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.
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.
CBS News Correspodent
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.
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!
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