Clare Crawford-Mason

It’s Not What You Think – It’s How You Think.

Interviewed by Mary Jean Collins, VFA Board, November 2018

MJC: This is an interview for the VFA Pioneer Histories Project. And let’s start by having you tell us your name.

CCM: Clare Wootten Crawford-Mason.

MJC: And when and where were you born?

CCM:  I was born in Durham North Carolina in 1936.

MJC: I think you got to D.C. pretty soon after that.

CCM: Yes, my family brought me when I was an infant and we moved to suburban Maryland and that was where I was raised.

MJC: So tell us a little bit about your family background including whatever ethnic or other items are of interest would be to our audience.

A Family to Be Proud of

CCM:  I’ll start with my mother. Her maiden name was Erly and she was born on Capitol Hill way back when it was known as Swampoodle. We used to say full of drunken Irish – before it became Capitol Hill as it is today. And her father was born there also.  He was a newspaperman and wrote for the Washington Evening Star. He actually was the first person to cover high school sports for the Star. And it’s very interesting in light of the fact that my brother is the great basketball coach Morgan Wootten who they’ve done movies about. That was my mother’s side of the family – they were Irish who had come here back before the Civil War – right at the time of the civil war. And then my father’s family – they date their heritage back to Jonathan Edwards in New England and the first settlers of the United States. And then they also were the royal governors of North Carolina.

They Were Here Forever – Since the Beginning of the Country. 

MJC: And your grandmother made quite a mark as I understand.

CCM: Yes my grandmother is one of the very first women in Who’s Who. Her name was Bayard Wootten and she lived in North Carolina and there are many books written about her. And the University of North Carolina has many of her photographs. She became a self-taught photographer and became very skilled at African-American and she did Caucasian photography. She did everything and she’s gives a great history of the time from about 1910 on up to 1950-60. Her grandparents and parents were writers and some of them were very active in the women’s movement and a long history of educated women.

MJC:  What was your interaction with her that you remember that might have inspired you on your path?

CCM: Well she and I didn’t get along too well. But I was inspired by what she did.  Once when I was a little girl, she struck me and I said – we don’t hit children in our family – it can deafen them. And she didn’t like that. But my father was her favorite – she was really wonderful. And in retrospect not from my childhood of knowing her – in retrospect I admire her. I think just a fantastic life she had.

MJC: So you’ve come of age and get into the workforce – kind of in a parallel time with the modern women’s movement. Can you tell me about your work life and your career and how the women’s movement might have affected where and who you are?

First Experience With Inequality  

CCM: My mother also had written a newspaper column when she was in China with my father. She had learned that from her father. And so the women had been employed – there was always the idea of employment. I went to a Catholic parochial school and a Catholic girls school and then I went to the University of Maryland. The first real problem I had as a woman being in the workplace – I started out – when I was a freshman, I became the first freshman editor of one of the papers – the Diamondback paper. I was the editor of the Friday Edition.  And then the person left to be editor because there had been people who’d been appointed and who left when I would have been a junior. And they said – no wait we will make you Editor in your senior year. Help this person here – who is relatively new. And so I created a job of executive editor.

But when I became a senior they would not let me be editor because they said I was a woman.  The last woman they had as editor had been too emotional. I was really very disappointed. It was very clear to all of us. It was sad because you were a woman. But as a result of not being the editor I was able to go overseas with the Fine Follies and do theater work and everything so it turned out to be a great benefit for me. That was when I began to understand that things were different which I had not before. And the way we were raised – the women in the house – everybody in the household was equal.

MJC:  So you didn’t experience that at home. Now you were experiencing it in the world.

The First Copy Boy at the Washington Post With a Husband

CCM: I had started out majoring in journalism at Maryland but I had also in the Catholic high schools in Washington been editor of the school paper, The Silver Quill in Silver Springs Maryland. We took journalism classes for high school seniors at Catholic University and then later I helped teach them. And so by the time I got to Maryland I took a journalism course which the professor conducted by asking me questions and then he said he would flunk me if I ever came back and I should go take something else because I didn’t need to take journalism. So I took American Civilization and that was the degree with which I graduated.  Then I went to work as the first copy boy at the Washington Post who had a husband.

MJC: Were there copy boys – women who didn’t have husbands?

