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Larry King Interviews John Miller

Aired January 17, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the one, the only, Barbara Walters makes big news getting big names to tell everything. She's also got a new on-the-air partner at ABC News "20/20". He's John Miller. He's gone head to head with Osama bin Laden and mobster John Gotti. He's been a regular on this program, which is LARRY KING LIVE.

Tomorrow night, ABC's "20/20" returns to its conventional spot of Friday night. Its co-anchor is Barbara Walters. Her new co-anchor is John Miller. They join us from our studios in New York. Barbara, the obvious, first is what took you off Friday nights?

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS, "20/20": What took us off Friday night?

KING: Yes. What happened?

WALTERS: Well, the American Broadcasting Company in its infinite wisdom took us off Friday night. Without going into great detail, they decided they wanted to put a very fine program on called "Once and Again" and they wanted it on Friday. And so they moved us to Wednesday.

We were not very happy about it because Friday is our ancestral home. But we did very well on Wednesday, extremely well. So then we weren't sure that we wanted to go back to Friday. But with it all, I mean, home is where the heart is. And now that I have a new man in my life, we're really looking forward to going back and bringing the viewers from Wednesday, and we hope, you know, getting the viewers who were with us on Friday. So there we are.

KING: And this debuts back home tomorrow night. What -- why did you not like the move? I mean, it's the same time slot. What was the difference to you Wednesday to Friday?

WALTERS: Well, Larry, I mean, you're on every night at the same time. And suppose that they decided that they would move you to a totally different time. You could say -- I mean, you're not changing networks or so forth, but you could say, look, we've got our audience. We had been on "20/20" on Fridays for 20 years. We were an appointment program the way "60 Minutes" on Sunday is an appointment program. Now you put us on on Wednesday opposite new shows and very, very popular shows, and we had to sort of steam it up all over again. The thing that pleased me so much is that we did. But you don't like to be -- to go from one time period to another. And it was a shock to us and a disappointment. And a lot of people said, oh, it shows that, you know, they don't really care about her, they don't really care about the show. It wasn't that. I didn't take it personally, but I really love this show. This is my home base. So now that we're back on Fridays, we may have to build up the audience again. We're not miracle workers. Well, John is a miracle worker. We certainly expect this from you.

JOHN MILLER, ABC NEWS, "20/20": Right. And if the ratings go up, who gets credit?

WALTERS: Well, if the ratings go up, it's because of me. And if the ratings go down, it's because I have a partner. By the way, Larry...

MILLER: I think this game is rigged.

WALTERS: John and I would like to congratulate you on your new contract...

KING: Oh, thank you.

WALTERS: ... which we have read a great deal about. And I'd like you to know that John is starting out with exactly the same salary that you're making because we just think it's fair.

MILLER: I thought they were very gracious that way. And, of course, I demanded the plane, and on paper, so I'm getting a paper plane.


KING: You just paint it and it flies. How, Barbara, may I ask, was John selected for this auspicious post?

WALTERS: Auspicious indeed. Well, you know, most people think that you want to do a show alone. I mean, you do your show alone and you are the best at it. I have always worked with a partner. When I was on the "Today" show, I mean, I always had a partner, some I loved more than others. On "The View", I've got four partners. I have to really tunnel my way in.

But when Hugh left, I just -- there was nobody whom I really felt was right as a partner. And I'd been watching John's work -- we'll let him talk sooner or later. I'd been watching John's work ever since September 11 and years before that. And I just felt when we were going to Friday that the time was right. David Westin, the president of ABC News, called me in one day not too long ago and said, how do you feel about a partner? And I said I'd like it. I'd like someone to share the responsibility and the burdens, but also to be able to go and do very good stories. And he said, well, I have an idea that you probably think is off the wall. I said, I have an idea.

So I wrote a name down, and when it was done, David Westin said, OK, my idea is John Miller. And I, you know, like a magician, I said, look and it said John Miller. I just felt he was right. He does wonderful investigative stories. We need that kind of energy and punch. And he's cute.

MILLER: And I'm happy to be there.

KING: John, how does that make you feel, because I always thought that your goal was news news, anchor, not magazine?

MILLER: Well, I mean, I've been a reporter -- I would say my whole adult life -- but I was actually a reporter way before my adult life. I've been doing this since I was a kid. I've always been a fan of "20/20". I've always enjoyed being on "20/20". And it's such a prestigious show. And working with Barbara, it's -- I mean, she's an icon. She's a legend, you know, on the scale in the news business of a Walter Cronkite-type figure.

