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Larry King Live

Dan Rather Opines on Politics and the Media

Aired January 10, 2001 - 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, he's Texan and he's in the news. But it's not that one! It's CBS anchorman Dan Rather, with your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Dan, sometimes sits in for us on this program, has been a guest frequently. It's always an honor to have him in his suspendered outfit.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Good, always good to see you, Larry.

KING: Lots to talk about tonight. Let's begin with a quick quote of Dan Rather. We'll watch this from election night. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Right now, Florida is in the undecided column, and that leaves Bush with a 197 to 167 lead over Al Gore. Now, if you're disgusted with us, frankly, I don't blame you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And CBS is the first of the networks to now issue a report -- I understand it's 87 pages long -- about coverage of election night. The others are still working on theirs. In essence, what did it say, Dan?

RATHER: Well, in essence, it, first of all, acknowledged that we made mistakes. We had a bad night. Everybody has a bad night now and again. When we have one, sometimes it's a really bad one, and this was a really bad one.

So it acknowledges that we made mistakes. It apologizes to our audience we care a lot about. It says we're accountable, we have our problems with VNS, the cooperative of vote-gathering and vote-counting for the networks.

But in the final analysis, responsibility for what we did was ours. So it takes -- makes us accountable, says we're responsible, lays out in great detail -- frankly, a little more detail than I think most people need, want to know, but if anybody needs to know it and thinks they want to know it, it's there -- of how the mistakes were made and what steps we're taking to do our best next time to avoid at least these mistakes. But look, Larry, nobody does it perfectly, particularly on something like election night. We didn't do it nearly as well as we wanted to do. And what this report says is basically what I just outlined to you.

KING: All right. Before we ask about the steps, is one of the major problems the fact that you want to beat us and we want to beat them and they want to beat them?

RATHER: Yes. I'm not sure the report puts it quite that directly, but as somebody who's been around politics a long time, just as you have, obviously, competitive juices flow very strongly on election night. There's a lot at stake for everybody in our small world of television journalism. And the short answer and the right answer, I think, is yes, that contributed to it.

There were a lot of other things that went into it, but that certainly was a factor.

KING: Does that mean that we won't see projections or we'll just see it differently?

RATHER: It means you'll see it differently. There is a way -- the best way to avoid these errors -- this is my own personal opinion, although it is an opinion shared, at least in part, by CBS News -- that we're going to have these kinds of problems, perhaps not as big as we had in this breathtakingly close election, until and unless we get a uniform national poll closing time.

But the answer to your question is in the next election there will be projections. I know at CBS News we will do two things. We will more clearly explain what it is we're doing and how we do it, and we will definitely make a better effort to label these things as what they are, estimates and projections, not -- get out of the business of even talking about calling races.

I like to think CBS News has done less of that than anybody else, but nonetheless, we don't actually call races. And we need to be very careful, much more careful than we have been with our language, in explaining to people what it is, how we do it, and that these are our projections. They're estimates -- in some cases, they're guesses. They're educated guesses. They're guesses. I don't think we've done a good enough job in labeling that, and I hope we do better in the future.

And by the way, Larry, I do not except myself from this criticism that I made my mistakes election night. Boy, did I ever.

KING: How about those who say, though, if we think about Pompano Beach and what happened in Miami and chads and the like that the first call in Florida may have been right?

RATHER: Well, it may have been, but the operative word there, the word to italicize, is "may." It may very well be that the people who told us coming out of the polls that they voted the way they did and that more of them said they voted for Al Gore than voted for George Bush. Look, the call may have been right and the count may have been wrong, but "may" is the operative word.

And this should be all behind us now, Larry. You know, we have a new president-elect. I think those of us in journalism, particularly electronic journalism, have learned our lesson.

Having said we've apologized, taking responsibility, we need to move past that, in my opinion, to concentrate on how we can make the next election more accurate. We had problems in Florida. We had problems as a people, as a country with how the ballots were made, how the ballots were counted and not counted. And I think those are the more important things than how some stubble-bearded, whiskey-breathed, nicotine-stained journalist such as myself made some mistake election night.

KING: Will you agree that the next election in four years will be watched very carefully, by the printed press, by the other electronic media, by the public?

RATHER: Yes, probably more closely than any election we've ever had, because of what we had this time, which was basically a statistical tie of an election.

