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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Peter Jennings

Aired September 8, 2003 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Peter Jennings. Now in his 20th year anchoring ABC's "World News Tonight." He's here for the hour. We'll take your phone calls.
He's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's always a great pleasure to come to New York and always a great pleasure to welcome to these microphones and cameras Peter Jennings, the anchor and senior editor of ABC News "World Tonight" (sic), marking his 20th anniversary as the sole anchor of that program. They had a big party honoring him the other night.

What does it -- 20 -- what does it feel like?

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: Seems like yesterday 0-- it seems like forever all at the same time.

I was trying -- because people ask that question how does it feel? And I -- it's sort of, how do you measure it? Do you measure the fact that I'm 20 years older? No. I think I measure it by the events. You know ,I came just as the Cold War was coming to an end. So I've been here -- you know, and I had a fabulous 10 years before that, as you know, watching...

KING: As a co-anchor.

JENNINGS: Yes, but more than that. I was just on the road all the time, which was absolutely fabulous. And so I wasn't all thrilled about coming back to New York.

And then when you think about the events that we've been through from the fall of the Berlin Wall to, I guess you'd say 9/11, being the culmination at the end of that -- of that scope, what extraordinary changes there have been in the year. And any times those of us who are anchors and editors and get to play on -- in all of those events, in some way, shape or form, I think that's how I look at it. Do I feel older? No, I don't.

KING: Is the longest individual job you've ever had?

JENNINGS: I was a foreign correspondent for almost 20 years. This is the longest -- and I do ask myself some -- that on occasion. I didn't think I would do it for very long.

KING: That's what I mean. JENNINGS: I didn't plan to do it very long. And it just happens. It goes on and on and on. And one days of these days either they or I will say, Thank you very much. We'll do something differently.

But I've never -- you know -- and I -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when I came to the states in the mid 1960s -- 1964, 1964 -- I didn't think I'd be here maybe a couple years, going to have a great experience in the United States and then go back to Canada. Well, here we are 40 years later

KING: What do you like best about anchoring? Because I know inertly you're a reporter. You like the scene.

JENNINGS: Well, I think all of us in this racket like the scene, as you put it, and like reporting. But it's impossible to be an anchor person and do a whole lot of reporting. We're editors. And I love the editing process. The editing process in a newspaper, a magazine or on television all has something of the same components to it. You're shaping something which is larger than an individual piece that you worked on as a reporter. Where does it go? How does it context? Where does it belong in terms of lot of the other things?

But I have to say, in people at CNN like Paula and Anderson starting these programs tonight have to appreciate more than anybody -- the greatest thing for a broadcast anchor person is going live at a moment of crisis or jubilation or something, whatever it is. On 9/11, those of us who do the jobs that I do, flew without a net for hour and hour and hour after end. And then you hope and pray that you've had the experience to be up to it. Because then you're editor, analyst, reporter, correspondent, ringmaster, the whole thing.

KING: But you're unhappy at the same time you're high, right, in a sense?

JENNINGS: I -- I don't -- I'm not very -- I don't very often get unhappy. What I do, I get frustrated.

KING: But you're unhappy about the event.

JENNINGS: Oh, I see what you mean. Oh, I'm sorry.

KING: When you're dealing with this dichotomy where the focus is on you, the event is terrible, but you're the anchor.

JENNINGS: Well, the truth of the matter is -- and I'm always a bit reluctant to say this because people think you're a bit unfeeling. The truth of this, on 9/11, people who -- myself and others -- were so unbelievably focused on what was happening that we were, for many, many hours, I think, spared the agony of loss. Because we were going here, there, there, there, trying to pull the world together and make some sense of it for people. And being carried along by our reporters in the field and the events in the field.

I think probably the strongest elements of 9/11 at ABC News was our investigative team. John Miller, who's now gone on to work at the Los Angeles Police Department, sat beside me. And I -- you know, I was conscious all the time of him working the police and fire department all the time. I was so focused on all of that, that it took me many hours, until my kids called, ironically. My kids both called and just left a little message that they were OK. And I turned around and went, Oh, man that really hit me like a ton of bricks. But most of the time we were spared that agony for the time being.

KING: We'll go back to that later.

Let's go to some things current. What's your overview of this whole Iraq thing?

JENNINGS: Well, it's hard. I never thought it was going to be anything but hard. I lived in the Middle East, as you know, a long time. It's a great American adventure in the Middle East, however well you prepare for it. And it's clear, I think, and almost everybody now acknowledges that we didn't prepare well enough for the post-immediate war environment. It's a big adventure in a part of the world which has bedeviled foreign powers since the very least the end of World War I when the British went to Iraq.

