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Interview with CBS Anchor Dan Rather

Aired June 4, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Dan Rather of CBS news. Here for the hour with your phone calls. Are we on the brink of nuclear war? Can the FBI and CIA keep us safe from terrorism? And are network anchors a dying breed?

That and a lot more with my man Dan Rather next on LARRY KING LIVE.

He has been the pinch hit host of this program. He nearly once joined this network. He's been a frequent guest and it is always great to welcome the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News," the outgoing anchor of "48 Hours," correspondent on "60 Minutes II," Dan Rather.

Why are you leaving "48 Hours?"

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Workload just got to the point where something had to give. That's number one. Number two, we're in the process of retooling the program for fall. It's going to come back as "48 Hours Investigates." And it was time.

KING: New host?

RATHER: Time to move on. I think so. That decision hasn't been made. There's a lot of possibilities. Don't have to have a host. Could go a repertory company.

KING: But the program stays?

RATHER: The program stays. Program will be on at 8:00 Eastern time on Fridays beginning in the fall. Be called "48 Hours Investigates."

KING: Lots of things to cover toght. But first, thoughts on Brokaw leaving?

RATHER: Well, he hasn't left. I thought this was thought out pretty well by NBC. It is hard for me to imagine "NBC Nightly News" without Tom Brokaw. I'm tempted to say I'll believe it when I see it, but among Tom's many attributes is, he clearly thinks things through. And he makes his yeas, yeas and his nays, nays.

And so I have no reason to doubt that at or about the 2004 close mark he will do what they say he's going to do. We know Tom. Tom's a first rate person, good journalist, and an excellent anchor person.

NBC, for whatever reason, and they've stated some of the reasons, thought it was time to make the announcement and to say that Brian Williams was officially the crown prince.

KING: Now, have you re-signed?

RATHER: No, but I expect to. There are no problems with that.

KING: There was a report some time that you had signed some time back.

RATHER: I think what it said was I was about to sign, and that was true. I don't play games about it. I'm happy at CBS news. You said at the beginning that I once game close, very, very close to coming to CNN and that's true. But that was back before the turn of the century. I expect, you know, to finish whatever may be left of my tattered career at CBS.

KING: Is there an heir apparent at CBS? Mr. Williams is heir apparent at NBC. There were rumors that he was going to come over to CBS to be your heir apparent if they didn't give him this? Is there an heirapparent?

RATHER: There's a number of heirs apparent. Nobody's been designated as the heir apparent. I don't like the phrase "heir apparent," to tell you the truth. This isn't royalty. Look, I have no illusions about the fact that -- it is a fact that I'm a reporter who got lucky.

The next reporter who gets lucky and move into the seat where Walter Cronkite once held forth, Douglas Edwards once held forth, and in radio days where Ed Murrow -- will be another very lucky reporter.

But to answer your question, we have a lot of depth at CBS news. The names that you usually see in print, and they are legitimate names. John Roberts, who is our current White House correspondent, and a good one. Scott Pelly is doing a terrific job on "60 Minutes II."

But what doesn't get pointed out is that we have a number of other people, any one of whom could step in tomorrow and do the job probably a better than I'm doing it. And what CBS has decided is that they'll make the decision when the decision needs to be made. That Andrew Heyward who runs "CBS News" thought it through and thinks what's best for us is to keep on keeping on.

NBC made another decision, and no argument with that.

KING: How long do you intend to keep on keep on keeping on as anchor?

RATHER: One, as long as my health holds, which is one of those things you never can predict. As long as I feel good about doing it, and as long as they want me to do it. I've said many times, and I've said it because it's true, that I can be dumb as a fence post about any number of things, but I'm at least smart enough to know how lucky and blessed I am to be able to make a living at what I always dreamed of wanting to do. I didn't dream of wanting to be an anchor, I wanted to be a journalist.

Every day's a treasure. We only get to hold these jobs for a short while. You can say, well, pretty short while, you've been in the anchor chair well over 20 years, and that's true, but in the great sweep of things we just get to hold them for a little while. But the answer to your question is I'm still learning. It is still new to me. It is still fresh to me. I'm still gaining expience.

And in these jobs, these anchor jobs, experience does count for something. So as long as I feel good about it, and have my health, as long as CBS wants me to do it, I'll do it. I can't give you a date because I don't know one. My prayer nearly every night is just, God, give me one more day of doing it, because boy, I sure love it.

KING: What's the future of half hour network news?

