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Interview With Charles Gibson

Aired July 2, 2003 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Charlie Gibson of ABC's "Good Morning America." He rarely gives interviews, but he's here for an in-depth and revealing one-on-one, a special hour with one of my favorite people, Charlie Gibson, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Charlie Gibson is going to be the anchor of a special "Primetime" special edition this Monday night, July 7, called "Columbia: Final Mission." It airs at 10:00 o'clock Eastern. He's, of course, the co- anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America," co-anchor of "Primetime Thursday," and like yours truly, an Oriole fan.

We're the two left, I think.


CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": We stink, but we're loyal!

KING: We stink, but we're loyal. That's the test of time. By the way, I mentioned that you don't give a lot of interviews. Why not?

GIBSON: Oh, because I'm not very interesting. I'm...

KING: Oh, come on!

GIBSON: ... one of those people whose closest friends have been friends for 30 and 40 years. And Saturday night for me is a movie and pizza and early to bed, and I even bore myself.


KING: OK, let's begin first with "Columbia: Final Mission." What latched you on to do this?

GIBSON: Well, this is a very important watershed moment, I think, for the American space program. And Larry, you and I are two of the only people probably around who still remember the early days, when the pictures of the original seven astronauts were in "Life" magazine. And I've been fascinated with it ever since.

And this is a watershed moment because this accident investigation board that has looked at that is going to call into question the very essence now of the space program, which has relied on the shuttle for so long. So we've been investigating what happened with Columbia while this accident investigation board has been working for months and months and months. And we're going to go to air shortly before the accident investigation board files its report. And that accident investigation board report is going to be very, very tough on NASA, and well they should be.

KING: Your report, then, is a prelude to their report?


KING: You're going to tell us a lot of what they're going to say?

GIBSON: Exactly.

KING: How did you find that out?

GIBSON: Much of which is known, some of which is not. But the interesting thing is I think we live in an age where people want to assess blame. They want to say, You did this, or You did that, You ought to be fired, You're responsible. And this is really not a situation where there are individuals who are culpable. There's an entire system at NASA that missed this tragedy about to happen.

They were up there for 16 days, and the craft was essentially doomed from 81.7 seconds after liftoff. And they just missed it. The whole culture of NASA missed it. They didn't have pictures that were sharp enough to make you go, Oh, my goodness, when you see this. When you look at the enhanced video, which we will have, of that foam hit that came just after liftoff, during ascent, you say, Oh, my God. Astronauts look at it and say, Oh, it hurts. Simply enhanced pictures. NASA didn't enhance them enough after the launch. And then they came to the conclusion that that foam hit didn't present a safety-of-flight issue to the shuttle. And they didn't look closely enough at it. They didn't realize the potential for danger.

You know, there is a cardinal rule at NASA that nothing shall hit the orbiter when it's on its way into space. But they were having foam hits, foam coming off the main fuel tank, foam coming off and hitting the orbiter on every single flight. And because those flights were coming back with relatively minor damage -- but damage nonetheless -- they became very complaisant about taking these foam hits. But they've never had a foam hit of the magnitude that hit Columbia. And they knew it was a big foam hit, but they didn't analyze it closely enough.

KING: Did anyone -- anyone -- after 81 seconds say, This flight's in trouble?

GIBSON: Yes. Yes. There are a number of engineers who looked at this and said, The potential here is for trouble. And they wrote e-mails. The problem is that the system, the vaunted NASA safety system, broke down. And those e-mails essentially stayed at their level. They didn't funnel up all the way to the top of NASA, to the top administrators. And they didn't go down the chain, if you will, to the astronauts themselves. Indeed, the astronauts didn't realize just how much trouble they were in. So that system didn't work. It broke down. And they were essentially writing e-mails to one another. But there's a critical point here, as well. They thought there was a potential for real damage and they were worried, and they were begging for more evidence. We need pictures, they said. They wanted space satellites or powerful ground telescopes taking pictures of the shuttle. We now know that those pictures probably wouldn't have shown the breach in the left wing of the shuttle, but they were begging, literally -- and the word "beg" was used in one of these e-mails from an engineer named Rodney Rocha (ph), who we talked to for the first time. He said, I'm begging for more information. Those requests for pictures never got passed on to the agency that would have taken the pictures -- again, the system breaking down.

KING: Did everyone who you wanted to talk to talk to you?


KING: Nobody turned you down?

