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Larry King Live

Peter Jennings Offers His Insights on Current Events

Aired January 17, 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, this top journalist doesn't get to ask the questions; he's got to answer them tonight. He's ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings. He's here for the hour. We'll take your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We're in New York with one of my favorite people, Peter Jennings. We'll both be heading for the nation's capital tomorrow where we'll inaugurate the 43rd president of the United States this weekend. Peter Jennings, the anchor and senior editor of "World News Tonight." He's held those positions since 1983.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: I know. Seems like forever.

KING: Seventeen years doing this.

JENNINGS: And you're going to get an earlier train than I am tomorrow. At your age, I'm really surprised.

KING: Well, I -- vigor and vim. Peter, we asked Dan Rather because I guess CBS is the only network so far to issue a report on its election night coverage. I know the other networks, CNN, others, are still studying it. Is ABC still in that process?

JENNINGS: Oh, no. We were the first, actually. We did it about a month ago.

KING: I didn't see it.

JENNINGS: We did it about a month ago.

KING: What are the conclusions?

JENNINGS: And what we did decide -- several conclusions. We decided we made a big mistake for several reasons, I think. One, that the data was wrong, particularly on the second call. That our -- on the first call, we thought we had a VNS problem. We had a data problem wrong. The computer models were wrong.

And the second, to be honest, I hope others admit it, I think it was probably competitive pressure, and one of the things we're going to do is to try to isolate the people in our analysis service for the next time around so they're completely isolated.

I've looked very briefly at the three of them. CBS set up quite a long report; NBC a short one. David Weston, our boss, I think has taken a rather nice approach. He said if you're to do an investigation of what's wrong in your shop, people will be more forthcoming if they know it's not going to be public.

KING: Oh, so, it was...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I didn't know.

JENNINGS: So, we reported the basics of it; that we completed the study; we were going to change the system somewhat.

KING: Now, let's talk about the competitiveness of the thing. Why is it so important that ABC get it on before CNN? Is that only important to the critic of the -- is it only important to the Tom Shales and the Howard -- the Reubensteins (ph) of the world?

JENNINGS: I personally don't think an awful lot is important for Tom Shales of "The Washington Post."

KING: But I mean, who cares?

JENNINGS: I think there was a time -- actually I think we're past that kind of competition. I think there was a time when the television critics were fascinated with the notion that NBC called it at 6:26:45, and ABC 6:26:35.

KING: So what?

JENNINGS: I think those days are long gone. But I think in an election process like this, when the audience has so much choice and we're all 24 hours a day, trying to keep abreast of the story and abreast of the competition all the time, that there isn't an urgency to be first.

I don't think there's any great compulsion to be first. But I think that once somebody else has gone, there is clearly pressure to match that, and that's one of the reasons I think Weston has been smart and said we'll isolate our decision desks next time so that they are not susceptible to those competitive pressures because they watch monitors just like the rest of us do.

KING: Why, Peter, do we have to call it? Why can't we do as the old days in radio where we stayed up all night and wait until it's over?

KING: Because the world isn't like that. But let me just stay on the word call for a second. I think we've gotten in the habit of calling races when we really mean to project races. You'll never hear -- I don't use the word call. I use the word project, and you'll never hear anybody at ABC News again use the word we're going to call this election.

We're going to project the election. But these -- the VNS Service and our ability to project races has become so good in the years, even in the very tightest of races, I think we just got a little lazy, and we took for granted -- not lazy. That that's not the right word. I think we began to take for granted that the system really worked, and when we were faced with a close election this time, I don't think we thought as acutely as we might have.

I have to tell you, Mark Halperin, who's our political editor, who I think is one of the best in the country and you know him well. He was sitting next to me on election night, and when it came time to project Bush the second time around, he's looking at me and his eyes are rolling and I'm on the air talking to the control room saying, are we really sure we want to do this?

It's interesting how close we came to not doing it, and I think it -- to be honest, it was the pressure that pushes us all forward like that. It's not -- you could call it irresponsible, I think, and I think it's a good thing we've all had this lesson.

KING: What was the night like for you?

JENNINGS: Well, having done the millennium project last year for 25 years -- 25 hours this was fairly short. I thought it was very, very exciting. It's been a very, very exciting election campaign. The post 36 days have been absolutely stunning.

You and I were talking before the broadcast about the prospect of the inauguration, which we both find exciting for a whole lot of reasons. It was very testy and it is very difficult. You know, the person on the air at that given moment has an enormous amount authority to go where you want to go and say what you want to say.

But you know, you're also very responsive to the wiser, in many cases, wiser minds that you have talking into your ear, and so there comes a time when you say to yourself, I've got a wonderful editorial deck back there, and if they're going to call a race or project a race, you got to go with them.