Listening to the president last night I think was to be reminded that he and all of us in the country now feel the challenge of it in ways that we didn't feel when the army and the Marines were rushing across great empty expanses and desert and doing fabulously well.

KING: Did they read it wrong?

JENNINGS: Oh, that's hard.

KING: Should they have been surprised?

JENNINGS: It's -- it's -- probably we should not have been as surprised, but I think the confusion of the immediate -- let's call up to the -- up to the end of -- up to the period -- up to that moment when the president said major combat is over. It looked easy. And if it looked easy, I think a lot of people, including a lot of very good military analysts, yours and ours included, wondered, out loud in many instances, what's going on here? You know, where are the revolutionary guard? Where are the Fedayeen? Why are they falling back all the time?

You know, what -- the -- the technological superiority of American weapons and the organization of moving this huge force at such speed, I think, held us all enthralled for awhile. I kept reminding myself, and I have been reminded by some of my colleague who know the area even better, don't forget the British advance on Iraq, you know, at the early part of the century .

And so you always -- as long as you keep reminding yourself of history, I think you're little -- on little safer ground.

KING: You know the region as well as anyone.

JENNINGS: No, not as well as anyone but I've spent...

KING: Certainly as any American journalist you know it as well.

JENNINGS: I think even that's a stretch.

KING: OK. At the end of World War II, Germans didn't kill American soldiers. Japanese didn't kill American soldiers. Why are they killing American soldiers?

JENNINGS: Oh, because I think, in some respects, a lot of people think the war is not over. And I have this little thing in my mind and I have heard other people talk about it much more learned than I, that Saddam Hussein may have planned for this particularly eventuality, an absolutely hugely dynamic America onslaught, which neither he nor the Iraqi army nor the revolutionary guard or anybody could contend with effectively, and so they would fight in another way. I don't know that to be the case.

In fact, one of the things I know distresses people in the administration and out, is how -- whether our intelligence is good, bad or indifferent in Iraq at the moment. Are we dealing with remnants of the Fedayeen? Are we dealing with remnants of the Ba'ath Party? Are we dealing with thugs? Are we dealing with a sudden intrusion of terrorists from other parts of the neighborhood? I don't think we really know.

KING: Why aren't they happy he's gone?

JENNINGS: Well, I think some people are happy he's gone. And some people could hardly wait for him to go. And some people prayed that he would go.

KING: That would be the majority, wouldn't it?

JENNINGS: Yes, I think it would be the majority. But -- but what we see in the wake of the war, or in this continuation of the war is a measure of chaos and insecurity and inadequacy in people's lives, from electricity -- some things, by the way, are working quite well in some parts of the country. If you look at the statistics, you're doing well -- universities are back, schools are back, hospitals appear to be working again. So it's not all bleak as I think some people make it.

But one of the things that the Ba'ath regime had -- this is something -- this is true for the middle class in Iraq to some extent -- was the measure of stability -- not order. I don't want to use the word order. Stability is the best word. I can't think of the other one.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) worked.

JENNINGS: You knew where things were and you knew what you could do and you knew what you had to watch out in the society, and it was a deeply, deeply unpredictable environment in which people lived.

But I think what people miss at the moment is, you know, can I get power? Can I take care of my -- can I take care of my kid? Can I travel places? And so I -- you know, I -- we all have to live through this. And you have to hope and pray for everybody's sake that what the president said last night is that it would be better now that he's asked for this huge new infusion of money.

KING: Peter Jennings our special guest, the anchor of "ABC News World Tonight" (sic) 20 years and still going strong.

We'll be back in a little while. We'll take your phone calls. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Proud of being George Bush's son. My throwaway line has got a lot of wisdom in it. I inherited half his friend and half his enemies.

JENNINGS: But it's been hard, sir, to figure out the political relationship between you and your father. Your staff is sometimes hostile to reporters who want to know about it.

BUSH: About my political relationship? Because there is no political relationship. I mean, this is a guy who is my dad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: The march began in Memphis, Tennessee, three weeks ago and it ended here on the back lawn of the state capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi. It started with a single man and ended with a crowd of more 14,000.

Example of the way people in the country try to convince those of us who spend most of our time in the United States just what kind of war this is. This was my first story outside Saigon and I found out in a hurry. This is Peter Jennings, ABC News.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Man.

KING: Handsome devil.

JENNINGS: These are -- You get to a certain age in our racket, then people get cruel.

KING: Especially since I misidentified the name of the show. His program is ABC's "World News Tonight." I was told I said something wrong but we can't remember what I said. Anyways it's ABC "World News Tonight" 20 years.

JENNINGS: I'm glad to see you're all getting older.

