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Larry King Live

Ted Koppel Discusses 'Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public'

Aired October 4, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, veteran broadcaster Ted Koppel sizes up last night's debate and shares some amazing revolutions -- or revelations -- well, revolutions -- about some former presidents. It's ahead on LARRY KING LIVE.

OK, amazing revolutions -- you've covered revolutions, maybe you covered a couple of amazing revolutions.

TED KOPPEL, ABC ANCHOR: Have you thought about pretaping the show so you don't make (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KING: No. We do it live.

KOPPEL: ... like this.

KING: We do it live, and that's why you can make an error.

Is that allowed in your domain?

KOPPEL: Not in mine.

KING: Thank you as always for coming.

KOPPEL: Good evening. How are you?

KING: So much to talk about. But first, why would you write -- you, the most private of men, write a book about private things.

KOPPEL: I'm not really writing about that many private things. What I am doing though is giving personal opinions and personal perceptions of things that happened during the year 1999. A little bit of it is private, but maybe it's a function of age. I'm 60 years old now. If I'm ever going to do it, I guess now is the time to do it.

KING: Ted, the subtitle is "Private Thoughts Made Public."

KOPPEL: That's true.

KING: So they are private thoughts.

KOPPEL: Yes, but if you read more than just the cover of the books of the people that you interview you would know more about the book.

KING: Well, that's how I determine whether I'm going to read the book.

KOPPEL: You kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... you'd go out of your mind.

KOPPEL: ... wade in -- have you ever read the book of any author who comes on this program?

KING: After they're on?

KOPPEL: After, after.

KING: Most often -- oh, sure. See if I read it before, I know too much. I don't want to know -- who's interviewing who -- I don't know want to know what the author writes, because then I'm too in.

KOPPEL: I have been hearing you say this for many, many years.

KING: It's the way I work.

KOPPEL: No, but it's also -- I mean, it saves you having to tell a friend, I really hated your book.

KING: That's right.

KOPPEL: Right?

KING: Yes. Are you glad you wrote this?

KOPPEL: I'm glad I wrote it.

KING: OK.

KOPPEL: Although, you've written a lot of books.

KING: Yes.

KOPPEL: Do you ever find when you write a book that it -- I mean, while you're writing it's a very personal thing, it's just you, and it comes as a bit of a surprise later on?

KING: That's right. What am I doing reading this bound book.

KOPPEL: What am I -- yes, exactly.

KING: We will get back to it in a while, but first let's move right into what's going on.

KOPPEL: You want to mention the name of the book?

KING: I did. I said, "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public." We showed the book. There it is again.

KOPPEL: Where?

KING: "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public."

KOPPEL: OK, that's twice. That's good.

KING: Is that good enough?

OK, what did you make of last night? Overview.

KOPPEL: Overview, I think it's kind of sad that we've come to a point now that presidential candidates when they get this close to the election have to be so careful about what they say, they have to weigh each syllable so carefully that the thought of delivering an unscripted line is anathema to them, they feel as though they're walking through a mine field and they cannot afford to tick anybody off between now and Election Day. I mean, I thought both of them performed very competently, but it was so scripted. They are giving lines that they've been giving for months in their campaigns...

KING: In speeches.

KOPPEL: ... and speeches and in their campaign, and when they're answering questions from, you know, audiences out on the stump. I didn't think there was an unscripted moment in that entire debate. Did you?

KING: What causes that?

KOPPEL: Fear, the fear of inadvertently saying something -- I mean, you know, you look at a man like Al Gore, who has been running for president now for many, many years, but this time around he has been actively running for four years at least and here he is within two and a half, three weeks of maybe winning the White House, he doesn't want to say anything that could prove to be a weapon in somebody else's hand, so what they stick with is what's worked for them so far, but it's kind of sad, I think, when you're watching the debate. And you and I are partially responsible because we end up building these things up, you know, here we are waiting for "the great debate" -- come on.

KING: Yet it was also, as I understand it, a disappointing figure as to who watched -- people watched. It was a not widely watched debate.

KOPPEL: Well, you know, again, what we were telling the audience out there is this is so important because of the 20 percent of the undecideds, the folks who haven't yet made up their mind. We took a poll before the debate, we took a poll after the debate, the numbers were identical. There was not a single mind apparently, at least in our polling group, that was changed.

KING: All right, what about that format? Do you like the format of the two people standing far apart, the moderator sitting, looking up at them from some sort of bench? KOPPEL: No. I mean, the -- I think the ideal format would be to have somebody sitting there essentially keeping time and acting as a little bit of a traffic cop in case somebody does something, somebody simply dominates the debate in terms of time.

KING: No questions, let them go at it?

KOPPEL: The ideal way, I think, would be just to let them alternate in asking one another questions.

KING: Would they ever agree to that, do you think?

KOPPEL: I doubt it, because it would be volatile. It would be, you know -- I mean, they would be tossing bombs at one another.

KING: But willing to make a mistake. I said revolutionary. You covered revolutionary. So what?