KING: Someone said, though, and I wonder what your thought is, that in effect, if the voters were screwed up in Broward County and Palm Beach had its problems and Miami Beach had problem, was your first projection maybe correct?

JENNINGS: Well, if you look at it now -- listen, you could take, to be an absolute extremist about this, right, you can say in fact -- you shouldn't say, but you could say in fact that the networks actually did the process a service by making this colossal mistake, because it exposed so much that was difficult and challenging and in some cases dead wrong about this system in Florida.

So, I think the country has learned a lesson. I do not think we should be so arrogant to suggest we did a public service.

KING: Can we therefore guarantee in 2004 things are going to look very different everyplace?

JENNINGS: I don't think they'll look very different. I don't think they'll look very different. I think that the networks, you included, will be included, will continue to rely on the Voter News Service. You know, we all subscribe to this in this day and age now which is a factor of economic life. I repeat what I said earlier, and the audience doesn't always understand, it's always been very good.

One of the other things we're going to do is get an outside authority, an outside scientific authority to look at the computer models that we have put together which we've used in past elections which have served us so well.

But clearly there's a flaw in there, and so we think the best thing is get it out of the shop. And in terms of making a big announcement to the public about what we're doing, I mean, I think the most important thing is the public look at us over a long period of time and make its judgment.

KING: The only judge is what they see.

JENNINGS: Yes, I think.

KING: We'll be right back with Peter Jennings. Lots to talk about and we'll talk about the emergence of the new president and the Ashcroft hearings. Lots of things to talk about and his coverage of it. We'll be taking your calls, too.

Tomorrow night on this program we'll be in Washington with Senator Robert Byrd, one of the genius minds of the United States Senate, and former Secretary of State James Baker.

JENNINGS: He's a genius mind.

KING: I think he's gone from Tallahassee now. We'll be right back. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: We are able to make a projection in the state of Florida. ABC News projects that Al Gore wins the state of Florida and its 25 electoral votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Take a look at the big map over there. Florida was -- all right, I'm going to call it back, first of all, and say that we now believe the state of Florida is too close to call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: We're going to make a projection now. ABC News is now going to project that Florida goes to Mr. Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: We're not absolutely sure what quite to do next. We are going to take Florida back into the too close to call column.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I had a particular concern with his dissents in death penalty cases. Judge White has voted to give clearly guilty murderers a new trial by repeatedly urging lower standards for proving various legal errors.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Your conclusion about Justice Ronnie White is a conclusion that is not shared by the law enforcement community of the state of Missouri. A man who has an extraordinary background was given, I think, shabby treatment by the Senate, because of your instigation Senator Ashcroft.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This has been the big story of the -- thus far -- the past two weeks.

JENNINGS: I think the Ashcroft hearing is fascinating for a whole lot of reasons. First of all, you hear, you hear partisan Washington at work. Bipartisanship is, quite frankly, something to which they currently pay lip service. I don't believe that Senator Kennedy will be successful in getting the Senate to keep talking. I think Senator Daschle probably will not let them do that. But I think you certainly see the signs.

You see emerging, I think, in the criticism of Senator Ashcroft deep passions of people on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of him. I think you see a fair amount of bigotry as well. I think -- I think he's been judged harshly on his -- on his religion. I think he -- I think he did fairly well today. There's no doubt he'll get through now, and I think Democrats recognize that. So I think this is a platform.

KING: Do you ever wonder why, if he's -- he's so fervent, as we both know, on things like adultery and on abortion...

JENNINGS: Right.

KING: ... and on gun control, and a stickler on the Second Amendment. Why would he want...

JENNINGS: He represents -- represents the view of a lot of people in the country. I mean...

KING: Why does he want this job, where he's going to have to vigorously oppose what he favors?

JENNINGS: You know, in some respects, I'd really like someone to ask him that question. It was interesting to hear Senator Biden say to him today that he -- he respected him, he didn't think he was a racist. They were friends, colleagues. They had worked together. They had been very conscientious together. But he wanted to know why he couldn't be nominated for any other Cabinet position, why the attorney general.

I get the impression, as I'm sure you do in the course of this week, that these profound issues about which people are talking with deep passion are simply not going to go away. They're just going to keep revisiting us all the time.

KING: How important is Judge White tomorrow morning?

JENNINGS: It's a hard one to call. I don't know. I think it depends a little bit on what Judge White actually says about John Ashcroft in person. Mr. Ashcroft's been given quite a going-over, particularly by Senator Durbin from Illinois today on the subject of opposing his nomination. It will be curious to see.

Again, I think Ashcroft has been more confident today than he was yesterday. But what -- when you look at it, as I did -- we both did, I guess, for several hours today -- you just see where everybody is absolutely sitting locked in their positions.

KING: In the past -- here's a classic example. All America got was snippets of this on the evening news. Now, they get it all. Make a big difference?