CCM: There were other copy boys who were women who weren’t married. And then there were male copy boys. And they said if I were really serious about being a journalist I wouldn’t have gotten married. But they never told that to the male copy boys. And so it was clear that they weren’t going to make me a reporter.

MJC: So you were a copy boy at the Post but you were never a reporter at the Post. So how did your career advance?

First Time at the White House – the Day After Kennedy Was Assassinated  

CCM: I went from the Post and eventually ended up working as a dictationist at the Washington Star and then while I was doing this – I would go out and cover stories for The Star: the Maryland General Assembly and Maryland politics. And so finally the Washington Daily News which was then the third paper hired me and I became the Maryland reporter and then later I had a column in The Daily News. I went back to the Washington Star and had a column there. I covered the White House from late, very late Kennedy through early Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

The first time I went to the White House was after Kennedy was assassinated and covered the people talking about it. I was there and then I went to work doing the evening news at the same time for NBC. And then eventually about 1974 someone came down from New York – Reuven Frank – who was the man who invented the television documentary. And he later was president of NBC and really one of the great pioneers in television and he wanted me to do the evening news. But then they brought me to New York and they said – no, people didn’t really want to hear the news from a woman’s voice. So he made me a senior producer.

I Was the First Woman Senior Producer at NBC.  

And then we started doing major documentaries at NBC. First we did a story a show that NBC put on called Weekend that featured a really fantastic reporter named Lloyd Dobyns. Weekend was kind of a competitor with 60 Minutes. It did very well and then we went on and just did documentaries after that we did a lot of interesting documentaries. And meanwhile about the same time I had gone to work with Mr. Frank – Reuven Frank – and a man came down from New York from Time Inc. And they were starting a new magazine. And this was Richard Stolley and the magazine that we were talking about starting was People Magazine of which I became the Washington editor. I simultaneously worked full time for NBC and for Time, doing these two things.

MJC: How did you handle the two cities – did you live in New York?

CCM: No I lived here the whole time. The news reporting and the TV reporting were from in and of Washington.  People was not exactly the crazy celebrity magazine it is today. In the beginning we would run pictures of the president on the cover and it was a more serious magazine. Life magazine had been stopped.. And so People was going to be a more popular type of Life magazine. But it wasn’t supposed to be a screen magazine – it deteriorated as time passed. Though it’s making lots of money on what it reports.

MJC:  The culture was changing.

CCM: It was.

Breakthroughs in Prejudice  

MJC: Can you comment on how the women’s movement affected [things] how it helped or hindered…

CCM: When we were at Time, we started a group called Journalism and Women’s Association – JAWS. And there were people from the women’s movement there and we understood – we knew about Gloria Steinem and we knew all these people who started these things and we did picture stories in People about them. And then as I did work for NBC – I came up with really fantastic breakthroughs in prejudice and in the women’s movement.

There was a friend of mine who was a woman lawyer I’d gone to the University of Maryland with who kept coming to me and saying – you’ve got to do a story – you’ve got to do a story – all these women who come to me and say – make my husband love me; make my husband love me. And she said their husbands beat them. And we mostly believed at that time that the husbands beat them because somehow the women provoked them.

And so I went to Reuven Frank and said,”Can we do this story?” And he said, “What’s the picture? Show somebody beating their wife?” And so this went along for a while – she kept bothering me about it and saying you’ve got to do this. She was very right. And so eventually I began to investigate it and said, “I’ll see what I can find out.” And the most amazing thing that I found out was that more police were killed answering domestic calls than any other call – any other crime or anything else.

And so this was just fantastic. And so really it was a terrible problem in America. And so we did the first documentary on spousal abuse and we got some really wonderful stories – like the judge saying to the man, “You lived with this woman for three years and then you married her and you never hit her when you were just living with her until you married her. What happened?” And the man said, “Before, I didn’t think I had the right.” It became very very clear that the women were not provoking the men – that this had something to do with something else.

America’s Hidden Crime

While I was doing that, I went around the country and there were places where women were moving to houses where they would not have to stay at home with a brutal husband. I would talk to the social workers and I’d say, “Gee, this is America’s hidden crime.” And they would look at me like I was – odd. So finally I said, “OK, what is America’s hidden crime?” And they said, “It’s child incest.” And so we did the first documentary on incest. Playboy magazine attacked us and said we were terrible – that incest wasn’t bad.