KOPPEL: Exactly.

KING: All right, but why can't they say, "So what?"

KOPPEL: So what? In your case, you'll be here again tomorrow night. You'll be hear the night after that. Ted Turner can't live without you. Neither can AOL and Warner. You're not going to...

KING: And Mickey Mouse can't live without you, right? So we're...

KOPPEL: And, you know, you're not going to lose your job because of it. But they are genuinely fearful, I think, that if they make a real bone-headed mistake in one of these debates, it's going to cost them the election. And the surest way not to make that kind of a mistake is just stick with, you know, whatever got you there.

KING: Would you have liked to have moderated it?

KOPPEL: I would have enjoyed it, but not if the format had been...

KING: Restrictive.

KOPPEL: ... you know, that rigidly restricted.

KING: This is probably the best kind of...

KOPPEL: This is fun. I would rather, you know, see the two of them sitting here at the table here with you and have you go at it.

KING: And they're going to do that apparently with Jim Lehrer next week.

KOPPEL: I think so.

KING: And tomorrow night, the vice presidential, I understand is also... KOPPEL: Also at a table. And Bernie Shaw is going to...

KING: We will certainly learn a lot more. As for style -- and we've both been watching this a long time, but I bow to your expertise -- who looked better?

KOPPEL: I don't think -- I mean, forgive me out there. I don't want to offend anybody. I don't think either one of them looked terrific. You know, I think Al Gore is a terrifically bright guy who always sounds as though he's preaching a little bit, who always sounds as though he's got to make sure that you know just how smart he is.

And I thought that Governor Bush seemed very uncomfortable during the early stages of the debate. Later on, he seemed to get in there a little bit more. But stylistically, I thought they -- they both seemed kind of strained.

KING: Was it tough to watch then?

KOPPEL: Well, apparently not. I mean

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: No, what did we have, about 75 million people watching it?

KING: I think less than that.

KOPPEL: Was it?

KING: Well, New York had a big Yankee audience. You had the Yankees against you in the biggest city.

KOPPEL: Right. Right.

KING: NBC went with the Yankees. Were they right? They had to go with the Yankees, didn't they?

KOPPEL: I think contractually they had to go with it. If they had any option in it, then no, they were not right. I think they should have covered it.

KING: We will be back with more of Ted Koppel. His newest book: "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public."

This is LARRY KING LIVE. Tomorrow night: the vice presidential debate. So we're preempted. When we come back on Friday night, among the guests will be Senator John McCain, former Governor Mario Cuomo, actor Don Johnson.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: As a practical matter, both of you want to bring prescription drugs to seniors, correct? GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Correct.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Correct, but the difference is -- the difference is I want to bring it to 100 percent, and he brings it only to 5 percent.

LEHRER: All right. All right. All right.

BUSH: That's just -- that's just -- that's just totally false.

LEHRER: All right. What difference does it make how...

BUSH: Wait a minute. It's just totally false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Let me say something. Now, I understand -- excuse me...

LEHRER: All right, excuse me, gentlemen...

GORE: Jim, can I...

(CROSSTALK)

LEHRER: ... minutes is up, but we'll finish that.

GORE: Can I make one other point?

BUSH: Wait a minute.

GORE: They get $25,000-a-year income. That makes them ineligible.

BUSH: Look, this is a man, he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.

It's fuzzy math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK. Were you impressed with this fuzzy, top 1 percent, 1.3 trillion, 1.9 trillion bit?

KOPPEL: You know, honestly, it turns my brains to mush. I can't pretend for a minute that I'm really able to follow the argument of the debates. Parts of it, yes. Parts of it, I haven't a clue what they're talking about.

KING: Was it, Ted, for senior citizens, primarily?

KOPPEL: I think quite clearly -- and you and I were talking during the break about Florida -- you know, there is a chance -- I mean, it was presumed three months ago there was not a hope that Al Gore could take Florida, because, after all, George W.'s brother is the governor of the state. I think the Democrats are making a real run at Florida now, and the Gore campaign thinks it actually has a chance of winning Florida. And if you're going to make -- going to make that drive, who do you go for? You go for the senior citizens.

KING: A lot of politics has become rote, and we remember when you made the news four years ago by leaving a political convention. I forget which one you left.

KOPPEL: Well, the first. I left the first one, the Republican convention, and then didn't go...

KING: Didn't go to the Democrats. And you were in the news. People were asking why you would do that.

First of all, this year you didn't go, right?

KOPPEL: Didn't go.

KING: Do you have any second thoughts about that?

KOPPEL: No.

KING: Why?

KOPPEL: Look, the funny thing is that four years after the fact I think many of our colleagues were saying: Do you want to know something? These conventions simply are not what they used to be and it's a bit of waste of time to come here expecting that major news is going to break out.

I'm not suggesting we don't cover it, and "Nightline" covered it. My colleague Chris Fiory (ph) was at both conventions. I think we covered the conventions every night but one, when there was some other big news event that we put on the air.

