Interviews

Getting To Know CBS News Correspondents Michelle Miller, Jeff Pegues, And Jericka Duncan

From left: Michelle Miller, Jeff Pegues, and Jericka Duncan of CBS News.

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

CBS News' Michelle Miller, Jeff Pegues, and Jericka Duncan bring their experience and passion to covering some of today's most important stories.


By Marshall Sella

By the close of 2020, the world seemed to be imploding. Any gaps in human-made issues—political unrest, racial and economic injustices—were filled with the biological, represented by the alarming numbers of COVID-19 cases. And when the news took a respite from unfettered disease, it was pivoting to images of burning cars parked outside burning buildings: usually, the earmarks of civil war. All of the nation's hidden malignancies, suddenly, had nowhere left to metastasize.

CBS News correspondents Michelle Miller, Jeff Pegues, and Jericka Duncan were dispatched to cover the country while it was backlit by flames and the growing solidarity of peaceful protests. Each is expert in what journalist trade jargon calls "deep-dives": reporting that is not given to superficiality. They don't settle. They're each people of color, each with a hand on the national pulse—but, beneath that, they are themselves exemplars of a far deeper kind of diversity. One of backgrounds, experience, and insights. Getting to the heart of the year's events, to the truths of them, has demanded nothing less.

Jeff Pegues, Jericka Duncan, and Michelle Miller on the cover of Watch Magazine, November-December 2020.

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

It was Jericka Duncan who spent real time with Breonna Taylor's family and brought clarity and emotion to the story that eluded most other reporters. Her commitment to covering Taylor's death, the national outrage, and the calls for justice that followed, is representative of the empathy and passion Duncan brings to every story. "Although I live in New York City," she says, "being a reporter means going to wherever the story is and establishing connections within communities across America. Getting to know people and understanding them and their story is key. And I think that's what keeps me asking questions."

Reporter Jeff Pegues, author of the prescient 2017 book Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America has become a leading expert on the increasing violence between those two overlapping communities. He was on the ground covering the movement before rather than as a response to it becoming a national focus. "I wrote my book after Ferguson happened." Pegues says. "And part of the reason why I wrote [it] was that I was hoping by getting the information out there, it would defuse some of the tension."

Michelle Miller has the longest of the trio's histories with CBS News. In July, it was Miller who spoke with real authority about the civil rights icon John Lewis when the congressman passed away—but her connection to the network actually started when she was six months old. Her father, the late trauma surgeon Ross Miller, M.D., was a friend and delegate of Robert F. Kennedy. In June 1968, when RFK was mortally wounded by an assassin's bullet at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Dr. Miller was the first doctor to attend to the dying candidate (reportedly having been stalled by a few would-be obstructors, who ironically doubted that a Black man was likely to be a physician). As it happens, in the chaotic aftermath of the shooting , the good doctor was given a ride to the hospital by CBS News reporters—in exchange for reliable firsthand information about the staggering events that had just taken place.

In her youth, the doctor's daughter, hearing him tell stories about Bobby Kennedy, gradually was affected, and deeply shaped, by what she heard. "I certainly told that story," Miller recalls, "in a way that people felt a connection to."And so have they all. We asked them about it.

Originally published in Watch Magazine, November-December 2020.

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"It's important for people to really believe and trust that diversity is good for everyone." – MICHELLE MILLER

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

MICHELLE MILLER

CBS News Correspondent

Two-time Emmy winner; Edward R. Murrow Award winner; Co-host, CBS This Morning: Saturday


Many people still hear the term "diversity" and unfortunately associate it with the most superficial meaning of the term. Shouldn't the real objective of diversity also be one of outlooks— of ideas? When people stop short in discussions on skin color, isn't that what too often gets overlooked?

It's so interesting. I was on the phone with an organization that shall remain nameless. They wanted me to brainstorm about some people to moderate and be on panels. I was looking at their lists and noticing that most of these people were from the Northeast and mostly from New York. I said, "You've really got to expand your base." That's just a grave disservice. Diversity exists on so many levels. As you said, it's not only about what we see—skin color—but what we mean. It's about where we've been ... and who we are.