GIBSON: No. Well, that's not true. That's not true. That's not true. Some people did. But the engineers who were writing those memos, the top administrators of NASA, the mission director, Leroy Kane (ph), who we all saw agonizing at Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in the final moments of flight, members of the families of the astronauts. I mean, we talked to a broad breadth of people. There are a couple of people at NASA who said no.

KING: What were the emotions like when they knew there was trouble, when they knew they weren't going to come back?

GIBSON: Well, if you remember back to that morning -- and I think we were all so gripped, watching those pictures -- the astronauts and the people in Mission Control were essentially the last to know. There was a system -- a situation where giant pieces -- not giant, but pieces -- visible from earth were falling off the shuttle, and there were amateur astronomers in California, Nevada, a bunch of them who were seeing all this. And yet, at that point, no sensors were showing up as failing at Mission Control.

Indeed, there's a critical moment when a man who is at the "MMACS desk," they call it -- MMACS -- turns to Leroy Kane, the mission director, and says, I've lost four temperature sensors. And Kane says, Any commonality? Which means, is there a common thread to those four? And the fellow, named Jeff Kling (ph), says no. At that point, there were already five people on the ground who had seen things falling off the shuttle and had been taking pictures of them.

And then at the point, at 8:59 AM, when Rick Husband, the commander on board Columbia, that famous piece of audio that we've all heard, where he says, "Roger, uh, buh" -- and then the communications are cut -- at that point, there were 16 to 20 people who had seen things falling off the shuttle from the ground. And then at that point, from the point they lost communications, NASA still didn't know anything was wrong, and yet within 40 seconds, the shuttle was breaking up and disintegrating in those pictures that we've all seen.

KING: This is extraordinary. This airs Sunday night, "Primetime" special edition...

GIBSON: Monday night.

KING: Monday night. I'm sorry.

GIBSON: Monday night.

KING: A "Primetime" special edition called "Columbia: Final Mission," Monday night, July 7, at 10:00 o'clock Eastern.

As we go to break, here's a scene from that special.


GIBSON (voice-over): All eyes follow the shuttle as it streaks towards the heavens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, you're go at throttle-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We copy. Go at throttle-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything looking good on board Columbia.

GIBSON: It seems like the perfect liftoff. No one realizes that Columbia and its crew may have just suffered a fatal blow. As the shuttle glides into its orbit, the crew has no way of knowing that 16 days from now, there will be no way home.




GIBSON: On day seven, Rocha sends another e-mail. He says, Without better images, all analysis is guesswork. Minutes later, Rocha gets an e-mail saying the managers have no intention of taking photos of Columbia in orbit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was flabbergasted. I was stunned. What could this mean? Why? It doesn't say why. It seems to imply, We already have it figured out, we already know what we're going to do or not going to do. You're just kind of a sideline show.


KING: We're back with Charlie Gibson again. This special airs Monday night at 10:00 Eastern. It's called "Columbia: Final Mission." We'll talk more about that and more about it later. We'll cover some other bases, as well, of course, with Charlie Gibson while we have him here, on those rare occasions when we can have him here.

Do we -- is this now preventable?

GIBSON: Well, first of all, the accident investigation board, when they issue this report, will have a series of recommendations. And they will tell NASA a number of things. And one of them is that there needs to be a repair kit on board. You know, everybody worries about those tiles on the underside of the wing. They now worry about the leading edge of the wing because that's what was injured by this foam hit -- injured, breached by the foam hit. And now they're going to say one of their recommendation, you have to have a repair kit on board. That's actually a very, very tough recommendation for NASA to meet. But presumably, if there were a repair kit on board, perhaps -- and it's perhaps -- this could have been prevented.

KING: Did anyone think of a possible -- sending up another crew and another plane to rescue them?

GIBSON: Well, there's two possible scenarios that have been discussed. One is repair, that you just mentioned, and the other is rescue. Now, for a rescue to have worked -- and the accident investigation board has raised this possibility, and I think a lot of people have it in their mind, Oh, these astronauts could have been saved.

The astronaut community, when you talk to them, says essentially, Look, nothing could have been done. But if -- if -- and these are giant ifs, put them in italics because it's great uncertainty. If you had known from the get-go -- I mean, from day one -- that this shuttle was seriously wounded, then, as I say, even if you'd had space satellite pictures or telescope pictures of the wing, it's very doubtful you could have seen the hole in the wing because it was so small.

I mean, they'll never know the exact shape of the hole in the front edge of the wing. But the testing they're doing now indicates it might have been just a slit about a quarter of an inch wide. One of the T-seals between the panels on the front edge of the wing could have been moved out of the way by that foam hit. So you can't see something a quarter of an inch wide with a space -- the only way you would have been able to see it is if you'd taken a space walk.

