Few journalists face difficult interviews quite like Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, chief Washington correspondent and host of MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” This year, Mitchell marks 45 years of reporting for NBC News and 15 years of hosting on MSNBC. In that time, she has interviewed presidents, members of Congress, foreign leaders and all kinds of newsmakers.
“A tough interview teaches you that you really have to be ready, you have to be prepared,” she said. “You don’t know if it’s going to go in a different direction. Sometimes it’s really hard because the person wants to keep you off-balance.”
Mitchell joined NBC News in 1978 as a Washington-based general correspondent. She went on to serve as chief White House correspondent, chief congressional correspondent and a panelist on multiple presidential debates. Her coverage of foreign policy, intelligence and national security issues has resulted in exclusive reports from North Korea, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Cuba, Bosnia, Kosovo, Pakistan and Haiti.
As a journalist, Mitchell’s goal is to hold the powerful accountable.
“You’re representing the American people,” Mitchell said. “The average person cannot ask the president or the secretary of state a question. You are their representative, so you have to do the job. Ask what they want to know.”
Mitchell’s many accolades include the Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award in 2019, the ICFJ Founders Award for Excellence in Journalism and RTDNA’s Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award.
Watch the video above to see how she asks the tough questions. Read more of Mitchell’s reflections on her career below.
When Sudanese officials threatened Andrea Mitchell
For years, Mitchell covered the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, for which the International Criminal Court filed charges of genocide against then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Mitchell accompanied then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Sudan in July 2005, as Rice was scheduled to meet with al-Bashir the morning before viewing how internally displaced people lived in Darfur’s Abu Shouk Camp.
During Rice’s photo opportunity with al-Bashir, Mitchell asked, “Why should the U.S. believe the Sudanese government will stop the killing when the government is still supporting the militia?” She was then grabbed by Sudanese security guards.
“These photo opportunities are supposed to be open to the cameras, [but the Sudanese] didn’t want us in there,” Mitchell said. “I had to force my way and push past people who were guarding the door. This was not a case where I was going against the U.S. State Department, they were trying to help us.
“I asked a question about why [al-Bashir] was still supporting terror groups who were helping the militias in Darfur, which was declared a genocide by then. And they pulled me out, pulled my arm. I really had a rotator cuff problem after that — they just yanked me out of there and dragged me out. And Secretary Rice was so angry about me being manhandled that she demanded an apology from the foreign minister, and she got it.”
Interviewing George Clooney before his arrest
Actor George Clooney brought attention to Darfur in March 2012, when he and his father, former TV journalist Nick Clooney, joined a planned protest outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. Mitchell interviewed the actor just before police arrested him and other protesters.
The actor “was outside the Sudan Embassy downtown. I ran out of my office, jumped in a car with an NBC guy, jumped out on Massachusetts Avenue,” Mitchell said “The police were setting up barriers. I went around and behind a bush, followed around on the other side and popped up in front of George Clooney and got the interview. And it was live. It was great.”
Riding along the 1992 campaign trail
Mitchell became NBC News’ chief White House correspondent after covering Bill Clinton through the 1992 presidential campaign. Here’s what she said it took to report on the election cycle at that time:
“Satellite uplinks, cellphones, computers, we had none of that. When I started, we worked in film that had to be processed. You couldn’t automatically get it on the air. That’s before we had satellite trucks.
“Bill Clinton did [campaign] bus trips across the country. I was on the bus, followed by a Winnebago with an edit pack. Our editors always came on the road with us. It wasn’t like remote editing on a laptop. The editor and producer in the Winnebago talked to me on walkie-talkies in between speeches by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the two candidates. There were very primitive cellphones, but they were not that useful, and we were always out of cellphone range.
“Around 5, 5:30 p.m., we would stop, [but Clinton’s] entourage would go on to the next stop. We would edit together a piece, go live on ‘Nightly News’ by dialing up a telephone line and making a connection with our satellite desk. We finished ‘Nightly News,’ got back in the Winnebago, drove like crazy to catch up with the candidates, hopefully while they were on a dinner break. And then start all over again. Get ready for the ‘TODAY Show,’ then go wherever they would end up overnight at 1 or 2 a.m. It was crazy.
“But that was one of my favorite campaigns because we were out among the people. It wasn’t a pre-set speech — they would see a crowd [and stop]. I could go in the crowd, go up to the candidate and ask him for a reaction, without all of the barriers that we now have between correspondent and candidate.”