CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND
Premier Journalist Reflect on September 11
Aired November 4, 2001 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: How do you report when horror hits home?
Covering the unthinkable; some of America's premier journalists reflect on the September 11 terror and its aftermath. And it's next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Thanks for joining us. Tonight's guests have covered wars, natural disasters, famines and assassinations. Then cam September 11; uncharted territory in many ways.
We begin with a journalist who became an unwilling part of this unprecedented story. One of his assistants contracted the skin form of the disease. Dan first joined us October 4, before he knew he'd become a target of terrorism. And I wanted to know how the events of September 11 had changed him.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 4, 2001)
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Well, first of all, you know, I intensely want to be a journalist of integrity, and sometimes it's easy when you're on television and when you want to intensely do your job well to sort of begin to confuse yourself with your work. It's changed me of wanting to get closer in touch with my inner, real self and understand it.
You know, I'm a human, I'm an American. I had a family. Those things are every bit as important, in many ways more important, than even journalism.
KING: And we know how important journalism is to you.
RATHER: Well, to tell you the truth, it's awfully easy when you're on television every day, you know, absorbed by it to just, say, confuse who you are, what you are, with your work.
KING: One of the defining moments in television in the last three weeks occurred on David Letterman's show the night Letterman returned to the air after a week off. Let's watch this little clip and then ask Dan about it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS' "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
RATHER: You know, "America the Beautiful." Who can sing now with the same meaning we had before one stanza of that goes: "O beautiful for patriots dream/That sees beyond the years/Thine alabaster cities gleam/ Undimmed by human tears." We can never say that song again...
... that way.
David, you've been terrific to have me on tonight. I'm so sorry for this. You know, the hour grows late.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: You're fine. Yeah, you're fine. You know, you're a professional, but good Christ, you're a human being. And my God, to not...
RATHER: Thank you. Thanks. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Looking back at it now we're reminded of Cronkite nearly breaking up with the announcement of the Kennedy assassination.
How do you feel about that?
RATHER: It happened.
KING: It is what it is.
RATHER: It is what it is. It happened. I didn't intend for it to happen. But I don't regret it, and I have no apology for it.
You know, we have about 13,000 casualties, dead, missing and wounded, including brave firefighters and policemen. And you know, I'm a New Yorker. I'm a Texan by birth and by choice in many ways, but I've never been prouder of being a New Yorker than I am now. And it happened. It's one of those things and it's behind me.
KING: Is there -- are there any rules of things like that in journalism that they teach in class? Do you say the journalist does not get emotional?
RATHER: Well, you can't say you don't get emotional. As I've said on that program, you know, I'm a pro, I get paid not to let it show. But I'm not a robot. And I'll stand on my record that most of the time I'm able to keep focused on my work, but this -- I wasn't working there. I wasn't anchoring or reporting. It was a different environment, and it just happened.
I wish, you know, I wish I could be perfect and never ever do that kind of thing. KING: That's what makes you special, though.
Everybody is now recriminating. We should have did this, we should have covered this. Did you cover enough about terrorism on "CBS Evening News" or "60 Minutes"?
RATHER: No, obviously, we did not. We did what we thought was the best we could. But my -- my hat's off those those -- there were those in our country who were warning us a long time ago. George Shultz, whom I think everybody has forgotten, I can remember a conversation with George Shultz 1989, no later than 1990, in which he said, terrorism is coming to America.
Bill Cohen, the most recently retired defense secretary -- I think he said it on this program. I've heard him say it many, many times.
KING: He did, yeah.
RATHER: There were all kinds of people. Judith Miller, whom you're going to have on this program, was practically, you know, buying billboard space to say we have...
KING: Gary Hart.
RATHER: Gary Hart as well.
KING: Warren Rudman.
RATHER: Warren Rudman, the commission...
KING: So the collective is why didn't we pay attention?
RATHER: Well, the world's a complicated place, and there are no excuses. I do not exclude myself from that criticism. We obviously just didn't pay enough attention. We were asleep and we got sucker- punched.
The question in my mind is less now, you know, why didn't we pay more attention -- and I don't have much patience with recriminations or things. I think people in government -- the FBI, CIA, DIA, all those people -- need to be held accountable, and I have no doubt that the president is holding them accountable.
We need to be looking forward. The question now is: what are we going to do about it?
KING: What do you make of your fellow Texan, Mr. Bush?