All the astronauts say if you'd sent an astronaut out there -- and there are astronauts on every shuttle mission that are trained in spacewalks -- and Story Musgrave, who's an astronaut that we talked to who is the king of the spacewalk, said, I could have designed this one easy. I could have put an astronaut out there. He could have put his eyes right on the hole in the front edge of the wing -- if you'd known where to look.

But if you'd been able to find that, I mean on day one -- and nobody at NASA suspected it -- then you could have powered down. The critical thing is the scrubbers that they have on board that clean the air and get the CO2, the carbon dioxide, out of the air. You might have been able to have the astronauts up there for 30 days, maybe. But that's if you knew right from the beginning that this space shuttle was mortally wounded.

Then you could have taken Atlantis out to the pad -- that's one of the other shuttles -- if you had waived every safety rule, essentially, that they have, you might have been able to get it up there. And once you get it up there, you could fly it in tandem with Columbia and an astronaut with extra spacesuits on a long tether might have been able to bring the astronauts from Columbia up to Atlantis. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But again, that's all sorts of ifs that no astronaut really seriously considers were possible.

KING: This is a show no one should miss. We're going to be continuing to show clips throughout this hour as we get to other areas and then get back to Columbia later. By the way, when is the report due, the actual report?

GIBSON: Well, they may come -- they're talking about July 23 as the date that it'll be filed, but it's slippery. You know Washington, Larry. Reports may come out or not. Interesting thing is Sean O'Keefe, who is the chief administrator of NASA, has already gone down to Houston and has said to the Houston personnel at the Johnson Space Center, This report is going to be very tough on us, very tough.

KING: Oh. Let's cover some other areas. Again, this special airs Monday night, 10:00 Eastern on ABC.

How well did you know David Brinkley?

GIBSON: Oh, boy. Not -- David was a hard man to know because, like many people in this business -- you asked earlier, you know, Why don't you do interviews? There's a lot of people in this business who are essentially shy, and David was one of them. But my mother, I think, thought that I had made it in the business of television when she found out that David Brinkley knew my name.


GIBSON: And I think I thought that I had made it in television when I realized David Brinkley knew my name. Now, occasionally, David would walk by and he'd sort of look down -- he really was quite shy. Frank Reynolds was a very shy man. There are many people in this business who are essentially shy. I have a theory about why that's true. But David was, and David sometimes would sort of look at you and -- but mostly, he'd say, Hi, Charlie. And that was -- that thrilled me. But...

KING: What's the theory?

GIBSON: About why people are shy?

KING: Yes.

GIBSON: Because what we do -- people always want to talk to us about what we do. And it's not so hard to approach other people. People come to us and talk about -- because they're fascinated with what we do. And therefore, we don't ever have to make overtures to other people.


KING: He was a one-of-a-kind why, delivery?

GIBSON: I -- well, yes, but he and Chet Huntley really, I think, in many respects, developed the medium and developed the evening news shows. And I used to -- my dad was a news junkie, and we used to sit and watch every night when we got a television set. We didn't have a television until I was 14, but once we got one, we would sit, and every night together we would watch "Huntley-Brinkley." And it was a requirement in my family that you know what was on the front page of "The Washington Post" -- we lived in Washington -- or earlier than that, "The Chicago Tribune." And that was the discussion at the dining room table. And then we would watch the news together.

And look, we're all about the business of trying to prove to our mothers and fathers that we're worth a damn. And I think that's why I went into news because I knew my dad was fascinated by it and so was my mom. And Brinkley was -- he really was an extraordinary person who -- you just knew that there was integrity written in this guy from top to bottom, and you just felt it. And it was a wonderful model to have at ABC. I was so excited when he came to work for ABC, that he would want to work for the organization that I loved.

KING: Charlie, how big a story -- we're both sports fans, so we may give extra emphasis to it -- is the missing Patrick Dennehy, the basketball player from Baylor?

GIBSON: Well, I don't think it's so much a sports story. It's a very personal story of a -- that's very sad, I think.

KING: But it's made bigger by the fact that he's a seven-foot...

GIBSON: Sure. Sure. We're all attracted to it. But how many people even knew that Baylor had a basketball team? I mean, they're not very successful. Although Robin Roberts's nephew actually plays for -- our news anchor's nephew plays for Baylor. He's actually rather successful on the team. But sure, it's made more prominent by that.