JENNINGS: Oh, it makes an enormous difference. I said to, in a message to our affiliates today, that, to be perfectly frank, we journalists very much miss the opportunity to go at this story hour after hour after hour. And so there is no doubt that the cable -- cable operations, yours particularly, has changed the universe dramatically in the last several years.

And you know, you and I grew up in newsrooms and you watched the AP and the UPI and Reuters...

KING: When they made sounds.

(CROSSTALK)

Remember when they made sounds?

JENNINGS: ... and you listened for the stories.

KING: Ch-ch-ch-ch...

JENNINGS: Actually, the bell and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the AP bell would go off, and you'd wonder whether it was an urgent or a very urgent. And now, of course, we watch the cable news operations off and on throughout the day when we're not actually reporting the story to see it.

It's wonderful on occasions like this to have cable.

KING: What, Peter, is your assessment thus far of George W. Bush? Changing? Surprising?

JENNINGS: Well, I think -- I think he's -- I'm going to really quote two other people. I haven't seen him in some time. I went down and saw him about 18 months ago, and have seen him once since then.

KING: I saw him, last time was right before the debate.

JENNINGS: And my impression was in that intervening period, here was a man who's clearly doing his homework. And I have the same impression -- I think almost everybody does -- of the president-elect.

He feels very comfortable about himself. So when he says that in the moments of tension that he's experienced over the last month or so that he's very much at peace with himself, I'm actually inclined to believe him.

But I've been struck by two people. Barbara Walters went to see him a couple of days ago in Crawford, Texas, and she came back with a very strong sense that here was a man in the process of development and feeling better about himself. And Steve Smith, an old patrician friend of mine, who's the editor of "U.S. News & World Report," wrote a glowing report at the back of "U.S. News" this week, in which he said he reminded him of a natural athlete who trained himself up to world-class level.

And I think we're all reminded at a moment like this that when a man becomes the president-elect and is about to become the president, he becomes more than a man. He becomes part of this enormous institution. And I think in some respects, you know, yet to be tested in so many ways, but I think we see in many respects now George W. Bush becoming a part of the institution and having the confidence and a new sense of command that goes with it.

KING: Does he get a honeymoon?

JENNINGS: But it's days, very early days.

KING: Get a honeymoon? Do they always get a honeymoon?

JENNINGS: Well, no, they don't always get a honeymoon, and I'm not sure, given the partisan nature of Washington at the moment, I'm not sure -- and so many people feel the election finished not only incorrectly but unfairly and inaccurately. I think there are a lot of Democrats in the country who will continue to fight the election through their elected representatives. I think a lot of interest groups in the country will continue to keep his feet to the fire and all of his nominees when they can.

The one thing that does surprise me a little, there's the tradition of the 100 days. He said it's more legitimate to have a 180 days. So I'll be interested to see whether or not we in the press...

KING: Give him that?

JENNINGS: ... who are altogether much too cynical at times -- big believer in skepticism but I'm not a believer in cynicism. It will be very curious to see how the Washington press corps treats him.

KING: We'll be back with Peter Jennings. We'll talk about President Clinton. He's going to speak for seven minutes tomorrow night at 8 o'clock Eastern Time. He'll say goodbye. We'll get some thoughts on that and lots of other things, and take your calls as well.

Peter Jennings, our special guest. Friday night, David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'm proud of being George Bush's son. My throwaway line -- it's got a lot of wisdom. I inherited half his friends and all his enemies.

JENNINGS: But it's been hard, sir, to figure out the political relationship between you and your father. Your staff is sometimes hostile to reporters who want to know about it.

BUSH: About my political relationship? Because there is no political relationship. I mean, this is a guy who is my dad and I love him as a dad.

JENNINGS: Do you ask him for advice?

BUSH: Sometimes. But nobody can give advice when it's finally said and done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will leave that office at noon on January 20th more idealistic than I was the day I took the oath of office eight years before, largely because it worked out the way I thought it would, based on what I learned and how I lived here.

Thank you. And God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Interesting for me to see that, because in the ABC News poll today, which we did for "World News Tonight," 77 percent of the people still think Bill Clinton is untrustworthy and not honest. So when he says that, one is not absolutely quite sure to believe him.

But George W. Bush, who I just said I believed on another issue, I'm not quite sure I did believe him when he said he didn't get any political advice from his father. And I think perhaps in the early days, certainly in the inauguration and in the early days of his presidency, I think we will see him try to behave in a way, having learned from his father's lesson. He also learned from Lee Atwater, who worked for his father, with whom he worked in the White House, the great political operative.

So I'm not quite sure I believe actually that.

KING: There is a dichotomy in Bill Clinton, because your poll also showed him higher than Reagan in performance.