WALTERS: Now don't do that to me.

MILLER: I'm working here.

WALTERS: But you're going to -- it isn't as if he's going to just anchor and not do stories. If anything, he'll be working much more, I think.

MILLER: I'm going to be in the field just as much.

WALTERS: If that's possible.

MILLER: If anything, I think that this new part of the role may give my life a little stability. At least I'll know where I'll be one day a week. But I'll still be on the road with stories, investigative pieces and breaking stories, too.

WALTERS: I'm sorry to call you cute. That sounds like a put down. He's not. He's just very appealing.

MILLER: It's OK. If Paula Zahn can be sexy, I can be cute.

KING: Correct. John, did you jump at this right away? I mean, was this a no doubt about it yes?

MILLER: Well, it wasn't even jumping at it right away. When I was called in by the president of ABC News, this is not an office I hang out in a lot unless there's a problem. So when he said come in, I, you know, reported for duty and assumed he was going to tell me what -- who was angry about what story and why or what lawyer had written in. And he said, sit down.

So I thought, well, this is going to be worse than usual. I said, am I fired? And he said, no, no, it's nothing like that. So I think before he had the words out of his mouth, I said, I'll take it, which, of course, you know, is my usual tough negotiating stance.

KING: It had to be particularly nice to know that you were selected not just by him, but by your co-host. MILLER: And it was. And it's a great honor. I'm very excited about it. You know, outside of a particular story, I haven't been really excited about a particular job in a long time.

KING: On a show like this, Barbara, what makes -- what makes co- hosts work?

WALTERS: Well, you know, most of the programs that are more than let's say, a half-hour long, and yours is unusual, have co-hosts. All of the morning programs have co-hosts.

For me, it is an opportunity to have someone to compare stories with, to compare views with. We will do a story and I can turn to John and say, what did you think about that? We can disagree. It also gives the program, I think, more personality. It isn't just -- because we're not just an interview program. It isn't not just, here's an introduction, here's a story, here's an introduction, here's a story. We can have the interplay.

But also, it was very important to us to have John's talents. We want him to do the stories for us. We want to have the kind of investigations that he's doing. This is the only Western reporter who has done an interview with Osama bin Laden. I fully expect him to get Osama bin Laden and put him on "20/20". I mean, that was part of the deal.

MILLER: He has become a slightly tougher booking lately, to use a term of art.

WALTERS: I'm serious. We wanted his talent and his energy. And even the way -- this is -- you know, "20/20" is not a comedy show, but even the interplay, even that kind of warmth I think is something that's important for the program to have.

KING: We'll be right back with Barbara Walters and John Miller. They are the co-hosts of "20/20", back to Friday nights starting tomorrow. Don't go away.


MILLER: Setting off bombs, killing civilians and incidents like the World Trade Center is terrorism.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): After our victory in Afghanistan, defeating the Russians, the world media led by the American media started a campaign against us that is still going on today. We are sure of our victory. Our battle with America is larger than our battle with the Russians. We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States. And they will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America, Allah willing.



KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE. Russell Crowe and Ron Howard tomorrow night.

Barbara Walters and John Miller tonight, not too bad back-to-back bookings. We made a little light of it. Barbara, would you want to interview Osama bin Laden?

WALTERS: You know, John and I were just saying as we watched that little clip that he's more terrifying now when you hear what he talked to you -- what was this, four years ago?

MILLER: It was 1998, so a little less.

WALTERS: Well, you know, there have always been these discussions, if you could interview Adolf Hitler, would you have given it -- and not just that, when we've done interviews with criminals of one sort or another, and certainly you have -- there's always that would you give them airspace?

MILLER: I think it would be fascinating to see him play off a woman, though. I mean, given the culture -- well, given that he's a man with four wives. But the entire time you're in the camp, you don't see a woman. And to see him interact as equal with one I think would be very interesting if it could happen.

WALTERS: The first time John and I talked after -- we didn't say anything about John being chosen because we had to make sure he wanted to and that, you know, the powers at be all said yes. And then John called me and we had a telephone conversation. And at the end of it, I said, now John, why don't you go out and try to get Osama bin Laden. We could do it together. You could ask your questions and tell him it would be very important for him to also do it with a woman because people think that, you know, how terrible they've been to women. And John said -- do you remember what you said? You were joking, but...