But this is so sad, a family that doesn't know what's happened to this young man, a young man who may have been scared about what we know not what. And then there's this mysterious element of his friend, who is also a basketball player, who may have been named in an affidavit as somebody who could have been responsible for this young man's injuries or maybe even death. I mean, it's just all one of these unexplained stories, and I think people are fascinated by that.

KING: Charlie Gibson of ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Primetime Thursday" will host a special "Primetime" this Monday night at 10:00, "Columbia: Final Mission." It's at 10:00 Eastern. We'll be right back with more of Charlie Gibson. And again, you'll be seeing clips from the special throughout. Don't go away.


GIBSON (voice-over): Israel's first astronaut, Elan Ramon, made a wish for peace as the shuttle passed over his troubled part of the world.

ELAN RAMON: I wish we will have a peaceful land to live in very soon. GIBSON: Payload specialist Mike Andersen (ph) said he hopes their experiments will make a difference.

MIKE ANDERSEN: The science has been spectacular, and we just can't wait to bring it all home so the scientists can really take a close look at what we've done.

GIBSON: And in her second and final family teleconference, Laurel Clark (ph) promised her son she'd be home soon.

LAUREL CLARK: I love you both. Give each other a hug so I can see both your faces.

GIBSON: It was the last time Ian (ph) would ever see his mother alive.



KING: We're back with Charlie Gibson. The special airs Monday night "Columbia: Final Mission," and it comes out in advance of the final report, which we hear, as Charlie tells us, is going to be pretty rough on NASA.

It's on the front cover of "Vanity Fair." It's been on all the cable channels. What do you make of why the Laci Peterson case is so big?

GIBSON: Well, again, a fascination, I guess, with a young woman who was in the prime of life and pregnant and excited about delivering her first child, and a husband who was a cad, whether he was a murderer or not, is something that I think has got people very interested.

I'm not sure, Larry, that the country is as fascinated with it as the news media may believe. I've heard a lot of discussion with it, but I think people have made up their minds, to some extent, about guilt or innocence on this guy's part. But not to pick on CNN or anybody else, the cable channels seem to find there's an endless fascination with this and keep doing it and doing it and doing it. And I must say, I'm somebody who turns over to the cable channels a lot during the day, just to see what they're following and what they're interested in. And as soon as I hear they're back on the Peterson case, I tune away, and I think a lot of other people do, too.

KING: As an overview from that case, what are your thoughts on the fair trial and the media, the gag orders, cameras in the court, that general area? Is there a balance of the two? Can you get a fair trial and have open media?

GIBSON: Well, it's a delicate balance, and it's a balance which the courts are having to deal with all the time. I must say that I speak probably somewhat with a countervailing voice to the interests of my business, but I'm rather sympathetic to judges who impose gag orders, given the fact that so many lawyers are so anxious to go on television now and talk about the cases in which they're involved. I have a great deal of admiration for attorneys who essentially say, Look, I'm going to try this in court, and I'm not going to try this in your medium. But judges, in order to get to that point and not influence juries, are having to impose gag orders. And as I say, it's not probably in the interests of my business to say so, but I'm somewhat sympathetic to the judges who do so.

GIBSON: Last year, Charlie, was the first July 4 after 9/$11 million, 2001. There was talk about terror and worry and protection at major events, et cetera. We seem be a little numb this year, and you don't hear much about it. Are you concerned about July 4 and terror?



GIBSON: I -- I -- you know, there are people who are -- police departments who are expending a lot of money these days to be extra vigilant. And I don't know if we're in yellow or orange right now -- well, I do know where we are, but I mean, I don't think people are keeping track of that minute by minute. I think people are extraordinarily vigilant.

I think the important thing here is, Larry, that -- what 9/11 changed. Dick Cheney, the vice president, said something which I thought was very moving right after 9/11. He said, You know, this is the first war that we've ever been involved in where there will be more casualties on domestic soil than on foreign. And I thought, You know, that's really profound because we've always felt so safe in this country.

But what that really means is that every time you put a kid on a school bus or every time you go through a tunnel or go across the Golden Gate Bridge or get on an airplane or really do anything, it's a little act of courage. And it's just an adjustment that we have to make. You have to say to yourself, OK, the landscape of personal safety is altered now. And so you go on, and you live your life. And you look around, and if you see some guy taking pictures of the struts of the Brooklyn Bridge, I guess you tell a policeman about it.

But essentially, you cannot be preoccupied with it. And when people say to me, Well, I'm not traveling now, or I don't want to go very far away from home, you know, my answer to that is, Why not? You have to. You have to take those little acts of courage and do them.

KING: By the way, are we in a yellow or an orange?

