were done.
The other was Mel Blanc, the master of the voices of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Yosemite Sam. It didn't take much to get him to go though the whole repertoire of Looney Tunes voices. He was simply a beautiful person -- shy, respectful and funny as hell.
Question from Kimo: When you were notified of the Oklahoma bombing, did it even cross your mind that it would be as devastating as when you appeared on the scene?
Ed Garsten: I actually heard about the bombing while I was on vacation and returned to work the next day. I never got out to Oklahoma City since there was such a strong Michigan angle concerning Terry Nichols and his brother, James.
Question from Di: Was there ever a story that was important, but so distasteful to you personally that you had great difficulty in forcing yourself to tell it?
Ed Garsten: Maybe not distasteful, but just a head-shaker. We actually covered a cherry pit spitting contest in Traverse City, Michigan. We just couldn't believe we were doing it, although by the end of the night we were all launching pits of our own!
Chat Moderator: Now that the first 20 years have passed, where will CNN be in another 20 years?
Ed Garsten: I honestly believe we'll still be a major player in 20 years, but not with the emphasis on television. Even now, our focus is towards multi-media news coverage and news on demand. I think that whatever gadgets are available in 20 years that will deliver news will be delivering it from a CNN service.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
Ed Garsten: I must say that CNN has afforded me opportunities I would never have been able to have with any other news organization. When my time with CNN is up, I'm done with television news because there is no better place to be than here. I am lucky to work with consummate professionals on the best news team in the world.
Thanks very much for all of your questions. Please feel free to email me anytime.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.
Ed Garsten: Thank you so much and have a great weekend.
Ed Garsten joined the CNN@20 chat by telephone from Detroit. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.
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