JENNINGS: Yes. In terms of job performance, Mr. Clinton goes out with exactly the same job performance that he had at the beginning of his presidency and one point higher than Ronald Reagan when he went back to California.

KING: So what do you make of this enigma?

JENNINGS: Well, I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the dichotomy, is it not, of Bill Clinton? And I listen to the historians these days just as you do and use a lot of them on the broadcast, and they all say the same thing. Here is a presidency that might have been, here is a presidency that people will judge in a variety of different ways: some things successful, many things not. And yet, there will always be the paragraph, and so many of the biographies start with the impeachment.

KING: He, you mentioned Bush, wasn't he always comfortable in his own skin? Did Clinton ever look uncomfortable?

JENNINGS: I saw a piece of film we were using for the broadcast the other night in which the moments before Bill Clinton was sworn in for the deposition in the Lewinsky hearing. And I thought he just looked awful and nervous and anxious. And Bill Clinton showed his emotions on his sleeve a lot the time. I think what we remember about Bill Clinton in large measure is how he managed to fight himself out of a hole. No matter how deep he got, he always managed to come back.

John Cochran, great old time reporter friend of ours, who went to Arkansas for World News Today with the president -- comes back, having interviewed all the people who knew him eight years ago. The one quote that stands out in the piece to me, was one of his old allies said, what did he say? "He was a magical rascal. And trouble is, I'll always remember the rascal." That was kind, you know.

KING: By the way, starting this weekend, two editions of "LARRY KING WEEKEND," the traditional Saturday night and a Sunday night "LARRY KING WEEKEND," which will be the pick of the best.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I work five nights, but we have "LARRY KING WEEKEND," and this weekend on Sunday night, we'll have a compilation of all our interviews with President Clinton. We'll be right back. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Peter Jennings. The media hype, the press and the public. I remember Peter Jennings got accused of facial expressions, reacting to Bush like you were negative. I don't know if you did shoot the faces or do you think people read into it, or are we so magnified to this set, we jump at any little thing?

JENNINGS: It's interesting -- I write a daily news letter for "World News Tonight" to tell people what's going on, on the broadcast. And why we do certain things.

KING: Where does it go to?

JENNINGS: Subscribers. I've got about 60,000 subscribers we've built up over the last 6 or 7 months -- it goes out through abcnews.com. You subscribe with a button and un-subscribe with the button. And we love doing it. But, somebody had written me an e-mail saying, they did not think I looked very happy when George W. Bush spoke. It was right after Gore gave his concession speech.

And it reminded me -- and I wrote in the news letter the next day, of a guy who did a study several years ago on anchor eyebrows, or something -- God knows why they give them this money, right? And he believes, every time Ronald Reagan came on the air, I smiled; and therefore, I was predisposed to Reagan. So, I told this story in the news letter, which led, of course, to a full page on a quiet, boring day at the "New York Post". And everybody gets into the act. I suddenly realized there's no privacy, there's no off-stage anymore. I love the news letter, because you really get to talk to people all over the world on a daily basis which I don't get to do on "World News Tonight".

KING: Do people not like the press?

JENNINGS: I don't think the Clintons like the press, you know, with good reason in some cases, and we've seen them throughout the presidency try to hunker down and stay away from the press. I don't think the Bushes necessarily like the press. I'm not sure that Barbara Bush -- Mrs. Bush Sr. likes the press. I don't have strong feeling about Mrs. Bush -- Laura Bush, at the moment. But there's been a very tight shell around George W. all this period of time. Does it run in the family? I don't know, but one of the early tests for the new president, and one of the early tests for us will be as to whether or not we have a constructural relationship.

I think people in the country -- sorry to go on. But I think people in the country have some reason to be ill disposed towards "gotcha journalism" and it is true in Washington. I think most Washington reporters will admit it, that it is hard on your reputation, in some cases, if you say nice things about politicians.

KING: Why? I mean that sounds absurd. Why?

JENNINGS: I think it's a little like -- we were talking earlier about the reliance we had on the voter new service system projections. I think it's a culture -- a culture that is generally more negative today than it was 15 or 20 years ago. I think the press does not like to be lied to. I think there is a general disenchantment with politics for the sake of politics in the country, and I think all these aspects of the culture, us included, feed off this to some extent. And I think it's something we have to change, and I think it's something we have to work out with the new administration, because I don't think we serve anybody very well if it's all "gotcha" all the time. That's the 100 days question.

KING: Our guest is Peter Jennings of ABC News. We're halfway through, we'll be including your phone calls. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back, with Peter Jennings.

JENNINGS: I say we should do the outtakes.

KING: The outtakes of this show...

Before we go to calls -- international news seemed less important, and you were the leader in international coverage.

JENNINGS: Yes, and I think on "World News Tonight" we still do more than the other people.

KING: Is that a mistake?