GIBSON: We're in a yellow, yes.

KING: Speaking of have to, do we have to? Do we, the Americans, have to find bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Is that a must?

GIBSON: Well, I sure wish we could. And I think I'm puzzled, along with everybody else, about why we can't. But you know, I remember when we went into Panama and we were after Noriega. It took us two weeks to find him, and we owned that country.


GIBSON: So I think it's very frustrating for people, and I get somewhat frustrated that we talk about how much we want to get bin Laden, then all of a sudden, when we don't, it's not all that important. It is important. I think, symbolically, it has a huge measure of importance for the American public.

KING: And how about finding WMD, as it's now called, because they initial everything in Washington, weapons of mass destruction? Must that be found, facing the credibility of the administration?

GIBSON: Boy, that's -- that's -- yes, I think so.

KING: Simple, yes, they got to find something?

GIBSON: I -- I...

KING: And if they don't, do they pay a price.

GIBSON: They predicated the war on that. They hung so much on that. Now, we've learned a lot about just how much repression and personal terror there was in Iraq. And was deposing Saddam Hussein worth it? I think so. And I think, generally, the long term -- and we got to get through the short term. I think the long-term effect on the Middle East and, indeed, on the whole geopolitical situation in the world is going to be positive.

But I think the public would have been sympathetic to the argument if we said, Look, this guy is horrible and we have to depose him. But we hung this on weapons of mass destruction. And I -- to what extent that was the true -- the true raison d'etre on the part of the administration, I don't know. But they hung it on that, and therefore, I think they look bad when they don't find it.

KING: We're going to go to break. Again, reminding you, Sunday night this will -- we'll talk more about it in a little while -- "Columbia: Final Mission" airs Monday, July 7 at 10:00 o'clock Eastern. We're talking now about Iraq and WMD and Charlie, as we go to break. Here's a scene of Charlie with troops, and we're going to talk to him when we come back about covering war. We'll be right back.


GIBSON: Everybody worries about their own grocery bill. What's yours?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the April requirement, 5 percent of the groceries that's brought into the theater is about $5 million.

GIBSON: So you buy 5 percent of the groceries...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

GIBSON: ... for this place, and it was $5 million.


GIBSON: So that's about $100 million grocery bill for one month.


GIBSON: Now, that's to feed these guys and all the people that are forward deployed, as well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. And the A-rations.




GIBSON: Everybody worries about their own grocery bill. What's yours?

SERGEANT RAY CHASE: For the April requirement, 5 percent of the groceries that's brought into the theater, about $5 million.

GIBSON: So you buy 5 percent of the groceries for this place....

CHASE: That's correct.

GIBSON: And it was $5 million?

CHASE: Yes, sir.

GIBSON: So that's about a $100 million grocery bill for one month?

CHASE: Yes, sir.

GIBSON: Now that's to feed these guys and all the people that are forward deployed as well?

CHASE: That's correct, and the A-rations.




GIBSON: Those are our folks joining us downstairs and we appreciate their being here. I'm Charles Gibson. July 2, 2003, the date. And ahead in this half hour, you're going to meet two sisters. They are two sisters who survived barely a terrible automobile accident. And they tell the lessons they learned about drunk driving. And it is particularly timely, this time of year, because more drunk driving, I'm told, around the Fourth of July weekend than any other time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Charlie Gibson. Again, the "Primetime" special is Monday night. It's called "Columbia: Final Mission."

Do you -- for want of a better word, do you like covering war? Some people like it.


You know, I remember I had -- of course, I grew up in the Vietnam Era, which is probably one of the signal events of my life and I think affected everybody of my generation. And we used to have a little framed sign hanging in our bedroom, my wife and I, "that said war is not good for children and other living things."

KING: I remember that.

GIBSON: And I believe that. So no, I don't like covering war and I hate to see them occur.

And I remember you showed that little clip a moment ago of being over in the Gulf region just before the war began. I went over to talk to the commanders because I must say, my experience with the military -- I was in the reserves for six months, then on inactive duty for five-and-a-half years. But I'm always humbled really by military commanders who are -- who are charged with the responsibility of committing young men and women to battle.

I can't think of anything that would be harder in the world to do than to send young kids out to fight and perhaps to get killed. And the commanders when I went over to the Gulf region said, Well, look, essentially it's the decision of the president. And then I thought, Yes, it really is. And what a god awful awesome responsibility that is to send kids into battle. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it.

KING: What do you thing of being -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.