But as you know, when an anchor goes off to cover a convention, there's a whole retinue of other people, technical and editorial, who have to go along. It costs a lot of money. And quite frankly, my executive producer and I really thought it was not worth the money to go.

KING: Why are campaigns so long?

KOPPEL: I wish I had a smart answer to that. I guess they are so long because -- was it Jimmy Carter who first began campaigning years before anybody else did and he road that into the White House? It may have been some other candidate. But as soon as one candidate demonstrates that by starting earlier and beginning to line up delegate votes early in the game that you can -- that you can win success through that, everybody else feels, well, now we have to do it.

KING: I know you write about it in the book. You write about presidents, presidents you've known, and thoughts about some presidents. You write about Kennedy.

KOPPEL: Very little.

KING: I know, but there are anecdotal.

KOPPEL: Yes, a little bit.

KING: Do you -- is there a common thread that runs through these people who seek his office?

KOPPEL: They have to be -- I mean, there has to be an internal toughness to these people that I must say...

KING: We don't have.

KOPPEL: We don't have, and I can only stand back with enormous admiration and say I'd be, you know, I'd be a wreck after two weeks of it. I mean, you and I occasionally, since we're public people, take a hit in the press or people criticize us for something that we do. But you know, it's...

KING: We don't have a November 7th.

KOPPEL: We don't have a November 7th and we don't have to put up with it day in and day out.

KING: So why -- what is it -- what compels them?

KOPPEL: There has to be an inner drive there that says -- I mean, first of all, there may be a genuine large measure of a commitment to public service. I'm more than willing to believe that all these -- all these folks who run for the presidency genuinely believe that there is something they can bring to it that will make the country a better place.

There has to be a huge ego somewhere in there. You can't do this and you can't have people, you know, beating up on you day in and day out and still have anything of your self-esteem left at the end of the process unless you began with a very healthy ego to start with.

Beyond that, it's the biggest job out there. Isn't it?

KING: It is. The ego that says, I'm the best man for this job.

KOPPEL: You know, the same thing that causes those youngsters we've been watching over the last few weeks competing in the Olympic games -- the same thing that causes them to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning, go out there, and churn lap after lap after lap in the pool, or go running around that track, or lift those weights, or whatever it is they do -- so that they can say what? I'm the best in the world. There's only one of me.

Well, this is, you know, that's the -- that's gold. Being president of the United States.

KING: Ted Koppel, a very special broadcaster, and his new book, "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public," we'll ask about that. We'll include your phone calls. He's our guest for the full hour. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think the economy has meant more for the Gore and Clinton folks than the Gore and Clinton folks have meant for the economy. I think most of the economic growth that's taken place is the result of ingenuity and hard work and entrepreneurship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: See, you know, I think that the American people deserve credit for the great economy that we have, and it's their ingenuity. I agree with that. But you know, they were working pretty hard eight years ago and they had ingenuity eight years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're with Ted Koppel doing what most Americans are doing today: thinking about last night. We're going to show you a couple of things here.

First, let's look at -- I believe that we'll start with George Bush, a couple of put-together comments of what George Bush looked and sounded like. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Obviously tonight we're going to hear some phony numbers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This man has no credibility on the issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I can't let the man continue with fuzzy math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The man's running on Medi-scare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Sounds like the vice president is not very right many times tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sound bites we call them. Now let's give the other side a chance and then get Mr. Koppel's thoughts. Here's a sample of the thoughts of Al Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The vice president doesn't believe in exploration, for example, in Alaska.

(GORE SIGHING)

There's a lot of shut-in gas...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I've had a record of appointing judges in the state of Texas. That's what...

(GORE SIGHING)

... a governor get to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Yes. Why haven't they done it in seven years?

(GORE SIGHING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK, the sighs.

KOPPEL: You guys are vicious.

KING: We learned it from the master.

(LAUGHTER)

KOPPEL: You guys are tough.

KING: What about the sighing and the harping? That's what we call both of those bits.

KOPPEL: The sighing and the harping? Something interesting, I didn't really become aware of the sighing, maybe because I was watching the debate in a newsroom and there was a lot of activity going on all around. I didn't become aware of the sighing until I heard people talking about it. In fact, I didn't become aware of it until I had Dick Cheney on "Nightline" last night. And I said, "What do you think the weakest part of Al Gore's performance was?" And he said, "The sighing, I thought it was weird."

And then I went back and listened. I think it was intentional.

KING: Is sighing weird?

KOPPEL: I...

KING: I mean, if you're frustrated with something, wouldn't you...

KOPPEL: It's usually a sign of depression.

KING: Is it?

KOPPEL: Yes. But is it weird? I don't know if it's weird. I think it was calculated. I think it was intended (a) to unnerve George W. Bush a little bit, and also even when he wasn't at the microphone speaking to sort of be making an editorial comment in a manner of speaking.

The first batch of clips that you had from George W., what was the point of that?

KING: I guess to show that he was constantly on this same mode of fuzzy and...