Yes. A lot of people think, "Oh, diversity! That only means you get, what, something like 34% who are people of color."

Here's the problem with the thesis of America. In my humble opinion. (You gotta add that! This is where I need to give an opinion, because it's based in fact.) America started off in being ... not terribly diverse in who it chose to represent.

You're putting it most charitably there.

Hey, not all White men had a voice. Not all White men had a vote; not all White men were allowed the level of respect and judiciousness. So let's just start there. And then you talk about women, and then you talk about people of color. We have to live and work in the context of who we were, and who we want to be.

Part of the diversity and inclusion aspects of wanting to be a better country is: We are here. And we do contribute. Not one race or religion or gender or ethnicity is out of that Contribution Pie. They've all been a part of it!

Let's be real here. People need to realize who truly contributed to making America great. All of us. All. Of. Us. African Americans even in bondage—and, later, women even without the vote. If everyone knew the history of this great nation ... perhaps their hearts, minds, and souls would feel differently about who it is that they choose to be.

That's philosophical—but me, as a journalist, what I am hoping to do with each story is to widen the aperture of their concept of the view out there, based on history and current reality. And those are the stories I like to tell. And hopefully those are the stories that give context to all the craziness out there, we're dealing with. So people understand why people are so enraged about what's going on in the streets of America. So that people understand why people are so infuriated about the death of Breonna Taylor. And why Black Lives Matter means so much to so many.

Or, for that matter, why so many White Americans may have fear about the changing times that are about to unfold. If we all understood everyone else's vantage point, maybe we wouldn't all be so quick to rear our backs. We all have a story. And I hope to tell it.

Michelle Miller discusses a Selma, AL memorial to civil rights icon Sen. Elijah Cummings.

Photo Credit: CBS News.

A lot of it is due to an absolute state, especially among younger people, of being uninformed about everything that happened before, say, 1995.

I'm not sure it's necessarily uninformed. A lot are being misinformed. A lot of people are getting their knowledge based on the internet. Without fact-checking. When I was coming up, there was the Encyclopedia Britannica. There were books I could source that weren't constantly being manipulated, as there are things I see now, on a daily basis, that are simply untrue.

I read a Post piece that said "Murderers of Emmett Till are being acquitted" then "Murderers of Breonna Taylor are being acquitted." And I wrote back and said, "They are not being 'acquitted'!" Emmett Till's killers went to trial and his killers were acquitted (in a matter of hours). The killers of Breonna Taylor did not even go to trial. A grand jury did not see fit to bring the case to trial. It's quite a big difference.

Look, I'm on live television. You can't say things that are not true. I remember once saying something that was slightly incorrect. Some nuance based on the language. I always go back and correct myself. The great thing is, the viewers will let you know. They will definitely let you know!

"When the door opens, you've got to open it wide—because there are forces angling to close it shut." – MICHELLE MILLER

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

Who do you think are the people who are obstructing diversity?

That's a big question. Clearly there are people who think they have something to lose. You often hear the line about how there are people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple. You can find those answers if you look for them.

Growing up, who in TV news influenced and shaped you?

The first time I saw a Black woman on television was a local reporter, Angela Black. She was this beautiful brown- skinned woman. On the national level, the person who had the most impact on me was the first time I saw Max Robinson on television. He was the ABC News anchor of World News Tonight, along with Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings. I was so incredibly proud. Shortly before he died, the last outing he made was to Howard University [where I was a student]. I remember talking to him about every aspect of the industry. I don't remember it verbatim, but he told us, "You'd better not let your demons take control of you. It's important not to let what people say about you get to you."

As for actual news—and diversity—do you think we've made progress since, say, 1968? That we're moving in the right direction?

I think we've most certainly made strides across the board. What I have learned in my short life, as a student of history, is that you certainly cannot let your guard down. America wasn't made in 20 years. All the things that people have battled against didn't hap-pen in 20 years. Women just got the vote a hundred years ago, and just 40 years ago were given certain assurances that they'd have the same rights as men. The pendulum swings. When the door opens, you've got to open it wide—because there are forces that are angling to close it shut. People need to constantly work to ensure that everybody has a seat at the table. Alliances should be made; ignorance should be shed.