RATHER: I think the future is very good for half hour network news. One can say, well, you're a biased witness, and I would agree with that. Perhaps I can't be objective about this. But I think there's a terrific future fof a half hour over the air broadcast network news. Will it be at the same time period it is now? I doubt it. I've said to you on this program before, if I had my druthers I'd do it 10:00 p.m. at night, right across the board, live across the timeline.

But I frequently get accused of being slightly wacky for thinking that any networks are going to do that. The point is that I think there's a big future for it because it's a good business. And...

KING: It's not a loss leader anymore.

RATHER: No, it is not a loss leader. It is not as good a business as morning television news, mostly because the morning has more time. They have two hours, maybe three hours. But it's a very good business. That's number one. Number two is that it helps define a network -- I'm not talking about Dan Rather or Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw defining a network, that we're part of the brand name, if you will.

But without news, it's pretty hard to get and hold affiliates over a long period of time. So all of these are reasons that I'm bullish on the evening news. I see it written from time to time that, well, somebody, maybe several somebodies, are going to drop out of the evening news business.

I find myself secretly hoping -- and I'm not proud of this -- that somebody does. Because if one of the big three falls out, it means then there are going to be two network news operations splitting a nightly audience of about 30 million sets. Now, follow me if you will for just a second here. If the three network news broadcasts were rated as one -- that is, in our time periods in the early evening, we draw a bigger audience, 30 million sets, than I think anything in prime time, certainly by far more than most prime time programs.

So bottom line, it remains a very good business. It's important to the identity of a network. It's key in holding affiliates over a long period of time. So somebody may go out of the network news business, but not everybody's going to go out. And I expect there will be a "CBS Evening News," you know, long after I'm drinking a fifth a day and fishing the pylons.

KING: Would the three would you agree that Rather, for want of a better word, is the most controversial?


KING: You seem to be in the news, not as much as making the news. You seem to make news. Why is that?

RATHER: I don't intend to. But, you know, as always (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I think that's probably an accurate assessment. Having said that, I may not be the best person to judge that. But as objectively, again, as I can, yes, probably the most controversial. Why? I think there's a lot of reasons. Among them, that I've been a front line reporter on a lot of controversial stories over my career. I thank God for that.

Most of us are greedy in this business and my prayer is, God, give me the big story. And God, if you do give me the big story, could you please maybe let me be at or near my best when you give me that big story? But I covered Dr. Martin Luther King up close and personal at the height of the civil rights movement.

It's easy to forget how controversial that was. And I and "CBS News," which led in coverage of the civil rights movement, took a lot of heat during that. Covered the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam war, the Johnson presidency, President Nixon, the only president in history who resigned. And every time I say, it causes a lump in the throat, that he resigned as a co-conspirator in a widespread criminal conspiracy. Now, I won't go down the whole list but...

KING: You've been in the hunt.

RATHER: These were all controversial stories. And that old saying, your friends drift away and your enemies accumulate -- I think it's probably the case with any reporter worthy of the name. So by the time we got to the 1980s, it's no secret people like Senator Jesse Helms said, "Listen, this guy shouldn't have this job and we're going to try to blow him out of that job."

So yes, I'm controversial. I'd like to think mostly, certainly at least partly, because of what I've just outlined. Now, I've also made my share of mistakes, just dumb mistakes. And the reputation for making those mistakes also accumulates. But you know, Larry, I don't want any of this to sound like I have any complaints. I don't. That I'd like to think, and I do believe, that my wounds were always in the front. It wasn't because I ran from anything. KING: We'll take a break and we'll be right back, discuss some things current with Dan Rather. We'll be taking your phone calls as well. Friend of his, Andy Rooney, is going to be here tomorrow night. Don't go away.


RATHER: First indication was that it happened on a bus. Then as we got closer, it became clearer and the story began to emerge.

Bus stop right down there, 15, 20 yards, middle of the afternoon. Bomb goes off. Not on the bus, eyewitnesses say. At the bus stop. An eyewitness told me just a few moments ago that bodies went flying everywhere. He said quote, "the sky was filled with bodies." The eyewitness said he didn't know whether it was someone with a bomb strapped to them or whether it was someone that dropped a bomb at the bus stop.



KING: We're back with one of my favorite people. Not just as a news anchor. Just one of my favorite people.

RATHER: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Dan Rather of "CBS Evening News." What do you make of this CIA, FBI -- you did this, you did that, no, I didn't, why didn't you tell me this -- carping?