KOPPEL: Well, OK. I mean...

KING: ... economics that don't work.

KOPPEL: When you hear them strung together like that, I think you become a little more aware of what I was referring to in the beginning of our conversation, and that is you get the sense that both of these men came into this with their aides or their speechwriters or their advisers having said to them, look, here's a zinger you can get in, here's a line that you can use if this opportunity presents itself.

And you know, when you see them back-to-back like that, they don't seem quite as spontaneous as they might have seemed last night.

KING: But are they estimating the public wrong? I mean, if we are seeing it, do you think the average American is also seeing it?

KOPPEL: Sure, absolutely. I, you know...

KING: So nobody is being fooled. KOPPEL: I'm not sure that anybody is being fooled. But I also think that what's happening here is, if you went into last night's debate as a Gore supporter, you came out as a Gore supporter. If you went in as a Bush supporter, you came out as a Bush supporter.

The name of the game last night was supposed to be -- and is going to be in the next two presidential debates -- getting those folks who are still undecided. And I'm not sure that anything was done or said by either man last night that's going to change that.

KING: Do we know how many of them there are?

KOPPEL: Of the undecided?

KING: What percentage?

KOPPEL: They usually talk about -- they usually talk about 20 percent. I don't know if that's accurate.

KING: What do you expect -- if expectation is the thing to feel --about tomorrow night?

KOPPEL: I think it's going to be a better debate. I mean, first of all, because I think Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman are -- strange thing to have to say about Dick Cheney, but Dick Cheney I think is quite loose. Dick Cheney is a very funny man.

KING: Very.

KOPPEL: Dick Cheney is a terrific debater. Dick Cheney is...

KING: Hasn't debated in a long time.

KOPPEL: Hasn't debated in a long time, but, you know, I mean, he is married.

KING: It's like riding a bike.

KOPPEL: Yes. And I'm sure over the breakfast table, he and Lynne have had a couple of -- you know, had a couple of arguments. You know, you keep your hand in. I think he will do extremely well. And Joe Lieberman has this sort of aw-shucks-butter-wouldn't-melt-in- my-mouth appearance. But he is sharp as a tack. And I actually think that tomorrow night's debate is going to be the best of the four debates.

KING: Are you surprised there have been no apparent reports of any anti-Semitism? At Lieberman rallies, people aren't talking about it. Op-ed pages aren't discussing it. And yet it was the big story when he was announced.

KOPPEL: Well, sure, it was the huge story when he was announced. I guarantee that you can find places on the Internet where anti- Semitism is rampant. But by and large -- boy, is it -- is it unrealistic to say and hope maybe America has risen beyond that? The evidence seems to be that it has. And what a step in the right direction that would be.

KING: So you expect livelier tomorrow night, and more quantity -- more quality?

KOPPEL: Yes on both counts. I think both of them are better at the cut-and-thrusts.

KING: We will be back with more of Ted Koppel. We will ask about some of his -- I was going to say revolutions -- revelations -- after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Under the debate rules, we were told there were going to be no -- no coverage of our reactions when the other guy was talking. And sometimes those rules are made to be broken, I guess. And anyway, I learned my lesson on that. I'll be much more careful not to give an audible reaction when he is talking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Obviously, tonight we're going to hear some phony numbers about what I think and what we ought to do.

GORE: The governor used the phrase "phony numbers," but if you look at the plan and add the numbers up, these numbers are correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Was this an era of debates you've seen, or covered, or been a part of? How does this rank?

KOPPEL: Most of the presidential debates I think these past few years have not been great. I think you and I are old enough that for us the standard -- the gold standard always seemed to be that first debate between Nixon and Kennedy that Howard K. Smith was moderating, and maybe if we looked at the whole thing today we'd look at it and say it wasn't that terrific, but back then, it was the first time. It was -- I -- you know, I was a 20-year-old kid off in graduate school and I remember my then-girlfriend later to become my wife and I sat there, and we were just breathless. I mean, it was one of the most exciting political moments that I can remember, watching these two men debate live.

KING: '92 was the most viewed when Perot was part of the scene.

KOPPEL: And he added a lot of zest to that, he really did.

KING: Should Nader and Buchanan have been part of this one?

KOPPEL: No, no.

KING: No.

KOPPEL: I mean, I think you set the rules up, and the rules were pretty clear on that. What was it?

KING: Fifteen percent in the polls.

KOPPEL: You had to have at least 15 percent, and they're both ranking about 2 percent, 3 percent right now. You can't do that because my understanding of it is you would not only have to include Nader and Buchanan, you would have to include at least five other guys who are running, so you would have had, you know, not two people, not four people, you would have had nine people.

KING: So you can never have a three-party system in America.

KOPPEL: Sure you can.

KING: Well, you need a Perot coming along on a white horse.

KOPPEL: You need someone coming along who is galvanizing enough and has -- for some reason has a message that is sufficiently exciting to the American public that he or she commands 15 percent.

