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Interview With Tim Russert

Aired May 10, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Tim Russert of "Meet the Press." He's interviewed presidents and future presidents. This time he's the other way around on the hot seat. We'll take your phone calls, too. We'll cover it all from the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal to the race for the White House and his brilliant new book. Tim Russert for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We've known each other for well over 20 years. First met him when he was chief of staff for Governor Mario Cuomo of New York. He's become a major entity in American media. He's the host of "Meet the Press" and the author of "Big Russ and Me, Father and Son Lessons of Life." His first book. This is Tim Russert. The book is already No. 4 on and today is its official pub. date. We'll talk in a while about the book. Thanks for joining us, Tim. We'll discuss you and your dad but we must lead with the major story of the day. Pentagon sources now tell CNN there are 200 or 300 more photographs detailing abuse, including some of Iraqi prisoners being sodomized with chemicalites. Sources also tell us they're investigating sexual assault in which three U.S. soldiers took a female Iraqi prisoner to an isolated area and fondled her while others watched. What do you make of all of this?

TIM RUSSERT, AUTHOR, "BIG RUSS & ME": It's gruesome. As the president has said, it's a stain on the honor of our country. We have to get to the bottom of it. As American citizens, far beyond as journalists. You know, the United States has a superb military force, but we're also a moral force in the world, and we have to maintain that high, moral ground. A friend of mine who works in the foreign policy arena told me today he's getting all kinds of phone calls from people saying, who are you to tell us anything about how to conduct ourselves? This is going to be something that's going to be with us for generations as people try to sort through and find out what happened in that prison? Why did United States servicemen behave the way they allegedly behaved, and who instructed them or enabled them or tolerated such behavior.

KING: And Seymour Hirsch said today, who broke the story in the "New Yorker" that it's the tip of the iceberg. This is -- more to come than what we even know is to come.

RUSSERT: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld in his hearing said there's more video, more pictures. You just described what your reporters have found, NBC has been doing the same, it is supposed to be outrageous behavior, and the kind that cannot be defended by anyone. You know, I've talked to my dad about things like this. He's still very upset about the way Americans were dragged to the streets and bodies charred and hung from bridges, and he said that's what they do. It's not what we do and he's exactly right and that's why the president really must get to the bottom of this, not only for the sake of his administration but for the sake of our country.

KING: There are some conservative elements in the country who have taken a different stand. I wonder if you'd comment, this is a reporter in "TIME" magazine that Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host said that this is no different than what happens at a skull and bones initiation. You ever heard of a need to blow some steam off. Do you know a lot of people thinking that way?

RUSSERT: I think that the severity now of the crisis is real for everyone. Secretary Rumsfeld, the president, have all acknowledged it and apologized for it. We realize that this is something that the United States of America cannot in any way tolerate or abide. It's not who we are. We have been a force in the world, after World War II, rebuilding countries, providing more economic humanitarian aid. We do not abuse people, and anyone who does has to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. But Larry, it's also important to find out who may have authorized this. National guardsmen do not go over to Iraq with hoods and dog leashes and don't think about interfering with the sexuality of Arab men in order to break them. Someone thought this was a way to obviously get hard intelligence. Obviously they thought it would help us in terms of ascertaining where certain things may be but it really went all wrong.

KING: But it's hardly a skull and bones initiation, is it?

RUSSERT: Well, based on everything I have known and the Taguba reporte that I have read, it is brutal abuse that must be exposed, and never, never tolerated. It is just something that is, in the words of the president, unAmerican.

KING: How do you explain -- you're a pretty good judge of human nature. You've worked for some people who have been terrific judges. You worked for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mario Cuomo. People who forget politics. They know human beings, how can anyone do anything like this, how?

RUSSERT: You know, it's just so baffling and so mind boggling how people would be placed in a position, I guess of authority in a prison, and try to use that authority to dehumanize people. Even if the goal, the motive was to try to elicit information which would help American soldiers in the short term or long term, these tactics are so over the edge and beyond the bounds, and we all know that. There has to be a reason that people thought they were carrying out some kind of duty in order to elicit information. Now, many in the military will say, no, no, this was just an aberration. People in the early hours of the morning, but the families of those who have been charged are saying nonsense, they were following a command order. This is going to be an extraordinary trial and story to cover for some time to come. KING: On your program. on "Meet the Press" yesterday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he doesn't want a bunch of privates and sergeants to be scapegoats. He said, what we had was a system failure. You agree?

