Robin Meade, Ex-Detainees' Interviewer of Choice

Eventually, the men came inside. Everyone shook hands.

“I was taken by not only their presence of mind but also by how good they looked,” she later recalled to NYTV. “They’ve been in a bug-infested environment for five years.”

Over the course of an hour, they told detailed stories about their struggles as prisoners—sleeping on the floor of drug labs, being chained to trees, enduring endless marches through the jungle at gunpoint. One of the men, Thomas Howes, recalled how for more than a year, he carried around a seemingly mundane item made precious by the unrelenting isolation—a newspaper ad, with a photo of a Dell computer.

CNN producers scrambled to revamp highlights into as many formats as possible.

By Friday night, the material had been transformed into Hostages to Heroes, a one-hour special that ran numerous times over the weekend on Headline News and CNN. On Sunday night at 8 p.m., 595,000 total viewers tuned in (147,000 in the 25-54 demo). By Monday, July 14, clips of the interview had been watched online more than 273,000 times.

“It doesn’t happen often that the journalist is requested by the interviewees,” said Ken Jautz, executive vice president of CNN Worldwide. “It was a real testimonial to Robin.”

“It wasn’t expected,” said Ms. Meade. “I did not know how many other people may have been in the running. It’s one of those things, it comes at you. I haven’t had time to sit around and think, how’s this going to rank? I’m honored that they trusted me and that they feel like the audience got their story.”

She said she wishes she had been given more time with them.

“We just scratched the surface,” she said.

When she left Fort Sam, she had to fly to Illinois to do a Nascar promotion at the Chicagoland Speedway called “Up to Speed With Robin Meade.”

fgillette@observer.com

Robin Meade, Ex-Detainees' Interviewer of Choice