It's important for people to really believe and trust that diversity is good for everyone. Think of all the people who have something to contribute and yet are left on the other side of that closed door! I think of Charles Drew, the father of the American blood-banking system, whom the Red Cross sent to figure out how we were going to get blood to our troops. Or let's go back to a Black guy who worked with Thomas Edison. Lewis Latimer was the reason the lightbulb worked to the degree it did! Otherwise, Edison ... his bulb would give light for a hot minute—but Latimer's filament was the key to the long-lasting lightbulb.

Very few people even know that Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was an Afro-Frenchman. Or that Pushkin was an Afro-Russian!

I guess my point is, people who have become key—household names, who are the fathers of our literature, and our medicine, and so many other things—were people of color.It's part of the reason why I tell that story about my dad's work with Robert F. Kennedy [Ross Miller, M.D., was a delegate for RFK] and that he was the first to attend to him after he was shot. When I told my son that, he didn't believe me! Because it's so out of the realm of belief based on what we've been taught.

Michelle Miller at a Memorial to Sen. John Lewis in Selma, AL.

Photo Credit: CBS News.

How old was he when you told him?

About 8 or 10. And my son actually said, "That did not happen, Mommy. Prove it!" I later went to Anthony Mason, one of my BFFs, a White Upper East Sider—and he had done a story about his connection to John F. Kennedy, and he told me that my story about my father was just as relevant. That story taught me how inclusive RFK was. My dad campaigned with him; they had conversations. It also helped me realize that I had my own interesting stories to tell and gave me confidence that there were stories that I could tell through my own voice.

In the last 10 years, 15 years, what stories have shaped you?

There was Ferguson. During the 1992 social unrest in L.A., I lived in south central Los Angeles and traveled to work 40 miles away. Here I was in the midst of this happening , but my former employer didn't see the value of me covering this story right outside my home and of telling those stories from that vantage point. "Hunker down and be safe," they told me.

Reginald Denny was beaten on the corner where I took the bus to school!

This was kind of a no-brainer. I will never forgive them for that. I felt so devalued; I felt leveled. So that informed my storytelling in Ferguson. In Los Angeles, 63 people died in the unrest over four days. Hundreds of businesses were destroyed. But in Ferguson no one died.

That was not equal to me. I remember Charlie Rose calling me to get me on his show that night, because no one had the perspective that I had. Nobody else had made that point! As bad as it was, no one did.

"What has always driven me is learning something new about someone else or something else." – JEFF PEGUES

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

JEFF PEGUES

CBS News Chief Justice and Homeland Security Correspondent

Three-time Emmy winner; author of Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America and, most recently, Kompromat: How Russia Undermined American Democracy


Don't you think people often think of diversity from a tremendously superficial standpoint?

Well, put it this way: A lot of people think of diversity simply as a matter of quotas. I think that diversity of ideas is extremely important—not only important as far as news coverage, but also in terms of the bottom line, where the business is concerned. We have to appeal to as large an audience as possible.

Right.

My view is pretty simple. How do you do that? You bring in as many people as possible under the tent. And I say that from experience. When I was growing up, the reason I started watching the news was because of people like Bryant Gumbel and Ed Bradley. I would see these men—Gumbel and Bradley and Max Robinson—these Black men who looked like me—and I would want to watch them as much as possible. Because not only did I, as a young kid, need my father [who was a banker] to look up to—it also gave me these journalists to look up to. It gave me other Black men to look up to. Too often, in the '70s and the '80s and quite frankly in the '60s, TV gave us a picture of Black men in handcuffs. Because of the environment I grew up in, that was not my reality. My father was a successful businessman. So, he was a role model for me. And then I would see Max, Bryant, and Ed. Black men in business suits and working in finance or working as journalists. It drew me in to watching the news, wanting to one day be the next great journalist.

Photo Credit: CBS News.

Has CBS changed in the last, say, five years when it comes to holding neutrality as a goal? Sometimes—in covering the death of George Floyd, for example—textbook "objectivity" has to verge on impossible.