But you know, no two elections are alike. Who knows what will happen next time around?

KING: Jimmy Carter was here Monday night, and he said that his group wouldn't even go look at an election in which one county votes with a machine, another county votes with a printed ballot, some people punch out things, some people write in things. That's wrong to begin with. We should have uniform ballots. Do you agree?

RATHER: I do. And always under the heading of any time President Jimmy -- former President Jimmy Carter speaks, I listen very, very crossly. And he's an expert in this area. But I do agree with that, yes.

KING: So we're going to see changes?

RATHER: I think...

KING: Obviously?

RATHER: I think there will be changes. I think there will be big changes. I think the key questions, Larry, include these: Do we need and will we get a national ballot that looks the same everywhere in the country? No. 2, will we spend the money and spend the time to dramatically upgrade the way votes are cast? No way to get a national uniform policy toward that. But some of these voting machines are so antiquated, and we know that they can be manipulated. I'm not saying that they were manipulated or corrupted in this election, but what was exposed was the potential for that. So, that's No. 2: upgrade the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of voting.

And No. 3 -- I've mentioned it before and I'll mention it again -- get a uniform national poll-closing time. KING: We'll be right back with lots of things to talk about with Dan Rather, and your phone calls will be included. He had a great quote about all of this. He says, "I may be dumb as wallpaper about a lot of things, but I do know this is a great story."

We'll be right back with my man Dan Rather right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES II" DECEMBER 19, 2000)

RATHER: Do you agree or disagree that some of your failures, policy as well as personal failures now, in the White House had an impact on Al Gore's losing?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes to the first, no to the second. To say that people would hold him responsible for any personal mistake I made is an insult to the American people. I mean, you know, people just aren't that unfair. They're just -- the people in this country are basically good people.

And moreover, there are a lot of surveys along toward the end of the campaign that showed that if I could have run again, I'd have done fine. So I just don't think there's any evidence of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, as we did last Saturday with Hillary, this coming Saturday night we'll present a retrospective of many of our interviews with President Clinton. And we just showed you a clip of Dan Rather with the president's last interview a couple of weeks ago in December.

Here was President Clinton, Dan, yesterday in Chicago, still feeling the pain. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: By the time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote, and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you think he's still feeling it, Dan?

RATHER: Oh, definitely feeling, feeling it big time. And also, Larry, I don't think there's any doubt that he's really feeling the hurt of having to leave office. Yes, he's known for a long time he has to leave. That's the law, he can't stay.

But when I interviewed him at the White House -- and he was very gracious, as he always is, whatever else you think of Bill Clinton, whether you like him, don't like him, or don't quite know what to think about him. You know, in person, he's a charming person, very gracious to us. But one could tell, there's no question about it. He's -- melancholy would be too strong, but he really hates to leave, because this man, again for whatever else one thinks of him, you know, he eats, breaths, walks and talks politics. And he really hates it that he's leaving.

No question that he also hates it that Al Gore didn't win, because it was important to his legacy. It's not decisive as concerns his legacy. It's very important to his legacy -- and he's as much as said so -- that he be followed by another Democratic president. It is not to be. And I think it's inevitable that he will say such things as, well, we won the popular vote and they could only win Florida by stopping the vote. I don't think this is the last time we've heard that.

But in a way, about Bill Clinton, it speaks well of him as president that he loves the job.

KING: Boy...

RATHER: There have been presidents who at the end of particularly their second term just couldn't wait to get out of there, out of the place. That's not the case with Bill Clinton. In fact, I'm still not sure that we aren't going to have to call the U.S. Marshals to haul him out of there on inauguration day.

KING: What then will it be like for the incoming president, a fellow Texan, George W. Bush, to come into these kinds of shoes?

RATHER: Well, first of all, I think that President-elect Bush, soon to be President Bush will have a honeymoon period. It may be shorter than some others because of the closeness of the election, and frankly, it may be because of some of the appointments he's made that are stirring up controversy.

But a new president deserves at least a short honeymoon period, and I think George Bush will get that. I think the country is ready to put the election and the post-election trauma behind them. It's a fresh start.

I talked to some kids today, Larry. Linda Ellerbee is doing a thing for Nickelodeon -- it'll be on Sunday night at 8:30, I think, on some cable channels. And I was really struck by how these young people -- they were I think 10 to about 13 or 14 years old -- how fair they were in their assessments of, you know, where the country is, and what the election meant.