KING: What do you make of the situation in Israel and Palestinians? JENNINGS: This is, again, another very difficult -- a terrible cliche. It's a terribly difficult thing. Another, I think, shock certainly a setback for the bush administration, which didn't want to get involved in the Middle East at first and then decided they could get involved. Or decided they wanted to get involved and could get involved. I think somewhat more risk free than it turned out. It's a reminder, which we should never forget, that Yasser Arafat, Abu Amar as the Palestinians call him, is a man huge manipulative -- huge capacity to manipulate. And how everything plays in a triangle, Palestinians, Israelis and the Americans. So when the United States comes along and says we'll have Mahmoud Abbas as the new prime minister, immediately you feel the street who are angry at the United States and angry at Israel leaning toward, Yasser Arafat. And Yasser Arafat takes tremendous advantage of this.

I went to see him recently. I was with the president in the Middle East and on my way back I stopped in Jerusalem to see some friends in the Israeli government. And then I ran down to Ramallah to see Arafat. He was extraordinarily frail. And I made the mistake of saying to myself, I think he's out of it. Same mistake that's been made by other people of far more greater importance.

KING: Do you react with hostility when people say you're unfair in coverage of the region?

JENNINGS: No, not at all. No, I mean, I think no matter what we cover, people tend to see what we cover through their own particular political or personal prisms. I always ask people to be specific what they're talking about. You can't cover the Middle East. You can't cover American politics. You can't cover America these days without finding people in one place or another taking exception to what we do. I think it goes with the territory. Keeps me, at least I hope, mindful, always that there's at least one other opinion and sometimes a dozen other opinions. And they all bear accounting for. But not everybody is right you know because somebody says, well you did X, and you say well, maybe x is right in some cases.

KING: Is it impossible to be totally objective?

JENNINGS: I don't think it's the goal. We have this deep strain of objectivity. I just came back from Britain, as I am saying to you, and sort of objectivity of the front page of an American newspaper just doesn't exist in the British Isle. I grew up -- my dad was part of the pioneers of public broadcasting in Canada. And he always told me the most important thing you can be in your career is fair. So we all start to see a box and hope that we see the box in the same way. But you recognize in time that people see the box or they see traffic accidents in entirely different ways. So you train yourself over the years to try and give accounting to the variety of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and come to some decent place middle. But I'm not a slave to objectivity. I'm never quite sure what it means. And it means different things to different people.

KING: Total objectivity would be blah, wouldn't it?

JENNINGS: Not necessarily blah, but damn hard. KING: I mean, journalist sits on the side of the hill and watches the war and tells me what happens right.

JENNINGS: Not true any more. There's more advocacy journalism in the mainstream, it think, in the country today than there was when I was in my 20s.

KING: Do you like that?

JENNINGS: I don't dislike it. I feel sorry for the consumer, for the news consumer. Important thing we need to tell folks all the time is what they're getting -- it's hard -- I love the Internet, but I do...

KING: You do?

JENNINGS: I love it. I just love it. But sometimes I think I may be talking to a goat. You know, and that's hard. I think as long as we keep telling consumers that there are many strains of journalism in the country. On the left, on the right, on the top, on the bottom. People who don't take the -- what, where, for, why's as some of us were trained to do. That's fine, as long as people know what they getting, we're very lucky. We live in place where freedom of choice is essential to the way of life.

KING: With are you looking forward to the coming political campaign?

JENNINGS: Sure yes.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Yes, what do you make of California?

JENNINGS: If you don't like the poll, wait 15 minutes they will do another one. I think it's fascinating. My most recent -- having just come back from overseas, I bring back with me a fair amount of laughter at the way we do things in the United States. And I have spent a lot of time saying the people, you know, there's a certain robust in the democratic political process here which keeps the nation young and vibrant. Maybe not young, but certainly vibrant all the time. I think that's great. But it's a deadly serious business which is costing the state a huge amount of money. And as long as Californians think it's worth while and they have operated within a system they respect, namely within constitutional system they respect. Hey, it's...

KING: Is it only a national story because of Schwarzenegger?

JENNINGS: I think Schwarzenegger has made it more of a national story, than it would have been other wise. I think it's a huge story, the idea that people in this huge and important state which equivalent to the fifth, sixth or seven largest country in the world have decided to recall their governor rather than wait for the next election. That in itself is a huge story. But in the age we live Arnold Schwarzenegger for the moment has given it a cache which it didn't have otherwise. I'm not sure it will pay off for him or our celebration of celebrity doesn't always end up pleasing the celebrity.

KING: Is Howard Dean's rise surprising you?