KING: Why did you decide -- we're going to go calls in a while. Why did you decide to do a book about private thoughts? Why?

KOPPEL: Actually -- initially, my mother was born in the year 1899 and I was sitting there on New Year's Day in 1999 saying, God, I wish my grandfather had written a book about life in his time, you know, what interested him, what excited him, what he was afraid of, what -- you know, what the most important issues of the time were, how the family was reacting to those issues. And then I thought, well, maybe I'll try and do it, and initially I sat down to do it more for the family than anything else.

KING: Like a memoir for the folks?

KOPPEL: No, not even so much a memoir, just a -- OK, it's the last year not only of the century, it's the last year of the millennium. Let me just put down a few thoughts everyday about what strikes me as interesting, or what irritates me, or what amuses me, or what do I find exciting and interesting. And after a few weeks of doing it, first of all, I wasn't sure that I would have the discipline to do it for the whole year. After a few weeks I thought, well, if I can keep this up for three months maybe I shouldn't make it quite as private. I'll make it a little broader so that I wouldn't feel too embarrassed about putting it out in public. And after about three months, I shopped it around and found a few publishers who were interested and...

KING: But you had to give opinions, right? And generally the rule of the newsman is to be not of an opinion that we know.

KOPPEL: Well, hold on. How long every day are you on the air, one hour, right? The other 23 hours of the day, do you have opinions?

KING: Sure.

KOPPEL: You express them?

KING: Of course.

KOPPEL: Share them with your friends?

KING: Of course.

KOPPEL: You write articles in the newspaper?

KING: Yes.

KOPPEL: Express opinions in those?

KING: Yes, but you always fare on the air -- I guess the thought might be if you give too much of your opinion, do you think it -- people might say, well, wait a minute, he totally disagrees with me on this, I don't want to go on that show.

KOPPEL: Maybe, but I think the key is when people come on "Nightline" are they treated fairly, are they treated respectfully, are they treated with as much objectivity as I can bring to bear? To pretend that anyone of us on the air doesn't have opinions is silly. Of course we have opinions. What we are under some obligation to do is when we practice our profession, you've got to try and be as fair as you can.

KING: As hard as you can to be objective.

KOPPEL: That's right, exactly.

KING: Back with more of Ted Koppel, more of your phone calls, and a startling statement he makes about the state of journalism. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: You just add the numbers up, he still hasn't denied it. He spends more money on a tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent than all of his new proposals for prescription drugs, health care, education, and national defense combined. Now, those are the wrong priorities -- $665 billion over 10 years for the wealthiest 1 percent.

BUSH: I want my fellow Americans to hear one more time, we're going to spend $25 trillion -- we're going to collect $25 trillion of revenue over the next 10 years, and we're going to -- projected to spend $21 trillion. Now surely, we can send 5 percent of that back to you all who pay the bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ted Koppel is our guest. We will including your phone calls momentarily. And we'll be off tomorrow night because of the vice presidential debate.

And Ted's new book is "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public," in which he states: "Much of American journalism has become a sort of competitive screeching."

Elaborate.

KOPPEL: Well, let me see if I can put that into a larger context. When you and I began in this business -- you 43 years ago, me 40 years ago -- there were three guys who controlled the access of any journalist to nationwide television, right? Because they had the three networks.

And basically what was put out on TV news was pretty good. Some of it was very good. These days, any kid with access to a computer can put video on the air that is theoretically and physically accessible by thousands, hundreds of thousands, potentially even millions of people around the world.

Any kid with a home video camera, with an editing machine -- you know, with a fairly inexpensive editing machine -- and access to the Internet can be a network. There is so much competition. There is sort of an anarchy of voices out there, that often we find ourselves competing to be first with the obvious.

Instead of sitting back and giving a little bit of thoughtful context to what we put on the air, much of the time we are so worried about what those 500 guys out there -- not other guys -- other outfits, other media out there are putting on the air -- that I think the competitiveness has become very dangerous to all of us.

KING: And screeching?

KOPPEL: Well, there is a lot of screeching that goes on.

KING: Does this make then anybody a journalist?

KOPPEL: Look, one of the great things about the First Amendment is that it does make anybody who wants to be a journalist -- in this country, you don't have to have a license to be a journalist. You don't have to have passed a test to be a journalist. You don't have to have any professional training to be a journalist.

You have the power under the Constitution to say, "I am a journalist." And if you've got a piece of paper and a pen, or access to a tape machine, or access to a video camera -- and now access to the Internet -- you are as much of a journalist as anybody out there.

KING: And what does -- what do we do about it?

KOPPEL: I think -- I mean, my hope is that those of us who have been in this business for a long time and who have worked very hard to maintain some kind of standards -- and I'm very happy to say I think there are still quite a lot of us out there doing it -- we have more of an obligation to maintain those standards than we ever had in the past. And I think, as this chaos of voices out there becomes louder, that the level of confusion among our consumers is going to be such that they're going to be enormously grateful to be able to say: "Well, Larry King, yes, I'm not that crazy about him. Koppel, he drives me nuts on occasion. But I've been watching them for 40 years now. And I think I know what the product is. There is a certain level of reliability there."

