CNN SUNDAY MORNING
Interview With Priscilla Painton
Aired December 22, 2002 - 07:35 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: "Time" Magazine has just unveiled its person of the year.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
O'BRIEN: And the drumroll has already happened.
WHITFIELD: That's right. And this year, it's not one, but as Miles alluded to earlier, it's more than one. It's three. Three people get the honor and they're all women.
O'BRIEN: Dark horse candidates. These are the people who took personal and professional risks to blow the whistle in their various realms. Cynthia Cooper, Sherron Watkins and Coleen Rowley were catapulted into the national spotlight after reporting what went wrong at WorldCom, Enron and the FBI, respectively.
WHITFIELD: And now they're being honored for doing the right thing.
O'BRIEN: Good choices, guys. I like it.
WHITFIELD: Yes, that's certainly making a statement.
WHITFIELD: As is the pose on the cover. So joining us to talk more about this year's People of the Year for "Time" magazine, from New York we have Priscilla Painton, executive editor of "Time" magazine.
Good to see you, Priscilla.
PRISCILLA PAINTON, EXEC. EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: All right, was this an easy choice for your committee to make or was there quite a field of candidates?
PAINTON: Oh, I think there was quite a field of candidates. I mean, of course, you have to consider of the United States and we did. And we especially talked about the importance of his partnership with the vice president. You have to consider, you know, the generic category of the terrorists, you know, which had a huge effect on the news this year. But what we saw in these three women was ordinary people from the heartland doing an extraordinary thing, which is telling the truth, and telling the truth because they believed that telling the truth would improve change and redeem the institutions they love so much.
WHITFIELD: And they were not at all reluctant in doing the right thing, but they were certainly reluctant public figures. They weren't that crazy about the idea of getting the kind of publicity they eventually got.
PAINTON: That's right. You know, the memos they wrote and the reports they did were all anonymous. And it's -- we wouldn't have known about them if it hadn't been leaked. They were reluctant. They never gave interviews before. This is the first time they've got -- given on the record interviews and come together. And the stories they tell about what was involved in their taking these risks. And what they discovered about each other is a terrific story.
WHITFIELD: And what struck you about their candor in revealing, you know, why they decided to take such risks and go out on a limb?
PAINTON: That it caused them extraordinary pain because they loved their jobs, and they loved the institutions they're part of. And it took a huge toll on them, emotionally. And yet, all three of them have a lot in common. They're firstborns. Two of them have stay-at-home husbands. They grew up in small towns in America. And when they met each other for the first time, they discovered that they had these parallel lives.
WHITFIELD: Let's try to isolate them then and talk about them as one monolith here. Sherron Watkins?
PAINTON: She's from Texas. She grew in a small town outside of Houston. And you know, Enron was the best thing that ever happened to her. She grew to the top of that company and loved it. And you know, was very reluctant to discover that, you know, it wasn't keeping clean books.
There's Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom who went back to her town in Clinton, Mississippi and worked there for a huge company, one of the biggest in the world. And again, you know, didn't want to believe what she was seeing.
And then of course, there's Coleen Rowley, who wanted to join the FBI when she was 11-years old, and was absolutely sure that by writing this memo, she could help fix an organization that she loves very deeply.
WHITFIELD: Is this the first time that "Time" magazine has selected more than one as the person of the year or persons of the year in this case?
PAINTON: No, I mean, we've had quite a tradition of putting more than one person on the cover. We had the peacemakers one year. So this isn't the first time, but I believe it's the first time we've put three women on the cover.
WHITFIELD: And all of them, once you reveal to them that you wanted to profile them, were they all still fairly reticent about the idea?
PAINTON: They were very reticent, but one of the things that they were curious about is the opportunity to meet each other. They were sort of vaguely aware of each other and they had admired what each other had done. And so, the notion of bringing them together was appealing to them.
WHITFIELD: So you think your magazine helped create a special bond between them now?
PAINTON: I think so. I mean, you can't create what wouldn't have happened anyway, but if you read the conversation they had in Minneapolis when they came together, they were high fiving each other. They loved, you know, what they had in common. They cheered each other. And it was an amazing conversation to hear.
WHITFIELD: Ah, Priscilla Painton, thank you very much. Good to see you.
PAINTON: Thank you.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com