For those of us who keep abreast of the world around us through the eyes and ears of media professionals, there’s no one like veteran Emmy winning TV host Rita Cosby. We grew up in the same town and remain friends from my days bouncing around Connecticut and New York.
I thought I already knew Rita’s story and always felt tremendous affection and respect for my friend and legendary TV personality and radio host. But when she revealed the story of her relationship with her father and their emotional journey together, I realized she has much, much more to share with the world.
Rita’s is one of the most vibrant voices in American journalism. Earlier this year, we welcomed her to speak to us at Moorings Park in support of the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida. She always brings her unique perspective and discernment to any important discussion, and that’s certainly true in this week’s conversation.
Q: You’ve been on the front lines of battle, interviewed secretaries of state and were one of the last U.S. correspondents to meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. What insights can you share with regard to the recent events in Benghazi and the battle for freedom in the aftermath of his oppressive dictatorship?
A: Benghazi is a mess. There are still way too many unanswered questions as to why help was not given to Ambassador Chris Stevens and the very brave men who were protecting him. The American public and especially the families of those who died deserve full answers, and I hope they will get them soon. To me as a journalist, the chain of events simply doesn’t add up. Gaddafi ruthlessly ruled his people with an iron fist. Many cheered when he was removed from power, but we still do not fully understand the man who replaced him, or the full intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood who are in charge there now. Will they protect Americans on their soil? Will they keep relations with one of America’s closest allies, Israel? I think we will be talking about the fragile state of affairs in Libya and these other nearby fledgling “democracies” for a long time to come.
Q: In your storied career as a major cable network news anchor and veteran correspondent, what do you consider your most memorable interview? Most important?
A: This is difficult to answer, as I’ve been very fortunate to meet so many fascinating figures through the years. Soon after 9/11, I hopped on a plane to meet Yasser Arafat in his heavily fortified compound on the West Bank. The very next day, I spent several hours with then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Also after 9/11, I spoke with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf who, after answering a phalanx of questions, suddenly paused for what seemed like a lifetime when I asked him if his country would side with the U.S. or Bin Laden. He looked directly at me, exhaled audibly in a long, deep breath and finally said, “We will side with America.” I was relieved to hear this answer. I’ll also never forget my impromptu discussion with Serb President Slobodan Miloševic, who snuck out of his prison cell at The Hague and suddenly called me on the phone to defend his war crimes. The next day, his phone privileges were revoked. Despite some of these historic conversations, the most important and deeply personal interview to me was with my own father.
Q: This summer you paid your final respects to your father, about whom your bestseller, “Quiet Hero,” was written. After all you learned about his struggle for freedom, his enduring character and how he carried himself through both good times and bad, what single life lesson stands out from which we might also benefit?
A: There are two powerful lessons to be learned from the journey I went on with my father and his incredible life story. First, my father decided to stay and fight against the Nazis when he was just a teenager, knowing there was a very strong chance he would die. He loved his country and freedom so much he was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice if needed. Amazingly, he survived. Second, my father was clearly full of the visible and invisible scars of war, PTSD. He was emotionally and physically disconnected from his family for many years. As a result of understanding what he went through, I learned to forgive my father for his years of distance, and we reunited in the most powerful and beautiful way. Our story is one of profound reconciliation, something we all can learn from.
Q: You are very busy these days with your nationally syndicated radio program “The Rita Cosby Show,” and with your role as special correspondent on the CBS newsmagazine show “Inside Edition.” When will we see you on “Dancing with The Stars” or “Survivor: Everglades”?
A: Right now I have my hands full with lots of post presidential election coverage, but I do a mean Latin Cha- Cha! My work, with all of its travels covering and seeking out fascinating stories, is enough of a reality show for me — and definitely one I would not like to miss out on. I love sharing the stories with my audience, hearing back from my viewers and followers on www.QuietHero.org and getting to know them. My days are filled with remarkable times, tremendous friendships and unforgettable experiences. My dance card is already quite full.
Q: If you could interview anyone at any time or place in history, who would that be?
A: Either Hitler, or perhaps Bin Laden. The day before our courageous military permanently disconnected his life and his cable TV, I’d ask him, “Have you ever heard of Seal Team Six”? and/or, “Where’s the helicopter pad?” No matter who you are or where you stand as an American, we should all be extremely thankful for the tremendous sacrifice and selflessness of our troops. In World War II, they saved my dad. Today, they’re again on the front lines, fighting to preserve and protect our right to be free.