GIBSON: Just while we're on the subject -- I've never been part of a presidential debate. But I've always wanted in one of those debates to ask what is the most elemental question, which is that you have a guy -- it's not as critical now as it was when I was growing up in the Cold War. But you have a guy, if you're president of the United States, walking around behind you with a little briefcase that has the codes in it. And I've always wanted to say, "Could you say, yes, fire, go and commit nuclear weapons to killing literally millions of people? Could you do that?" I couldn't. You know? I just couldn't do it. And I don't know what it is in somebody that would be strong enough, I guess, if that's the word, to be able to do something like that.

But anyway, that's a digression. I'm sorry. I've interrupted you.

KING: No problem. It was an excellent digression.

What do you make of embedded troops, embedded reporters with the troops?

GIBSON: Well, I thought it was a very interesting system, and I applaud the Pentagon for doing it. I was -- I thought it worked better to get into this business of networks and cable channels, fulltime news operations. I thought it worked better for you than it did for us. Because what you saw -- I kept using the forest and the trees analogy. I thought what we were seeing were a large number of individual trees. What we didn't see and couldn't see were the embedded system enough was the forest.

KING: And does that, therefore, make it smart on the Pentagon's -- in other words, did the Pentagon not want to you see the forest?

GIBSON: Well, I think they could 00 I don't think we saw as much of the forest this time, perhaps, as we did in the previous Gulf War. And I think that they were perfectly comfortable with us seeing the trees. So I thing probably it worked rather well from the Pentagon's standpoint.

KING: How do you rate this administration vis-a-vis the media?

GIBSON: Well, are you asking me to be political, Larry?

KING: Generally, compare relationships of how open is this administration compared to Clinton and Reagan, Bush?

GIBSON: I'm not really the person to ask that. You know, I used to cover Washington in the Carter administration and on through Reagan and Daddy Bush, Bush 41. But I really don't have a good enough sense of that down in Washington.

In the sort of rarefied air in which I now live, you know, we put in requests to the White House to talk to so and so or so and so and so and so. This White House is as responsive as past White Houses have been.

But that's really not the crux of your question, which is, you know how do they feel in terms of controlling the media, et cetera. And I'm just not day-to-day a part of that anymore.

KING: How do you like the idea of the battle in the morning shows for the get? The CBS letter to Private Jessica Lynch. I'm sure ABC's after that. Everyone's after her. Is that -- what do you make of that?

GIBSON: Is there competition between the morning shows? Is there?

KING: What did you make of that whole CBS, "We're going to give you a movie of the week?"

GIBSON: It is a -- well, first of all, that letter came out over the signature of Betsy West, who used to work for ABC, who I know very well and who is a person, I think, of the highest integrity. I don't think it was her finest moment, and I'm actually rather glad that "The New York Times," which I guess somebody at CBS leaked it to them -- I am rather glad that "The New York Times" put it on the front page because it was a letter to Jessica Lynch in which they wanted to portray her story and indicated it might be a movie of the week or they might be able to help with a book deal, whatever, if people aren't familiar with it.

And it -- it -- really, it's a very dangerous line. And I know we have talked about this a lot at ABC. This is -- you know, we're Disney and that we have a book division and all that. And we've been very careful to say that you cannot lump those things together because that could make it seem as if you were buying an interview.

But there are very tricky situations that come up. I remember being down in Texas when those POWs were coming home. And one of the family members had some video. And I called him up and said, Would you come on the -- you know, would you come on and talk to us in the morning. And he said, I'd love to. But you're going to buy my video aren't your? Well, I mean, there we are at a gray line. I mean, you're not buying his interview, you're buying the video. But is there a quid pro quo here? And we had to say to him, Look, no, sorry, thank you, we don't want your video. And if you need to talk to somebody else, go talk to somebody else.

There's very difficult lines and it is a very competitive time. But I'm glad "The New York Times" put it on the front page because it will cause us, I think, to pull back and not let these excesses creep into the system or be more vigilant about their creeping into the system.

KING: Charlie mentions "The New York Times." I'm going to ask about them right after this.


GIBSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I like this one. Sugar free bite sized brownies. And you've got some -- what do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have rice tortilla chips.

GIBSON: And they all come in easy can't get open bags.



KING: We're back with Charlie Gibson. He's going to host a "Primetime" special edition this coming Monday night at 10:00 Eastern on ABC, "Columbia, Final Mission." And you've seen clips of it throughout this show tonight. We're going to ask him more about it in the next segment. What about "The New York Times," do you read it now differently?

