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Interview With Dan Rather

Aired February 27, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight Dan Rather of CBS News, straight from his exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein. He'll take you inside that one-on-one and he'll take your calls.
Dan Rather, the man of the hour is here for the hour to tell us all about meeting Saddam face-to-face in Baghdad and a lot more. It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

He's been a frequent guest on this program. It's always a great pleasure to welcome him. Dan Rather, back in the confines of the New York bureau after an interview with Saddam Hussein.

All right. How did you get the get?

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Well, first of all, Larry, it's always good to be with you.

I'm a reporter who got lucky. That's basically the story.

We started out a year and a half ago, a small team us at CBS News, saying the next time Saddam Hussein does an interview, we'd like to be the people who do it. We got in contact with our various sources, both inside and outside of the United States. Anybody and everybody we thought might see Saddam Hussein or might put in a good word for us.

And in the end we made several trips to Iraq, basically drove to the heart of the story, put ourselves in a position to talk to the right people and got lucky.

KING: Was Ramsey Clark a big help, as has been reported?

RATHER: Among other people, he was a big help. When I say we contacted a lot of people, Ramsey Clark was one of them. He was in Baghdad, knew he was going there, knew that he might see some people of influence and asked him that if he felt good about it to speak up for our reputation as an independent news organization. We would pull no punches, but that would handle the interview with integrity.

But certainly there were a lot of people, as I say, both inside and outside the country who helped us.

KING: Where were you taken and where it was done?

RATHER: It was done in what the Iraqis call the old Baghdad palace, Larry. This was the palace that was built by the British after World War I when the Turks went out and the British came in.

It's right by the Tigris River, it's one of, if not the favorite of Saddam Hussein. As you can see by this photograph, it has very high ceilings, very long halls. It's a sprawling place.

When I interviewed Saddam Hussein in 1990 in August just after he invaded Kuwait, it was done in this same palace, but not in the same room where we did this interview.

KING: Was...

RATHER: And by the way, I think the interview in 1990 that I did in August just after he interviewed -- just after he'd invaded Kuwait might have been a factor in our getting the interview, that at that time we had a hard time getting it, but they remembered that.

KING: Was there a lot of security surrounding it? Was it very -- was it done in massive secrecy? Were you hidden and brought into a place and, you know, masked or something?

RATHER: Well...

KING: A lot of intrigue.

RATHER: There was some intrigue about it, Larry, that they, of course, have their security problems, to say the least, as every leader has, but now with war looming, was there a lot of security.

We were suddenly told at the hotel -- we had no idea this was coming. We had our hopes, but we had no idea, really, that it was coming.

We'd been told by Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, with whom I spoke on a Sunday night. He listened. He said, well, you know, the president will make the final decision and, in effect, we'll let you know something.

But we had a long nice of waiting and a long day of waiting and there was a telephone call, said there'd be a car downstairs. I didn't know whether we were going back to see Tariq Aziz or what.

We got in the car and they drove the car around for about 45 minutes. Then we drove to a guest house, what you might want to call a safe house. We were kept there for awhile, put in a second car and then got out in a car, got in a third car, drove around again.

And then, when we began driving up the palace gates, I recognized the palace gates. Almost anyone would, they're very ornate. And at that point I said, you know, it could be we're going to see the man.

KING: How many CBS people with you?

RATHER: One, Jim Murphy, who's the executive producer of the CBS Evening News, was with me.

KING: So -- so it was their equipment? Their microphones... RATHER: That's right.

KING: ... their cameras, their ball game?

RATHER: Not their ball game. We had a clear understanding -- and I made this clear all of the way through -- that the questions, there would be no preconditions on questions and there were none. That Saddam Hussein would not be allowed to speak freely on, at length, on questions of his choosing. It wasn't going to be that.

But anybody who interviews Saddam Hussein, and this has been the case for I know at least 20 years, it's done with his cameras, with the clear understanding no preconditions on the questions and that we would get the full videotape after it was over.

And they made good on both of those things, but it was done with their cameras.

KING: Everybody in interviewing knows that translated interviews are the hardest. Was it a concurrent translation, or did you have to wait for your question to be repeated and then his answer to be interpreted to you?