So I think there's a great opportunity, not only for those of us who are at the tail-end of our careers, but for those of our colleagues who have maintained those kinds of standards, to be more important than they've ever been before.

KING: So therefore, you have to believe there are young Koppels?

KOPPEL: I've -- one of them -- one of them is working for your network.

KING: That's right, your daughter.

KOPPEL: A young Koppel.

KING: A terrific reporter.

KOPPEL: She is a terrific reporter.

KING: But we do have a lot of screeching voices. We have talk radio, which is more loud than anything with regard to substance.

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: I think -- I think there are lots of terrific journalists out there. And the important thing is that we not put so much pressure on them always to be first, always to get on the air before the other guy does, but rather that we begin rewarding those who say: "Honestly, I'm not ready yet. Let me work on this story a little longer."

KING: Some critics knocked your book for one part, saying -- including a part -- and again, I'm going to start this book tomorrow, as I told you. I will read it. I will give you an honest opinion on it.

KOPPEL: OK.

KING: We've always had that with each other -- that you wrote about King Hussein having affairs and this was sort of beneath the dignity of Ted Koppel.

KOPPEL: You see, ironically, that was in the context of comparing King Hussein to Bill Clinton. I was making the observation that I thought what -- what was most disappointing about Bill Clinton is my fear, my suspicion, that throughout the entire Monica Lewinsky affair, he never put the interests of the country ahead of his own interests. And I was comparing King Hussein favorably to Bill Clinton in that regard, by referring to -- I said, you know, in terms of perhaps messing around on the side, there may not have been any difference. But here was a man who was prepared to do courageous things that put himself at risk, because he felt it was in the interests of his own nation and in the interests of...

KING: And you don't think, in doing that, it was painful to the Hussein family?

KOPPEL: I think there are lots of things that you and I put on the air everyday, and lots of things that we write about, that are painful to a lot of people. And if it was painful, I deeply regret it. But that's -- you know, if you and I are going to limit ourselves only to those things that are not painful...

KING: We've got to leave.

KOPPEL: We may have to.

KING: The book is "Off Camera," by the way.

One other thing on the debate and then we're going to go to calls. There was the reference during the debate -- in fact, Governor Bush praised Mr. Witt, the head of the Federal Emergency Agency. And Mr. Gore then reacted that he was part of that have scene too, watching the Texas fires. And apparently, the story is now that he wasn't at the Texas fires.

KOPPEL: Is this that Al Gore wasn't?

KING: Yes, apparently wasn't. We don't know the whole story. He may have flown over, but he wasn't at the fire. Is this a credibility problem that will plague him?

KOPPEL: Well, it's going plague him if he said that and then, yes, it turns out not to be true, because, again, that's one of those dangerous things that can happen in the debate, where, in the heat of the moment, you say something quickly, because it seems as though it's going to get you out of a -- I don't think he was even in a tight spot there.

KING: Wasn't in a jam.

KOPPEL: There wasn't -- there wasn't any kind of jam that he had to get out of. But somehow, there was a little bit...

KING: He had too look good.

KOPPEL: There was a little of: Can you top this? If it turns out not to have been true, of course it is going to hurt him.

KING: We will be back with your phone calls for Ted Koppel.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I can remember the fires that swept Parker County, Texas. I remember the floods that swept our state. I remember going down to Del Rio, Texas.

And I've got to pay the administration a compliment. James Lee Witt of FEMA has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis.

GORE: I want to compliment the governor on his response to those fires and floods in Texas. I accompanied James Lee Witt down to Texas when those fires broke out. And FEMA has been a major flagship project of our reinventing government efforts. And I agree, it works extremely well now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is a fellow that we're learning is willing to say anything. You know, evidently, in the course of the debate -- not evidently -- but in the course of the debate, he said he came down to inspect the fires. He praised me for, you know, handling the fires in Texas. And he came down to -- you know, he said: I came down with James Lee Witt. Well, it turns out he didn't.

GORE: I was there in Texas. I think James Lee went to the same -- went to the same fires. And I've made so many trips with James Lee to these disaster sites. I was there in Texas in Houston with the head of the Texas Emergency Management folks and with all the Federal Emergency Management folks. If James Lee was there before or after, then, you know, I got that wrong then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: When the phrase "a strict constructionist" is used, and when the names of Scalia and Thomas are used as benchmarks for who would be appointed, those are -- those are code words -- and nobody should mistake this -- for saying that the governor would appoint people who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'll tell you what kind of judges he'll put on there, he'll put liberal activist judges who will use their bench to subvert the legislature.

GORE: That's not right.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: We're back with Ted Koppel. His book is "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public."

Let's go to some calls. Sacramento, hello.