RUSSERT: That's Lindsey Graham's view and, boy, did he say that ever so strongly. He also said that all the pictures, both still and video, should be made public, so the American people understand the full shock value of what has happened. There's now a plan to show some of this material to members of Congress. I read where some folks in the political side of the White House operation were saying if we can get this information out, where congressmen and senators talk about it, it might lessen the shock value when the public actually sees the pictures. But it is something that we, as a country, have to be very, very united in in saying, never again. We cannot tolerate this kind of behavior.

KING: Have you spoken to your dad about it?

RUSSERT: I sure have. You know, it's the kind of thing where, being a veteran of World War II, he had many friends who were P.O.W.s, people who went to the American Legion halls, who I knew growing up, and they would talk about the treatment that they had to withstand in the German prison camps and the Japanese prison camps, and they always took great pride in the way America treated its P.O.W.s, in a humane and way consistent with the moral ground that we stake out as part of the American dream and the American fabric, and that's why this is so devastating, so shattering. It's one thing not to be able to find weapons of mass destruction. It's one thing not to have the approval of the United Nations. Those are very intense political debates, policy debates. This goes to the very core, the moral core of who we are as a people and a nation.

KING: What does happen to Rumsfeld, Bush, politics, where does that fit in the mix?

RUSSERT: That's a big question. Clearly President Bush is standing by Secretary Rumsfeld. And a lot will determine what happens in the next couple weeks. What information comes forward about how high up in the command structure did approval or enabling of this go on? Maybe not at all. That will be extremely relevant. Also, when did the secretary first become aware of this situation, at what level, how much information did he have, how much interest and curiosity did he have in recognizing the magnitude, all those things will be factored in.

Larry, as long as the Republicans in Congress stay united and do not call for the secretary's resignation and it appears to be only the Democrats, his job is probably secure. I know that there are people deeply concerned about the first week of June, when President Bush goes to Normandy, wanting to celebrate our brilliant success of World War II, and he does not want to be, at that time, taking questions about the torture of Iraqi prisoners or Secretary Rumsfeld's future.

KING: What does this do to the turnover on June 30? RUSSERT: Who knows? Right now, we're trying to find out exactly who we should give the keys to, but the country is not secure, and it's very difficult to see democracy grow or evolve or emerge if in fact you're worried about whether or not you're going to be killed walking outside or down the street. It's a mess. There's no doubt about it. People you talk to privately in the administration will acknowledge, this is a very difficult and sensitive time, a tipping point, if you will, with the entire occupation of Iraq.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and talk about fathers and sons with Tim Russert and why for his first book, he decides this topic. Don't go away. We'll be right back.


RUSSERT: Chairman Warner, let me start with you. Who is responsible for the torture of the Iraqi prisoners? Who is in charge of the interrogations?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: You know, Tim, I'm going to be straightforward with you. We tried to probe that at our hearing. I spent a considerable period of yesterday talking with the seniors at the Pentagon. It is still not known.




RUSSERT: In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a -- that's an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity. It's a war of necessity. We -- we -- my judgment, we had no choice. When we look at the intelligence I looked at that says the man was a threat.


KING: We're back with Tim Russert, the author of "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life," published by Miramax. We long were expecting a book from you. Why this topic?

RUSSERT: You know, Larry, I was asked to write a political book about "Sundays With Tim," or "Behind the Scenes at 'Meet at the Press..."

KING: "Sundays With Tim," I like that.

RUSSERT: I didn't want to do that, because I always try to be objective, and I didn't want to make judgments about my guests and the quality of their appearances and whether they were candid or not. And back in 1997, I went back home to Buffalo, my hometown, and did a piece called "Going Home," about spending New Year's Day at the American Legion Hall with my dad. And a year later, I went to the American Legion convention and received an award, and I called up my dad spontaneously, I said, this is the real Tim Russert.

And the room just exploded. These grizzled veterans with their big paws wiping their tears away. And I started writing about my dad, who left school in the 10th grade, went and fought in World War II. He was -- his plane, a B-24 Liberator, crashed. He barely survived, spent six months in a hospital. Billy Sajecki (ph), a young Chicago Polish kid, saved his life, with two British men by rolling out his body, burning body on the tarmac.

And then he came home, Larry, and he didn't whine. He didn't complain. He took on two full-time jobs as a sanitation man and a truck driver, to raise and educate his four kids. That was his mission, and I wanted to affirm his life. I wanted to say to the whole world he's a man of few words, but by the quiet eloquence of his example, his hard work, his decency, his loyalty. He built the middle class in this country, and he gave me a chance to become the first member of my family to go to college. And this is a day, a month, Father's Day of 2004 to say thank you, Big Russ. Thank you for all you've done.

KING: Were you affected by Brokaw's book on the great generations?