RATHER: Well, some of it's carping. Some of it doesn't serve the country very well. But you asked my opinion, I'll give it to you. I think it is time that we try to get some answers. Not to tag anybody, not to play the proverbial blame game, but to find out what went wrong, why it went wrong and how we can give it our best to keep this from happening before.

I'd like to think that I didn't just stumble off the turnip truck in terms of Washington. I spent ten years there. But I have been surprised, even astounded at the some of the revelations that have come out thusfar. I know FBI people and have for a very long time. You never met anybody who has more respect for rank and file FBI people than I do. But the amount of information that the bureau had and didn't act upon, for whatever reason, really surprised me.

CIA, another agency filled with Americans who sacrificed a lot for their country. And again, yes, I'll go ahead and say it, I've known my fair share of CIA people over the years. Maybe a little less surprised about the CIA, because they operate, have to, on a global basis. But some of these things have been really surprising.

And to your question, it's time that we did our best to find out what we need to know to do it better the next time. And I think that this combined congressional investigative group will do their best to do it. I don't want to get into an argument whether it would or would not be better to have an independent investigative body try it. That has served us well in the past.

But we're not going to get that. I think it is pretty clear that the Congress is not going to approve it and the president is opposed. This may be one of our best shots to find out what's going on. I don't think it is for the purpose of tagging anybody, but I will say, Larry, that -- now I'm trying to be a good reporter -- there are an awful lot of Americans -- I don't know if it's the majority or not, I happen to think it is, but I don't know, who want some accountability. That in a country such as ours, a government such as the one we have, accountability is key.

If you're a welder or a welder's helper or if you're a rig builder or a driller, and you foul up massively, you may get fired. That's the real world for most people. Now, the accountability I think we need, depending on where it goes, you may see some heads roll. But I don't think it will be precipitously done and I don't think it will be unfairly done.

KING: Mr. Truman said the buck stops here. Does that mean Mr. Mueller and Mr. Tenet need fear? So that the buck stopped there.

RATHER: The buck stops there, and I would be very surprised, if both of them were here, if they didn't say the same thing. You bet I expect to be held accountable. Now, in the case of the FBI director, he was barely into and on to his job when September 11 happened. In the case of Mr. Tenet, the CIA director, who in many ways has been a distinguished director of the CIA, I think they both expect to be held accountable. I'd be surprised if they both don't expect to keep their jobs. I think they think they'll keep their jobs, and they're probably right.

KING: This administration has been accused of very tight information-wise, very difficult to get in. Do you think that sets a tone for this?

your question, it's time that out what we need to know to do it better the next time. And I think that this combined congressional investigative group will do their best to do it. I don't want to get into an argument whether or whether or not it would be better to have an independent investigative body try it. That has served us well in the past. But we're not going to get that. I think it is pretty clear that the Congress is not going to approve it and the president is opposed. This may be one of the best shots to get it. I don't think it is for the purpose of tagging anybody. But now trying to be a good reporter. There are an awful lot of Americans -- I don't know if it's the majority or not, I happen to think it is, but I don't know. That want some accountability. That in a government such as the one we have, accountability is key. If you're a welder or a welder's helper or a rig builder or a driller, and you foul up massively, you may get fired. That's the real world for most people. Now, accountability I think we need depending on where it goes, you may see some heads roll. But I don't think it will be precipitously done and I don't think it will be unfairly done.

KING: Mr. Truman said the buck stops here. Does that mean Mr. Mueller and Mr. Tenet need fear? so that the buck stop there's. The buck stop there's. I would be very prized if both of them were here, if they didn't say the same thing. You bet I expect to be held accountable. In the case of the fbi director, he was barely into and on to his when september 11th happened. In the case of Mr. Tenet, the cia director who in many ways has been a distinguished director of the cia, I think they both expect to be held accountable. I'd be surprised if they both don't expect to keep their jobs. Their jobs and they're probably right.

KING: This administration has been accused of very tight information wise, very difficult to get in. Do you think that sets a tone for this?

RATHER: Not necessarily. It may surprise some people who have said that there's no question the administration has had a tight discipline on information. And as a reporter, I chafe under that. And I don't actually think that as tight a rein as they've had is healthy for the country. But that's not my decision to make.

President Bush -- these things come from the top -- he wants it that way. He won the election, he's our president, so he gets to decide that. But I don't think it will affect us in the investigation to this extent. This is a bipartisan group of congressmen and senators who are looking into this. They'll do their best to get down to the bottom of it. There are plenty of things, including the question of whether this could have been or should have been prevented that we may never know the answer to.

