A Chanticleer, Coming to You Live
CBS News correspondent Mola Lenghi ’06 remarks on the power of encouragement
Mola Lenghi enters the lobby of CBS Broadcast Center in New York with a quick pace, a smile, and an outstretched hand. He’s been delayed for our 9 a.m. meeting.
“I got a call this morning and had to be in Connecticut at 7:00,” he explains in an apologetic tone. The story’s not entirely clear yet, he says, but he’s been interviewing the headmaster and teachers at a private girls’ school. The call woke him at 5 a.m.
The scenario is just another day for Lenghi ’06 as national correspondent with CBS News. A reporter who covers breaking news across the nation, Lenghi places himself in the middle of the action, whether it’s the aftermath of a mass shooting, a murder trial, or a severe weather event. In the five years he’s been with CBS in New York, Lenghi has covered Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell; deadly tornadoes in Illinois and subsequent Amazon warehouse collapse; the trial of officers in the George Floyd case; and hundreds of stories on Covid-19. He appears regularly on “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell,” “CBS This Morning,” and CBSN, the network’s digital streaming news service.
Lenghi’s approach is warm and his expression sincere as we chat and move, traversing the crowded lobby, past security gates, and up the elevator to his ninth-floor office. As he maneuvers deftly through the building to greet colleagues, point out news broadcasting desks, and offer me a brief acquaintance with CBS News operations, he focuses intensely on his surroundings even as he’s anticipating the next step. His heightened senses are infectious; just being in the presence of Lenghi creates a feeling that something important is going to happen, right now. And he’s going to tell us about it.
A self-proclaimed “news junkie,” Lenghi made his way up the news broadcasting ladder steadily, starting as a reporter at WPDE-TV 15 in Myrtle Beach before moving to KXAS-TV 5 in Dallas, then on to WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., before landing in New York. Along the way, he earned an Emmy award in 2015 for his reporting on the disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd. The shift from local reporter in increasingly larger cities to national correspondent in New York has translated into a perpetually unpredictable schedule and a lot more travel for Lenghi, which is just fine with him.
“I’ll find out at 11 a.m. that I have to be on a 2 p.m. flight,” Lenghi said. “You really have to be where the story is. It’s exciting to be on breaking news. Nothing motivates or thrills me more than being up against a deadline, in the middle of a fluid, chaotic situation, and you’ve been helicoptered in at 2 p.m. and have a 5 p.m. deadline. You’re thinking, ‘How am I going to put this all together and make it work? 6:00 comes around, and somehow you’ve made it work. Not just you, but the whole team – somehow, you’ve done it.”
If any part of the position brings Lenghi fatigue, it’s the 24-hour nature of the news cycle.
“It’s an exhausting job because there is no end,” said Lenghi. “There’s always another update, another story, another angle. You have to go back and take a fresh look and a unique spin; if you want to put the best story out there and not just go through the motions, that takes work.”
Lenghi is aware of the public tendency toward apathy, skepticism, or fatigue with the news itself.
“Most people who don’t watch the news say that it’s because it’s just too sad. And it is; there’s a lot of that. But being on these stories, you realize that there’s so much resilience among the people in the middle of these traumatizing events. It’s the people on the ground, the average person, the people we wrap these stories around, that give you hope and reason to be optimistic. It can seem like the world is constantly coming to an end, but it’s not, and I’m more hopeful of that because of this job.”
Lenghi was a history major at CCU, as communication wasn’t an official major at the time, yet the emerging program offered courses in journalism, broadcast, and writing. Lenghi took them all. He recalls Ann Monk, Lee Bollinger, Dan Albergotti, and Robin and David Russell as key influencers of his academic and career direction. Monk’s remark upon returning an assignment in his Journalism 101 course was the initial spark that set him on his journey.
“She said, ‘You can write. You’re really good at this. You should keep writing.’ It was something that simple,” said Lenghi. “It was the first push and the real push I needed. From there, I took every writing course I could get.”
From writing in journalism and creative writing courses, to appearing on Coastal Now, to an internship with Victoria Spechko at WPDE – which later turned into his first professional position -- Lenghi’s early career, he said, was an extended example of serendipity and good timing. During his first experience with a camera and a live shot, Lenghi recalls meaningful encouragement from David Russell.
“David was like, ‘Wow, that was solid. That was good.’ And it probably wasn’t; it was probably awful,” said Lenghi. “But, that’s all I needed, was somebody to say, ‘Hey, you might be able to do this.’ These professors stayed in touch and were always encouraging. That was helpful, and you get a break here and there, and all of a sudden it looks like you know what you’re doing, but it’s really a product of other people who have said the right things to you and given you those breaks when you needed it.”
Where will Lenghi be five years from now?
“I don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now,” said Lenghi.
Does he ever have time to think about the big picture?
“I do, and then a producer calls and says, ‘I need you somewhere. Go to Missouri.’”
By Sara Sobota