JENNINGS: Is it a mistake?

KING: Ratings-wise, is it a mistake?

JENNINGS: I think that's a hard call. I think the world, ironically, is even more connected now than it was 10 years ago. What we don't have any longer is the tension of the prism through which we see the world relationship, between the Soviet Union and the United States. Economics have been cut back in foreign coverage for all of us, as you well know -- I don't think it's a mistake, others do; I think it's very important that you connect Main Street to the rest of the world in effective ways, so you make it interesting.

But, you and I were talking about the definition of foreign view. The definition of foreign view -- Bill Clinton made international relations, a lot to do with the economy. I think we need to do more of that, than we have done in the past. We have to get at the smoke, not always wait for the fire. We're on the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War, as you know, and there are tremendous new challenges: India tested a medium-range nuclear ballistic missile today, which is capable of carrying a nuclear up. Pakistan went bananas, Saddam Hussein on the 10th anniversary. We had him on "World News Tonight." -- he's calling the American the devil again.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: The Middle East again. I think this is very -- I don't think Americans are uninterested in foreign view, though the country is inherently, internally into it. Don't forget, from the very beginning, America has been more of an isolationist than an external. KING: Look at the map.

JENNINGS: Yes.

KING: Collingdale, Pennsylvania, as we take some calls for Peter Jennings. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. Mr. Jennings?

JENNINGS: Sir.

CALLER: Do you think the coverage of the Bush administration will be as interesting for the public as the coverage of the election was?

JENNINGS: Interesting question; it may not have the immediate attention, sir -- at least the last 36 days. I think everybody in the country, whatever their political disposition, is going to look at this new administration very closely. After all, much of our lives, or much of our life, is affected by what he tries to do as the president. There are areas where he has enormous clout, which will affect our lives, so yes, I think, in the early days of the administration, it will be very important.

One of the most important things for a new president, of course, is to make a connection with the American people. It's always been that way; some presidents have been fabulous, some have been awful. I think that story, in itself, as George W. Bush -- I think we'll stop calling him W. -- George W. Bush at some point -- establishes his presidency. Yes, I personally think it will be fascinating.

KING: Minneapolis, Minnesota for Mr. Peter Jennings. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. Mr. Jennings, was the problem with the Florida vote simply a matter of the closeness of the vote compared to the error rate of the ballot system or was there more to it than that?

JENNINGS: Do you mean in our call, sir?

CALLER: Excuse me?

JENNINGS: Do you mean on our projections which were incorrect on election night?

CALLER: Yes.

JENNINGS: No, our's was a simple, significant mistake made in the first instance and in the second instance. In the first instance on bad information coming in through the computer models, and the second mistake, as I just said to Larry a moment ago, which is tough to admit on the fact that we made a judgment sooner than we should have, and I think under competitive pressure, from which I hope we've learned. But in the initial mistake, it was bad data.

KING: By the way, do we have a blurring of lines between entertainment and news. Didn't one of your top news executives now go to produce "The Mole", which is a reality show?

JENNINGS: To be perfectly honest, I don't know. I know one of our correspondents went to work on "The Mole".

KING: What do you make of these? "Survivors"?

JENNINGS: I'm happy for him. They are sort of compelling and revolting all at the same time. It's not the kind of television...

KING: Good line!

JENNINGS: ...I want all the time, and yet, it has a compelling nature to it that you want to watch. I'm not sure how enduring these programs are.

KING: Think it's a fad?

JENNINGS: I think much of what we see in television is a fad. That's why I hope the news hangs on.

KING: When the news is a fad... Lincoln, Nebraska, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Jennings.

JENNINGS: Hi.

CALLER: Do you feel that if Election Day was spread out to two days, say, we would get a more accurate result or a better turnout, or is it in the Constitution that it has to occur over one day?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't see any change in the provision that the election be held on one day. Though in some respects have you seen it changing in some places in Oregon this year. In Oregon this year, you saw people have an opportunity to mail in ballots over a lengthy period of time. I think it worked for them and against them. Got very considerable participation on the people and the state. On the other hand, if they made their decision, for example, before George W. Bush was revealed to have been drinking while under the influence of alcohol, people may or may not have changed their mind.

But I think that our reporting of the election would not change because, in fact, our reporting of the election, which is almost everywhere in the country now done by computer, not by hand, would be within that same compressed period.

KING: What would happen if you voted over the weekend? Voting would start at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning and end on midnight Sunday night. Any time you want to vote. Around the globe.

JENNINGS: You give people as much opportunity as you can to cast their ballot. But people will, in the final analysis I think, only cast a ballot if they are truly engaged in what's going on. And thirdly, I'm not sure people don't vote. We talk all the time about the virtue voting and how it's part of the franchise and it's something we must do. The truth of the matter is, I think, when people don't vote, in some ways, they are expressing themselves about the status of the nation, at that particular given moment.