KING: Because?

RATHER: Because we may not know enough, because...

KING: Well, some aspects, we now know, could have been prevented. Those two guys could have been stopped. Somebody knew something funny was happening.

RATHER: We do, but we don't know all the facts on it. I'm not here to defend the FBI and the CIA. I have some serious questions. I've recently been in some trouble by asking too many questions, but -- somebody saw as too many questions. But I believe in getting the most facts you can. I want to see some more facts. But certainly on the evidence so far, for example, when the FBI agent on the line from Arizona said, you know, there's some, in effect, strange cats out here trying to do some pretty strange things and I think we ought to look into it, and nobody looked into it -- I agree with Maureen Dowd, I'd nominate that guy to help run the FBI.

He got it right. The woman in Minnesota and her companions out there, they had a lot right. A lot of the rank and file in the FBI and the CIA had it right. The question is why didn't that permeate up to the leadership? I don't have any answer to that.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RATHER: Some images of war or savagery have the power to haunt and burn themselves into the world's collective memory. So it is with these, from the killing ground that was the medieval looking castle turned prison in Afghanistan's far north.

But this isolated battle was mostly about the emnity of Afghans who have been battling each other and outsiders for decades. And shocking as these images are, it is what you haven't seen pictures of that will determine the outcome of the war.



KING: Now it's time to clear something up with Dan Rather. Our mutual friend Imus is involved here. You were on Imus' show.

RATHER: Waiter, may I have my check, please? Check please.

KING: It all starts with the I man. On Imus last month, you said just before September 11, John Ashcroft started to fly private planes, that would indicate that somebody somewhere was pretty worried. Why wasn't it shared with the public?

The Justice Department denounced it as irresponsible. Ashcroft came on this show last week and said the reason he was asked to fly private was there were some personal attacks against him, fears that they had, and so they asked him to fly private. And then you went back on and said maybe it would be better for him to spend a little less time trying to sully up my reputation and cover his own backside.

RATHER: I did not say that about him, that some of his people had attempted to do that.

KING: What's the story?

RATHER: I don't know what the story is. That when you're in a hole, you don'just keep digging. So you'll recognize my answer is in that spirit. I want the make it very clear, I have great respect for the attorney general. I did when he was a senator. I do now. I'm very sensitive to the challenge in front of him and how hard he's working to help protect our country.

And I've made that clear right the way through. The point I was trying to make was a larger one that it's time for us to be asking tough questions. It is for the press and it is for the American public. In a system such as ours or a government such as ours, it is absolutely critical. Now, I had talked to a number of people and I have talked to a number of people who were raising this question with me. It didn't just come, you know, out of my head and nobody dropped it over the transom.

That some of the survivors of victims of September 11 have raised the question -- look, the government, never mind they didn't connect the dots. But they knew some things were out there moving around, and why didn't you let us know? I tried to raise this point in what I thought was a responsible way. By the way, they've never told me that they thought it was irresponsible. I never heard that until you just read it.

KING: That was the justice department.

RATHER: I attempted to call the attorney general. Was told by staff, no, you just call us and talk to us. That's the way that was handled. Never talked to him. There's a line of communication open with him. I don't have any argument with the attorney general, and whatever he said, I take it face value and I accept that.

The larger point is that we need to be asking tough questions. Now, one of the questions, if you feel and the public feels he's answered the question, then that's fine by me. That we now can look back and piece some things together, and that he says that it was a threat assessment against him and I accept that.

And when he got that assessment, he took the information and was able to make some protective moves for himself. I thought then and believe now, it's a fair question not so much for Dan Rather to ask, but for others to ask and for me to reflect it, well, when there was a threat assessment on the public, was as good a job done as could have been done and should have been done in letting the public knowing and let them decide whether they want to fly commercial aircraft or not?

But I have no argument with the attorney general. I did say and I do believe that, look, it's time for all of us -- it is not about me. It's about him and I think he would agree it is about the country.

KING: As you said to the BBC and got rapped around. You said, our patriotism got so carried away we stopped asking tough questions.

RATHER: Well, and I said that I'm as guilty of that as anybody and perhaps guiltier than some, but I do think for trying to be decent and professional journalists, that it's -- part of your patriotic duty is to ask questions and keep on asking questions. And I intend to do that.