RATHER: Well, he's done a terrific job ever since September 11. It's not to say he wasn't doing a good job before then, but I think it's very clear he has risen to the occasion.
But the difficult hours, the difficult decisions, the most difficult ones he's making right now and are ahead of him. But I think the whole country is right in saying, look, whatever arguments one may or may not have had with George Bush the younger before September 11, he is our commander in chief, he's the man now. And we need unity, we need steadiness. I'm not preaching about it. We all know this.
And I think the country understands it, because you can hear it with people, Larry. And...
RATHER: This is -- this is like nothing we have ever gone through before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AFGHANISTAN, 1980)
RATHER: Anti-tank round; impossible to know where it hit, or if it struck home. Artillery rounds struck very close. I'm thinking that they're beginning to get our range. We're going to move off the ridge and scramble down below. Huge. That round hit the ridge just below us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now two veterans of the war on terror: famed CBS international correspondent Bob Simon. He spent 40 days in an Iraqi prison during the Gulf War. And Judith Miller of the "New York Times," coauthor of the bestselling book "Germs." She was also on the receiving end of a serious anthrax scare, a threatening letter containing a powdery substance. Fortunately, it turned out to be harmless.
Before Judith endured that frightening false alarm, she and Bob Simon joined us with their unique perspectives, to say the least, on the war against terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 4, 2001)
KING: You spent a lot of time in Israel, you have been captured by people, right? How does Israel deal with something like this, much smaller, different situation?
BOB SIMON, CBS, "60 MINUTES II": In fact, I think Israel gives us the best model of the way we have to start thinking behaving. In 1973, Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympic, the Munich massacre. Golda Meir, who was prime minister then, unleashed the Mossad and said kill them all. And they did.
A few week later a guy fell down in Paris, a guy fell down in Rome a guy fell down in Cyprus, another guy fell down in Beirut.
KING: They got even, is what you are saying? SIMON: They killed them. It wasn't a question of getting even. It was a question of eliminating that Palestinian organization, which they did. There were no headlines when a particular guy was killed in Paris -- well, it didn't take long before journalists discovered that he had very strong Palestinian ties. But it was never identified as a Mossad murder.
KING: Are you saying the United States should take a lesson from this?
SIMON: I think that's the only way we can do it.
JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I guess after all the violence we've seen, directed against New Yorkers, and people in Washington and our country, I would hope for a different outcome.
I would hope that -- and perhaps it's not realistic but you never know -- that Osama bin Laden and his cronies will be delivered to the United States, that they would stand trial in a country that believes in rule of law, and that they would be convicted and spend the rest of their lives in prison. That would be my hope. And it would tell the world, because they know we're strong, that we're also just and a country of laws.
KING: Are you presenting this as Bob Simon anger or this is what Israel does?
SIMON: I think this is the only strategy to follow. I think if you catch Osama bin laden and his cronies, I don't think anything changes. I think there are cells all over the place. I think that we will know that something is beginning to happen, that we're beginning to do something, not when the Kitty Hawk arrives close enough within bombing range of Afghanistan, but when a man falls down in Hamburg in a few weeks.
And that's a murder that's unexplained. Then when a guy standing online to get on a plane in Paris disappears. This how is you do it. It's the only way to do it.
KING: Judith is saying no.
MILLER: I think you have to root out cells, by cutting them off, by getting rid of their leadership, by putting those people in jail, and by making it impossible for them to function by denying them money.
KING: Do we need to any killing?
MILLER: Hopefully, you have to do as little as possible. Because, quote, "the collateral damage" is what the terrorist is looking for, something that he can turn against us.
SIMON: But that's precisely it. We're looking not for collateral damage. In the Gulf War, the objective sometimes achieved was precision bombing. Now I think we have to look at precision killing.
KING: Never seen you this strong, Simon.
Now I want to move to this other area and your book. We've had a lot of guests on in the last few weeks, saying, Yeah, if you want to worry about it, worry about it, but it's not going to happen. Are they wrong?
MILLER: Well, I hope they've right, Larry. I mean obviously, I didn't write this book because I thought that it was going to happen today, tomorrow. I wrote the book because I see the way the technology is going. And I know what the terrorists want.
They want to acquire these weapons. Rogue states want a biological weapon. They are devoting a lot of resources to getting them. And this country has to prepare itself. And that's why I wrote the book.
KING: And what do you make of that? Did you read the book?