And all of them to a person, to every young person, said in effect it's time to give the president-elect the benefit of some doubt, give him a honeymoon period.

So I think President Bush will find the country very responsive when he moves in a unifying way. Now, when he makes controversial Cabinet appointments, he must have expected, he better have expected, because you're going to get real challenges to that, and that may get him off to a rockier start than was absolutely necessary. We'll see. KING: Why, Dan, does every president seem to have a Linda Chavez? Not to signal her out, but there's always something like this.

RATHER: True, and getting truer each election. Well, No. 1, because the vetting process, so-called, is never thorough. Some presidents-elect have more thorough vetting processes than others, but the vetting process is never thorough. Two, the people who are potential nominees, most of them want the job so badly that if there is anything negative in their past, anything they think that might keep them from getting the appointment, naturally -- it's very human -- they'd rather not talk about it and try to dilute it a little bit.

And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) third is the viciousness of the political pit has increased, not decreased, in recent years as regards this particular thing: that that is the party that loses an election feels it can get itself off to the best start by looking very closely at a new president's nominees, and knocking off one or more if they possibly can. And the Republicans did it with Bill Clinton in 1992. The Democrats are doing it now.

And it seems to get worse each succeeding time.

KING: Do you -- since with television around the clock, we know that all the Ashcroft hearings will be aired. Do you think that puts more pressure on more senators to be tougher?

RATHER: Yes, I do. And I think it will be very tough indeed. I'm not here to say that former Senator Ashcroft will not be confirmed as attorney general. As we sit here tonight, I think if you have to bet it, you bet that he gets confirmed. But I would not bet the trailer money on that, because there are some things in his past, heading off the appointment of an African-American judge, his very strong stand against abortion, his stand on gun control, the fact that if he hasn't been a supporter of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, he made the commencement address there. All of those things are going to make it very tough for him.

And I will say this, Larry, that if there's some big smoking gun, so-called, if there's something that we don't know about Ashcroft that surfaces, then his nomination could be in trouble. Right now, he'll get roughed up, toughed up quite a bit, but as I say, odds are he probably gets confirmed.

KING: Right back with Dan Rather, anchor, managing editor of the CBS Evening News, the anchor of "48 Hours," and correspondent for "60 Minutes II." And he was one of the staples of the original "60 Minutes." He wasn't on the original show. He's too young for that, but he was on it for a long time.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES" DECEMBER 19, 2000)

RATHER: Do you think President Bush will pardon you to keep, possibly, prevent an indictment or in case of indictment? CLINTON: I haven't given any thought to that. But I doubt it. Since I don't believe that I should be charged. And I don't want -- I don't want that. I'll be happy to stand -- I told you before. If that's what they want, I'll be happy to stand and fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Dan Rather. You asked him about it. What do you think about the possibility of a pardon?

RATHER: I think it's possible, Larry. I'm reminded, Abe Lemons, who once was a basketball coach at the University of Texas, used to say: "People with crystal balls I've noticed live in bad houses," which is to say one more...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: He was a funny guy.

RATHER: One shouldn't make predictions of any kind. And I'm not predicting it will happen. I certainly think it could. I think the fact that Senator Orrin Hatch this last Sunday said that he would favor a pardon for President Clinton raises the possibility a bit higher. Again, if you had to bet it, you would bet no, but a lot could be said for a president-elect such as President Bush, soon to be President Bush, in a very close election, which I've called before a virtually statistical tie, establishing early: Listen, I was serious about wanting to be a unifier, and we need to get this whole Clinton stuff behind us and pardon him.

There certainly is an argument on the other side that goes along the lines, which everybody knows, but just put on the record, that look, if he broke the law -- and there are plenty of people who believe he did -- then he should be indicted and he should have to face trial and all of that.

I think a strong argument can be made, and I'd be surprised if a strong argument hasn't been made to President Bush that it is in the best interests of the country and in the best interests of his new presidency to pardon Bill Clinton. And who knows? Maybe he's considering it.

KING: Can CBS News treat Senator Hillary Clinton as just another freshman senator?

