Today is Robert Siegel's last day as host of NPR's All Things Considered. He sat down with KERA in May of 2017, shortly after he announced his impending retirement.
For a generation of radio listeners, Siegel has been one of the few constants. He’s hosted NPR's All Things Considered since 1987 — through inaugurations and impeachment to natural disasters and wardrobe malfunctions.
He gave his first extensive interview about his departure to KERA during Think's week broadcasting out of NPR headquarters in Washington.
How the job has changed
It was a radical idea that we have three hosts back in 1987. So every third week, on average, you were doing something else. Now we have four hosts...It began with just two of us, actually. Renee Montagne and I. [Listen to the interview for archival tape of his very first introduction as host.] We were cutting quarter-inch audio tape...Today, we're much more technologically sophisticated. We have far more reporters. When I went to London for NPR, I was the whole foreign staff!
On the rise of "fake news"
It's changed my thinking...I think our attitudes have been mostly to ignore it. If you search through our archives, how often did we look at the birther phenomenon and do stories on it? Typically, our attitude was, 'This is dumb. This isn't worth paying any attention to.' I'm beginning to think that's something newsrooms have to do. We have to both put forward our own good work, and then we probably have to go looking for stupid things that people believe. And if they enjoy a good bit of credence, consider it part of the journalistic mission to disprove stupid things that are out there.
The interview he wishes he could do over again
The interview that Mara Liasson and I did in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton on the day it was revealed that he was under investigation. I wish I'd stuck with it longer than five minutes.
The one guest he’d like to interview again
The most exasperating interview I ever did was with Mel Brooks, who was a riot, and whom I could barely get a word in edgewise with. It was when he was up for a Tony for having written the music to the stage version of "The Producers." He kept on saying to me, "Siegel, play the music. Just play the music!" He said [of All Things Considered's 4 p.m. start time], "Good, I figure that's about the time the Tony voters will be waking up from their hangover from last night's Cosmopolitan drunken stupor. They'll hear the music, they'll vote for me and they'll give me a Tony."