MILLER: I don't remember.

WALTERS: John said, well, he said, well, let's see. I think he just got a new agent at William Morris. I'll call him. And I said, I used to be at William Morris and they owe me one, you know. So we were joking. But yes, I mean, how would you feel, Larry? Would you do the interview?

KING: Sure, wouldn't you? I mean, it's part of history. And, John, you would do him again, wouldn't you?

MILLER: Oh, absolutely. And I think there's so much that he needs to be asked. I think his answers would certainly resonate. And certainly he is a figure that is much higher in the American curiosity now than he was at any time before.

WALTERS: When you did your interview, it was an important interview. But it certainly wasn't an interview that people said -- not that it wasn't a very good one -- but people said, have you heard what this man said, even though he said I'm going to kill Americans. I'm going to send them all home in boxes. It was three-and-a-half years ago. And people said, oh yes, there's another terrorist. There's another loud-mouth, you know, zealot. MILLER: Nobody believed him.

KING: This is for both of you. John, you first and then Barbara. What has been the impact of September 11 on the collective us, on news?

MILLER: Well, on news, I think that -- and this is something that Barbara said to me the other day, which is, you know, for a medium that had been polled for various reasons towards entertainment stories, celebrity interviews, Monica Lewinsky stories, Gary Condit stories, the events of September 11, for better or worse, plunged all of us right back, neck deep into the news business. And I think you've seen that on your broadcast, on our broadcasts the kind of stories we're doing.

I also think it plunged the public back into the news business meaning sure, they were always interested in those stories. That's why we did them. But I think they're now looking for the kind of news that's very serious because they're worried. Sometimes they're frightened and they want the facts straight and right away. And I think we've risen to the challenge.


KING: Has it made us better, Barbara?

WALTERS: Well, one of the things that interests me is that the people that want to see the story continued and want more and more information are the younger people. You know, they haven't gone -- younger people have not gone through a lot of the traumas that I have or you have and so forth. And they are particularly interested.

The week before September 11, I did this much talked about interview with Anne Heche. And it happened to have been a kind of spectacular interview. But that's what we were doing, movie stars with problems. And at one point, Charlie Gibson had done a story. And I e-mailed him and said what a wonderful story. And Charlie e- mailed back and said, isn't it marvelous to be back in the news business again. Isn't it tragic that this is why.

But I was then on the air every single week on "20/20". You were on all the time with Peter and so on doing some stories that were human interest stories, but again, informative, really what we call hard news stories. And we are continuing that. Yes, we're going back, you know, to -- you're talking about doing Russell Crowe. And sure, people want to see him and I will be doing stories like that again. But we now are much more back in the news business.

And one more thing -- there was no interest in any broadcast on foreign policy. I had talked about doing an interview with Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia a year ago. And, yes, we were going to do it but my executive producer said it has to be done with an interpreter, who cares. Now, when we did him in, when was it, November, December, I think, it was hugely watched. We care about what goes on in the rest of the world. We are not just an isolated country looking at ourselves and fashions (ph). KING: John Miller, last night, we did a show on "Black Hawk Down", the movie opening this weekend about the true incident in Mogadishu, in Somalia. And the military men who were on with us plus Bob Simon of CBS and Christiane Amanpour all pointed out that Somalia, when that occurred, was not a big deal in the United States. It occurred in one day. We were shocked by it, and went on with other things. Does that surprise you, John, back in memory with what happened since September 11, that Somalia was a blip?

MILLER: Well, for two reasons. One, there's an old term, if you find an old dictionary and look up the term Afghanistanism, it was a phrase coined for -- because Afghanistan was such an obscure and unimportant place in the world, people used to say the "New York Times" was engaged in Afghanistanism when they did these articles about far-flung places that didn't really connect to American people. Of course, Afghanistan has become one of the strategically most important places on the face of the earth for all the reasons we know.

The other reason about "Black Hawk Down", and I would suggest that Somalia then was then out of sight, out of mind, other people far away, is the symbolic meaning of it, meaning what we know now is that "Black Hawk Down", what happened in Somalia, was all about Osama bin Laden. We hadn't heard of him. We didn't know who he was. But we now know from evidence and from witnesses and people that we've interviewed that bin Laden sent his people into Somalia, trained the warlords, armed them with the rocket-propelled grenades, trained them in the specific techniques that they had used in Afghanistan to down Russian helicopters. They used those techniques successfully against American helicopters.