RATHER: No. Not anymore than anybody else can treat her as just another freshman senator, because, again, whether you like her or don't like her or don't quite know what to make of her, she is a historical figure. You might say a minor historical figure at this point. But we've never had a first lady who's gone on to be a member of the United States Senate. And as hard as someone may want to try, there is just no way to treat her journalistically or otherwise as -- quote -- "just another senator." And throw into that mix, by the way, Larry -- and there's no getting around it -- that she, whether she wants to be or not, she's a strong possibility to be the Democratic nominee the next time around.

KING: Did you get any indication when you were with the president about what he intends to do?

RATHER: Not really, Larry. He talked a little bit. First of all, he intends to set up an office in New York, and no, he does not intend to sell his home, his and the first lady's home, in suburban New York. There's a lot of talk around that, well, she bought that house for the election and now she's going to sell it. There's just absolutely no evidence of that.

I think the plan is that when he moves out of the White House, yes, he'll go to Arkansas and his presidential library is going to be there. He wants an office in New York. He'll have office space in New York. I'd be surprised if he doesn't nail that down very, very soon. They'll hold onto the house out in the New York City suburbs, in the suburban community. And they'll -- that's the way they'll start their life.

I think what he wants to do is get some decompression time before he decides what it is he's going to do. Will he run for office again? Can't run for president again, but will he run for anything from New York City mayor to senator from Arkansas? Who knows? I wouldn't rule any of that out. I wouldn't rule out his becoming a talk-show host. You know, there's been some serious talk about that, serious at least by the people who are proposing it. He could make a lot of money quickly doing that and keep himself in the public dialogue.

I don't think he knows what he's going to do other than have an office in New York and begin to think.

KING: And you include mayor of New York in that mix?

RATHER: I do. I didn't for a long time, Larry. But I'm not saying he's going to do it. I'll just simply say, you know, I think he'll consider a whole range of things. And look, it's odds against, but one could see the possibility of Bill Clinton saying, you know what, I think being mayor might be a lot of fun and I'm going to do it.

Bill Clinton's mind works that way.

KING: I know. We'll take break and come back and ask Dan Rather about this divided Senate and what he sees politically in the next four years. And then we'll talk about his own future and we'll take your phone calls.

Tomorrow night, Jack Hanna's back with the animals. Friday night, Brooke Shields, Whoopi Goldberg, an intriguing story. They're part of a dramatization of a real-life story that will fascinate you. A retrospective on Bill Clinton Saturday, and next Monday Elizabeth Taylor. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Now, the first lady's going to be paid -- and I go to my notes here, because this figure is a whopping figure -- $8 million for her memoirs. What's she going to say about you in that book?

CLINTON: I don't know. I don't know if there's $8 million worth to say. You all know it all already.

RATHER: Well, I want to say this respectfully, Mr. President: Surely you don't want her writing about Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and all those things again? Is she likely to do that?

CLINTON: You all ask her. She can write about whatever she wants. And I tell you, I bet it will be a good book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with one of the best newsmen in television journalism history, Dan Rather. Ah, hey, who are we kidding? Don't play humble. You are.

What do you -- what do you expect or maybe not expect in a sharply divided, equally divided Congress?

RATHER: Well, Larry, first of all, thanks for the compliment. I don't deserve it, but I do appreciate it.

I don't quite know what to expect, Larry. My instinct as a reporter tells me that if President Bush plays it just right, if God smiles, he gets a little bit lucky, and he and his team are smart, that in the early stages they can get some things through the Senate. A modified version of his tax cut is a possibility, some movement on privatizing at least part of Social Security might even be a possibility. Some things about families, federal laws as it applies to helping families, that sort of thing, prescription drugs, help for Medicare, Medicaid. Those kinds of things properly packaged by a new administration I think stand a very good chance of getting through early on.

But it may depend, by the way, Larry -- and something we talked about earlier -- of just how difficult these confirmation hearings get. If they turn venomous, then that could effectively seal off the opportunity I just talked about. But I think he may be able to get quite a bit through.

Already -- and a lot of Republicans didn't want to -- but let's give Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, a lot of credit that he's negotiated very skillfully with Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, who also deserves some credit, a new and never- before-done power-sharing arrangement in the Senate. And for the country, that looks to me like a good thing, at least in the beginning, and holds forth the idea, the possibility that the Senate and the House can get more done than most people seem now to believe.