CALLER: Yes. My question for Mr. Koppel, in the 1992 debate with Ross Perot, Mr. Perot introduced charts and graphs, which I felt were very helpful to the voter in understanding all the facts and the different numbers and things like that. And my question is, what is your view on the use of charts and graphs so that we as a voter can understand these numbers, and equally important, if the opposing candidate is saying things like, "No, he has fuzzy math," or "The numbers don't add up," or "That doesn't fall in for five years," the charts and the graphs would help us as a voter visualize these things and perhaps be in a better position to make an informed decision.

KING: The commission did not permit it.

KOPPEL: (a) The commission didn't permit it, and (b) the next step then is going to be is someone's going to say, "I want to bring visual aids along; I've got some videotape here that I'd like to show."

The fact of the matter is a debate has a certain classic format. We've drifted pretty far away from that original format. But I think the idea of allowing anybody to come in there with an armful of charts and graphs could become more confusing than you think.

KING: Cape May, New Jersey, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Koppel, how do you feel about the embellished stories that Al Gore stated in the debate last night and from other times, you know, about the high school girl, the Winnebago lady, and do you feel honesty and integrity play a key role in the presidency?

KOPPEL: You know, the key thing -- I mean, the key question you're going to have to ask yourself is whether honesty and integrity play a key role in your vote. We expect of our presidents that they represent and defend the national interest, that they represent our interests not only here domestically but in the world at-large.

That means that sometimes they have to be pretty tough. Sometimes they have to do some very difficult, even nasty things.

The notion that what we have here is sort of an election for national clergymen I think is, you know, we're getting more caught up in the semantics of the debate than we are in what's absolutely essential.

Do I want to have a fundamentally honest and decent man as president? You bet. But does that mean they're not going to tell whoppers every once in a while? Sorry, they will.

KING: So under the Koppel aegis is Bill Clinton a good president? KOPPEL: I think Bill Clinton has been a very good president, yes. Disappointing -- I think he could have been a great president, but I think he's been a good president.

KING: Bella Vista, Arkansas, hello.

CALLER: Yes. One of the things it seems to me would make these debates much more informative for the voter is to insist that the candidates answer the question that was asked. It seems to me there were a number of instances last night where the candidate really didn't address the question. Is there some way that a good interviewer, such as yourself, Mr. Koppel, could be empowered to pursue the point, as you do on your television program sometimes, so that we do get as good an answer as the candidate is prepared to give?

KOPPEL: Well, you're very kind and I appreciate the compliment, but Jim Lehrer is also a superb interviewer. And the fact of the matter is short of arming the moderator, there's not a whole lot you can do.

I moderated a debate earlier this year between -- between Bill Bradley and Al Gore. We went and we had a I think it was a one-hour or a 90-minute program. I forget. And we were about half an hour into the program and had covered exactly five questions, because I could not these guys to stop talking. And it was both of them. It wasn't just one.

I mean, short of going over and physically tugging on their coat sleeve and saying, look, please, shut up, what are you supposed to do? There has to be an element of courtesy there, and if they insist on talking and talking and talking...

KING: Unless you want to be rude.

KOPPEL: I mean, (a) you can't be rude in a circumstance like that. The only thing you can do -- and I think Jim Lehrer did it several times -- is to point out in effect to all of you at home, folks, I'm doing the best I can here, they just won't stop.

KING: It will be easier at the table?

KOPPEL: Yes.

KING: We'll be back with more of Ted Koppel on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I -- I don't know the man well, but I've been disappointed about how he and his administration has conducted the fund-raising affairs. You know, going to a Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn't a fund-raiser is just not my view of responsibility.

LEHRER: Vice president Gore.

GORE: Well, I think we ought to attack our country's problems, not attack each other. I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not trying to make you out to be a bad person.

You may want to focus on scandals. I want to focus on results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I want tax cuts for the middle-class families, and I want to continue the prosperity and make sure that it enriches not just the few but all of our families.

BUSH: A lot of folks are still waiting for that 1992 middle- class tax cut. I remember the vice president saying just give us a chance to get up there, we're going to make sure you get tax cuts.

It didn't happen and now he's having to say it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ventura, California for Ted Koppel, hello.

CALLER: Yes. Good evening, Mr. Koppel...

KING: Hi.

KOPPEL: Hello.

CALLER: ... and Mr. King.

KING: Hello.

KOPPEL: How are you?

CALLER: My question is to Mr. Koppel is what opinion do you have about Nader not being able to participate in the debate, but not only able to be in the audience after he had purchased a ticket?

KOPPEL: I know what you're talking about, because Ralph Nader was turned away yesterday from the debate. Larry and I were talking earlier about why he could not be a part of the debate itself.

I think it was a little tacky that they turned him away, but I think they were concerned that he might do something that would cause a bit of a dust-up.

KING: He's going to jump up?

KOPPEL: What was -- what's Ralph Nader going to do?

KING: Indianapolis, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes, go ahead. CALLER: Good evening.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: My question is for Mr. Koppel. The question is that I saw a report recently about Jim Lehrer, who was the moderator...

KOPPEL: Yes, ma'am.