SIMON: Not yet, but obviously it's terrifying. Anything could happen. We know that now. Anything could happen. When I went to ground zero for the first time last night, my first impression was a smell. It smells like Beirut.
SIMON: I've been to Beirut. I've been to Sarajevo. I've been to these places. Now it's in New York. Anything can happen.
KING: You also have met with suicide bombers who didn't pull off the missions, right? You did a piece on that.
KING: What did you learn?
SIMON: First of all, what happens is the amazing thing is that these kids -- and that's what they are; and their interrogators, Israeli Secret Service interrogators, say they're nice kids. They're not fanatics. They're not psychotic. The psychiatrists agree on that.
They are usually quiet kids. And we know that Mohamed Atta from Egypt was a quiet kid.
KING: Likable, would you say?
And they let it be known that they want to be martyrs. It's -- picture Yankee Stadium filled with volunteers. And then, one of the kids is chosen by some coaches. Then he's put in a tunnel. And that tunnel can only be a few days long, but the essential thing, they get him past a point of no return. They have him do a video with his last will and testament. They have him say good-bye to his family. They have him photographed in a heroic pose to be put up in a poster on the wall. And after that, it would be so humiliating for him to knock on his door and say, "Hi, mom, I'm home."
KING: When we come back, Walter Cronkite's thoughts on the terror attacks and the media's coverage of America's new war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 MINUTES," CBS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The explosives were connected to a button, and the minute I would press it, the bomb would explode.
SIMON: So you pushed the button, and then what happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The explosives didn't go off. It just didn't work.
SIMON (voice-over): There was something wrong with the detonator. There was nothing wrong with the explosives. The Israelis blew them up a few minutes later, with the cart and the donkey.
As for Abu Milek (ph), they shot him three times in the legs, and then captured him.
(on camera): Were you disappointed that you didn't kill any Israelis?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Of course, one feels sad. Of course, the operation was not completed, and Jews were not killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 22, 1963)
WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Many have compared the emotional trauma of September 11 to the national shock of John F. Kennedy's assassination. And no journalist is more associated with that chilling November day in Dallas than former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 8, 2001)
KING: What is your read as to how well the media should or should not handle this anthrax story?
CRONKITE: Well, I think so far it is handling it as well as we can handle it with the knowledge we have and the information we are getting. That is always the question in these matters: Do we get enough information that we can do the editorial job of passing on that which the public needs to know? I think so far that we are getting that information.
KING: You were in Italy when this occurred?
CRONKITE: I'm afraid I was. I was in Florence the day that -- the September 11, and we got back here as fast as we could. But that was -- the first plane out was the following Sunday.
KING: What was it like for you come back to New York?
CRONKITE: Well, we came back, and we had a personal experience. We have an apartment down by the United Nations that overlooks the East River and looks downtown. You normally could barely see a corner of the World Trade buildings down there. When we came back just could see a great cloud of smoke and in the evening the red glow of fire still burning. But we opened our windows. The apartment had been closed for a day. We had to shut them instantly, the fumes were so bad. And we're probably three miles north of the World Trade Center.
CRONKITE: It was not pleasant.
KING: You've seen many presidents in times of crisis. What's your assessment of President Bush?
CRONKITE: I think he has been handling this situation extremely well. I think he is surprising those who did not think much of his presidency in the first place, but I think he is putting a lot of the fears about his leadership to rest. Seems to be doing quite a good job of it.
KING: How about the public's reaction to all of this? I mean, you go back -- you remember Pearl Harbor.
CRONKITE: Well, of course, it's much more severe than Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor, of course, was great shock to us, but it immediately plunged us into World War II, where we rather expected that some day we would be going. This was the catalyst that did it.
We were shocked at the loss of our ships, and of course, at the loss of the great number of our military people, but they were military people., It was an organized attack by a foreign government. This thing is quite different from that. The great toll of lives taken in the civilian population, innocent people who had no thought, no concept of anything like this was about to occur, and then the -- of course the bravery of the firemen and police and the rescue workers. It has been a great, of course, national event that has ripped all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our thinking.
KING: Walter, you have been a strong opponent all your broadcast life of censorship. Is some censorship necessary now?
CRONKITE: Yes. Very definitely, Larry. The censorship is necessary in covering the military. We should definitely be permitted to cover the military, with even the smallest of units. They can still take care of a reporter and a cameraman, maybe more depending on the size of the unit. But of course, anything that they report, anything they write, anything they put in their cameras in the way of tape, has got to be held for military censorship.