I think any reporter worthy of the name has to do that. That I take a back seat to no one in my love of the country and wanting to be a patriot. And I assume, lacking any other evidence, that every other American feels the same way. And that's been my experience. Each of us tries to do what we can in our own way. And that's what I try to do by asking the tough questions.

Now, as with many other journalists, there were few exceptions, in the wake of September 11, I think it's understandable that some of us, including, yea, especially myself, said, you know, there are some tough questions to be asked, but this is not really the time.

Well, now we're well past that. And there are tough questions to be asked, and I'm dedicated to asking as many of them as I can, and I think a lot of other journalists feel the same way.

KING: Is that a thin line between patriot and reporter? RATHER: No. I don't think it's a thin line at all. I've never had any difficulty with that line. What's sometimes a thin line, and where I do have some difficulty, is what's appropriate and what's the appropriate time? That's what I've just tried to outline in the wake of September 11. And then when the war first started, early in October, you know, when there's doubt to be given, we should give the military those doubts.

But we've learned in wartime, that it's important to ask questions. Command needs to be accountable. And when things happen such as in the early stages of Operation Anaconda, mistakes were made. I give the military credit that the command, flag rank, has been accountable for that. They've explained what happened, that some of the guys were flown into a trap.

They say it was unavoidable and I take that at face value. It is important to keep asking the questions. But I don't find any difficulty at all with trying to be a responsible journalist and at the same time loving my country and wanting to be a patriot.

KING: Any concerns about privacy, fear of terrorism?

RATHER: Sure. And we ought to be concerned about that. This is where we're feeling our way. When we say things have changed, this is one of the ways in which things have changed. I find that a lot of people are struggling with on the one hand saying listen, we have to do what we must do to protect ourselves. We have 3,000 dead in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, and many more wounded, including in both cases a lot of children. We're outraged by it. We're mad as hell about it, without apology, and if Europeans don't understand that, well, adios, Haas. We're going to do what we've got to do. But, weighing with that, I say we don't want to fundamentally change our society in such ways...

KING: Delicate balance.

RATHER: ...that we give the terrorists a victory. And it's not only delicate, it is difficult to find our way. We're sort of feeling our way. Mistakes are going to be made as we go. But this is where the question answering and asking comes in, Larry, I think.

That if, for example, the justice department says we need some new guidelines on when people can go into other people's houses. Pick any example you want. You take it at face value, they need that. But you also begin to ask questions, well, why do you need that? And how far do you need -- how much more authority do you need to give an FBI agent? Or how much more leeway do you need to give CIA agents in the field? Those kind of questions are not going to end. But it is trying to strike this balance, and you know, so far I think things have gone pretty well. There are some serious questions about privacy for the long haul, very serious questions.

KING: We'll be back with more of Dan Rather. We'll be including your phone calls.

And tomorrow night: Andy Rooney. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Before we begin to take your calls for Dan Rather, his thoughts on India and Pakistan.

RATHER: What you read is true: extremely dangerous situation. Partly because they're two nuclear powers. Not only do they have nuclear weapons, but they have the delivery systems that can drop them on the other. I thing the keys to watch are Russia and China. That the United States is asking for and, I think, getting help from Russia and China. The Chinese back Pakistan and the Russians back India.

Frankly, having covered the India-Pakistan war of 1965 -- I was there during the war, covered it for CBS News, which was a long time ago. And neither was a nuclear power. This I can say, that the hatred each feels for the other -- and I use the word appropriately -- over Kashmir, is almost impossible for an American to understand. It is somewhat akin to the kind of deep, ancient hatred you have in the Middle East. That's number one.

Number two, I remember in the '65 war, there was talk of the war starting in late spring or early summer, but because the rains come about this time of year, monsoon season comes, I think it unlikely that we're going to see a war before, maybe, late summer or very early fall. That's just a guess on my part. But no one should underestimate the danger here. And I do think that the Russians and the Chinese are key.

KING: Hold the big hands.

RATHER: They hold a big hand, along with us. We're asking for their help, and we're getting it.

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

Ada, Oklahoma, hello.

CALLER: Yes sir, my compliments. Yes sir, I was wondering, Mr. Rather, in the distant past, what do you think Yitzhak Rabin would do, or Anwar Sadat would do about this situation. And even from the more distant past, someone like Golda Meir or Nasser of Egypt would view what's going on in the Middle East today.

And my compliments, and I'm a history major, sir.

KING: Thank you.