JENNINGS: I watched the debate the other night. I had never seen a group of them before. And to be honest I have not spent any time with him. But I have talked with friends of mine who I really respect who have gone out and seen him on the stump. And when -- you and I both know that seeing a politician live is different than seeing him on television. And it is sad that we have to see so much of our politicians on television and not live. But I know he's very invigorating to particularly people on the left of the Democratic party. Again, whether or not it gives him staying power, I do not know. I thought he did well in that debate compared to the other guys. But everybody seemed to have a moment in the sun.

KING: We'll be right back and ask Peter about 9/11. This is the second anniversary week. And we'll be taking your phone calls. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Almost every day the violence between India and its neighbor Pakistan intensify is. In the last year, we've seen terrorism, hijackings, artillery exchanges, riots, guerrilla raids. There is always a reason for Indians and Pakistanis to hate each other. Very clear. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan is not beyond the realm of possibility. And if it happens, millions of innocent people will die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: The landscape of New York City has changed once again. And in this instance, it's not New York City, it's not New Yorkers' city, it's everybody in the country's city at this moment. Because this was an attack on the United States, no question about it. Everybody said it all day, a declaration of war, an act of war against the United States. You have any number of politicians and commentators, us included, who were reminded that the last time there was an attack like this on the United States was Pearl Harbor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you expect to see more goings-on this week on television?

JENNINGS: It's a hard question. Not really. You know, everybody I think will do -- thought hard about it. I thought the first anniversary was a vastly more moving than I thought it was going to be. You know, in our business, we often make a lot of anniversaries. But I was very touched on the first anniversary by how there was a sweetness to the celebration, as well as the sorrow.

KING: Good word.

JENNINGS: And as I traveled around the country, you know -- I think -- there's a wonderful woman who used to work for us. I don't think she'd mind me saying her name, because she's published -- Ellen Bekalian (ph), who has worked for us and lost her husband in the Trade Center. She wrote a piece for "The New York Times" the other day on how she'll never -- she just can't take off his wedding ring.

So many people -- today at the end of the news, we did a piece on the last firefighter, funeral today, with only a vial of blood, because like so -- almost half the people, their remains have never been identified.

For those people, that's one thing. For the country in large measure I think has moved on. But I think with Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that Osama bin Laden hasn't been found, there's a whole other (UNINTELLIGIBLE). For example, all across ABC News this week, we're going to try to ask, good, sensibly, responsibly, is the country safer, given the money and the new Department of Homeland Security and the commitments of politicians, and you know, what left open. So, I'm very proud of what we're doing. Everybody will do it a different way. So I'm really not surprised that the country's moved on.

KING: We understand, congratulations are in order, aside from 20 years. You are now a citizen of the United States.

JENNINGS: Yes, I have been for several months. It was -- I didn't make a big deal of it, because I wanted to save the announcement for a July 4 party with a group of my oldest friends who I just knew would be somewhat blown away.

But I think the most -- one of the most exciting days I spent, one of the most exciting occasions I have had in a lot of years, I was asked to give the toast to the country at the dedication of the new Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which is awesome. Everybody should go there.

KING: Was that on the 4th?

JENNINGS: Yes, on the 4th -- it was actually on the night of the 3rd. And it's the -- just an extraordinary place, where you can touch American history in ways that I think we never anticipated. But on the night of the 3rd, I'm sitting at a table with Justice Scalia. And he gave the toast to the founding fathers, and I gave the toast to the country. And when I finished, I sat down, and he said, he knows I've told this story, he said, "not bad for a Canadian." So I got down on my knees, and I said, "well, actually, I'm an American, but can you keep a secret?" I now realize how stupid it was to ask a Supreme Court justice if he could keep a secret.

And on the 20th anniversary of my time at "World News Tonight," the other day they had a tape thing, you know, all these people insulting the hell out of me, and there was Justice Scalia giving me an American flag. So it was -- it was a very big, very big, important moment.

KING: What's it like to become an American?

JENNINGS: Well, it was a deeply moving experience. Took me a long time to do it. People ask me if I feel any different, and the answer is no, which I think reflects on how American I felt before in so many ways. Robert McNeil (ph) or Robin McNeil (ph) of public television, who is now a full-time writer, had went through the same experience and he said something which I think is really interesting. He was asked what changes had occurred in his way of behaving and thinking. He said one thing which I hadn't thought about. He said, you know, "you absolutely stop forever thinking that you're a guest in the country."

KING: Well put. Do you have dual citizenship?

JENNINGS: Yes. Dual. Strange thing, I looked it up, 107 countries now permit dual citizenship, including some of the fastest growing immigrant migrations to the United States.

KING: And you also told me that the Church of Latter-Day Saints has checked your genealogy.

JENNINGS: They came today. It was a terrific honor.

KING: How far back did they go?