The importance of their being there is that American people have the right to know -- they have the duty to know -- what their boys and girls are doing in their name, and it must be recorded. It can't be put out immediately without military surveillance, military censorship. But if they are there, they could get that story out eventually. A day later, two days later, a week later, a month later. Even if it's a year later, history will be preserved and we will know how we conducted the war, and with what efficiency we did it. We will know who heroes were, as well as perhaps those who did not do so well.
KING: You think the public has the patience for the long haul here?
CRONKITE: I think we do. I think the American people in their immediate reaction to this terrible tragedy have shown the stuff of which they are made. I do not see any reason why we are not ready for long haul. As everybody is saying, they are expecting some other attacks. That is going to strain our fidelity to the job at hand, but I think we've got it in to us do it.
KING: Do you wish you were reporting now on a daily basis?
CRONKITE: Sure. I miss being on the front lines of every story. This is, of course, the biggest story of our time.
KING: Walter, are you feeling as well as you look?
CRONKITE: Yeah, I'm still making it.
KING: We love you. Stay around. Thanks, Walter. Always good seeing you.
CRONKITE: Thank you.
KING: Walter Cronkite. Once known as the most trusted man in America. The former anchor of "The CBS Evening News."
KING: When we return, Walter's successor Dan Rather discusses being a target of terrorism and fighting back. It's all next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 18) RATHER: We pride ourselves here on being professionals; I'm sure that you do. And we also pride ourselves on being classy. And class never runs scared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: On Thursday, October 18, CBS confirmed an employee in Dan Rather's office had tested positive for skin anthrax. At the end of that very same day, Dan joined us to share his thoughts. And I wanted to know if he had been tested for anthrax exposure.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 18, 2001)
RATHER: No. This is an hour-by-hour, day-by-day decision. I have no symptoms. I have had no difficulty whatsoever. I have talked to the city doctors for the city health department and to my own private physician. And I'm comfortable, up to and including now, with not being tested. If any symptoms develop, if I have any reason to think that there is a need to be tested, why, certainly I will do so.
KING: Is there some awkwardness for a man who has covered stories all his life to be the subject of a story?
RATHER: Of course it is. It is always -- it is also always awkward when you are in the news. When you do this kind of work -- that is, when you are the anchor for a major television network -- you know that, sooner or later, you are going to be in the news. You always hope it will be some sweetheart profile of you in a great magazine. But you know that is not the way life is.
This is particularly awkward and uncomfortable, because it is so serious, and not to put too fine a point on it but, this young woman became a part of a target for an assassin. It doesn't get much more serious than that.
KING: Now Tom Brokaw, when it happened at NBC, was very angry, outspokenly angry, expressed that anger. How would you describe your feelings about this person or persons who did this?
RATHER: Certainly I'm saddened by it. I'm disappointed at it. My first thought on an hour by hour basis, most of my thoughts in a personal way, are about this young woman who has not only been a loyal and respected colleague, but also a beloved friend of mine.
But you know, you keep going. And our attitude has been, we just keep on keeping on.
KING: Condoleezza Rice has expressed concern about putting the al Qaeda, any messages they have on American media, as they might be sending signals to others in the country. Do you buy any of that?
RATHER: I listen carefully and take it into account. I thought Howell Raines, the editor of "The New York Times," had it just right when he said: You know, we are committed to giving the maximum amount of information to our readers -- in our case, to our viewers and listeners -- but any time anybody high in the government, such as Dr. Rice, wants to talk to us about national security matters, we certainly will listen and listen very carefully and take it under careful advisement.
KING: But not necessarily acquiesce.
RATHER: No. We are independent. One definition of patriotic journalism is to keep your skepticism -- never cynicism -- but skepticism healthy and be strongly -- sometimes when required, fiercely -- independent. And we intend to do that here at CBS News.
KING: I would guess very few viewers -- maybe much more watching overseas -- but very few American viewers have ever been in Afghanistan. You have. Give us an overview. What's it like?
RATHER: It's an extremely rugged, mountainous, mostly barren terrain. There are certain places of that it are green. I'm thinking of the Kunar Valley, which is not far from Jalalabad. It has its green places. It's also a land of glaciers, which I think many Americans don't know.
