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Focus on the family

Jane Clayson Johnson left it all behind to have a baby

BELMONT -- These days 4 a.m. finds Jane Clayson Johnson rocking in a blue glider, feeding newborn Ella Elizabeth Johnson in a room illuminated only by a night light and the soft glow of a nearby street lamp seeping through the sheer pink and white curtains. The last time Johnson made a habit of being awake at this hour was in 2002, at the end of her three-year stint as cohost of "The Early Show" on CBS, when she'd rush around her Park Avenue condominium getting ready for a workday that began at 4:30 a.m. Some of her leftover business suits hang in the baby's closet, next to the tiny jumpsuits that have launched little Ella's wardrobe.

In December of last year, Johnson, who by then was working with "48 Hours" and "The CBS Evening News," left a 15-year career to live with her new husband in Waverly Square and start a family. On Jan. 4, the day she would have commenced an attractive four-year contract with another broadcast network that she doesn't want to name, she learned she was pregnant.

"That confirmed it for me," she says. "I never wanted to be defined by what I did for a living."

At 37, Johnson belongs to a generation more centered on family than the baby boom generation that preceded it, according to a survey released

last week by the Families and Work Institute. The proportion of mothers of children under 3 in the work force has been edging down since 1998, when it peaked at 62.2 percent. In 2003, that number stood at 58.7 percent. "I had some very powerful people tell me I was making the worst decision," Johnson says. "I did not want to look back on my life, finally, and point to a stack of tapes on a bookshelf and say, `That's been my life.' I've interviewed the president in the White House. I'd interviewed major newsmakers and Hollywood actors. I'd done it. I did it. I did it. I really, truly believe there are seasons in life."

"People were surprised. She's aggressive. She's a hungry young girl, but it wasn't exactly what she wanted," says Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of "48 Hours." "She didn't need ego gratification."

Johnson answers the door wearing a slightly crushed olive skirt and gold sweater, with a red cardigan draped over her shoulders. On her feet are pointy-toed tiger-print Versace shoes with stunted stiletto heels, a striking contrast with the sleeping infant nestled against her chest.

Johnson says she dressed up for the interview. "This is the first time since I had the baby that I put makeup on," she says, laughing. She confesses to being more tired since Ella's birth on Aug. 24 than when she hosted "The Early Show."

She lives on a busy street in a modest neighborhood, far from her glamorous addresses in New York, first in an apartment in Trump Tower and then in a condo in the old Gimbel's building that she bought in 2000 for $840,000. Home now is a 5-year-old townhouse condominium tucked in an area of older duplexes. In the backyard is a swing set, left by the previous owner when Johnson's husband bought the place in 2002. Jane Clayson and Mark Johnson wed in September 2003 in Salt Lake City -- it is a second marriage for both. She moved here when she left CBS.

Inside, the home is handsome but not luxurious, and every other weekend, when his other three children visit, it is full. Over the piano is a screen Johnson bought in Tokyo after covering a plane crash in Guam. On a bookshelf is a boomerang from Australia, bought when she covered the arrival of the new millennium in Sydney. In the entry, opposite a large vase from Pier 1, is an intricate teak carving from Indonesia, where she reported on the fall of Suharto in 1998. In the upstairs office, photos of her with President George W. Bush and Tom Hanks share the walls with a picture of the USS Mississippi, on which Mark served in the Gulf War. His diplomas from the Naval Academy and Harvard Business School are on display, too. Her videotapes fill boxes in the garage.

Johnson began her career at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City when she was a student at Brigham Young University. In 1996, she moved to ABC News in Los Angeles and covered the O.J. Simpson trial. She joined CBS as Bryant Gumbel's cohost in 1999. She's won an Edward R. Murrow award and a regional Emmy.

"I know the rigors of network news. I didn't want to be jumping on an airplane twice a week. I didn't want to be tied to my pager and my cellphone," she says. "People said you could do both. But for me -- and I think a lot of women won't be happy to hear me say this -- you cannot have it all."