Some have said that leadership is lacking in the area, in many areas.

RATHER: Well, it's the easiest thing to say, and in many ways that's true.

But first of all, thank you for the compliments. And I appreciate the question. There's no way of knowing. For one thing, the situation in the Middle East, even from the time of those people you mentioned who are now no longer with us, has deteriorated even further. Over the course of my lifetime, you know, it's been primarily downhill in terms of trust on either side. Frankly, I've been going to the Middle East since sometime in the 1960s, I think. And I've never seen it as bad as it is now. And I don't think anybody else has.

So I wish I could answer your question, but I can't. I have no idea what they would do.

We have to deal with the here and now. And dealing with the here and now is understanding that this situation is more explosive than it's ever been, certainly, in its potential. And if something, something -- I have no idea, Larry, what; I don't know anybody who does -- if something isn't done to begin to build it down rather than build it up, the potential for violence, not only isn't there going to be peace in the region, but there may not be peace in the world.

I know this sounds like some big pontifical statement, but if you -- since you're a student of history, I think you know the context in which I say that. I wish I had a better answer for you. I don't. Like so many other people, like almost everybody else, I don't have any answers about the Middle East.

KING: King of Prussia, Pennsylvania for Dan Rather, hello.

CALLER: Hello Larry, hello Dan.



CALLER: In light of Brian Williams taking over at NBC in 2004, how important do you think in-the-field reporting experience is when taking over as an anchor?

And by the way, I'm a big admirer of yours, and I hope you can last as long as Art Rooney.

RATHER: Well, thank you very much. I greatly appreciate...

KING: What's good experience for an anchor?

RATHER: Well, first I want to say that my answer, of course, is tempered by my own experience in the business. And you'll forgive me, because I think you must, if I say what I'm about to say. Which, I think the best experience for an anchor is, number one, you must become an anchored man before you can become an anchorman, or woman. You have to be an anchored person before you can be a really good anchor.

Number two, that's just in human personality, in character terms. In journalistic terms, I think it's very important to do what we say at CBS News, is pay the price. Which is to have a wide range of journalistic experiences. There are different cultures at each of the three major broadcast networks. I only know the CBS News culture because I've been there -- in a way of speaking, I've been there as boy and man for nearly all of my career. I was a reporter for 10 years before I got there to CBS.

But in our culture, you're expected to have been a foreign correspondent, been a war correspondent, have Washington experience and, yes, covered city hall and the police beat somewhere along the line. That's what I would consider to be the ideal training, because at some point to get through the glass, to connect with the audience, to connect with people sitting in your living rooms, they have to have some sense that you've been there; you've been there in life and you've been there as a journalist.

Now, when that happens, they'll forgive a lot. I'm probably a walking example of how much people will forgive if they believe that you are, at your core, at your essence, a journalist.

Now, this is the CBS News culture. I can't really speak to what it is at NBC...

KING: You can't be just a good reader?

RATHER: Well, I'm not sure you can't be. You couldn't be at CBS News. The culture at CBS News wouldn't allow such a person to come to the anchor chair.

But I can't sit here and say to you that a person who's a good reader might make it as an anchorperson someplace else. But I think in...


KING: ... have to do an interview on that.

RATHER: They have to do an interview, or have to handle something like 9/11, or the death of Challenger, the explosion of the Challenger. the Kennedy assassination.

KING: Think on their feet.

RATHER: I believe really strongly, Larry -- and this goes to the question -- really the soul of his question. I do think that people make up their own minds as to whether you are a story hunter, story teller and story breaker, or whether you're just a bloviater. And they will make up their minds about that. And when they make up their minds about it, it's pretty hard to shake them.

And that's why I think the road up, the wider the experience of the correspondent, the better likelihood that he can thrive and -- or she -- thrive and survive as an anchor.

KING: Back with more of Dan Rather on LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RATHER (voice-over): And with no common ground in sight, the outlook is the violence will escalate and the funerals on both sides will increase, and that among the dead on both sides will be many civilians.

(on camera): We can't know who else might die tonight, or how many. But it is obvious to anyone within earshot of Ramallah that there's no let-up in the fighting. The gunfire is sporadic, but loud and clear.


KING: We're back with Dan Rather of CBS News.

Ellijay Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Larry, wonderful show.

Mr. Rather, if you were advising President Bush, would you advise him to invade Iraq and take Mr. Hussein out?

KING: Mr. Gephardt said today, speaking to the foreign policy group, that that's on the board.