JENNINGS: They've gone back farther than I ever went. I didn't even know what my grandfather did -- was doing, this is very bad of me, didn't know what my grandfather was doing when he married my grandmother. I never knew my grandmother. She died before I was born. I thought he was in the construction trade.

KING: What was it?

JENNINGS: He was a florist. So they brought his -- his wedding (UNINTELLIGIBLE). A florist, I didn't know that.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and go to phone calls for Peter Jennings, the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight."

JENNINGS: Much better. Much, much better.

KING: Dan Rather's here tomorrow. Do you know him?

JENNINGS: Dan Rather? Great fellow.

KING: We'll be right back with your calls for Peter Jennings. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: Walk down any country road in Cuba, drive down any highway and this is what you'll see. Cuba's life blood, sugar cane. Never in the history of the revolution has sugar cane been as important as this year. The 1970 zafra (ph), or harvest, is about to begin. It's not just production that is vital. It is the honor of the revolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS (voice-over): It was about 20 to 4:00 when Dr. King got up. He was the last speaker. With his speech in his hand and people as far as his eye could see, he began.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration of freedom in the history of our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Peter Jennings recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of that "I Have a Dream" speech. That was a great show, by the way.

JENNINGS: I have tell you, I -- I was just looking at that again -- I think this is what's -- I mean, this is why you be in journalism, right? I came to the state shortly -- about -- just about 11, 12 -- almost a year after the famous speech in 1963. In 1963, President John F. -- at that speech, the March on Washington -- President Kennedy had never heard Martin Luther King speak in public.

KING: And didn't attend.

JENNINGS: And -- no, didn't attend. He watched it from the Oval Office. And he wouldn't have attended being president. But -- and in this -- we went back, wonderful young producer named Richard Robin (ph). We went back to try to parse the speech. What was the speech really like? It was 17 minutes long. We only get that little bit, you know, on the anniversary every year. And what was the context in which it was made? What was -- what was the country like in that summer of '63? And I -- you realize that in those days, we rather casually called Birmingham, Alabama, Bombingham, Alabama, because it was a very tough town.

That Bull Conner, who was the director of public safety, who set the dogs on the -- and firefighters on the kids just changed things forever. Up to that -- up to that moment in Birmingham in the spring of '63, Martin Luther King wondered if he was even relevant to the civil rights movement. And here we get a chance to dig into the files, go back and talk to the witnesses and remind one generation of where we were and how astonishingly things have changed in 40 years in many ways and tell a whole new generation of thing they don't have any idea about.

KING: Where do you rank him among public speakers?

JENNINGS: Oh, I mean, tremendously -- I watched that -- I've watched that "I Have a Dream" speech, which, by the way -- that was not the first time he had done that. That was the other interesting part to be reminded of. I have watched that speech. We've all watched it scores and scores of times for this program and any number of us who watch it for the last-- for the "I Have a Dream" portion, people get -- you just get chills up and down your spine.

KING: Let's go to calls for Peter Jennings in his 20th year as the anchor and senior editor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He first joined the when they had a triumverate, right? Of hosts.

JENNINGS: I thought you were going to say when I did it in short pants.

KING: And there were three of you, right?

JENNINGS: Yes, we were -- oh yes. Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson. Yes. They're both, sadly, gone.

KING: Both gone.

JENNINGS: Yes.

KING: Somerset, Kentucky, for Peter Jennings, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry and Peter.

KING: Hi.

JENNINGS: Hello, ma'am.

CALLER: My question, is why are we spending so much money to Iraq to rebuild it when I assume that their oil fields were supposed to pay for their rebuilding.

JENNINGS: That's a very -- that's a -- I would say that's a very good question, but it's a question I've been asked in a lot of parts in the country today.

Let me first answer you about the oil fields. The administration, sadly, has overestimated seriously what the oil fields were going produce. We were with told that the Iraqi oil industry was brought onto stream, which they anticipated doing fairly quickly, the oil -- the Iraqi oil industry would pay for a lot of the reconstruction. It has not turned out like that, and, of course, the sabotage of the oil lines in Iraq has not helped as well.

But you have asked a question that a lot of people in the country are going to ask today. I think whether or not the -- whether they support the president or not, if we can send $87 billion for this year, what might $87 billion do in this country? And I think that will now become part of the political debate about Iraq.

KING: To Baldwin City, Kansas, hello.

CALLER: Turn it off. Turn it off. Hello.

KING: Hello.

CALLER: Mr. Jennings. JENNINGS: Yes, ma'am.

CALLER: Do you agree with Helen Thomas, as I do and many of my acquaintances that this is the worst president this country has ever had?

JENNINGS: No, ma'am. And if I did, I wouldn't say so.

KING: Did Helen Thomas say that?