It is hard to imagine, Larry, a more difficult place to fight a war. Vietnam was a green jungle hell. Afghanistan has been in the past, and can be for anyone who comes in from the outside, a brown mountain hell. And I say that not to be dramatic about it. It is just, when you are in there, that is what you keep saying to yourself. It's what I kept saying to myself: What a place to fight a war.
Now, the decision has been made by our commander in chief that we need to fight there. So fight we must. Fight we will. But no American should kid his or herself that when we put anything approaching large-unit ground troops in there, if we do, there will be casualties, in my judgment. And there may be a lot of casualties. And we must be prepared for that.
KING: What about the people. Did you like them?
RATHER: I did. It may be unpopular to say so now.
But the Afghan people are overwhelmingly a peasant people. Many of them do not have electricity at all. Many of them have never heard of radio.
I remember, Larry, once, one resistance -- resistance to the Soviet Union at the time -- fighter sending one of his people on a 30- mile run-and-walk to listen to a radio so they could pick up the BBC broadcast. So it is almost an unimaginably past-centuries kind of place. And the people there, they are -- by and large, they are wonderfully hospitable people. They are hardened by a hard life. They know virtually nothing of the next valley over, much less other countries.
I think this is the one reason that President Bush has gone out of his way to emphasize, time and again, that our argument, our determination to make war is not directed to the Afghan people. They are, by and large, a wonderful people. They have had just a terrible past for many centuries. KING: Do you get up now in the morning, saying, what today?
RATHER: Honestly, no. Larry, I get up in the morning saying to myself, boy, I really intensely want to do good journalism today. I don't find myself saying, it is going to be some terrible event happening today. There is this realization, I hope we all have, that something else could happen at any time. But it is not an hour by hour concern of mine.
KING: Yet we lived through -- one of the most -- the most cataclysmic event in American history was September 11, 2001, right?
RATHER: I think that is correct, yes.
KING: Therefore it will stay with us until we die.
KING: That moment, that day.
RATHER: No question about it. The only reason I paused about the greatest calamity on our soil, our Civil War in the 1860s was a tremendous calamity, but for a one day event, certainly the greatest catastrophe in the history of our country.
KING: So, therefore, do you get -- does that affect the way we cover things? If it is changing society, it is changing airports, it is changing when we look around side to side, has it changed the way we do news?
RATHER: Yes, it has, Larry, and for the better.
RATHER: For the better. The second that the first airplane hit the World Trade Towers, from that moment up to and including this moment, I think has been one of the great periods for American journalism. Take myself, take CBS news out of it.
But I can't remember a time when there has been so much consistently high quality journalism. The question is whether we can and will sustain it.
KING: As we go to break here is Dan Rather 21 years ago, reporting in Afghanistan. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AFGHANISTAN, 1980)
RATHER: I'm standing on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, a border that is now closed to most everyone except refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion. These Afghan clothes I'm wearing were part of an operation to sneak me and a CBS News film crew into Afghanistan. The operation succeeded. So far as we can tell we are the only full television crew to get inside Afghanistan in recent months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dan Rather grew up in Texas, and he likes to say "You are never a former Texan." But now Dan is very proud to call New York City home.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 18, 2001)
RATHER: New York is doing fine, just fine. I think that is a direct quote from Mayor Giuliani. And it is true. We have problems in New York. We are wounded and we are bleeding. But we are coming back. It will be a long road back. Every New Yorker knows that. But I do think this has brought out the best of New York, certainly the bravest of New York.
And for the first time in my lifetime, Larry, I get a sense that the rest of the country understands that, that for so long, there were efforts made to alienate New Yorkers from the rest of the country. And probably the New Yorkers helped that in no small part. But there has been a new way of thinking about New York, I think, based primarily on the bravery of those firefighters and policemen, to which the vice president -- to whom the vice president just referred.
But New Yorkers are doing just fine. We are going to be all right. We need some help, but we're coming back. And we are going to keep on coming.
KING: This is rather simple. You have traveled extensively abroad. Why, in so many parts of the world, is the United States hated? Eric Hoffer, the famous philosopher, the philosopher who worked in the docks, wrote that: You can't write history of America; in the first paragraph, you have to include the word kindness.
RATHER: Well, I think de Tocqueville also wrote that any person who comes to the United States of America and does not remark on the kindness of its people has missed something very significant about the country.