RATHER: Well, I don't doubt that it's on the board.

And first of all, thanks for calling in, thanks for the question.

I would consider myself out of my depth, and way out of my depth, to be giving President Bush or any president that kind of advice. The best I could do for him is to given him my impressions of Saddam Hussein when I interviewed Saddam Hussein just after he'd invaded Iraq back in the last century.

And I think what's -- I wouldn't tell him to invade or not invade. I would say, Mr. President, your call; and it's a tough decision, and whatever decision you make, you can depend on me. I'm speaking now as a citizen, as an individual, to back you completely, totally because, especially given 9/11, you know, it's never forget, and united we stand.

Beyond that, if he asked me about Saddam Hussein, I would say I think the most misunderstood thing about Saddam Hussein may be this: When his feet hit the floor every morning, he is dreaming of being the modern Saladin. He dreams of leading a victorious Arab army through the streets of Jerusalem. Whether you like it, don't like it; whether you're terrified by it or don't think about it, it's absolutely crucial to -- critical to understand that that's what's in his head and heart, and that's what he dreams.

And to the president I would say, that's probably the most important thing you need to know about Saddam Hussein.

KING: Were you surprised that Richard Gephardt seemed to endorse the proposition? RATHER: No, I wasn't surprised by it at all. That there's every indication in Washington right now that the president has made up his mind. Now, he can change his mind.

KING: You mean, that's the prevailing mood?

RATHER: Definitely the prevailing mood. And I'm not surprised at all that Richard, Dick Gephardt would swing in behind that.

KING: Mebane, North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Good evening Mr. King.

Mr. Rather, if you could interview any one person living or dead, and spend an hour about them, who would it be sir?

RATHER: It's always a tough question. Living or dead really stretches it out there.

KING: Yes, oh boy.

RATHER: You know...

KING: Christ?

RATHER: You know, I would love to interview Jesus. I'd love to spend an evening with him. I also would love to sit down for an evening -- I'd like to interview Michelangelo. The list is pretty long. And the list would include...

KING: Now let's go to the living.

RATHER: To the living. Let me stop and think for just one second.

Well, beginning tomorrow morning I wouldn't mind interviewing President Bush. I'd start right there. I'd like very much to interview the ranking mullah in Iran. I wouldn't mind interviewing Saddam Hussein again.

KING: Bin Laden?

RATHER: Well, Osama bin Laden is a bit tougher. Would I want to interview him? Of course. Do I think I could contain myself and restrain myself with the proper amount of professional decorum? Frankly, I'm not sure. But if you can find him, yes, Larry, I'd interview him.

KING: You would question whether you emotionally could do it, I mean?


KING: I remember how you -- you lost it on the Letterman show that night. RATHER: You know, I'm not a robot. And in the presence of Osama bin Laden, I think I could do it. But I'd probably have to lecture myself pretty sternly.

KING: Is there anything about Saddam Hussein you liked?

RATHER: Larry, this is why you're good at what you do. No.

KING: Nothing in...

RATHER: I liked the fact that he did the interview. And I like the fact that -- that's not altogether true -- that in some areas of the interview I thought he was remarkably candid. For example, when he looked me in the eye -- remember, this is just after he invaded Kuwait -- I thought he gave a straight answer, said what was really -- he was thinking when he said, you Americans can't take the blood. Chilling moment.

He was wrong. I knew he was wrong. But he had taken exactly the wrong lesson from Vietnam. But I thought, you know, I like the fact that he answered the question straight away.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with one of my favorite folk, Dan Rather. Don't go away.


RATHER (voice-over): Seven hours of dramatic footage like this obtained by CBS News "60 Minutes II" tells the story of what went on at a sprawling al Qaeda terrorist training camp a few miles outside Kabul. It's hard to imagine now walking through the silent ruins of this place that anything much could have been achieved here. But for at least two-and-a-half years this place is estimated to have turned out nearly 3,000 al Qaeda fighters.



KING: We're back with Dan Rather.

Sacramento, California, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Rather, how would you compare the growing fears of nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan with that of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962?

RATHER: Well, there are some similarities. Beginning with that you have two powers who not only have nuclear weapons but, as I said earlier, can deliver them.

But you know that, one, the difference in the horrible striking power of nuclear weapons has increased so many fold since 1962. Also in 1962, involved were the two superpowers at the time. In India and Pakistan, neither is a superpower, which is not to say that they don't have immense destructive power. But those are some of the similarities and differences.

