Lesley Stahl has been working at CBS News since 1972 and has covered three presidential administrations as the network’s first female White House correspondent. Now a correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes, it’s safe to say that Stahl has learned a thing or two over her career about how the mood in the White House affects the collective sentiment of a nation.
“The President’s temperament, the way he goes about his life in terms of his outlook, his personality… it affects all of us,” she said, referencing Donald Trump, in conversation with Nina Easton on Wednesday at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Stahl said she’s seen an array of emotional responses from the country’s chief executive over the years. For example, Jimmy Carter’s young team treated everything like a crisis, rattling the entire country, Stahl said. Meanwhile Ronald Reagan claimed the Oval Office at nearly 70 years old, taking an older man’s “this too shall pass” attitude that helped the rest of the nation confront major issues with more relative calm.
As for Trump? Stahl said the current administration is not unlike that of Richard Nixon. Nixon, she said, relished a vendetta; it showed in a divided and angry American people. Nixon also hated the press, much like the 45th U.S. president, she said.
“Nixon’s hatred was very personal,” Stahl said. “But this president wants to destroy the credibility and institution of the media…and I think he’s having an effect.”
Stahl added that each time she thinks the current president is “out of control,” she later sees that there is a method to his madness—a reason for his seemingly irrational actions. As she watched MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Stahl said she realized Trump’s mockery of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, was meant to help Republicans in the polls.
After speaking briefly about the Kavanaugh hearing, an audience member asked Stahl to comment on the culture at CBS after the ouster of CEO Les Moonves and 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager in the wake of sexual abuse allegations. “It has been very painful,” Stahl said of the revelations surrounding her former boss. “As a woman, when it hits home it’s very confusing.”
Besides, “I’m struck that there’s no sliding scale” for penalizing men, the correspondent added. Some men are sexual offenders that rise to the level of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; others are more like former Sen. Al Franken, who resigned in the wake numerous allegations of groping and other sexual advances, Stahl argued. The correspondent urged her audience: We should not be so quick to destroy everyone’s lives.