KING: We're halfway through, more to come and your phone calls as well for Dan Rather. I'm Larry King. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Back at CBS news election headquarters in New York. This much tension you can't cut with a saw, it requires a blow torch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Bush is sweeping through the South like a tornado through a trailer park.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: His lead is now shakier than cafeteria jell-o.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Turn the lights down, the party just got wilder. That will have the Bush people in Austin jumping out of their seats like they were stabbed with hat pins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: But close only counts with hand grenades and horseshoes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Under the journalist creed of "you trust your mother but you cut the cards and you check it out," I am going to double check whether that is true,

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Mark it if you will. If you are in the kitchen, Mable, come back in the front room -- 145 for Gore. If Gore comes back now, it has to be rated as one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: I'll tell you, when it comes to reporting a race like this, I'm a long-distance runner and an all day hunter and I will be here because this is just too good to miss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hey, Dan, is that Texasisms? You sound like sort of the newsman's Ross Perot.

RATHER: Larry, don't hang that on me.

KING: Ross comes up with little statements like that, you know, and he hangs them out there.

RATHER: Ross is also a Texan. People in my part of country talk that way. Some, a lot of them used to a long while ago. It comes naturally to me. I recognize maybe we overdo it, but I don't think so. It gives me an opportunity to say, Larry, that I tried to be as candid with you about the mistakes on election night, but in many ways, we had a great election night at CBS News.

You know, not in a self-serving way, and I hope it doesn't come through that way. It was a great story; my colleagues, Bob Schieffer, Ed Bradley, Lesley Stahl, John Roberts, Bill Whitaker -- everybody up and down the line did a great job. I hope sometime, somebody in some journalism school or somewhere, takes a look at election night, because, we did do a good job, we made big errors, and that is where it is he going remembered and perhaps it should be, but if you forgive me, I wanted to say, that it wasn't all bad, and we did try to have fun with it, and that's basically what those things are.

I believe in colorful language and anybody can sit there all night long and just say, well so and so wins, so and so loses. We try to brighten it up a little.

KING: And critics didn't have to sit in the seat, either. Before we go to calls, in your opinion, will Dick Cheney be the most influential vice president in sometime? All the recent ones were very well informed, by their presidents. Will he be the most influential?

RATHER: He certainly could be, Larry. In the nature of this incoming presidency, but let's mark that Vice President Al Gore was a very influential vice president, and up to and including this moment, you can make a case that Al Gore was among the most influential vice presidents in history, and perhaps the most influential. But as to your question, the short answer is yes. Dick Cheney is a very experienced Washington player. Vice president under a not very experienced Washington player, and that and other reasons gives him a great opportunity to be that and let's face it, he has got tremendous support from General Colin Powell, at State, and Don Rumsfeld, over at Defense.

That is -- it's a powerful team, if it comes together, if it doesn't sort of splinter apart and I don't expect that to happen; yes, Cheney could easily become the most influential vice president in our history.

KING: Let's include some calls for Dan Rather.

Ventura, California. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: My question -- good evening, both of you. My question is, Mr. Reisner.

KING: Rather. Mr. Reisner (ph) passed away, but you put him in good company.

CALLER: I'm sorry.

RATHER: Now problem.

KING: Those CBS guys. We lump them.

RATHER: Go ahead ma'am.

CALLER: What are your thoughts about the future of the Electoral College after this election?

RATHER: Well, the Electoral College is going to remain, that anybody who thinks that the smaller, even medium-sized states, who now at least have some influence in the election because the Electoral College are going to give that up, I think is just kidding themselves. Now, can some and will some changes be made in the Electoral College? I think that is possible.

For example, one idea of apportioning the Electoral College votes within a state -- I'm not saying I favor that, but it is one idea. Now it's winner take all in every state. The direct answer to your question is no, I think the Electoral College is here to stay -- perhaps minor changes made about it but not many.

KING: If you apportioned it, what it technically means is, if you voted for George Bush in Pennsylvania or Al Gore in Florida, your vote never got counted.

RATHER: Well, it got counted but wasn't divisive.

KING: It wasn't divisive. By the way, I know that you finished second last week in the ratings, beating out ABC for the first time in, I think, two years. Certainly, a significant sign for you; do you place a lot of faith in them? Do you look at them a lot?

RATHER: Do I place a lot of faith in them? No. Do I look at them a lot? Of course, the answer is yes, Larry, and bless you for noticing. Jim Murphy, the executive producer of the evening news, has done a terrific job, and look -- it is week-to-week with the ratings; I would love to tell you, we don't pay attention to them; we do pay a attention; of course, we have to.