RATHER: Well, a great interviewer such as you, Larry, you know the difficulty of trying to build some rapport, particularly with a national leader. And this was difficult. I'm not complaining about anything.

But there were two translators. There was there one translator on my left who translates, basically, my English into Arabic for Saddam Hussein. And there was an interviewer on his right who translated his Arabic into my English.

And so that slows the interview and it breaks the rhythm of the interview. For about the first 10 or 11 minutes I said to myself, you know, this isn't going all that well because you just couldn't build, seemingly, a rapport.

I also think that Saddam Hussein was sort of, you know, sizing me up. Although I'd interviewed him before, he hadn't seen me in a long time. So he sat back and he had his hands up in sort of a steeple like this and was really drilling me in the eyes.

But I didn't think the interview was going all that well, but about the 11 minute mark or so, he seemed to get engaged and get into it. And from that time on, he, I thought, rather measuredly, as I'm writing for an op-ed piece that will be in the "Wall Street Journal" tomorrow with some detail about this, he was sort of measuredly -- sometimes he'd lean back in the chair, always looking hard in the eyes and sometimes he'd lean forward when he wanted to make a point.

He took a finger, not his first, his finger and would sort of pound the little desk in front of him. An example of that would be the time he was trying to make a point of history, as he reads it, saying that big powers, empires, as he called them, that come to Iraq have had a long history of even when they succeed in the beginning, eventually they all go away in defeat.

So in trying to make that point, he put his finger on the table for emphasis and for the rest of the way in the interview I thought he was engaged. There was a point when he -- he looked at his watch and looked at it twice, and I said to myself, you know, I think he's probably going to be out of here shortly.

But what he said was, one of his translators said, you know, the president needs to go to pray. And so he got up and I thought to myself, well, this may be all of it, and the translator said, but he'll be back in a few minutes. And he came back in about seven minutes and we talked for another, probably 45 or 50 minutes after that.

KING: Let's show a clip of Dan Rather and Saddam Hussein as it aired last night on CBS News "60 Minutes II." Watch.


RATHER: Mr. President, do you expect to be attacked by an American-led invasion?

SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): We hope that the attack will not take place, but we are bracing ourselves to have such an attack, to face it.


KING: Did you feel that you covered every base?


KING: I know you. You're very self-analytical.

RATHER: Well, sure. Self-analytical and you play it over in your own mind.

No, I didn't cover every base that I wanted to cover and I certainly didn't do the interview perfectly. And I can pick places where I wish I'd done this or that. I had a list of 32 questions going in. I got to most of them, but I didn't follow up sometimes the way I wanted to.

I'm a perfectionist, Larry, like you are. I always wanting to do the best interview I've ever done. I could only say under the conditions at hand I did the best I could and the public will judge for themselves.

KING: As we go to break, here is Saddam Hussein responding to Dan Rather's question about exile. We'll be right back.


HUSSEIN (through translator): We will die here in Iraq. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor. The honor that is required of our people. I believe that whoever offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact, a person without morals, because he will be directing an insult to the Iraqi people.




HUSSEIN (through translator): I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that's been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.


KING: How do you deal, Dan Rather, with the issue of those who say you are giving a despot a forum?

RATHER: They're entitled to say that, they're entitled to think that. I don't believe that's true.

I think that the American people understand very well how journalism in ours, a free country, works. That in every situation that you go into as a journalist, what the journalist is hoping to do in an interview situation, whether it's some Hollywood movie actor or the local mayor or county judge or a Saddam Hussein or President Bush, the journalist goes into the interview to find news and to ask questions he or she thinks that need to be asked and people want to know about.

The interviewee, of course, his or her purpose is to get across their side of the story, whatever that may be. This is standard for every interview, but, frankly, anybody who wants to criticize, have at it.

You know, I'm a straight up reporter. I've been doing this for a lifetime. I think anyone who knows me knows that that's what my professional life is about.

KING: Sure.

RATHER: I do believe in driving and driving hard to the heart of a story, getting as close as possible to a newsmaker and putting the information out there.

You know, in this case, Larry, particularly in this case, we are right on the brink of sending our national treasure, our young men and women, and then behind that the literal treasure of our money and our whole national being into a war against this man and against Iraq.