JENNINGS: I don't know that Helen Thomas Did that. But you are -- you are a reminder on one side of the divide, as I'm constantly reminded daily by people on the other side of the divide, that at times of great stress, this president and others are the subject of both profound and deep affection and support and, as we are seeing in the case of -- in your case and others, deep vitriol and resentment as well. That-- that's...

KING: Goes with the territory. Ocala, Florida, for Peter Jennings.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: My question for Peter is as follows: what effect do you think conservative talk radio shows like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have on politics in the news?

JENNINGS: I think they're two separate questions, if you don't mind me saying. I think they have a -- first of all, they have a great -- they have an effect. I'm not sure how great an effect it is all the time. They have an effect on the great sort of sounding blocks or sounding board which is the American political debate today. I don't think they have a huge effect on the news or on the establishment news particularly.

But we pay attention to talk radio without any question. Certainly we listen. I don't listen to Rush every day but I know if something hot is going on, if you touch into Rush Limbaugh's audience and to some extent into Hannity's now and certainly into Bill O'Reilly

KING: They hate establishment. You're the establishment.

JENNINGS: Well, I'm not sure they hate the establishment.

KING: Well, hate may be a strong...

JENNINGS: The establishment, we are sometimes -- you knows, in some cases, convenient oxes to gore. But I think there's no question they represent an important political constituency in the country.

I think sometimes in the establishment that there are a lot of people in America who resent the establishment, who resent the elite universities, who resent the large corporations and with some good reason this year -- as we discovered -- and who feel and who have felt prior to the advent of this sort of a great involvement of talk radio that they haven't had place to debate or even vent. And so, is Rush a deeply serious analyst an commentator? In some respects. Is he a showman as well? I think the answer is yes. But I'd never argue that he doesn't have place on the menu.

KING: They don't hate big corporations though.

JENNINGS: Some of them do.

KING: Yes. To Ft. Myers, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Peter.

JENNINGS: Yes, sir.

CALLER: My question for you is, from what I understand, Iraq is only the size of our state of California. Now, in the United States if we have a criminal that's bad, we track him all over the United States with our police organizations.

And by the way, you look great. I don't know what you're doing, but keep it up.

But anyway, my question is, why the state -- size of the state of California, why have we not been able to catch Saddam Hussein? and is it because maybe -- I hate to say this. Is there a reason that we don't? I think we need to catch this guy and I'd like to ask...

KING: Well, we didn't track Mr. -- we tracked Mr. Rudolph for five years.

JENNINGS: Well, it was really interesting, I was a poll -- our latest poll, which, we did over the weekend, showed, I think, that 62 percent of people think the war on terror terrorism will not be over until Osama bin Laden is caught and a lot of people think it's just as important to catch Saddam Hussein.

I think the difference between Iraq and California, sir, if I may, is if we were looking for an arch criminal in the state of California, we would have a great deal more help than we might be getting in Iraq. And remember that California has not been, if I may say, traumatized the same way Iraq has been traumatized by all those years of Saddam Hussein. And one clearly of his assets at the moment, if we concede that he's alive and the government does, is that tiny, tiny doubt in the minds of many Iraqis about whether or not he'll reappear again. And if he were to reappear again they were on the wrong side of the issue, what might be the consequences?

So I think until the United States can show some very significant victories in a variety of ways, mostly having, I think, to do with everyday life, then I think he will still have this edge and will still be more difficult for us to get cooperation.

You know, -- you talk to people in the intelligence business and they will admit quite openly that our capacity for what's called human intelligence as opposed to technological or signal intelligence in Iraq and in the Middle East is not very good. We don't have enough Arabic speakers. we don't have enough people on the ground who have stayed for a long time. We're always relying in Iraq on the case of another party. So the -- the other party has to have a vested interest in our success in order to play the game with us or perhaps we pay them.

But we -- government will tell you this time and again -- need to do vastly better with human intelligence.

KING: As we go to break -- and we'll come back with more phone calls -- Peter Jennings is celebrating his 20th anniversary as the sole anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight." He joined the program in 1978, five years prior as a...

JENNINGS: You're making it sound like my obituary. You know that.

KING: ... as a co-anchor. No, I'm setting something up, Peter. Here was his first night as one of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of anchors. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: The man you're referring to went on trial in the Soviet Union in cases almost certain to further strain Soviet-American relations. Alexander Ginzburg (ph), and Anatoliy Sharanski (ph) of the Soviet Unions most prominent dissidents. Ginzberg (ph) is called with anti-Soviet behavior. Sharanski is charged with treason. Both men pleaded innocent. The trials are perhaps the most political important one since the end of the Stalin era.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: It's difficult to explain how desperate it is for people. There's no light Sarajevo whatsoever. So, what they do is take a small bottle like this. They fill it up almost to the very top with water and then put a film of oil on the top. Then on a little piece of cork, not much bigger than your thumb nail they take a tiny piece of cloth and light it. That is the lighting in Sarajevo today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Wow.