And America was reeling in the military community after that saying, you know, we thought these were tribesmen. How did they become effective fighters overnight and take us out like that? So there was so much hidden meaning to how important it was and how little attention was paid to it.

KING: Let me get a break. Barbara, I'll come right back. And I want to ask Rob also, does that mean that in the past, that year ago, when we had Putin on two years ago, that we were lax? Was it our fault or was -- we just feeding what the public wanted?

We'll be right back with the Barbara Walters/John Miller team. They return to ABC. He's new. She's an old hand at this. They're the co-anchors of "20/20" which returns to ABC tomorrow night at its regular slot time, Friday night at 10:00 Eastern. We'll be right back.


WALTERS: How will you know, in your own words, when we have won? It's not going to end, we now know, in Afghanistan.


WALTERS: How do we know? Will we ever know? BUSH: I don't think there's ever going to be an end to evil. But I think the free world, the civilized world, the good people of the world, can strike a serious blow against evil doers.



KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE with Barbara Walters and John Miller of ABC news 20/20. Were we lax, Barbara?

WALTERS: I just want to say one thing about Somalia, which you had brought up. And that is that because we left it gave Osama bin Laden the feeling that we could be beaten, it gave him a kind of confidence. It was a little bit, the Vietnam syndrome; they won't fight back. Isn't that true?

MILLER: That's right. He said the American military was proven to be a paper tiger after Somalia, they packed up and left. I think that gave him the impetus to really take on the United States the way he did.

WALTERS: And in answer to your question is it our fault; then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would complain whenever she could that Americans were not interested in foreign policy. That, we just didn't care and that we should be. And a lot of people said ho- hum. Now, you get to the question of do we try to lead the American people into what they should be interested in on television, or do we reflect what they are interested in? And whether it was the evening news programs of Peter or Dan or Tom or programs like ours, when we did foreign stories, people were not interested.

And even today there are very few heads of state that -- on a magazine show -- now, you're on five nights a week, we're on one night a week, it makes a difference -- that an audience wants to see. Saddam Hussein, sure. Fidel Castro, yes.

MILLER: Gadhafi.

WALTERS: Gadhafi.

But, you know, for the most -- Blair, I think, now, Prime Minister Blair. But for the most part there wasn't that interest. You want to get ratings, you want people to watch, you put on, in general, what you think people want to see. What do you think, Larry?

KING: I couldn't agree with you more. John Miller, your crime was your beat, wasn't it? I mean, you even became part of the police department in New York, leaving the business for a while. Is crime going to reinvent itself here on 20/20? Will you do crime stories?

MILLER: Well, I will do crime stories only because that's where a large majority of my contacts lie. So those stories will still come to me. And then, of course, there's the aspect of how crime has changed, meaning if you take a look at the September 11th attacks, anyone who had been covering embassy bombings from '98 or the Kohl bombing that followed or this latest story knows that all the dynamics of this reporting is crime reporting. You're interviewing the neighbors, you're finding the people where they lived in Hamburg, in Afghanistan, you're going through the papers found in the safe houses this this is very much the same game. It's just it's the biggest crime story in history, one that morphed into a war before the end of the first day, but it's still crime reporting when it boils down to it. And I'll be concentrating on that, too.

WALTERS: We have done a lot of crime stories. We do one story next week, that talks about the use of DNA. I won't go through it all, but where we went out, 20/20, and did DNA on various people who are rapists and the results are absolutely amazing. The convictions and the ones that were set free. That's a crime story. I've done more than my share of murderers, I think, over the years. So crime doesn't only -- always pay, but it always interests.

KING: How about the competitive aspect, Barbara, of a magazine show with so many magazine shows around, staying on top, coming up with ideas and stories?

WALTERS: It's tough. And the booking is tough, I mean, it's not just magazine programs, it's LARRY KING, it's the morning shows. We're all in a sense competing with each other. But you still want to do a quality show, and also we do know that the people who do the shows that it matters. That if they feel that they know you and that you have integrity and they've been watching you for years, you hope that that will be part of the reason that people will tune you in. Then you also want to inject something new, and a new quality and --

KING: Here you go.

WALTERS: Here he is!

MILLER: That's the best you could do?



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