And I think most Americans want to know, well, exactly who is this guy, and take their own measure of him. And that was the spirit of my going there to do the interview and the spirit in which the interview was done.

Now, as applied to Saddam Hussein specifically, that I knew that there were risks having to do this interview. And I'm not talking about physical risks, I'm talking about the risks of, you know, people saying all kinds of things about why you did it and what the motivation was and how you might have been suckered and all of that. But I've been foolish not to recognize that.

But in this case he was not given a forum just to talk on freely about topics of his choosing. This was an interview and that while they insisted on having the cameras and microphones, we insisted on the integrity of the interview.

That is, in no preconditions on the interview and I mean absolutely none, and that we were to get the videotapes and that the integrity of the interview would be preserved. And I made it very clear, if they didn't want to agree to those things we weren't going to do it.

KING: Somebody said today would Edward Murrow have interviewed Hitler in '39 or '40.

RATHER: Absolutely.

KING: And any journalist would have answered absolutely to that.

RATHER: Well -- absolutely. And the other thing is, Larry, that I don't know of any journalist worthy of the name who wouldn't have wanted to walk into Baghdad palace at this particular nexus of history and interview Saddam Hussein, you know, in an honest, straightforward interview and try to ask some tough questions, at least try to ask questions you thought the American people wanted to know so they could make up their own minds about him.

KING: Well...

RATHER: ... and to follow up sometimes.

KING: There is jealousy.

RATHER: Now, that I don't agree with, Larry. There's never any jealousy.

KING: Oh, really?

RATHER: But Larry, it's important to me to understand, you know, that I can't do these things perfectly. Nobody can. I didn't do this perfectly and I understand people who, coming from their own viewpoint will say, well, I would have done it differently or Rather blew it, you know, maybe he did.

I understand all that, but I've been around this a long time. And one of the things that I know, you can't be a good reporter and even hope, much less expect to have everybody like everything that you do.

KING: Why? Why?

RATHER: It just doesn't go with the territory.

KING: Why did you not give the White House a chance as they requested, I understand, to respond?

RATHER: Well, first of all, it wasn't my decision. Andrew Hayward is the president of CBS News and Jeff Fager, who is the executive producer of "60 Minutes II"...

KING: Do you concur with the decision?

RATHER: Absolutely. I concur with the decision. And quite honestly, I have great respect for President Bush and for the Bush Administration, particularly the White House press office under Ari Fleischer.

I think they do a good job for the country, not just for the Bush Administration, but in this instance, you know, I think the public understands.

They were doing what politicians and politicians' helpers generally do. They were bumping for advantage. They were trying to, you know, get all of the advantage they possibly could.

Now what they came forward with, you know, they said, well, we should put up either Ari Fleischer or another young man who works in the office, who is a good young man, whose service to his country I appreciate.

But the whole idea of the White House coming in and telling a news organization, you know, we think for your interview that we should, on every bumper, have our press spokesman follow on, frankly, and I'll say it directly, I don't think that this was their best moment to make this request.

Now, we carry presidential speeches all the time. We carry the presidents on newscasts. Frankly, I think the public sees through all this. The public's pretty smart. They're sophisticated and they understand that -- why we said no to that request and I think they would agree with it in most cases.

KING: Did you regard the debate challenge as serious?

RATHER: Well, not in the beginning. Frankly, I didn't -- he's brought this up as a possibility and I asked him, I said, you know, are you joking about this? And he said, no, this is war and we don't joke about war.

So I became convinced that he, at the very least, wanted people to believe that he's serious about it. I think he was serious about it.

You put it into context, he's got his back to the wall and he's looking for something, almost anything, that can change the dynamic. Because he knows currently that the dynamic is that big, big trouble is coming for him, and this idea of an international debate.

And, Larry, you may have noticed in the interview I declined his offer, Hussein, well, you know, we'd like to have you, Mr. Rather, moderate it. And I said to him Mr. President, you know, I have enough trouble already, but I'd be glad to suggest you for that role if it is actually going to happen.

KING: I think it would be viewed.

We'll take a break and we're going to go to calls for Dan Rather in a couple of minutes. By the way, Dan's op-ed piece is in tomorrow's "Wall Street Journal," and he'll also guest tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING" with Paula Zahn.

