Longtime television journalist Rita Crosby regaled the audience with the keynote address at the Leading Women Entrepreneurs event to celebrate its 2017 honorees Monday night at the Liberty House in Jersey City.
Being a female journalist, she said, has produced anecdotes for a lifetime. She shared two of the most notable, which happened at two different points in her career.
The first, she said, came when applying for one of her first jobs, a TV gig in Bakersfield, California.
“I called on the phone and I said, ‘Here’s what I do, I’m hard-working young student,’ and the man actually said to me over the phone, ‘We already have a pretty blonde, but thank you very much.’
“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Do you have a pretty blonde who can speak a couple languages, who works 24 hours a day?’
“He said, ‘No, no, no — we don’t have one like that.’
“I said, ‘Would you like one like that?’
“He said, ‘Absolutely, you’re hired.’ That’s how I got one of my first jobs.”
Years later, after she had become the first women to be hired by Fox News, had won numerous awards and had interviewed numerous top political leaders, the combination came up again — in a quest for an interview with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
It was the first Christmas after 9/11, she said. At a time when every journalist was trying to get interviews with leaders in the Middle East.
On Christmas Day, the call came.
“I finally got a call from Yasser Arafat’s people,” she said. “And they said, ‘The leader is willing to see you. He said he’d like you to be here within 24 hours or he’s going to cancel.’
“So, I literally left the Christmas table and remember running over there, studying on the flight to get over there (because) nobody had heard from Yasser Arafat at that point.
“I get there. I’m exhausted. They blindfold me and then they put me at gunpoint and say, ‘What’s the password to be able to see the leader?’ I gave them the password and I go through all this drama to get to (his headquarters), which is being shelled.
“At this point, I’ve missed Christmas dinner, I’ve been blindfolded, I’ve been held at gunpoint, I get to a place that’s being bombed. I get there and I see Yasser Arafat, and I say, ’I’m so excited to do an interview with you,’ and he says, ‘I’m not going to do it after all.’
“I was pissed.”
Crosby said she used her experience to get the interview.
“(He had stormed off to go) into a meeting with his Palastinian leaders, who were all men,” Crosby told the crowd. “I said to his guy, ‘What do I do? I have to get this interview.’
“He said, ‘The only thing you can do is walk into this room with all these male ambassadors and make a personal plea to the leader.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it, what do I have to lose?’
“So, I walk in, I got into this big huge room and it’s all men. Here’s Rita Crosby, no head scarf or nothing. I said, ‘Mr. Leader, I have come all this way over here and you have made a commitment and a promise to do this interview with me.’
“He said, ‘I heard you’re tough.’ And that’s when I realized it wasn’t necessarily about being a woman, it was that he had done some background on me and realized that I wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.’
“He saw this cute blonde and thought it was going to be easy.
“I said, ‘I’m fair.’
“And then I thought I’d do this line, which I hope all of the ladies in this room will be proud of me. I said, ‘You’re not afraid of a tough question from a woman, are you?’
“I looked around at all of his ambassadors and you could have heard a pin drop.”
Crosby ended up getting the interview. The first of many she had with Arafat until his death.
“(I) became one of his favorite journalists for the rest of his life,” she said.
“So, sometimes the woman part works against you, but it can definitely work for you.”
Crosby said the opportunities for women in media and TV have only grown exponentially since she started more than two decades ago.
“When I first started in television, 25 years ago, there weren’t that many women in the business,” she said “There weren’t many covering war zones and the real tough assignments.
“I think about how far we have come. And now we have women managers and women bosses and some of the most prominent anchors and investigative journalists are women. I think we’ve come an incredibly long way. And we still have more to go, especially behind the scenes, but I’m so proud of where we’ve come.”