But to your question. First of all, I think it is important that we understand, Larry, that overwhelmingly around the world, people do admire the United States. And here is the proof, that -- I haven't checked it lately, but until very recently -- and I believe it is still to be true -- there are more people from around the world trying to get into the United States to live here than are trying to get in all other countries combined.
So we need to have some perspective here that a lot of people really respect and admire the United States and they want to come here. Now, for those who hate the country, there a myriad of reasons. But one of them is, they hate us because they are losers. They see us as winners. And those who see themselves as losers sometimes develop a deep and abiding hatred for those they see who are winners.
There is a lot of -- there is some envy from around the world. And, frankly, there are just evil people in some places. And evil can't be explained.
KING: Let's take another call.
Cleveland, Tennessee, hello. Cleveland, Tennessee, are you there?
CALLER: Yes, sir.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: Mr. King...
CALLER: ... Mr. Rather, a very good evening to you both.
RATHER: Good evening.
CALLER: Mr. Rather, I was wondering what your response is to the way the government has handled the press and the information being dispensed by the government. Are you happy with it? And the second question is: Mr. Cronkite has talked recently about reporters traveling and covering the war in Afghanistan. What are your suggestions on that?
And I will say God bless you and God bless CBS News.
RATHER: Thank you very much.
Well, as to the first, I'm OK with the flow of information so far. But I that say with a smile. You know, no reporter is ever going to be happy, completely happy with the flow of information of the government. And let me say, this reporter is never going to be completely happy about it.
We are in the early stages of this war. And I would say, so far so good. There are any number of things that I wish the government had done differently, particularly when it comes to access to information, the flow of information.
A specific example would be, I still don't understand why, when we had what we thought was pretty reliable intelligence on where Mohammed Omar was at the very start of the war, the leader of the Taliban, frankly, why they didn't pull the trigger on him. Now, they have been sort of dancing around that. And I still don't understand it. I wish I knew more about that.
But, it is inevitable that, in a society such as ours, that the press is going to go through some unpopular moments, because, if we are to keep our skepticism, our healthy skepticism intact, and if we are to maintain our independence, we are going to come flesh up against what we always come up against, is that someone will try to stem the flow of information not for reasons of national security, but to cover their backside or for reasons of some partisan, political or ideological agenda.
Now, just as one voice and one who has covered some combat, that what works the best is where the government, from the very top, and the military, adopt an attitude of maximum information consistent with military security. I would like to underscore military security and national security, not someone's partisan, political, or ideological security. That is the best policy.
Now, Walter was talking about -- and I did hear him -- and any time Walter Cronkite speaks, I listen very intently and carefully -- that he has in mind that perhaps we could adopt some of what we had during World War II. I'm not sure that that is practical in the 21st century. But it is certainly worth considering.
KING: This has been a very long day for you. Can you sum it up in a minute-and-a-half; give us your random thoughts?
RATHER: Well, I'm not capable of summing it up. Among the thoughts in my mind are, one, the people who are most afraid are the people in the most danger. And I keep reminding myself of that. Anthrax is not the major danger to us. Fear is.
And I keep reminding myself and I gently want to remind other people that this figures to be a long war. And it may yet be a particularly tough and costly war. We have had it good for a while. We have had it pretty soft for a while. And those who are admonishing us to harden up, toughen up, I think we need to listen to that. And it is true that we need unity. But that is not to say that we shouldn't debate in that very healthy democratic way, what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we are doing it, and to hold people accountable as we go through this war.
KING: When we come back, CBS congressional correspondent Bob Schieffer on his anthrax scare, and covering the story of a lifetime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I'm very honored and thrilled that I was chosen to go. I think the newspaper feels an obligation to send someone there since there are so many people from this area who are in Vietnam, and so many of our readers have relatives and loved ones there that they want to know about, and that they deserve to know about, and the "Star-Telegram" should tell them about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was Bob Schieffer before he left the U.S. to cover the Vietnam War. Bob was on the front lines during that conflict, and he's in the middle of this one, too.
Bob was on Capitol Hill the day that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle received a letter containing anthrax. I asked if he was worried about his own safety.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 25, 2001)
SCHIEFFER: Well, we're taking all the precautions, Larry. As you know, I have spend most of week up on Capitol Hill covering the Congress. So I was over at the Hart building on day that this letter was opened. I've been all over Capitol Hill.