Those two things were the first things in the woman’s movement and that was how they came to be. And then at the same time I did the documentaries for NBC and they ran on the air. I also did the magazine stories in People Magazine about them. So this was the first publicity and first public acknowledgement that these things were going on.

MJC: That’s an excellent contribution – wonderful. How do you look at the major accomplishments of your career and if you would be willing to comment on how you think you’ve advanced the women’s agenda.

Doors Opened for Women in the White House 

CCM: I think that obviously bringing spouse abuse as being a terrible thing that shouldn’t happen. And the women don’t cause it. I think that was a really huge step forward. That was the beginning of seeing how women were mistreated. And then the child incest thing was just a terrible thing. I’m not sure we can totally attribute it to the women’s movement, but it was something that definitely needed to be investigated. And then I would say covering the White House.

There were not a lot of women who covered the White House. And so that was interesting. And we were able to ask questions and bring things up and we were treated as though we were just as serious reporters as any of the men. So that was good. And when you traveled and you went abroad – it was the beginning of saying women can do this too – report on politics. And you also covered more about first ladies – you covered more about – certainly as the presidents came along. Carter was very much for treating women better. Johnson – if he were alive today he would be pulled out as a sexual aggressor. But the whole thing went forward and they began to give women more and more jobs in the Senate and in the House and they began to be elected and things of that nature.

MJC: Things have changed.

CCM: It’s changed greatly. And as I said one of the things that are interesting about – as I realized – how did I get into this? I went back to my fiftieth high school reunion.  No one else had had a career and somebody said, “How did you know that you didn’t have to live the same lives our mothers did?”

MJC: Isn’t that a great question?

CCM: Yes, and I thought about it. I realized that that had come from – in my father’s family that the women – all the way back were educated. My grandmother had graduated from the Georgia School of the Deaf. Her family had started going – even though they had lost the Civil War – they had been plantation owners in North Carolina and so all the brothers still went and started the Michigan School for the Deaf – The Washington State School for the Deaf and she had gone to the Georgia School for the Deaf and everybody was educated. And women all the way back – and her grandmother – and her grandmother – had written books and had written memoirs and they had been involved in the women’s movement in New York state and so I just knew that from the beginning and that was how we were treated.

MJC: That had an influence – definitely on you and how you perceived it. 

What Happened to the Olives 

CCM: I was always quite mouthy and outspoken and one of the favorite family stories was when I was 4 years old. My favorite sandwich was cream cheese and olives and my mother was making one and then she was called next door. She came back and she said – Clare Josephine – what happened to the olives? And I said – well I ate them. And she said – well what about me? And I said – I saved you the juice. And I’ve never lived that down.  My children now to this day will say – I saved you the juice.  When someone is particularly selfish. But we all did this – I have a brother who went on to become a famous basketball coach and my other brother went into the Service and I had a sister who went away to be a Nun. 

MJC: You all made something of your lives.  Now I understand you’ve got some awards for your journalism over the years. 

CCM: Well I think you’ve got a list of them – you’re going to have to recite those I can’t remember.  We were nominated for a Pulitzer and there is a whole bunch of awards for…

MJC:  Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Star and the Daily News.

If Japan Can – Why Can’t We 

CCM: And when I got on television I produced the documentary in 1980 for NBC called  If Japan Can – Why Can’t We.  Japan was making better and better cars and televisions. They were doing everything better and and the United States manufactuers were suffering. And so Reuven Frank sent me off to see this unknown man in a house in Northwest Washington. It was Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the man who taught the Japanese to work smarter. and we introduced his ideas of quality management to the whole world. And they are still doing that. I did a number of books about that and I’m still doing a book about it now, which is called The New Wisdom. 

It’s Not What You Think – It’s How You Think.  

We are taught what to think, not how to think; and Deming went to Japan in 1950 and he taught the Japanese to work smarter, not harder. And then after we did this documentary, which is still used all over the world – he taught Americans this too, and some of it has worked and some of it has not. In other words how he taught the Americans – what he did is – the Japanese people in the Orient think in systems. They see the big picture and they see how things work together…We’ve done so very well with scientific thinking and analytical thinking, but we think in the pieces and in a rapidly changing increasingly complex world you have to understand both of them: the system and the pieces. Deming is the first person in history who brought Eastern and Western thought together: the system and the pieces. When he was a boy on the Wyoming Frontier – you came from Wyoming?

