Journalist and TV personality Meredith Vieira prioritized her family life – including her husband with Multiple Sclerosis – over her job at “60 Minutes” and was fired for it.
Even though Meredith Vieira is one of the most respected journalists and TV hosts in the industry, she was involved in a headline-grabbing feud with “60 Minutes.”
She wanted to spend time with her growing family and ill husband, but Executive Producer Don Hewitt considered she was not worth the hassle.
Meredith Vieira in "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in February 2011 | Photo: YouTube/TheEllenShow
VIEIRA’S EARLY CAREER
Born in December 1953 in Rhode Island, Vieira first attracted people’s attention as a reporter for the Chicago bureau of CBS News in the early 1980s.
During that time, her husband, Richard Cohen, heard her voice for the first time. Her smooth contralto tone so enchanted Cohen that he told a colleague he would marry Vieira. In June 1986, they tied the knot.
Meredith Viera on November 9, 2006 at Mandarin Hotel in New York City | Photo: Getty Images
For three years starting in 1986, Vieira worked in “West 57th,” the news magazine show that established her as an unmatching storyteller. Her work during those three years was so outstanding that she took home four Emmy Awards.
In 1989, a more significant opportunity presented itself: “60 Minutes” wanted her as a correspondent. It was the chance of a lifetime, but she had to meditate on her decision because she was just days away from giving birth to her first child.
Vieira’s time on “60 Minutes” was much harder than she expected.
VIEIRA IN “60 MINUTES”
It is essential to remark that Vieira had already had three miscarriages at that point, so she was mainly focused on living a stress-free life until she could finally give birth.
The fact that Vieira would take Diane Sawyer’s place as the only female journalist on the show and that it was the only job she had aspired to since her college years made the offer hard to turn down. She explained:
“I was, about to have a baby, and that’s when they offered it to me. That’s like having two babies at once. I jumped on it, then immediately began having second thoughts.”
Three weeks after her son Benjamin was born in February 1989, Vieira requested a meeting with her bosses at CBS and asked them to work part-time due to her growing family.
CBS accepted Vieira’s request: instead of the approximately 20 pieces a full-time correspondent used to do at the time, she only had to do about 10. Additionally, instead of making $1 million a year, she would make $450,000.
The arrangement was nothing short of groundbreaking. While many working women nowadays are used to such deals, not many national TV correspondents had done it at the time.
Vieira’s time on “60 Minutes” was much harder than she expected. According to “Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women,” Author Elsa Walsh, Vieira cried a lot.
Initially, she was assigned an office far from the rest of the team. Shortly after, Hewitt placed her into another space right next to his office so that he could watch when she arrived and left.
Meredith Vieira and Richard Cohen on May 7, 2018 in New York City | Photo: Getty Images
Years later, Hewitt alleged that Vieira didn’t want to be part of the group as she didn’t socialize that much with her co-workers. She agreed and said she didn’t try hard to be “one of the boys.”
Instead, she was focused on finishing her job and returning home. It is important to point out that Vieira’s husband, Richard Cohen, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in his 20s. When Vieira was working on “60 Minutes,” he was already legally blind and unsteady on his feet.
Since she was afraid that her husband would fall while carrying their baby, she didn’t like to spend too much time away from home. As a result, she cried almost every time she had to travel.
LEAVING THE SHOW
About 18 months after giving birth to her first son, Vieira got pregnant again. Unfortunately, she had a miscarriage in the middle of a flight to Rome. Her doctors then told her that she couldn’t fly for the first three months if she wanted to have another kid.
A few months later, Vieira got pregnant again. Once she got past her first trimester, she wanted to tell Hewitt about it, but he found out earlier. She also asked him to work part-time for another year to favor her family life.
"I've never had anybody in the past question the quality of my work."
However, Hewitt was supposedly under a lot of pressure from his team as they all wanted Vieira to work as much as the rest. They reasoned that they were “exhausted from doing her extra work.”
Hewitt told Vieira she had two options: she could either work full-time or leave. She prioritized her family life and pregnancy and left the show. After that, sexism, poor work, and bad faith accusations flew back and forth.
According to Hewitt, Vieira accepted the job and convinced her employers she could do it only to realize she actually couldn’t. The TV journalist defended herself by saying she didn’t mislead anyone as she was always direct about her desire to have a family.
Meredith Vieira, her husband Richard Cohen, and their children in September 2005 | Photo: Getty Images
Hewitt added that if Vieira’s stories were good enough, he would have done as much as possible to keep her in “60 Minutes.” However, “nobody” remembered any of her pieces. Vieira responded:
“I’ve never had anybody in the past question the quality of my work. Of the first five stories I did for ‘60 Minutes,’ three won awards.”
Hewitt admitted that he even set up a nursery so that Vieira could nurse her son in the office. He added that other women working in the show were horrified that they didn’t have the same treatment.
VIEIRA AFTER “60 MINUTES”
Eventually, Hewitt and Vieira’s feud was put to rest, with the former saying he had “great respect” for the latter. Vieira also wished the show well, and for the next few years, she bounced around jobs to pay the bills.
She joined “The View” in 1997 and started hosting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in 2002. Apart from that, she has also worked on “Today,” had her own show between 2014 and 2016, and is currently a contributor to “Dateline NBC.”
Coming back to her family life, she and Cohen welcomed three children: Benjamin, Gabriel, and Lily. Gabriel made headlines in 2019 after getting engaged to former KHQ Reporter Alli Flicker.
Speaking of Cohen, he once admitted Multiple Sclerosis almost ruined his marriage. Cohen, who also battled colon cancer twice, pointed out that his “selfish” reaction to his condition hurt his relationship with Vieira.
In 2012, he learned about stem cell treatment after going to a conference in the Vatican, and it brought hope back to his life. Since then, his relationship with Vieira improved, and they are still together nowadays.
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