We'll be right back. Don't go away.


HUSSEIN (through translator): If the American people would like to know the facts as they are through a direct dialogue, then I am ready to conduct a debate with the president of the United States, President Bush, on television.

I will say whatever I have to say about American policy. He will have the opportunity to say whatever he has to say about the policy of Iraq.




HUSSEIN (through translator): We have never had any relationship with Mr. Osama bin Laden and Iraq has never had any relationship with al Qaeda. And I think that Mr. Bin Laden himself has recently, in one of his speeches, given such an answer that we have no relation with him.


KING: Our guest is Dan Rather, who got the exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein.

Today, two days before the U.N. deadline, Iraq agreed in principle to destroy its Al-Samoud II missiles, asked for help from the inspectors in destroying them. And in the Security Council there's upheaval and disagreement.

Is the -- Is the mood in Iraq definitely that they're going to be attacked?

RATHER: Yes, and that includes Saddam Hussein. They're hoping they won't be. And Saddam Hussein's strategy is very clearly, he's trying to isolate the United States from other members of the United Nations and by isolating the United States, hoping to at the very least, delay the attack and possible to prevent it.

And in that failing, I think it's pretty clear that his strategy is that he hopes to inflict enough casualties on the attacking American force to get the U.S. to abandon its invasion.

Now someone might want to say, well, gee, that's not much of a plan, but I think it's politically his plan.

But he believes that the attack is imminent and I didn't meet anyone in Iraq who doesn't believe that it's coming and probably coming pretty soon.

KING: Have you noticed any change in the close to 13 years since you saw him then and now?

RATHER: Well, some, Larry. That he's 68 years old now, as his official stated age. Some people say he's running it back two or three years, I don't know about that.

He's about 6'2". He's a tall man.

I noticed one thing. He seemed to be walking a little bit stiffly. I might not have even noticed that if someone hadn't told me that they thought he had back trouble recently. He didn't limp anything. I thought he was moving stiffer than, more stiffly than he did in August of 1990.

He's lost some weight. I would say in 1990 that, you know, he was probably 20 pounds heavier than he is now. You know, those were little things.

If anything, he's also more calculated, more thinking about what he's going to answer before he answers it now than he was then.

He also has, and it's pretty clear, and this might be the most important thing, Larry. When I talked to him in 1990 I got the impression that he really didn't understand what he would be facing if the American forces attacked. Now he found out big time in early 1991.

And now he knows -- he may not know full well how much our forces have improved, particularly with the weaponry, but he knows the early rounds of any attack will be very punishing.

As he outlined in the interview, knowing that, his plan is very clear. You know, he's the ultimate survivor. He will absorb those early punches, absorb those early punches. And then in the medium and long run, he thinks the will of the United States will wane, that we don't have the staying power, that we won't be able to take the casualties.

And make no mistake, he believes that he can and will survive even this when -- if and when the big attack comes that somehow he'll find a way.

KING: So your read on his resolve is unflinching? RATHER: Unflinching, but that doesn't mean that he's going to stay in the palace and, you know, hunker down in a bombing. You know, I would not be surprised that at some point if he decided to fade into the population, much as Osama bin Laden appears to have done. It still wouldn't stun me for him to leave the country at some point, either known or unknown.

Now he said in the interview that he would not consider exile at any time, in any way, but there's still a long way to go with this.

And you know, I think, Larry, in the piece that you just ran, the little piece of the interview before this that this is about flatly denying any connection to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. This is in direct variance with what U.S. intelligence claims they know and I think one value of the interview is...

KING: Oh, we seem to have -- we have lost the satellite. We'll get that corrected. We'll take a break and come right back with Dan Rather and we'll be including your phone calls.

Don't go away.


RATHER (voice-over): A short al artillery probe, marines are helping to help lead an opening attack, designed to overwhelm the Iraqis with shock and awe. Speed and firepower are the keys.

STAFF SGT. GEOFFREY PARK, U.S. MARINE CORPS: If and when this thing kicks off, we're going to hit them hard and fast and they won't have a chance. They won't have a chance.

RATHER: The marines' battle cry, their creed, is be quick and be deadly and that is why the corps is expected to be among the first to sweep deep into Iraq.