MJC: No, I’m Wisconsin.

CCM: Wisconsin. He was from the Wyoming Frontier. During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln had started the Department of Agriculture, which put an Agricultural Agent in every county in America to teach Americans continual improvement of agriculture. And as a result of that America became the leading producer of food and fiber in the world. But when we moved from the farm to the factory – to the suburban shopping center – Americans gave up continual improvement. And what they begin to say was – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But you see in order to survive and to go forward you need to practice not only continual improvement at work, but in your life and in your relationships with other people. Deming really discovered and made it so that we can – as I say even the challenge today – beyond the women’s movement is living in a rapidly changing, increasingly complex, confusing world and in order to do this we have to change how we think. Just like in order for men to come forward we need to know how women think.

You See Women and Men Think Differently.

And one of the reasons we’ve been quite successful is you look at the rest of the world and…women and men have come to think together and work together – that’s part of what’s happened in the women’s movement. Well we also have to learn how to work together and practice continual improvement and understand each other and this is what the challenge is today as life becomes more complex.

MJC: Wise words – wise words. Obviously this is one area of interest and concern to you. Other social justice areas that spilled over or that you were interested in?

CCM:  A number of different things that came to the fore as we reported and covered the White House and covered the world as it was. We have to learn to think like people from other countries and that’s really important. 

MJC: So are you still writing – did I hear you say that?

CCM:  I’m writing this one last book at the moment and then I would like to write my memoir, which is going to be called Happily Ever After Isn’t What It Used To Be.

MJC: Oh that’s wonderful. I love that title. I think you should do that.

CCM: I’d like to pull it all together.

MJC: You’re keeping busy.

CCM:  Yes, but doing the Deming thing has been really very amazing – we have become an international thing. We started CCM productions. There is a 25 volume Deming video library that’s used all over the world to teach people how to think this way and how to work smarter – not harder. And that’s what this is all about – and if you don’t stop and do that it’s not going to work.

MJC: Well we need that wisdom today, we definitely do.

The First Gun Control Law in the Western Hemisphere 

CCM: American motor companies have had done a lot of it and it’s really working. But we have got to be able to work together. One of the interesting things that happened, which shows you how it just comes out of doing your daily work, was I was involved in the first gun control law in the Western Hemisphere and how that happened was that close by here in suburban Maryland the man went into a gun store bought a gun and then came out and shot himself right on the step.

I was then working for the Daily News. I went over to talk to the people – I was pregnant at that time with my son – and I went into the store, and I tried to buy a gun. And the man in the shop sold me the gun and I said I only needed one bullet.  And he still sold it to me. It was the whole crazy thing. And then I went to another gun store – and I told the police what I was doing. And they asked me if anybody else had sold me a gun and I said yes. I told somebody in the store and they called the police. And then the police called my husband to say don’t go home – she’s got a gun.

MJC: That is amazing.

CCM: That led to Takoma Park passing the first gun control law and actually the most amazing thing was the Washington Post even wrote a little editorial praising the story. This man walked in – bought a gun – went out – didn’t want any more ammunition – that was all he needed and went out and shot himself on the steps of the gun store. And they were still willing to sell to you. 

MJC: You know even after hearing that story that’s amazing. It’s a great story.

How to Manage a Complex Rapidly Changing World 

CCM: So there is – I’m trying to think – the most important thing in many ways is the Deming stuff because if this is how you’re able to manage a complex rapidly changing world. And I left in the early 80s – I left NBC and then went forward and started at People and then went forward and started my own television production company. And then worked with Deming until he died at the age of 93 in 1993 talking about these ideas and trying to make them understandable to people in the West, which they have not yet totally understood, and to teach people how to think more effectively. A lot of Deming is how people can work together more effectively.

You Don’t Have to Blame.

You don’t have to do these things – you have to begin to understand how things work and…much of that is where the women’s movement is going. It’s not just any more women and men. It’s how can we as human beings –

MJC:  The broader intersectional.

CCM: And the whole point in life is how can we all live with more compassion and wisdom for each other.