I took my Cipro, like the doctors told me to do. And so did all of the people on my staff. Some of our cameramen have put on a 60 day protocol, because they spent most of the day that letter was opened in that building at that time. Everybody said it was safe. And then of course, they changed the view of that. So, I think we're all trying to take proper precautions, but you know, we're functioning. We're doing our job.
KING: Do you think the postal workers have an argument that they've been treated a little second-rate in this?
SCHIEFFER: Well, there's no question that they told those postal workers that it was safe to go back to their jobs, and then, two of them died. So I would -- yes, I would say they've got a little complaint coming there.
But the other part of it is, Larry, people say is this -- was the Congress getting special treatment? Was there some sort of discrimination here? I don't think that was the case at all. I think it was more a case that it's quite clear now in retrospect, that the government simply didn't know and didn't recognize the dangers that were there.
I think it's fair to say that all these agencies are really kind of feeling their way along. I think there was a whole lot of soothing syrup that was issued by government spokesmen in the beginning. And too much of it in my view.
I think people tended in the beginning, the objective seemed to be to try to downplay the seriousness of this. I think people were trying not to set off panic. But in the meantime, I think what they did was, is they underestimated the problem of a serious situation here. I think the American people are grown-ups. I think they can handle the truth if our officials will give it to us. And I think now, we're kind of coming around to that. But in the beginning, I'm not sure that was so.
KING: From a journalistic, media standpoint, is it a thin line between -- Bob, between informing and alarming?
SCHIEFFER: Well, absolutely. But I always tell when I go to journalism classes and things and talk about things like this, I say look, the reporter's job is simply to find the truth. The reporters job is simply to evaluate, as best you can, from the best sources you can possibly get what the true picture is. And that's what we have to keep doing.
Yes sir, we don't want to alarm people. But at the same time, you never want to underestimate the problem, Larry. Just get the story out. That's my rule.
KING: It had no history with this, of course. So how do you assess the government's performance?
SCHIEFFER: Well, I think I think they're trying. I think everybody is very sincere about it. I think they're now coming to understand just how serious this is. But I think they're also coming to understand, how much they really didn't know in the beginning.
And sometimes, I think that's what government spokesmen needed to do, was not only tell us what they knew, but also, give us some explanation as to what they didn't know. Because clearly, when this thing first struck, and who in God's name could have predicted something like this happening, even from the beginning, when those planes banged into those twin towers in New York?
As someone said, this is not necessarily a failure of intelligence. It's a failure of an imagination. None of us could have anticipated something like this. But having said all that, it's mandatory to get the truth out, get the story straight, let people know exactly how serious this situation is and try to move from there, it seems to me.
KING: In other words, internationally, you can keep information of the nature that might affect national security, but domestically, no, domestically what you know. you let us know?
SCHIEFFER: Well, you have to let us know, so we can make plans and plan for it. I mean if you don't know it's a serious problem, you're not going to get the public to be willing to back serious measures that have to be taken. There's not very much that I think of that needs to be kept secret from the American people. I think they can handle the truth, as Jack Nicholson said in that movie.
KING: Up next, veteran newsman Hugh Downs on censorship and September 11. We'll be right back.
KING: Former ABC newsman Hugh Downs isn't behind any anchor desk anymore, but he still has some poignant thoughts on his longtime profession, and how it's performed during this crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, OCTOBER 26, 2001)
HUGH DOWNS, FORMER ANCHOR, ABC'S "20/20": Well, journalism I think is doing fine. You know, this criticism of journalism, its foibles, are still here. And just as there is criticism of the government which wants to keep secrets. That is all surface stuff. That is -- that is natural.
But by and large, I think journalism is doing a very good job of keeping the public informed about what is going on to the best of their ability, just as the government is doing to the best of its ability in a unique situation that never existed before -- I think the administration has not fallen into the trap of mere retaliation and has got as much of a plan as is possible in total unknown grounds so far.
KING: Compared to other crises, how do you think the public is doing?
DOWNS: The public is -- I don't remember seeing this much unity right after Pearl Harbor, to tell you the truth. We -- this nation instantly got unified. Partly because one of the differences was that you've got, you know, thousands of people killed who weren't military people, and it wasn't a nation going against us, it was some secret, sinister evil -- and we needed to feel unified, and we got unified. And I think that's a good thing.
KING: Question for Hugh Downs, from Quebec, Canada. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Larry?
CALLER: You have a wonderful show.
KING: Thank you.