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Johnson had just interviewed the actor Ray Romano when a voice in her earpiece told her planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. Her memories as a New Yorker, of seeing people salute firefighters on passing trucks, still bring tears to her eyes. Suddenly the news was at her door. "It changed me just to realize how quickly life can change," she says. "I didn't have to get on an airplane to cover a story halfway around the world."

Johnson anchored the first anniversary of Sept. 11 at ground zero with Dan Rather. "I had just come back from the White House, interviewing Laura Bush. I was at the top. I was sitting next to Dan Rather, doing all these things. While it was wonderful, there was an emptiness there," she says. "I don't have those high-profile situations in my life anymore, but I am more happy, more complete, more fulfilled than I was."

Johnson considers Rather a mentor and follows the controversy over Bush's purported military documents with interest. "For 40 years he set the standard for television journalism," Johnson says. "I think people around him failed him on this story. Producers. Management. This does not only rest on his shoulders."

Johnson met her husband in February of 2001 on a blind date arranged by her sister, Hannah Smith, who has just finished a clerkship with US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. "I always like to joke that it wasn't blind for me," says Mark Johnson, who is 40. He is president and cofounder of Innosight, a Watertown-based management consulting firm.

All fall, in the months after they married, he lived in Boston and she lived in New York, working at CBS and negotiating a "very generous" contract with another network that would have combined in-depth reporting and anchoring. "I was ready to move on from CBS," she says. Her agent, Peter Goldberg, says, "She passed on an opportunity that would have been a wonderful transition to keeping her at a high profile."

As she weighed the choice of advancing her career or abandoning it, her new husband offered to move to New York. "The decision needed to be hers," he says. "I should be ready to be supportive of her."

"I really struggled with it for a few months," she says. "I think sometimes people are scared to change. Sometimes people are scared to do something different, especially if they've been successful at something."

The two are practicing Mormons who have become friends with Mitt and Ann Romney through their temple, and Johnson has fielded many questions about hosting "The Early Show" while following her church's prohibition against caffeine. "My faith," she says, "is what guides me and what guides my decisions."

Over and over, Johnson says she respects whatever path mothers take. "I want to talk about my choice," she says, "and not make judgments about other people." She recognizes that she has more financial means than most. "I'm very aware and very respectful of single moms out there who are working two and three jobs to make ends meet. I respect what they're doing. I put enough money away where I could make this decision. I understand that. And I have a husband who makes a good living." What about married mothers who work outside the home? "I don't know," she says. "Sometimes there are two incomes and maybe it would be important for the kids to have a parent at home. Sometimes to forego a new car or a boat or some sort of luxury, and maybe live in a more modest fashion so you're not sacrificing at home, is an important thing."

Conversation turns to the memorable morning when a beleaguered Martha Stewart chopped cabbage throughout Clayson's interview with her in "The Early Show" kitchen where Stewart appeared regularly. The 2002 interview was Stewart's first after the ImClone stock scandal broke.

"During the intro, I heard this pounding on the table," Johnson says, gently, rhythmically patting her baby's back as she speaks. "I really thought somebody was nailing something into the wall in the next room. I turned, and I saw her holding a 12-inch chef's knife. I'm sure she wished my head was on the chopping block. She did not want to answer those questions, and I had to ask. I asked her over and over again, and finally the famous line, `I just want to focus on my salad,' popped out."

Johnson has time now to cook, although she doubts she will ever include cabbage on a menu.

"I think it's easier to go to the office than it is to stay at home and focus on a family. You get automatic recognition and pats on the back every time you turn around in the office. `That was a great story.' `Here's an award.' Fancy lunches in fancy restaurants. At home there aren't those immediate rewards. Being a mother is the hardest job. I really believe the most important work I'll ever do is between the walls of my own home," she says.

"There are some days I miss those things. There are some days I turn on the television and I see all my old friends off covering great stories, and I say that could be me. Then I look at this face" -- she glances at Ella -- "and say I would not trade it for all the money in the world." 

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