KING: We've got a ton of calls. We're going to ask the callers to be direct and right to the point and have Mr. Rather answer as -- in a brisk a manner as possible.

One quick question, first. In this war when it comes, journalists will have assigned slots with U.S. combat and support troops. Would you like one of those slots?

RATHER: I'd love one, Larry. It's not going to be my role, I think, to have one, but you bet I'd love to do it.

KING: Now let's go to calls. Nagadoches, Louisiana, for Dan Rather, anchor, managing editor, "CBS Evening News." Hello.

CALLER: Mr. Rather, it's a pleasure to talk to you, sir. You are, in my opinion, one of the most respected journalists in American today, so I'll highly value your answer to my question.

I'm a 31-year-old father of two and of course, I'm concerned about this situation. Now that you've met Mr. Hussein face-to-face, I guess now for the second time -- when we get on the news we hear our president constantly say that he's a liar and cannot be trusted and a deviant, so on and so forth.

Is that your opinion, sir? Do you feel war is the only answer or should we continue to trust this man with inspections?

RATHER: Well, I trust my president and when the president of the United States says things, I listen very carefully. That's my opinion as a citizen. That's my position as a citizen.

As a journalist, my job is to get at all sides of the story, if I can, particularly to the decision makers on the opposite side of whatever side our government takes, to allow you and other citizens to make up your own mind about whom to believe.

I used the example a few minutes, Saddam Hussein says fatly that neither he nor his government has any connection with al Qaeda and with Osama bin Laden. You know, it's not my opinion that matters. It's your opinion that matters, as to whether he's telling the truth or not.

KING: Charleston, South Carolina, for Dan Rather, hello.


Mr. Rather, first of all, I think you did an incredible job and you made us proud as an American and a journalist and the man from Louisiana, you've almost answered my question already. My question was do you think that his purpose in asking for a debate for President Bush was serious? And you said you do think that. And if you think was -- do you think it was a mistake for President Bush to decline and why?

RATHER: Well, first of all, I appreciate your kind words, as I did with the gentleman from Louisiana before -- that I think he was serious about the proposition of the debate. There's no doubt in my mind that he at the very least wanted it to be taken seriously, wanted to be seen that it was something serious from him.

You know, President Bush makes his own judgments about what's, first of all, good for the country, and secondly, you know, what's good for him in the situation. I have no argument with the White House decision on debates. It was their decision to make. My role was only to be there and ask the questions of Saddam Hussein. That's something that he wanted to put out on the table and he put it out and the White House responded. Beyond that, there's not much to say.

KING: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, hello.

CALLER: Mr. Rather, did you ever feel your personal safety was at risk during your stay? RATHER: Well, yes. The honest answer is you can't go into Baghdad these days and we drove in and drove out from Amman, Jordan -- and not have at least a we small part of yourself say, you know, this is reasonably risky business.

But one shouldn't overdramatize that or overstate it. It wasn't much on my mind, to tell you the truth. You know, I'm a straight-up reporter. I think people who know me and I've been in this business for well over half a century now, that's 50 years, and we have been -- when you've dedicated your life to journalism, if that doesn't sound too overstated to folks, I don't feel it, when you dedicate your life to journalism the story is what counts. It's what happens to you. You don't find yourself thinking about the risk very much.

And I've said to you, yes, at some points in some way, you know, I've had my mind with this risky business here. But mostly what I was thinking about was let's drive to the heart of the story, let's get as close as we can to the major decision maker here and see if we can't get a little bit lucky and have God smile and get the interview.

KING: Hesperia, California, hello?.

CALLER: Hi, Mr. Rather.

I heard you say earlier that you fully trusted in our president, as I do, but I just, -- at such a critical time do you really feel that it was in America's best interest to interview a man who's continually lied to the world? I'm not sure why anyone would think that he would start being truthful all of a sudden now with a CBS interview. I'm just concerned that he was using our media to spread propaganda. I'm curious how you felt about that.

RATHER: Well, that's a good point.

Here's how I feel about it. It's the very essence of our free democracy that individual citizens make up their own mind and I have such confidence in you, in the audience, you can sort out the propaganda. You can decide if someone is lying or not.