CALLER: ... and the report said that Mr. Lehrer hadn't voted in 20 years. And...

KOPPEL: I think longer than that.

CALLER: I thought that was strange since he was going to be the moderator of the debate. And I wonder what your feelings are?

KOPPEL: Well, if you read the whole report you will have read that Jim's reason for doing that is he felt the only way that he could maintain his absolute objectivity throughout his career was by honestly being able to say, look, I don't vote, and I'm not doing that as a deliberate effort to maintain objectivity as a journalist. I have not gone as far as Mr. Lehrer. I do vote, but I understand and I appreciate, you know, the fact that he's trying to do something actually rather decent.

KING: I believe the editor of "The Washington Post" doesn't vote on that same concept.

KOPPEL: Is that right?

KING: Yes.

KOPPEL: I didn't know that.

KING: To Nashville, Indiana, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Mr. Koppel. While watching the debate last evening I noticed that a lot of the answers that the candidates gave were, like, written for them. Is it also true that, do they have like a debate rehearsal? Can you explain a little further on how they do that?

KOPPEL: You bet. Boy, do they have debate rehearsals. I suspect that in one form or another the presidential candidates and I know the vice presidential candidates have been engaging in debate rehearsals of one form or another probably for a good part of the past month. Absolutely they engage in rehearsals and absolutely they have those lines tucked away. I mean, the fact of the matter is on both sides, do you really think that all those lines just occurred to them on the spur of the moment, those sort of quick, zippy one-liners there? Not that there was anything really great on either side last night when it came to one liners, but they had those ready, they had them prepared and they were there to be used.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with Ted Koppel after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The time for campaign funding reform is after the election. This man has outspent me. The special interests are outspending me. And I am not going lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has no credibility on the issue.

GORE: Look, Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility, and I am not going to respond in kind. I think we ought to focus on the problems and not attack each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Babylon, Long Island, last call, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Go ahead.

KOPPEL: Hello.

CALLER: OK.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: OK. Mr. Koppel?

KOPPEL: Yes, ma'am.

CALLER: Do you think things would be a lot more exciting if Mr. Cheney and Mr. Lieberman were running for president?

KOPPEL: I don't know if things would be more exciting. I think the debates would certainly be better. Look, they're both first-class politicians, first-class human beings, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's debate. Do I think they would be better presidential candidates? Well, maybe we'll get that chance four years from now.

KING: After the book is done, it's out, anything you regret?

KOPPEL: I don't know. Let's see what the reaction to the book is and I may be...

KING: It's just out, right?

KOPPEL: Just out, just came out literally a day ago. I may be full of regrets after that. You know, as I said to you before, when you write a book, you're writing it for yourself and then suddenly they put covers around it and it's appearing in bookstores and -- have me back in a month or two and we'll talk about it.

KING: Ever want to anchor?

KOPPEL: Anchor?

KING: Yes, you're always rumored to be...

KOPPEL: No.

KING: Never wanted to be?

KOPPEL: Never.

KING: Never wanted to be evening news?

KOPPEL: No, never.

KING: Because?

KOPPEL: Well, I won't say I've never wanted it. Before I was doing "Nightline," I would have died for that job. After doing "Nightline," I would find that job not as much fun, not nearly as much fun.

KING: Is it as much fun working for the Disney people, or no difference?

KOPPEL: You want to know something? The difference between working for the Disney people, Cap Cities, Paramount, all the owners going back for the last 40 years, negligible and in my day-to-day life doesn't impinge.

KING: Should the public worry about Disneys and AOLs and Time Warners, or will we always be well served?

KOPPEL: Well, even as you have these gigantic megacorporations sort of gobbling up and consolidating smaller corporations you have, as I said earlier on, simultaneously these thousands of little splinter news organizations growing up, and 10 years from now, Larry, you and I will be sitting in our wheelchairs and we'll be watching them and saying, who would have thunk it, right?

KING: And we will be watching them on what?

KOPPEL: You'll probably be watching them still on your television screen, but you'll have the option -- I think your television screen and your computer screen will essentially interchangeable.

KING: And so everything will -- anything goes?

KOPPEL: Anything goes.

KING: You're a terrific person. You're a great friend.

KOPPEL: Thank you.

KING: It's an honor knowing you.

KOPPEL: Thank you. KING: And I'm going to read the book now.

KOPPEL: Thank you.

KING: Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline," the author of "Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public." A revolutionary hour. OK? I covered that. That's how I introduced it.

KOPPEL: That's how you introduced it.

KING: That's right.

KING: Tomorrow night, we won't be with you -- don't applaud. It's the vice presidential debate hosted by our own Bernie Shaw and featuring Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. We'll be back Friday night. We'll have analysis of that debate with Senator John McCain, Former Governor Mario Cuomo. We'll also pay a visit to Don Johnson of "Miami Vice" fame, he has another hit series on right now, and he's a very, very complicated, interesting fellow.

Thanks very much for joining us. For Ted Koppel and yours truly, from Washington, good night. Now we can go off camera.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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