RUSSERT: Very much, and in fact, the irony of this is when Tom was over in Normandy with the anniversary, he was on "Meet the Press," we were cross-talking, like we are tonight, and Tom said, "You know, Tim, it's people like your dad and others, they really are the greatest generation." It was the first time he used that term.

And so I began to look into my dad's own military career. I didn't know much about it. In fact, when I was in high school, Larry, he gave me a yellowed-up newspaper clip about the plane crash, and then took it back. He never wanted to spend much time on it.

I was able to find the brother of one of the pilots, who really basically re-enacted the entire thing for me. And everything flew -- everything evolved from that.

I realized just what a seminal moment that was in my dad's life. And we had a great Thanksgiving a few years ago. The Pentagon has a wonderful program where if you left school to go fight in World War II, you are allowed to have your high school degree retroactively. And 60 years, 60 years later, we presented Big Russ his high school diploma from South Park (ph) High School in South Buffalo, New York.

KING: World War II veterans of all those tend to be the most humble and the least likely to talk about their experiences. What did Big Russ think of you writing a book about him?

RUSSERT: He wasn't sure. He was very tentative. I didn't show it to him until it was completely finished. His first reaction was, "I cannot believe there is a book with my picture on it." And for that, he was enormously proud, I know that.

It's interesting, I think, for him to see things from my perspective. You know, Larry, when you're growing up, and your father is trying to teach you things, many times you roll your eyes and kind of close it off saying, you know, what does he know? He's just a father.

Well, the older I get, the smarter my father gets. And particularly since I have my own son, I really now understand completely that those lessons of life, about working hard, that the world doesn't owe you a favor, that you should be mindful and respectful of other people -- when my dad retired from his first job, he went to fill out his pension forms and they said, Mr. Russert, you have 200 sick days. I said, dad, 200 sick days, why didn't you take them? He said, because I wasn't sick. What kind of luck you have when you take a sick day when you're not sick? And if I called in sick for the one job, then I'd have to stay home for the second job. And I'm lucky I have two jobs, not just one. His glass is two-thirds full, Larry. His glass -- the most optimistic man I met to this very day.

KING: My father died when I was 9 1/2. What did I miss?

RUSSERT: So, so much. You had him for those nine precious years, but I'll tell you, going through teenage years without a dad had to be very, very hard, because you needed someone, at least in my life, to teach me how to drive, to try to tell me that there was a way of behaving, a way of conducting yourself as a gentleman.

There is a way, Larry, in which my mom and dad reinforced teachers. In seventh grade, it was Sister Mary Lucille at St. Bonaventure School who called me up in an empty room and said, Timothy, we need a vehicle to channel your excessive energy, and she started a school newspaper and made me the editor. And said, "This is a chance to do something positive." And my parents reinforced that. Or when Father Stern, the prefect of discipline at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) high school put me against the locker and I said, "father, please, don't you believe in mercy?" He said, "Russert, mercy is for God. I deliver justice."

I had to go home and explain that to Big Russ. And you talk about a neighborhood watch system, I couldn't move. I had parents, teachers, relatives, all on the same page, saying, "You got to work hard. You got to be disciplined. You got to be accountable. And if you do all that, you're going to be all right."

KING: But you had confession.

RUSSERT: Larry, someday explain to me the difference between Jewish guilt and Catholic shame. There is none.

KING: None. We walk the same mile.

We'll be right back with more of Tim Russert. The book, "Big Russ and Me." At the bottom of the hour, we'll take your phone calls for one of the best. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT (voice-over): Today just about all of Buffalo smokestacks have given way to modern companies, like Mogue (ph), which builds parts for satellites on what they call a campus, not a plant.

Here the grandchildren of Buffalo's World War II vets build the technology of the 21st century.

All of this possible because of men like my dad. With strong family values, and a work ethic, they shaped our destiny. We stand on their shoulders.




RUSSERT: These are really my roots, south Buffalo, New York, once a booming steeltown, where live centered around hard work, hard times, football and family, where my grandfather arrived with no formal education. He survived the depression and supported his family as a water department boilerman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was willing to take anything. He worked hard, proud.

RUSSERT: Grandpa wanted more from my dad. My father made it to the 10th grade, volunteered for World War II, then worked two jobs for 37 years to support and educate me and my three sisters.


KING: The book is "Big Russ and Me, " the guest is Tim Russert.

Why aren't you junior?

RUSSERT: He's Timothy Joseph. I'm Timothy John. He used to be big Tim and then I was little Tim. Than, I became 6'2" so he became "Big" Russ and I became plain out Tim. My 18-year-old son calls me "Big Guy." So we have "Big" Russ and "Big Guy."

KING: Is your son a Yankee or Oriole fan?