However, I can say -- truthfully say, that they are not most important thing to us, that quality journalism lasts, the ratings don't. But we'd much rather be second than third, we'd much rather be first than second, and thank you for noticing; who knows what next week will bring.

KING: Are you concerned that your network's involved -- I guess they all are -- in reality TV? And what that might lead to?

RATHER: No, Larry, you know, among the thousands of things I have to worry about, that is not on my list.

KING: Not at all.

RATHER: No. Not at all. Frankly, I like "Survivor." I'm looking forward to it beginning...

KING: All right. Let's examine that for a minute. Why did you like it?

RATHER: Well, first of all, it was something different, It was a new kind of programming. I think television sometimes suffers -- CBS excepted, of course, but television in general suffers from a certain staleness, going at it by numbers, being formulaic. And "Survivor" wasn't that, so that's one reason I liked it, and the main reason I liked it, I found it fun and interesting; I wasn't riveted to it, but I found it fun and interesting and something new, so for all those reasons, I liked it.

KING: We'll be right back with Dan Rather. We will talk about his future, take more of your phone calls. Jack Hanna brings a whole bunch of animals a board from the Columbus Zoo -- he'll be here tomorrow night and that's always a lot of fun. An exclusive interview with Elizabeth Taylor on Monday. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: Mr. President, with respect; you know as well as I know, that in politics, a lot of it is trying to pin the tail on somebody else. This economy goes down even a little, it is fairly clear that the tail is going -- to be at least, try to pin the tail on you.

CLINTON: Well, they will have the microphone of course. But I think that what the American people hire us not to so much place blame, but as to produce. And over the long run, that's how we are all judged, I think.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Dan Rather. Asheville, North Carolina. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Dan, the media admits to negligence and culpability in relying on exit polls on election night, yet continues to bombard us daily with new poll results on various subjects. I have a specific example from NPR today. Driving to work, the subject was prayer in school. And out of a population of several hundred million people, they reported a poll result of 1,500 Americans saying that if 50 percent supported a moment of silence in school. How can we pretend that 1,500 hundred people reflect American sentiment as a whole? RATHER: A good question. As long as we remember, they're simply a snapshot of somebody's opinion of one given instant. And the shelf life is virtually zero. But, do we use them too much? Of course. Do I put much stock in them? No. But, it would be a mistake to say, well, we can't learn anything from taking a poll of 1, 500 people.

KING: Although George Gallup told me once that it's a mistake to say, because there are 150 million people, you can't learn anything from 1,500, you can.

He says, if you go down an area code, and you talk to 10 people, and 8 have one opinion, two another, you are pretty safe bet that that community runs 7-3, 8-2 that way.

RATHER: Gallup is in the business and I respect him. However I have a different view; I don't -- I don't want to leave hanging out there, to our caller, a question I appreciate very much, that we didn't learn our lesson from election night.

Election night exit polling is different from the kind of poll that you quoted -- I don't think Larry wants to go in to great detail -- but on election night, we actually stand outside polling places. We have people do it and ask people how they voted. That is quite a bit different than calling someone on the telephone or even going to their house and saying what do you think about this, that, or the other.

KING: That is right. Remember when Mike Royko told people to lie?

RATHER: I remember that, and for all I know, a lot of them did.

KING: Dan, a current issue of "TV Guide" has an article called "The Men Who Would Rather Be Dan." It cites Scott Pelley and John Roberts as prime contenders to succeed you, but it quotes a former news executive Joe Perronin (ph) -- I hope I pronounced that right.

RATHER: Joe Peeronin (ph).

KING: "The only way Dan Rather leaves the CBS Evening News is in a pine box." Is he right?

RATHER: Yes, I think he is Larry. It's the truth. I don't want to take it literally, you know this question comes up from time to time. And I'm thinking to myself, going to this -- that coming up early in March I will have been doing the CBS Evening News for 20 years. When I stepped in behind the rightfully legendary Walter Cronkite, I never believed that I would be there anywhere near this long.