GIBSON: No. No. I think it is a great institution, and they made a terrible mistake with this young man. I think maybe in some cases out of the best of intentions, they gave him more latitude than they should. And they overlooked -- we were talking about NASA earlier overlooking the signals that perhaps they should have seen. And I think that happened with "The New York Times" as well.

But "The New York Times" is, I think, the greatest reporting institution that we have. And I know a lot of the people who work there, as do you, and I think they are of the highest integrity. It hurts me as somebody who works for a different news gathering organization when you see the "Times" wounded, because it is such a great institution.

And we don't have anything more to sell in our business than trust. We're asking people to believe us. And when something has the potential of undercutting credibility, I think it hurts the entire medium.

There have been some news organs that I thought were a little bit gleeful in talking about what happened to the "Times" and this young man, Jayson Blair. There's nothing to be gleeful about, I don't think. It was a sad moment in the "Times'" history, but it's a great paper. It will rebound. There are great people who work there. And as I say, what you sell in the world is trust. And when that gets undermined in any way, it hurts all of us, I think.

KING: Another book about John Kennedy is a major best seller. A new book out about the Kennedys dealing with John Jr. is going to climb the best seller list. Why this fascination remaining with someone gone 40 years?

GIBSON: Oh, I think, well, he was the most charismatic figure politically that I've ever seen. He was fascinating. He was a man of so many facets. I think he was truly extraordinary the way he inspired and yet the humanity that was behind all that.

I'm saddened, though, to see this new book about John F. Kennedy Jr. I went into Diane's dressing room yesterday, as a matter of fact, when this -- I didn't know the details of all of this that was coming out about this book about JFK Jr. and his wife. And I went in and I said, I just feel so badly this morning. And she said, why? And I said, well, you know, is nothing what it really seems to be, you know? I mean, is nothing what it seems? That was a wonderful -- seemingly wonderful relationship. I guess I'd rather have it in my mind as a wonderful relationship.

KING: Can't we ask, since they're both gone tragically.


KING: Why on Earth is that news?

GIBSON: Well, I think it's -- I don't know to what extent it is. We did something with it yesterday morning on "Good Morning America" because I think everybody was going to be talking about it. But I sort of hope that it's something that passes. And I don't wish this author ill, I'm sure he's done a lot of good work on this book, but I didn't really want to know it. And thank you very much, I'll file it away and maybe forget about it.

KING: What do you make of your former co-host, Joan Lunden, who came on this show to break the story that she is going to be a surrogate -- that she had a surrogate mom, and now is a mother again.

GIBSON: She called me, Larry, before you were going to be on the show -- before she was going to be on your show, and told me what she was going to say, and I was thunderstruck, but so pleased for her. As a matter of fact, Barbara Walters has done an interview with her that will be on "20/20" with pictures of the babies in the delivery room. And I was down in the edit room yesterday watching all the pictures and watching Max and Kate be born, and seeing Joan and Jeff in the delivery room. And I'm so pleased for them.

Joan and Jeff talked a lot before they got married. And Joan shared a lot of those conversations with me about Jeff's desire to have more children, and, therefore, her desire to do that with him and for him. And it really was a very important part of the discussions before they got married. And this was the way they could do it, and they look like two beautiful kids. And when you see the smiles on mom and dad's face, well, you can't just help think this is really cool. And I wish them the best.

KING: As we go to break and come back for our final segment, I'm going to ask Charlie Gibson's thoughts on the future of manned spacecraft. Don't go away.


GIBSON: Sometimes, you know, you're in an unlikely place and you're not ready for things and you just drop a cup of coffee or a cup of soft drink in your lap.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so cold. You know, this is so not been my week. I didn't even tell you this. But in addition to my little toothache, which I had to get taken care of.

GIBSON: Root canal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know that a bird relieved itself on me twice this past week? I'm not kidding. What am I doing wrong? If you have any advice out there, I've got to change my karma immediately. I just dropped this thing here.

GIBSON: There's a little target right on the top of your head. I can see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't believe it.

GIBSON: Anyway, while we're just after we go to local news, I hear this clump, and I turn around and Diane has dropped an entire cup of soft drink in her lap. You wear it well.




GIBSON: At mission control, Phil Engelhoff (ph), a missions operations official gets a call from a colleague who had just seen the shuttle breaking up over Texas. Engelhoff (ph) shares the news with Kane (ph).



KING: Back with our remaining moments with Charlie Gibson of ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Primetime Thursday." Again, he anchors a "Primetime" special edition Monday night at 10:00 Eastern, "Columbia: Final Mission."

There is continuing debate over the cost, benefits of manned risk -- the risk of manned spacecraft. What do you think?