And I think we have to take that into consideration -- some countries it's a penalty not to vote. In Australia, if I recall, you are fined if you don't collect -- if you don't cast a vote. I may have that wrong. It was at one point. I don't see any point of trying to punish people.

KING: What does it say to you when 50 percent stay home? Is that...

JENNINGS: Well, I think it says a lot of things. I think it says, first of all, that the politicians of the country have not engaged well with the country. I think people feel more engaged with their state and local governments, than they do with the national government the time.

I think it means, to some extent, that we are not making politics as relevant in people's lives as we genuinely believe it to be. And I think, some people are just plain off about the politicians, and don't want anything to do with them, and that's the way they are expressing themselves.

And I think ultimately -- not ultimately -- I think importantly. as I said, I think it does in many people express satisfaction with the status quo. Can you think of another period in modern American history when we have all -- I mean, all, pretty generally, or the country, let's put it this way, has been in as good shape with the basic measures as it is today. And if people are content, they have other things to do.

KING: Did Al Gore's race disappoint you? I mean, not whether you rooted for him or not. Disappoint you is the way he ran it, even though he could say he won by over half a million votes.

JENNINGS: I think Al Gore will be tagged with the notion that he ran a bad campaign. As you and I were talking about earlier, I think he'll be tagged at the end without having dragged up Bill Clinton to campaign more effectively for him. I'm not sure how effective that would have been, in that big -- red part of the country, which we look at that map now. But I think he'll always be tagged with having run a bad campaign, in many ways towards the end. I think the hard thing about the Gore campaign, who I think most Americans will acknowledge, is a smart and intelligent and worldly politician, that you weren't quite sure at any given moment in the campaign which Al Gore was running.

KING: Back with more of Peter Jennings on this edition of "Larry King Live." Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

JENNINGS (voice-over): Almost every day the violence between India and its neighbor Pakistan intensifies. In the last year, we've seen terrorism, hijacking, artillery exchange, riots, guerrilla raids; there is always a reason for Indians and Pakistanis to hate one another. (on camera): And very clear, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is not beyond the realm of possibility. And if it happens, millions of innocent people will die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Finally from us this evening, the boy who would grow up if he could. His name is Nkosi Johnson. He lives in South Africa, and he will be busy this weekend.

(voice-over): It cannot be said that these kids are lucky, not with AIDS in a country on a continent that treats them as lepers, Still, they have found a home in a family of sorts in a place called Nkosi's Haven, and this is Nkosi.

NKOSI JOHNSON, NKOSI'S HAVEN: I think it's about people start realizing that we all -- infected people are the same. We're human beings. We're nothing different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Can I talk about this for a moment?

KING: Please.

JENNINGS: You know, people are always asking why the evening news programs are different. I always tell people, don't pay attention to the numbers, just sample the broadcasts and see what you like. But here's a classic example of a story that on "World News Tonight" we've run with for quite a long time now, in large thanks to Jim Wooten, a fabulous reporter and a young writer.

Young Nkosi Johnson was the young spokesman for AIDS in Africa at the National AIDS Conference in South Africa this year. We just fell in love with him, as did South Africa. And so we kept running with him on the broadcast. He's just about to die, and Jim Wooten has been back in South Africa to see him again recently. This extraordinarily eloquent little boy, and I'm afraid that the next piece we'll do on "World News Tonight" will be his obituaries in the hospital; failing pretty well.

KING: How old is he?

JENNINGS: He's 11, and to hear this boy with his -- who was adopted by a white, middle class mother in South Africa, also defy all the trends that we've become accustomed to. If we don't cover foreign news, we don't know about all the changes that occurring in these pleases. And she just gave him tremendous strength. He's one of those people you can put on a broadcast and just live with week after week, month after month, because he's so utterly compelling and it tells you so much about the world. I just know he's going to die.

KING: Mclean, Virginia. Hello?

CALLER: Good evening.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Very, very touching. My question is as a fellow native of Ottawa, Mr. Jennings, I'm curious your views on the differences, similarities between the American electoral system and the Canadian electoral system and how do you -- you know, the Canadian vote on December 27th was hand counted in 20,000 writing in three hours.

JENNINGS: Yes, 32 million votes. I keep being reminded, actually, by American friends in Canada who sent me e-mails.

KING: What do they do? They count...

JENNINGS: They count by hand, and they still use pencils and they counted 32 million votes. With or without flaw, we're not absolutely sure, but there was no recount there. And so Canadians, particularly, take a certain measure of pride.

KING: What's the essential difference?

JENNINGS: Well, the essential -- the differences are enormous. This woman has just pointed out the essential difference in the way the vote has been counted. Of course, we count a vastly greater number of votes here, and the complication here is -- and I think they may try to rectify in some ways in the Congress, we have so many different ways of voting in this country.