My feeling about this is, you know, my intention is just: keep on keeping on. That, my late mother used to say, about yesterday, no tears about tomorrow, no fears, that is my attitude. I have no idea what's ahead. I will say this, that, you know, if someone came to me at CBS and said, look, we think it is time for you to go, you know, I would be gone in a second. I wouldn't be gone out of journalism, but gone in a second, no one has said that to me.

I also know that we have a lot of people, certainly including John Roberts and Scott Pelley, a lot of people who could step in and do the job every bit as well and probably better than I do it. So I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it.

KING: Were you tempted to come to CNN a year or two ago?

RATHER: Yes, not only was I tempted, but at that time, if I could have gotten to CNN which I was trying to do, I would have gotten to CNN. It was just -- turned out to be a bridge too far, but the short answer is yes, I would. But, that was then and this is now, and I'm proud to be at CBS. I hope to finish my reporting career at CBS, but I have said before and I say again, you know, if that is not to be, then I would be very happy being the AP bureau chief in Alpine, Texas or anyplace else you think of. As long as I have my health, I want to be in reporting, because I really enjoy it.

KING: Frankly, you always liked to try other things; you liked hosting this show, "48 hours" was new for you, a magazine to host a magazine, so isn't there always, in Dan Rather, that thought, I think I would like to do that?

RATHER: That is true Larry. I was going to give you a scoop tonight but I'm not going to make the announcement, but let me say just say this.

KING: Go ahead. Come on, Dan.

RATHER: You talked about what President Clinton is going to do. How do you feel about a talk show that had President Clinton and myself on a national talk show, maybe 9:00 Eastern Time. How would you feel about that? I'm kidding.

KING: You're watching his last visit to this program.

Hey, if you can pull that off, yeah, what do you think.

RATHER: You'd be more likely to see a giraffe loping through this room than you are to see that happen.

KING: But how would a Bill Clinton live do? Very well, wouldn't it?

RATHER: I think Bill Clinton live would do very well; nobody would do as well as the great Larry King, but, a Bill Clinton talk show -- I'm not predicting that's going to happen, but I think that there would be an audience out there for it. And I think he might enjoy doing it.

KING: How big do you think he will be on the lecture circuit?

RATHER: Huge. He will be humongous on the lecture circuit -- I think he would certainly engage in that at least for a short time, after he has had time to think it through. You know one thing, Larry, that occurred to me -- we didn't mention earlier -- I did say that he his library is going to be in Arkansas. I know that is what he intends, and that is high probability that is going to happen. But I have heard some people talk about trying to talk Bill Clinton into having his library here in New York City, rather than having it in Arkansas.

Whether that is a viable idea or not I have no idea -- there are some people talking, reasonably seriously, about going to him and trying to make that happen.

KING: Back with more of Dan Rather, on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

RATHER: At the end of my list, as you expect: Monica Lewinsky.

CLINTON: A sad chapter in my life that I wish were not public, but -- it is in the past. And for her, I wish her well -- I hope she has a good life.

RATHER: You take responsibility, personal responsibility, full responsibility?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I did and I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are back with Dan Rather. Walterboro, South Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Rather.

RATHER: Good evening.

CALLER: I think George W. has done a great job graduating from Yale and Harvard's business school, and you know, governor, state of Texas. But every single night these late night TV shows host comedians bash him and turn him into another person that he is not.

In your opinion, do you think they are too hard on him, and how long is this going to keep up?

RATHER: Well, I don't think they are too hard on him. I appreciate both the spirit and the substance of your question. I don't think they are too hard on him. This is America. And we have come to expect it.

And, you know, they couldn't have been any harder than they were on President Clinton, on Vice President Gore. They are hard on everybody who comes to power. They're going to be hard on him. I don't think it is going to let up at any time through the whole Bush presidency. But I'll tell you another thing that -- president-elect Bush has about a good a sense of humor as anybody ever to come to the American presidency -- and maybe better than any. KING: He sure does. Yes, he sure does.

RATHER: He is able to laugh at himself. And I haven't asked him about it, but I feel confident in assuring you that he doesn't take it seriously. And he probably sits there sometimes at night with Mrs. Bush and laughs at it himself. I think it's one of the -- frankly, one of the better things about the country: that we can laugh at ourselves. And, you know, thank God this America and we can even ridicule our presidents.

But, in the end, it is a way of respect. It may not strike you that way. But, in the end, it is a way of respect. But are they going to let up on him? No, it will get worse, not better.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather of CBS. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES II")

RATHER: Impeachment had to be a dark day.

