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Peering Behind the Curtain of 60 Minutes

Posted: 12/05/2012 11:17 am

It was 16 years ago that I stood in our home-turned-headquarters and watched the legendary Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes interview my very nervous 13-year-old younger brother.

It was a rare glimpse behind the scenes of one of North America's best known and most respected news shows.

Bradley came calling just after Craig had returned from a two-month fact-finding mission to Southeast Asia where he'd met child slaves and even participated in raids to free them.

In our living room, Bradley fired questions, and Craig stammered responses: a speech impediment he'd struggled years to overcome was creeping back.

Suddenly, Bradley signalled the cameraman to switch off and his eyes scanned the room, coming to rest on our grandfather's nearby billiards table.

"Let's play a game of pool," Bradley said, with his trademark warm smile.

For the next half hour or so, Bradley taught the two ofus trick shots -- remnants, he said, of his "misspent youth." And with that little break, he helped Craig regain control of both his heart rate and tongue to finish the interview.

It's difficult to describe the impact of that one show on the course of our history.

Our simple website and wobbly email server did not survive the deluge of interest we received. It took down the entire server company.

That old pool table was soon covered with piles of mail delivered by stunned postal workers dragging multiple white canvas bags straight from the post office. Us teenagers spent months trying to reply by shoving standardized 8X11 sheets into manila envelopes in an assembly line fashion.

That's why, when 60 Minutes came calling again last year, we greeted the news with both anticipation and trepidation.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley wanted to follow up on the Ed Bradley story of all those years ago -- Bradley himself unfortunately passed away in 2006.

Pelley's team spent a whole year researching and building their story. In the age of 24-hour journalism and here-today-gone-tomorrow stories, that kind of exhaustive journalistic diligence is rare.

Craig and I both watch 60 Minutes, so to have a chance to peek behind the curtain again was an experience in and of itself.

And this time, the setting for the story would be a lot bigger than our living room.

The first stop was Vancouver to experience We Day with more than 18,000 young people. Next, was a school in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- St. Anne School -- to learn about their canned food drive to support local hunger issues, and their lemonade stands and bake sales to build school rooms in Kenya.

Then on to the final destination -- Kenya.

It floored me to watch Pelley in action. He anchored the Thursday night CBS Evening News, caught a redeye flight to Africa immediately after, did multiple interviews, and was back in the U.S. in time to do the Monday evening news. I've never seen one man consume so much coffee.

Pelley's team filmed the building and opening of new school rooms, and interviewed local Kenyan school girls. Pelley even spoke with two St. Anne students who made the journey.

Then came the big moment -- Craig's 60 Minutes interview. This time it was not nerves that posed a problem, it was the wind.

If you see the footage, there's a beautiful sweeping vista across the savannah of the Maasai Mara. What you don't see is the row of trucks and production crew with large sheets desperately trying to shield Pelley and Craig from the winds howling across the plain.

All these years later, Pelley wanted to know what we'd learned; what the most difficult moments had been.

Craig spoke of one of our lowest moments, back in Southeast Asia, where we met children he had earlier freed from slavery. These kids were no longer free.

"To see that some of those kids would end up back in the same grinding, back-breaking desperate poverty. There is nothing that makes your heart fall more than that," Craig told Pelley.

Craig talked about the steep learning curve we had to mount, discovering that kicking down doors isn't enough -- freeing children requires a lot more like education, clean water, health, food security and economic empowerment of women.

The 60 Minutes feature aired a week ago, while Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving, and many Canadians were watching the Grey Cup.

Anyone who doesn't believe one TV program can have an impact anymore should look at our email inboxes right now.

Our servers haven't crashed (knock on wood), but we're still waiting to see what the full impact will be. Meanwhile, we're just deeply humbled to appear on the show and we feel a bit like kids again, watching Ed Bradley show us trick shots -- more relaxed, but still in awe.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com or follow Craig on Twitter at @craigkielburger

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