I've said it before and I'll say it now for emphasis. My hope for an interview such as this story, such as this, is to put the man in front of you so you can see, hear him, look in at his body language and make your own assessment of what it is we're up against in Iraq.

Sure, he'll try to spread propaganda. He's trying to spread propaganda any way, and you've got a chance in this interview to hear the kind of thing that most of the Arab people are hearing and that Muslims all over the world are hearing and let me say to you, that there's some concern in my mind that we're already in a war. We need to realize that.

There's some concern in my mind on the information part of the war, we may be losing and we may be losing big. Because with Arabs in particular and Muslims in general, they're hearing what you heard in this interview on a constant basis and I may be wrong, but I don't think so. I think Americans, you and every other American, needs to hear it for yourself and see it for yourself and understand what it is that's being poured into every Arab radio and television set and Most Muslim ones all over the world and give you an indication of what we're up against.

KING: Toronto, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Rather?

RATHER: Yes, sir.

CALLER: Your fellow Americans were absolutely right. You did a fabulous job and I'd just like to ask you one quick question.

Did you find that Saddam's demeanor was as sincere as it seems to come across on the television?

RATHER: Well, first of all, again, I thank you for the kind words.

Again, this is something each person needs to judge for themselves. But when you're in the room with him, I believe that any trying to be objective person would come away with the impression, one, this is not a dumb person. You always hope that evil will be dumb. This is not a dumb person. He's also a very calculating person.

The key to his understanding this man is survival. That's what his whole life has been about. That's what it's about now. And in terms of sincerity, each person has to make their own judgment about that.

Now let me say that when you're in the room, there is a certain -- and I think this comes from the screen -- a certain charisma about him. At least if you put yourself in the shoes of Arabs and Muslims around the world, you can see how even if he is lying, even if he tells one lie after another, that you can see how he will be effective in getting that across and through, and I come back to the point, I think it is really important that we understand that.

KING: Tampa, Florida, for Dan Rather, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry.

My question for Dan Rather is, How do you feel about the United States plan for reconstruction and installation of a U.S.-led government in Iraq if and when Saddam Hussein is removed. And do you feel, sir, that in rebuilding countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan we really need to concentrate on our own foundation back here at home.

RATHER: Well, as to the first, the government, the U.S. government does have a plan and we need to understand it for occupying Iraq. Our military leaders as well as our political leaders have made it clear that it will require a couple of hundred thousand people on the ground, at least in the initial stages, to put in place what we're hoping to put in place in Iraq.

And we need to understand that very clearly, and it's part of the war itself. I worry a little bit and I fault myself as well as others for this -- that sort of an impression has been created that this could be over quickly, it could be four days, a week or two weeks and that our military force will be so strong to thump in there with destruction and awe and it will all be over.

Well, it's important to understand that even if that turns out to be the case, we are then committing ourselves right behind that, we are committing ourselves to a very long period of trying to help build a free and open society that will serve as a model to the rest of the Arab world and for that matter, to Muslim people all around the world. That's a big undertaking and it may be worth doing, but we need to understand that that's what we're committing ourselves to. Whether it's a good idea or not, that's your judgment and every other citizen's judgment to make.

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


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bringing stability and unity to a free Iraq will not be easy. Yet, that is no excuse to leave the Iraqi regime's torture chambers and poison labs in operation. Any future the Iraqi people choose for themselves will be better than the nightmare world that Saddam Hussein has chosen for them.



KING: By the way, Dan, do you know if your interview was made available to or shown on Iraqi TV?

RATHER: Yes. I'm told by Mark Phillips who's covering for us there that it was shown on all four Iraqi channels. Must be nice to be able to have what you want on all four channels, but it was shown there.

KING: Chester, New York. Hello?

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.


CALLER: Mr. Rather, during your interview Mr. Hussein said he was reelected as president of Iraq by 100 percent of the Iraqi people. My question is why didn't you follow up with the statement that Mr. Hussein was the only candidate on the ballot?

RATHER: Well it might have been a good idea. But about that one I think most person Americans when they hear someone such as Saddam Hussein say that he got 100 percent of the vote that they know what that entails. I trust the public to understand that. That's one that with all respect I don't think needed a follow to up.

KING: Phoenix, Arizona, hello?