CLINTON: Well, by the time they got around to voting, I knew what was going to happen. And I didn't -- no. My darkest day came long before that, when I had to come to terms with the fact that I -- you know, I did -- I made a terrible personal mistake, which I tried to correct in private, which then got dragged into public. That was dark for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Dan, where do you think it is all going: 24-hour news cycles, our explosion of spin, the Internet? Predict for me 2005.

RATHER: Who? I couldn't predict to you tomorrow.

KING: Too far away.

RATHER: Too far away. You know what I said about crystal balls. I have no idea, Larry. I'm a believer in competition, in more, not less information. Who can say where the Internet is going? It's a fact of life. It's going to be a very big factor in political life in this country for as far out as we can see. Beyond that, I just don't know.

You know, naturally, I would like to see a little higher quality journalism on some of the 24-hour networks. And I think that will come, because I think competition will force it. But, as you know, I'm an optimist by experience and by nature.

KING: Yes, you are.

Charleston, South Carolina, one more call for Dan Rather, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Larry. Good evening, Mr. Rathers -- Mr. Rather.

RATHER: Good evening.

CALLER: You have been a superb reporter over the past 20 years. Which do you find most exciting: reporting politics, international news, or from the eye of a hurricane?

KING: Well, you have been on this program hanging from a pole.

RATHER: Well, I'll tell you truth, I couldn't choose between them. I love reporting politics. I loved foreign news, what Ted Turner rightly says we now should call international news. And yes, I have had a lifetime fascination with hurricanes. And whenever the wind blows -- particularly when the wind blows strong -- I want to go.

But, you know, for better or for worse, I love reporting. Any good story -- give me any good story and I will be very, very happy.

KING: Do you still miss, though, action stories? Do you still -- are there times you would like to be Christiane Amanpour?

RATHER: Sure. You know, every story -- every reporter wants to be on the big story. Every reporter want to be on the cutting edge of every big story. And, certainly, you know, any time the bell rings on a big story, I want to be there. Sometimes I go -- sometimes able to go, sometimes not.

But among my happiest days, I have been very happy anchoring. I couldn't be happier on "60 Minutes II" and with "48 Hours." But among my happiest days was being a line reporter. There is no thrill for a journalist, Larry, quite like being out there, out front, knowing you are out front on a really big, breaking, important story. For a journalist, there is no adrenaline rush like that -- as I say, for better and for worse.

KING: It is you know something I don't know, right? And you are telling me it.

RATHER: Well, you have an opportunity to be an honest broker of information, is the way I put it -- and particularly, as I say, if you are out there, and you say: Listen, I'm out front on this story. We know things that our competitors don't know. And, boy, we're going to be able to inform the American people. Tiananmen Square, when we were there with that great movement for freedom and democracy, would be an example of that.

KING: You're aging now to point where I'm certain you don't want to see action anymore. Or would you -- or would you go to a war again?

RATHER: Absolutely, in a second.

KING: You would?

RATHER: Not because I love -- not because I love war. I don't. Anybody who has seen combat learns to hate war very, very deeply. But war is frequently a big story. And I say to you: want to be where the big story is. And you bet, Larry, I would be shot from a canon or swim the Atlantic, if I was capable of doing it, of getting to that kind of story. And, you know, as long as I have my health, I'm always going to bid to go on that kind of story.

KING: Yes or no...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Would you go to the moon?

RATHER: In a second. I would love to go to space. I mean, send me tomorrow morning.

KING: Good luck.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Good luck. I will wave.

RATHER: Larry, you know, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thing: Send me. Send me. Send me.

KING: Thank you, Dan, as always.

RATHER: Thank you, Larry. It's been a great pleasure.

KING: Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." For more Q&A with Dan Rather, check out "King's Corner" on my new Web site. There you see it: www.cnn.com/larryking.

Tomorrow night: Jack Hanna will be here with all his animals. We have a lot of fun with that. Friday night: Brooke Shields, Whoopi Goldberg and a real live story that will rock you. Saturday night, a retrospective of our interviews with President Clinton. And next Monday night: an exclusive interview with Elizabeth Taylor.

Speaking of terrific young reporters, watch one coming ahead. Bill Hemmer anchors -- my man -- "CNN TONIGHT."

Thanks for joining us. And good night.

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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