I think that's a great question. I get that all the time. And I take it seriously. Because it's why I became a journalist. I did not get into journalism to entertain you; I did not get into journalism to give you my opinion. What has always attracted me to broadcast jour-nalism is not that I'm on TV. That's not who I am.

What has always driven me is learning something new about someone else or something else. I love meeting new people; I love getting to the heart of what makes someone tick. I worked my way up through local news from Rockford, Illinois; Dayton, Ohio; Min-neapolis, Minnesota; Miami; Baltimore; New York; I lived overseas. I grew up on the continent of Africa: in the Ivory Coast and Zaire, Zimbabwe, Nigeria ... I lived in the Philippines. Every two years of my life, I was moving. So I had to learn to fit in to new cultures. New neighborhoods, different schools. And because of that, I learned to listen. I learned to adapt. And I think that's why I am the kind of reporter I am now. I can go to the White House or the State Department or CIA and fit right in. Or go to some neighborhood in Baltimore and blend in there as well.

CBS has not changed. What attracted me to it, the reason I came to this news organization, to CBS, was because of its history. Because of Walter Cronkite, because of the Bob Schieffers, the Lesley Stahls of the world. I wanted to be like them—the best journalists.

The history of the network matters. You can ask my colleagues around the newsroom: I actually quiz the interns, as much as I can, about the history of CBS News, because it is so important as a foundation of what we still do. I believe in that. We tell it like it is. We present both sides. And that's not going to change.

"The reason I started watching the news was because of people like Bryant Gumbel and Ed Bradley." – JEFF PEGUES

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

You have a rather ineffable quality, an air of trustworthiness—really, of accuracy. I think that's what keeps viewers coming back.

You remind me of a time when I was working in Milwaukee. I remember going to this woman's house— she had lost a family member to violence. It was one of those "door knocks," as we call them. I wanted to get her on camera talking about how hard it was to lose her family member. And she was annoyed—with me, with the newspeople there. She said—this was more than 20 years ago, but I'll never forget it— she said, "You don't know what it's like, and you don't care what it's like to be me right now. You don't know what it's like ... until it hits you."

She was scolding us for being heartless. I will never for-get that—and it changed me. Every story that I do, like that one, I think about that woman.

Did she ever come around to trusting you?

Regretfully, she didn't. And I'd learned my lesson. Because you know what? She's right. We often meet people at their worst. And you talk about my stories being relatable ... These aren't just facts on a piece of paper; this is somebody's life. So you have to make sure you do it justice.

Jeff Pegues reports live from a Minneapolis protest.

Photo Credit: CBS News.

When it comes to getting inside the head of a subject—reaching a level of empathy that gives your story authority—do you think we as an industry have progressed since, say, 1968?

I think so. The news cycle is such and the form of information is such that reporters are getting incredible scoops. The sort of scoops where sources are talking about top-secret information. People don't just talk about that kind of stuff! You have to find a way to coax it out of 'em.

So we have seen, in the last four or five years, some of the finest journalism in history. And since 1968, we have the technology to tell the story better. That's part of why I wanted to work with CBS News. It's because I think we are the best at matching the pictures with the words. And telling the story.

Are there stories that come to mind that changed you, that shaped you as a correspondent? Does social media play into this at all?

Put it this way: I am on social media, but I'm not a frequent user of social media. In part because of some of the false statements, because of the misinformation. I'm old-fashioned. I do appreciate the people who can tweet every two seconds. But it's just not who I am. This is all strictly business for me.

"Getting to know people and understanding them and their story is key." – JERICKA DUNCAN

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

JERICKA DUNCAN

CBS News Correspondent

In 2020, earned a Juris Master's Degree in American Legal Studies from Liberty University


What's your take on diversity in 2020 news coverage? And I mean diversity in its many forms.

What viewers need to keep in mind is that we are better when we are more diverse—when we reflect the community and the country that we live in. We are better as an organization when there are conversations in newsrooms about how to cover a story, because of, perhaps, the lens through which I am seeing the story. Or with somebody with a disability seeing the story. Or where there is someone coming from the gay community seeing the story. That's the beauty of what we do: the discourse. And sometimes not agreeing—in hearing each other out! That's democracy; that's the way you would hope a newsroom functions as well.