GIBSON: I hope we don't give it up. As I said earlier, I've been fascinated with it ever since the original Mercury seven.

You know, I was talking earlier in the program about how tough this report is going to be on NASA, and it will be. But what everybody has to keep in mind, I think, is this is really a group of dedicated people. They have a mission. You don't normally think of agencies of the United States government as having a mission, but they really do. What concerns me is that the shuttle program, perhaps, has taken the wow out of the mission. It's become a little bit common place. There's been 113 flights of the shuttle. Two have failed. As they point out, that's a 98 percent success rate. But you can't tolerate just a 2 percent failure rate. Somebody said if you had a 2 percent failure rate in commercial aviation, you'd have 640 crashes every day.

So they obviously have to make it safer. They can't make it failsafe, but they've got to keep trying. And I think they need to develop a new generation of spacecraft and new missions and going into exploration with a colony at the space station. Or maybe -- I don't know where they go, but I think they want to put a wow into this again to get people excited. Because it really is exciting, space exploration.

And so I hope that this disaster and this report, which will ask some very elemental questions about where do we go next, I hope it will put spaceflight back on the national agenda in the public consciousness. There will be more support for manned exploration rather than less. And that we'll get the wow back.

Because these are good people at NASA. When you see Leroy Kane on Monday night, the guy who was the mission director, and how he agonized that he couldn't help those astronauts, you'll realize that these are very good people working at that agency.

KING: What surprised you the most in doing this show?

GIBSON: Surprised me the most. I think it was this, Larry, I grew up thinking that when you were in NASA, you had to prove that something was safe before you would do it. And now when you listen to these engineers who were concerned about what had happened to Columbia, they keep saying, to stop something, we now had to prove it was unsafe. And we didn't really have the evidence because we couldn't take the pictures or we couldn't get the kind of video we needed or there wasn't a spacewalk to go out and look at the shuttle itself. And so I think that perhaps the thing that surprised me most is a sort of erosion in the overall safety program at NASA. But I think they'll get it back.

KING: A couple of other things. How much longer are you going to keep getting up early in the morning?

GIBSON: Didn't you ask me the that the last time?

KING: Yes, because it was supposed to be for a short while right? Ho long was it supposed to be, when they got you back?

GIBSON: Well they said we were going to fill in for a while. I think I quoted you a friend of mine -- I think I did quote it to you a friend of mine who says that the show ought to have a little announcement at the end that says "Good Morning America", now in its fifth year of having Diane and Charlie fill in for a couple of months.

KING: It was supposed to be a couple months, right?

GIBSON: Yes, it was supposed to be a few months. But I must say I thought it would be longer than that. And when I saw how readily Diane adapted back to doing a morning show, because she had done it once at CBS, but how much of a kick she was getting out of it. And how much of a kick I was getting working with her, I began to realize this would go longer.

And, I don't know, we both say to each other, we'll know. And we don't know yet. But we'll know when the time is up.

KING: And it will be a we, if you leave she'll leave, if she'll leave, you'll leave.

GIBSON: I don't want to stay around unless she's there. I love working with her. And so, yes, it's generally thought, I think, among television executives that it's not good to replace both hosts at the same time, but if Diane said, I'm going to leave next month, then I'd say take me with you.

KING: Charlie, whatever you do, you keep hanging in. You're one of the best. Thank you so much for spending this hour with us.

GIBSON: You're kind, Larry. It's been good to talk to you. And I appreciate -- because I feel this -- this is really important this Columbia thing. I'm glad I had a chance to talk about it.

KING: Me, too. We'll all be watching.

Charlie Gibson, again, Monday night 10:00 Eastern on ABC, it's Columbia: Final Mission.

And I'll come back and tell you about tomorrow night after this.


KING: Hey, sports fans, it is Wednesday. Don't forget to read my column, "Sports a la King" posted every week on CNN Sports Illustrated on the Web. The address to get right to it is And "Sports a la King" is interactive. Give it a read. Send me your e-mail and we'll write you back in the weekly mailbag. Once again the address, Log on tonight. And let's talk sports.

We hope have you a great and safe Fourth by the way. We thank Charlie Gibson for being with us.

Tomorrow night we've got a great July 4th guest for you. Dolly Parton will be with us. The fourth is coming up Friday. She's going to be entertaining in the big show at the Washington Memorial. Dolly Parton tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

And Friday night on July 4th night, a tribute to the late George Burns.

Speaking of tributes, we turn it over to my man. A tribute to a great man, the host of "NEWSNIGHT" Aaron Brown.


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