Some of it's prehistoric. Some of it does, I think, clearly disenfranchise people. But we'll -- that will be tested, of course, in Florida, and in some places it works wonderfully. And ironically, some of the places where it works wonderfully were some where the equipment is the oldest. So, I think...

KING: New York City.

JENNINGS: That is exactly what I was thinking of, New York City. I think there'll be efforts in the new Congress and Canadians will go on doing it the way they've always done it for the foreseeable future, but there's not quite so many people.

KING: New Hope, Virginia. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Jennings.

JENNINGS: Good evening, ma'am.

CALLER: I was wondering what was the bigger story for you personally; the past election or any one of the international assignments you have done such a marvelous job with? JENNINGS: You're very nice to say so. Thank you very much. I think it's all -- you know, life is a matter of timing, and I'm very lucky to have had a fairly large chunk of my adult professional career, because like Larry, I've been doing this since we were kids, overseas at some of the great periods in modern history.

I was overseas through much of the '70s and through much of the '80s, and so I had tremendous stories. People in my office like to remind that I was there when the wall went up and I was there when the Berlin Wall came down, reminding me how old I have been getting.

But I think this election was a fascinating story for its time and for its moment and I think it has opened a window for us. Larry and I were talking a little earlier about religion. We take religion very seriously at "World News Tonight." We have the only religion reporter. This election revealed one more time, I think, that we in the mass media don't take religion and spirituality in the country seriously enough.

And so, I think this election was exciting in that regard. You know, we did -- on "World News" last night, we did a piece on the Pentecostals in American, which is the fastest growing Protestant religion...

KING: That's Ashcroft's religion.

JENNINGS: ... in the country and in many respects, in the world. And I realize how much we have can do on an evening news broadcast as long as we're smart enough to reach out all the time and tell people something they didn't know they needed to know.

KING: Why don't we do -- we, the collective we -- more on religion?.

JENNINGS: Well, I think -- I think people -- you and I have talked a little bit about this before, I think people in the news rooms are uncomfortable with religion. You know, we're used to dealing with something that is, you know, factual..

KING: And God is sort of out there?

JENNINGS: You know, people's spirituality is very hard to deal with. I've told you this story before. I apologize if I'm repeating myself. I once was talking with one of our young producers who had been to a plane crash, and she said to one of the woman who had survived, well, how did you get through this? And she said God got me through it. And our young producer said, but yes, ma'am, I understand, but what really got you through it?

Now, there are a lot of people in America for whom God would have gotten them through that, and watching John Ashcroft this week, who has this profound belief in Jesus, I understand the context which he originally said Jesus is our king. I know a lot Of Americans in the country who believe that.

I think in news rooms we've got to be a little more courageous. I'm very proud of my management for supporting us on that. I think we've got to be more courageous and understand peoples' -- if not always understand, probe for people's beliefs more deeply and not be as dismissive as sometimes the media is.

KING: Back with more Peter Jennings right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You do a show the other night on the Pentecostal faith that's gotten a lot of press because of...

JENNINGS: Can I just say one thing? You learn something every day.

KING: This is Ashcroft's faith.

JENNINGS: This is Ashcroft's faith. There's a tendency...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Not a fundamentalist. It's not Presbyterians.

JENNINGS: ... tendency to lump Pentecostal and fundamentalist together. They are very different. Pentecostalists don't necessarily like fundamentalists. Fundamentalists tend to vote conservative Republican.

Pentecostalists tend to split along economic lines. Black Pentecostalists almost invariably vote Democratic, as the black population for the most part in the country does. An enormous amount of differences, and people think that just religion and spirituality, just the facts of learning something new about this man, who in all likelihood is going to be the attorney general.

KING: Now, what's the essential difference between a Pentecostal and other Christian faiths?

JENNINGS: Well, I'm not an expert. But what Pentecostalism is, and I think one of the reasons it's growing so fast is because it is an experiential religion in that Pentecostalists feel. You know, Pentecostalists believe that when Jesus reappeared to his disciples on the Pentecost -- which is the seventh Sunday, if I get this right, after the crucifixion -- that flames burst forward, according to the Gospels, and gave the disciples this ability to understand all the languages of the world, which is the sort of origin of the speaking in tongues which many Pentecostalists...

KING: And Pentecostalists believe this happens to them.

JENNINGS: ... to today. And Pentecostalists, like people of other -- of other -- what's the word? -- denominations, believe they feel the spirit of Jesus moving very, very, very profoundly in them.

And so you go to a Pentecostalist service, oh, I mean, I hope I'll be forgiven by saying how compelling these are, because I don't mean it in the entertainment sense. But to go to a Pentecostalist service is a very, very uplifting experience, if you're a believer.