CALLER: Good evening, Mr. Rather. During your interview with Saddam Hussein, when you said he was a peaceful person and Iraq is a peaceful nation, why didn't you ask him why he invaded Kuwait?

RATHER: Again, everybody has their choice of questions and I don't have any argument with your saying well you wished I had asked him that or you believe I should have asked him that. We're a long way from that. Nearly every American I know understands that and knows all about the invasion of Kuwait. So I was trying to keep things more current.

KING: Yes.

RATHER: There had been a threat to the questions, Larry, about why didn't you ask him this and why didn't you ask him that. And a lot of this is well founded. When you're there you want to do as good a job as you can. You want to stay on the news. And I do think most people know about the invasion of Kuwait, know about that he gassed his own people, but I could be wrong.

KING: Santa Fe, New Mexico, hello.

CALLER: Yes. Good evening, gentlemen. Mr. Rather, I have to say I really enjoyed your program last night, especially the part where we went East, West, North, South and then we ended up at the presidential palace. My question is if the American people are so smart and know the stuff how come "Joe Millionaire" got twice as many viewers as you?

KING: But it was the highest-rated CBS "60 Minutes II" ever. What does it is a about the society, I guess?

RATHER: I don't think a lot. We're a big, diverse country and I appreciate the spirit of the question and thank you very much for that.

People like to be entertained on television, but I'm a believer that good journalism lasts. The ratings don't. I was -- and I'd be less than honest to say that I was relieved to find that for a prime time news program, "60 Minutes II" last night did very well indeed and I was relieved by that, but it's not the reason we did this program.

Larry, I hope you'll forgive me saying it, I can't say enough about Les Mudez (ph) have and Andrew Hayward (ph), the people who have to commit an hour of prime time television for this kind of serious program against the likes of the best of the entertainment programs.

Good journalism starts with publishers and executives with guts and I'm proud to say I work at an outfit where the people I work for have that.

KING: Fairfield, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Hi, there. You guys would make a good show together.

KING: That's what we're doing.

CALLER: My question, Dan, for you. Was this the interview of your career? If not, who's left? And secondly, who could possibly take your place? Any ideas? Be real forward about that.

RATHER: Well, first of all, I don't know whether this was the interview of a career. I like to think my best work is still ahead of me.

And actually I keep a list in my mind of stories that I say to myself, boy, that's one I'd like to think about some time. I don't know how long the list is, but however long it is, this interview is on it, no question about that.

I'd like to interview tomorrow the leader of North Korea. I think the chances of doing that are maybe as slim as seeing a giraffe lope through this studio right now, but I'm trying and I'd love to do that.

I don't know who will come behind me as anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." Whoever it is will probably do a better job than I'm doing.

KING: There's no heir apparent?

RATHER: Not that I know of. We have at least six or seven people that could step in there tomorrow if necessary and do a first- rate job. Andrew Hayward, the president of CBS News has said that that decision will get made when it has to get made. We're not making it now and that's the end of that story.

KING: Are you going to be home for a while?

RATHER: I don't know, Larry. If the leader of North Korea says yes to an interview I'll be gone tonight as soon as he says so.

But the war -- what I would call the most active combat phase of the war, if it's going to happen, it's obviously getting very, very close. And to tell you the truth I'm reluctant to leave the studio even to get coffee for fear that that gong will sound and I won't be here.

KING: Dan, as always, thank you so much for sharing this hour with us.

RATHER: Thank you, Larry. Always a pleasure.

KING: Dan Rather.

Before we go, a fond farewell to the one and only Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers passed away this morning at age 74. He spent some 50 years in television, 34 of them on PBS helping millions of people with the hardest and most important job in the world, raising children to be responsible adults. He was a pioneer, a giant in this industry, a genuine American icon and most important a kind and gentle friend to generations of young people. He was a friend of this program, too, joined us here several times and he was that same lovely guy you saw on his show.

In a world that seems to get harsher all of the time where kids seem to grow up too fast, Fred Rogers is really going to be missed and the neighborhood ain't going to be the same.

I'll be right back.


KING: Tomorrow night John Edward returns. He's with us about every five months or so to talk to those who were once here and now gone an you know. John Edward tomorrow night.


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