Larry, before we get too far along, you asked me about who would you like to interview. I would like to interview the current pope, even in his current condition, I'd love to interview them.

KING: Fascinating facets...

RATHER: Should have thought of it.

KING: Cotte St. Luc, Quebec, hello.

CALLER: Larry, in your 40 years of experience as a journalist, which stories were the most gratifying, and why?

RATHER: Boy, I can't pick one. You know, I've been so lucky to have been in an awful lot of...

KING: But he used the word "gratifying."

RATHER: Gratifying.

KING: Haven't had a cure for cancer story. Salk vaccine was before your time.

RATHER: I was a child. Well, young man at the time of the Salk vaccine.

You know, it's really hard to come up with the most gratifying. I can think of any number of stories that, as a journalist, I've said to myself, you know, on this story, this day, I think I did it about as well as I could do it. There have been plenty of other times when I've said, boy, on this day I was terrible.

As a gratifying story, I would say that the continuing story of how the American public handles peacefully the transfer of power. It was very gratifying, difficult time in our country's history, for example, to see the peaceful transfer of power at the top. If President Nixon had resigned and Gerald Ford came on and assumed the presidency. Same thing after President Kennedy was shot. Time of tremendous, you know, mystery, trauma for the country.

This tells us so much about the strength of the country, of a constitutional republic based on the principles of freedom and democracy such as ours. I would say those times are very gratifying to me because I think it spoke so much to the American character and spirit.

KING: What was the hardest? Was 9/11 the hardest?

RATHER: Yes it was. Before 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War. But 9/11 was the hardest.

KING: The Kennedy assassination you were reporting for a Dallas station, right?

RATHER: No, it was with CBS News. KING: What was your assignment that day?

RATHER: My assignment that day -- I had set up the CBS News coverage for President Kennedy's trip to Texas.

KING: Because you are a Texan.

RATHER: And my assignment was to supervise and run our coverage in Dallas for the president's visit.

KING: Where were you when he was shot?

RATHER: I was past the railroad tracks, at the railroad tracks above the so-called grassy knoll at the time he was shot. Down -- the motorcade was supposed to pass a place to the other side of -- for those who know the area -- an underpass. And I did not see the shooting, but I knew something was wrong when the president's limousine went in a direction I didn't think it was supposed to be going. And Mrs. Kennedy -- I thought I saw her, but I wasn't sure. I just sensed something was wrong when I saw them high-tailing on back. But that's where I was the day Kennedy was shot.

But 9/11, neither I nor any other reporter living today has gone through anything that impacted us like that, obviously.

KING: I know you covered King. And now he's seen -- everybody loves Martin Luther King now. Boy, he was a controversial figure. People forget that.

RATHER: Well, some people -- you know, most Americans who are living today were not alive at the time of Martin Luther King. It was a different period in our country's history. But you're right; and you're right to remind, there were so many people who had a deep and abiding hatred for Dr. Martin Luther King. And "controversial" barely describes what that was. The civil rights movement as a whole, but personified by Dr. King.

For me, it was the education of a young man. I grew up in Texas which, at the time, was a segregated society. When I met Dr. Martin Luther King in Albany, Georgia, southern Georgia, in 1962. You know, I didn't come out of that experience the same person I was when I went into it, that was covering the civil rights movement. And I'll never forget it.

But I expect that Dr. King and his legacy will go through several additional metamorphoses as time goes along. But whether one agrees or disagrees, whether one has any clear picture of him, know this: that it took tremendous courage to do what he did hour-in and hour- out.

KING: Anyone who would deny that would be not living in the real world. The guy was tremendously courageous.

Dan, I thank you sir.

RATHER: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it. KING: Dan Rather, the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." The outgoing anchor of "48 Hours."

By the way, we have a couple quick seconds. When is your last "48 Hours"?

RATHER: You know, I don't know; sometime in early September.

KING: And of course he will continue as a correspondent for "60 Minutes II."

I'll come back and tell you about tomorrow night right after these words.


KING: Tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE, Andy Rooney will join us. He is never dull. We're going to have a lot of fun, and always interesting. Andy Rooney tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's always a great pleasure to come to the place of my birth, New York, take the kids back to where I grew up, as I did today, go out to Coney Island, spend some time on the boardwalk, even on little rides, watching them go around. It was a great kick.

And another great kick is to be in the presence of Aaron Brown, one of my favorite folk. And he's here with NEWSNIGHT.




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