KING: Tafton, Pennsylvania with Peter Jennings, who always takes us down new roads. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Jennings...

JENNINGS: Sir.

CALLER: I -- not understanding that the right to vote carries with it a responsibility and the truth will set us free, I was wondering why the press and the media didn't pay more attention to the fact that many people who were disenfranchised, disenfranchised themselves by not understanding the process, even though there was plenty of literature and plenty of preparation. Could you comment about that?

JENNINGS: I certainly think, sir, it was a factor in the argument in the 36 days after the election, and I think it is -- it certainly was a very reasonable position to take in some instances, which is that people have a responsibility to learn how to vote and where to put the pen and which hole to punch. And there's a lot of argument made that the process in Florida and the education process in Florida was fairly intense in trying to enable people to understand that they had a responsibility to vote.

At the same time, I'm sure you know and I know that in the same process not everybody learns, and other people missed their opportunity to vote. And sometimes people are prevented from voting in that it's just made so difficult for them to vote.

Now I don't think these investigations are yet finished on the disenfranchisement -- quote -- "disenfranchisement," process in Florida, and we'll get it in time and see how -- how -- to what extent people were disenfranchised.

But I take the gentleman's point as certainly George W. Bush and James Baker, who's going to be your guest here, that people as citizens if they're going to vote have a responsibility to know how to do it properly.

KING: We'll be right back with our remaining moments, get another call in for Peter Jennings, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Houston, Texas for Peter Jennings, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Jennings, on looking back at how you reported the election return...

JENNINGS: Yes, ma'am.

CALLER: ... how do you plan of doing a better job of -- of giving the results of the election to the people?

KING: We discussed that a little bit earlier, but generally. JENNINGS: Well, I just say -- and I hope -- I hope -- I hope you'll forgive me, because I'm going to say the obvious, I think we have a fabulous reporting team, and you'll see it all on display at the inauguration, in our coverage this weekend, in competition with CNN. But I think, as we said earlier, we're all going to be more careful.

One of the things I've always felt about the news business is we make mistakes, and the two best things we can do is to tell the public we made a mistake and apologize for it if it's justified, and it usually is. And the other thing is we try to learn by our mistakes.

We don't always learn by them under the force of competitive pressure, but I think this is one in which, whether it was a public service inadvertently to the country or not, I think we have all been profoundly chastened by.

KING: Peter, how long are you going to keep doing what you're doing?

JENNINGS: I haven't the vaguest idea. I love what I'm doing most days.

KING: I mean, do you see...

JENNINGS: I think every news division in the country will say at some point we've had enough of these middle-aged white guys, you know, let's move on and do something else. They've done it before, they'll do it again.

I'm about to start on a new project. You know, you were very kind, you had me on last year to talk about the "Century" book. Todd Brewster and I are going to do another project. We're going to do a book about America, which I am -- I am so excited about and so slightly overwhelmed by it. We're going to do...

KING: From what viewpoint?

JENNINGS: Well, you know...

KING: We've only got less than a minute.

JENNINGS: I tell people -- I'll tell people it doesn't matter where you come from. Whether you come from someplace safe, as I did 35 years ago from Canada, to experience the great American adventure, or whether you come from behind the Iron Curtain or from some country where you're coming to America to try to improve your economic well- being in the country, you're always fascinated as having come here about what America is and presents itself.

I don't think you ever get out -- over it. And I think there's a little bit of all of us that always looks at the country with slightly of an outside tinge. And so I just want to take that with Todd. We're going to do six or seven television hours. We're currently calling it "The America Project," but who knows what it will be called by the time we're finished? But it's going to be published by Hyperion. So we've got synergy, as they call it, in the Disney...

KING: You will never go away away.

JENNINGS: Well, you never know. The audience may send us both away, you know.

Not you.

KING: Not you.

JENNINGS: Not you.

KING: We stay.

JENNINGS: This deference is too much.

Nice to see you again.

KING: Peter Jennings, what a great pleasure, as always, to have him with us. And Peter, of course, will be where we'll be, in Washington. Tomorrow night, Senator Robert Byrd will be with us. He's the dean of the United States Senate, and he had a lot to do with brining the two parties together in that agreement they made recently.

Secretary of State James Baker, who represented George W. Bush so eloquently in Florida, will be with us as well. There will be others. The Eisenhowers and Julie Nixon Eisenhowerer and David Eisenhowerer will be here Friday. Ben Bradlee, Sally Quinn Saturday. We'll have reports from all of the balls and the like.

Hey, by the way, check out my new Web site and send us an e-mail: cnn.com/larryking.

Stay tuned now for "CNN TONIGHT," with its new host, Bill Hemmer, one of my favorite people.

Thanks for joining us. For Peter Jennings, I'm Larry King in New York. Good night.

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