CALLER: But my big worry is that too much classified information is getting through the media to the enemy, and you know, it is wartime. There should be more of a censorship, I find.
DOWNS: Well, this is the big thing. The government has a right to have some secrets in wartime, but is the duty of the press really to be sure that things that go to the world are not withheld from the American public.
It was like the bombing in Cambodia. You know, for a long time we were -- we were the only ones not being told. The rest of the world -- Cambodians for sure knew they were being bombed. I think it is a duty of the press to keep an eye on the government, let it keep those secrets that are proper, but let it not use secrecy to cover up error or for other reasons that are not right.
KING: Are you surprised, Hugh, that more Islamic religious leaders are not speaking against this so anti-Islamic act?
DOWNS: This depresses me, Larry, because I have not -- you know, individual imams in this country have stated, "this is not our religion," that there is nothing in the Koran that justifies -- in fact, the Koran specifically enjoins against suicide or the harming of noncombatants. These lunatics that did what they did are not really properly Muslim people.
It depresses me, though, that world Islam has not made an articulate statement yet about this. And for this reason, if the reaction and response of world Islam to this terrible tragedy is merely to further embrace Wahibism and to increase the number of jihad schools -- now recruiting young women as well as young men, presumably so that the women can grow up to be the mothers of martyrs -- then there is a terrible tragedy working, and it will become a self- fulfilling prophecy that it will be a war against Islam. And this would be awful.
I'm hoping yet to hear from world Islam, that will produce that distance. It may be that they really feel that way, but they haven't articulated it yet. And I'm waiting for that.
KING: What's your read on the anthrax thing? It touched your former network.
DOWNS: Boy, yeah, that really makes you think. And I think, you know, this criticism there that the government hasn't properly consolidated its view about anthrax -- but again, it is unchartered territory. I think very early on we were told by experts that anthrax -- and it was somewhat soothing and it was worthwhile to know -- that anthrax is not contagious in the way that you are going to get it by being in the same room with somebody who has it -- and then it develops that -- first of all, the strains were more sophisticated and more indicative of some higher entity like a government that would be doing it.
So, we are at one -- on the one hand soothed and on the other hand alarmed, but we should be very alert at what the full potential of this is. And again, I think the administration is doing its best to get that across as honestly to the people as possible.
KING: What do you make of the anti-terror law signed into law today?
DOWNS: That is interesting. And I know that worries some people, because it's going to broaden government ability to pursue that. And in it, there will be some injustice, unavoidably.
But it is the kind of thing that happens. When there is a war like this, the government needs a little broader powers to pursue that .
KING: Are these times you miss being in the front lines here, Hugh?
DOWNS: No, I don't really, Larry.
It's an odd thing when I watch -- I watched the major networks and I watch in the same way that if you are at a boxing match and you're ringside. You will not see the fight as well as you do on television.
And, if I were in the field doing something in connection with this tragedy, I would be very intense about that. But I would not see the overall picture as I do now as a viewer. So in a way, I don't miss it.
KING: And where were you September 11? DOWNS: I was just going into my exercise room and I had to turn on the television. And as a matter of fact, I had heard Peter Jennings saying there was a fire in the upper floors of the World Trade Center. And then, of course, it unfolded as to what it really was.
And you know, Larry, at one time I thought -- I grieved for the people who had loved ones in that building. But I am not in the insurance business. I didn't have offices there. I didn't know anybody.
But three days afterward, I had to go for a car insurance question that I had to my car insurance company, and I dug out a letter that had the phone number, which I hadn't memorized, of this young girl that had been helpful to me. And I saw the letterhead said "World Trade Tower -- 94th floor."
And my heart sank and I called the guy up that I know had offices uptown who knew about it. And I said my fingers are crossed and I hope that you guys all moved out of there or that Stephanie is no longer with you. And after a pause he said, "Stephanie is no longer with us, along with 312 other people in our company."
And now it was personal. Now I suddenly realized that probably everybody is touched one way or another by that tragedy.
KING: The Backstreet Boys definitely have been touched by the tragic events of September 11. Their set carpenter Danny Lee was a passenger on one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center. He was headed home to witness the birth of his daughter.
Tonight's musical piece is "America the Beautiful." It's sung by the Backstreet Boys, and it's dedicated to Danny Lee and the other victims of the terror attacks.
We'll see you tomorrow night. Thanks for watching. Good night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THE BACKSTREET BOYS: (SINGING "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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