JENNINGS: I haven't seen that in a long time.

KING: Kincardine, Ontario for Peter Jennings. Hello.

CALLER: Hi there. Peter, I'm a journalism student here in Canada. I was wondering what you think the difference is between American journalism and Canadian journalism? JENNINGS: I don't think a great deal. I was impressed the way Larry is pronouncing Kincardine. I don't think a huge amount. I don't think a huge amount. I mean, volume, for one thing. But the skills are such as they are I learned fairly early on in Canada, that my dad caught me apply down here. I don't think there are any basic differences. Lot of Canadians have come to work in American journalism. And so many over the years that I have finally figured I think we come for the larger canvas and the big adventure. And yet many of the Canadians have wanted to be foreign correspondents, deciding to go see the rest of the world on someone else's money. But in terms of the actual practicing of journalism, I don't think there's a basic difference.

KING: To Little Rock, Arkansas for Peter Jennings, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Good evening. I would like to know, Mr. Jennings, what your relationship was like with Bill Clinton when you were down here following the campaign. And wanted to congratulate you on your citizenship. And are the rumors about Sheena Easton's pursuit of you accurate as well?

Caller: Hello. Good evening. I would like to know, Mr. Jennings, what your relationship was like with Bill Clinton when you were down here following the campaign and wanted to congratulate you on your citizenship. And are the rumors about Sheena Easton's pursuit of you accurate as well?

JENNINGS: I'm not sure if I should tell this story.

KING: Go ahead.

JENNINGS: Well once upon a time Sheena Easton said on one of the late night talk shows -- I think it was David Letterman but I may be wrong, said she wanted to have a baby. I didn't see this. But she thought she would like to have it and she would like to have it with me. All I know is the next day I got a call from a couple of my bosses who said, if you're too busy -- that's what I remember. That's about as far as the rumors ever went. My wife and I went to the theater one night and Sheena Easton was in a play. We thought of going backstage and saying hello.

We decided not to. My relationship with Bill Clinton is like my relationship with any politician, my relationship with any president. I have to say I did a couple children's programs with Bill Clinton answering children's questions which I have done a number of times, and I love doing. I did a couple from the White House. And he was extraordinarily engaging with the kids. Very wonderful with the children. So he was -- he was a pretty easy guy to be around. Everyone knows he's an astonishing campaigner. So is George Bush. He is an easy person to be with. He engages in an easy manner.

KING: Too early to assess the Clinton presidency?

JENNINGS: No. People continue to miss him in some way and continue to revile him in other ways. I heard him speak after 9/11. I heard him speak after 9/11. Total extemporaneous way about the situation in the world. I was reminded, as I think other people, are of the certain sense of tragedy about his presidency because god the man was smart.

KING: Ocilla, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Good evening, gentlemen.

Could you tell me what you think Wesley Clark's chances will be if he decides to enter the presidential race.

JENNINGS: That's a good question. I must say we were talking a lot about this today. I was at a -- heard him give a talk the other day and asked him the question about whether or not he was going to get into the race. Talking about former General Wesley Clark, who appeared a lot on CNN during the war, former commander of NATO.

KING: Did a lot here.

JENNINGS: From Arkansas among other things. I don't know how to answer the question honestly because the contest on the Democratic side appears so fluid at the moment. But I would be willing to bet that all of the other presidential want to be's -- that legitimate sense on the Democratic side have a measure of anxiety about Wesley Clark getting into this race. Maybe that's just because he's the latest face and he's the fresher face, and he's got very strong opinions. He's got very strong opinions about President Bush. Very strong opinions about the war. He has credentials. You know, others in the race have credentials as well. It's a hard question to answer. But I think there's a measure of anxiety that he will shape the Democratic contest up in unanticipated ways.

KING: Do you think he's a sure bid to be a vice presidential selection?

JENNINGS: I heard -- I asked him the other day. I said the book on you is you're trying to get the number two spot?

He didn't take particular offense because he was very polite. But my sense is that if he gets into the race, he wants the number one spot. Why would you get into the race to get number two?

I realize that's an unsophisticated thing from a political analyst point of view. But I think if he gets in he's -- why should he not believe he, is at this moment, that he has a shot at the nomination. Look, there's still time, as people smarter than I will tell you. And there is still time for him to raise money. And there is still time to put an organization. Conventional wisdom is he couldn't leave it much longer. I don't think he will leave it too much longer before he makes a public announcement.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with Peter Jennings, celebrating 20 years as the host as the host of ABC's "World News Tonight."