And diversity isn't just Black and White. And I think we're at a point in our country where we clearly recognize that. We're also at a point where we recognize shortcomings, even within the strides that we've made. We're talking about policing in the Black commu-nity. Let's talk about Black people in all the economic disparities. I think of that phrase, "Silence is compliance."

We all play a role in making sure that we respect each other. We are a forgiving country, right? People have done horrific things, and sometimes there's acknowledgment. Saying , "I'm sorry, and how can I do better? " goes a much longer way than denial, denial, denial.

Who were your heroes, your role models, in television news?

My father [who began as a sportscaster and now covers the news in Cleveland] without a doubt. He started out in Baltimore, Maryland, with Oprah Winfrey—who held me as a baby. A few years ago it came full circle, and I said to her that "I would be remiss if I didn't tell you how we first met." That's crazy. It all took me from Baltimore, where I was born, to Phoenix; North Carolina; Indianapolis; and Cleveland, Ohio, where my father currently works at the CBS affiliate. But when I went to college, I actually thought I wanted to be someone who directed music videos, believe it or not.

Jump ahead a bit. CBS proudly describes you as a "frontline" reporter—for instance, on the COVID story. Doing "deep-dives" about Black people who, mind-blowing as it seems, actually couldn't get tested early on. In 2020.

And this wasn't even especially "early on"! This was late April.

Isn't the diversity of the staff crucial to succeeding in bringing that type of story to light?

Having people in a newsroom who look like me helps. I grew up in various communities and I was going to good schools. That was something my mother was very big on. I'll always remember her asking in advance, " What is the school district like? " And I am incredibly grateful for that. I've got far too many friends and family members who did not have that kind of upbringing. To have that kind of lens: What about the other people?

I'm not that far removed from people who might not have health care, who've lost their jobs, or don't have a lot of money saved up. I think that is a lot of people. This COVID situation does hit close to home; it does not discriminate. It kills everybody.

"Good journalism takes time. It takes sorting through information."– JERICKA DUNCAN

Photography by Sasha Maslov.

Who were the newspeople you looked up to early on?

Aside from my father and Oprah Winfrey, that's Max Robinson, Ed Bradley, ... and of course Byron Pitts.

Do you ever find that being a person of color, as regards to the source, enhances your story?

I think it does help, that it can put some people at ease. But in life we tend to be a pretty decent breed of people. And if people don't feel you'll honor their voice in a story, then you won't speak to them. It might get me in the door, but how you keep yourself there, as someone who is trusted, is really based on your work. And that's all we have: our work and our credibility. Because there are people who look like me who still wouldn't get access to certain communities.

Does social media play into any of this?

The social media aspect has made it very difficult to sift through and to make sure we are going ahead with the most accurate information we possibly can. There's so much information coming at us. That has to be how we stand out: by getting it right. Which can mean not always being the first to go ahead with something before we know [everything]. It still is a standard to have at least two sources. It definitely makes it more difficult for us to sort through information when it's coming at record speed. Good journalism takes time. It takes sorting through information. It takes talking to experts, a lot of legal experts sometimes, to make sense of it all.

And you're one yourself now, having taken your master's degree! You're now, by definition, a "legal expert."

Me getting my degree was at the baby stages of that. Understanding the history of our laws more than the idiosyncrasies of them. I am not a trade attorney by any stretch of the imagination. I don't think most people can get a good sense of law unless they practice it for a number of years. But again, that was very good for me. I do love a challenge.

What have I overlooked in my questions?

Being a single mother has shaped me in ways as a journalist that I wouldn't have expected. Actually, it forces you to be even a better journalist—being a mom in general. You have to be better. It's not just about you. And you feel yourself doing this for a greater cause.

Originally published in Watch Magazine, November-December 2020.

SEE MORE: Check Out The Latest Issue Of Watch Magazine—Available Now!

CBS This Morning airs at 7 a.m. ET/PT on CBS and streams on CBS All Access.

CBS This Morning: Saturday airs Saturdays on CBS and streams on CBS All Access. Check local listings.

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