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throttling up three engines to a 104 percent now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Challenger go with throttle up.

JENNINGS: The Space Shuttle Challenger is destroyed just a little more than one minute after liftoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A minute fifteen seconds, velocity 2,900 feet per second, altitude 9...

JENNINGS: All nine astronauts on board are killed.

It is the worst disaster in the history of the American space program and President Reagan has declared a week of mourning for the seven astronauts. Five men and two women who lost their lives on their way to space this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNINGS: People were marking or being marked with a powder they called gulau (ph). It didn't matter who it was. They were only too happy to smear it on our faces. Happy holy. A real reminder that in many ways India is the most colorful country on Earth.

Now, we could have done without the dancing. But with the president (ph) here, we didn't want to make a bad impression.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tampa, Florida, for Peter Jennings. What a life. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, sir. Yes, Larry. My question for Peter Jennings is, regarding Russia, Germany and France, wanting the United States to relinquish power back to the Iraqi people. All three of these nations have multibillion dollar oil trade deals. Is this not a conflict of interest?

JENNINGS: I don't think it's necessarily a conflict of interests, but I certainly think it's an interest, and why should it not be? We have an interest in Iraq's economic development, too, and have had for a long period of time. The real challenge now -- and it was interesting to hear the French say today that they thought the president's idea of internationing (ph) this again and sending overseas troops was a pretty good idea, which will please the president no end, because we've had this huge major change in policy, with going back and trying to involve the United Nations, the French and the Germans and others, so I find nothing wrong with the nation having economic interests somewhere if their interests are, you know, also peace and well-being for the people in the country.

KING: London, Ontario. Hello.

CALLER: Yes. Contrary to our prime minister, Peter, the majority of the Canadian people do support the United States. And I would like to ask you, Peter, how you would rate Peter Mansbridge, our CBC News anchor.

JENNINGS: Oh, very accomplished. Peter Mansbridge is the anchor person of the national news on (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Tell me about him.

JENNINGS: He was a guy who almost came here. I don't know him very well. He's sort of half a generation at least behind me, maybe a full generation behind me. He almost came here, as a lot of us did, and then he decided to stay in Canada. And he's been doing the national news in Canada for a very long period of time. I sometimes wonder if he gets a little frustrated as the rest of us have about not getting out and about around the world as much as we'd like to.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

JENNINGS: Yes, you never lose that entirely. It's like growing up (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you know, laddie. But I think he's a very accomplished guy. And I think Lloyd Robertson, who has been on the news on the private network in Canada, which I did 100 years ago, is also accomplished.

KING: Do the Canadian citizens disagree with their prime minister?

JENNINGS: Oh, many do, indeed.

KING: What about the United States?

JENNINGS: I wouldn't want to say that Jean Chretien, the Canadian prime minister, is not afraid of the United States either. But it's very hard in many respects being Canadian, though I think -- when I grew up, living next to this huge giant of a country which had such an enormous influence on the Canadian agenda, always has. I was in Canada during the blackout here in New York, in the east. And I was on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. And you know, the Quebeckers had power, and people on the other side, Ottawa, all the way up to Windsor, close to Michigan, didn't have power. And the debate was instantly political. Canada was blaming the States; the States were blaming Canada. It's inevitable with these two nations, which are such good allies for so long.

KING: One more call. We have a minute left. Downers Grove, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. It's an honor to speak to both of you.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: Mr. Jennings, one of the most poignant stories I saw you did -- do was on the Armenian genocide, years and years ago. And I often look at the Web site. What I'm wondering is what you think is the most important show, the most thought-provoking, heart-wrenching show you've ever done?

JENNINGS: Those are very different. Heart-wrenching and most important. That was a really important project for us, to do something on the Turkish massacre of the Armenians. It's an impossible question to answer in 20 seconds. I've loved doing programs with kids. Kids have given me -- my own very much included -- have given me a window on the world. And they always enable adults to look over their shoulder, because kids sometimes ask the questions that we are too embarrassed to ask. I love doing -- I have had a long career as we've acknowledged tonight, so I have had a lot of great experiences.

KING: Thank you, as always, Peter.

JENNINGS: Thanks, really nice to see you.

KING: Peter Jennings, the anchor, senior editor, ABC's "World News Tonight," 20 years and lots more to go. And we'll be right back and tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tomorrow night, Dan Rather joins us. Wednesday, Walter Cronkite. What a week. Thursday, John Walsh. And Friday, Sharon Stone. We are diversified.

Speaking of diversity, a man who covers the world, the host of "NEWSNIGHT," there he is, right over there somewhere, hidden behind another barricade, Aaron Brown, to start another week.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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