RUSSERT: We had season tickets for the O's. During the dark years he became very disillusioned. He had been pulling for the Yankees, but heading up to Boston, so I think he's conflicted about his baseball choices.

KING: And you rout for -- don't you like the O's, too?

They are back now.

RUSSERT: I grew a Yankee fan living up in Buffalo. And I loved Yogi Berra, he's my favorite, number 8. And then and obviously Camden Yards and Cal Ripken. Cal Ripken, Larry, I write in my book, kind of in so many ways, tried to represent the same values as my dad. I'll never forget the night that Ripken broke Lou Gherig's record, and I explained to my son this was not a record of high fives or home runs or dazzling speed. It was about getting up every day and going to work and putting in an honest day's work. And it really is so reminiscent of my own dad.

KING: As George Will wrote, "Men at Work."

RUSSERT: Nothing like him.

KING: Have you an early political experience, you get to touch JFK, worked for Patrick Moynihan, you work for Mario Cuomo.

You grow up in a strong Democratic city like Buffalo.

How do you maintain your objectivity?

RUSSERT: It's been 20 years since I was involved in politics. What I do is what Lawrence Spivak said, the mission of "Meet The Press" was 20-years-ago -- 57-years-ago when he founded the program. He said, "learn as much as you can about your guest and his and her position on the issue and take the other side." And that's exactly what I do. I deal with Democrats, Republicans, independents. Bernard Goldberg did a long take out in a book about the media and devoted an entire chapter towards my approach to objectivity, and I think people, I know people across the country who watch "Meet The Press," it's not a program where I offer my opinions or views.

It's the guest who is important.

KING: But is it hard?

RUSSERT: You know, at this point, I have spent so much time learning both sides of every issue, that I probably confuse myself. I don't know what -- because these are complicated, difficult issues, and I understand the viewpoints of Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and I'm able to articulate questions I think which bring out the best of those representatives.

KING: Did you ever listen to or watch "Meet The Press" as a kid?

RUSSERT: You know, I remember sitting on my mom and dad's lap in south Buffalo, Woodside Avenue, watching this flickering black and white TV set. And I remember John Kennedy and Richard Nixon and Fidel Castro, but I can assure you, I was much more interested in Davey Crockett and Howdy Doody and all of the other things as a young boy. I never dreamed that one day dad, I'm going to be moderator of "Meet The Press." Never entered my mind.

LARRY: It was a radio show first, was it not?

RUSSERT: It was for two years, Lawrence Spivak, and Martha Rountree, absolutely. And now interesting enough, many a radio stations are going to begin reairing it on radio again. So back to the future. KING: What do you make before we go to break and take calls, of the whole Sunday morning competition thing?

RUSSERT: I think it's great. It's one of the few areas left on network television where can you have a full hour dedicated to a serious discussion. It's very, very competitive. I watch all my colleagues who are on the other networks. I learn from them. And I think we all perform in a invaluable public service, where people who have real jobs all week long can turn in on a Sunday morning, see the nation's leaders, and be asked what do they have in mind for us?

Where are they going to take this country? I love it.

KING: How old is Big Russ now is

RUSSERT: Eighty-years-old and going strong.

KING: Good health?

RUSSERT: Yes, you know, he fought prostate cancer like everyone does around that age. But he's a tough guy. Working those jobs all those years made him strong as a bull. And he still enjoys going over the South Buffalo American Legion Post 721, which was the center of our social life, and we're going to have a big book party there, 5:00, Wednesday night, Larry, free beer.

KING: And a very proud father indeed. We'll be right back with Tim Russert and go to your phone calls. The moderator of "Meet The Press author of "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life." Miramax is the publisher.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

RUSSERT: I grew one these veterans, my father and his buddies at this American Legion Post. They fought to save the world from tyranny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost a lot of friends who didn't come back to the American shores, so we're lucky to be here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a good prisoner of war, too.

RUSSERT: My dad, rightly proud of his friend, a flyer, who the Nazis held for a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We crashed. I didn't bail out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We went all the way to Berlin.

RUSSERT: On this New Year's Day, as always, they gathered to celebrate and remember.



KING: We're back with Tim Russert, the author of "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life," published by Miramax. Let's go to calls. And the first call, where else, Buffalo. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. How are you both doing this evening?

KING: Hi, fine.

CALLER: Mr. Russert, big fan of yours. I always appreciate your honesty and integrity, and I'd like to know that my kids and I watch you all the time, and we get a lot out of you.

My question is, I kind of make an observation, kind of hear your comments on it, is if we kind of take all the partisanship out of the current situation and we're going to take a hard look at the photos and the effects it's having in the Arab world on the United States, how does John Kerry, you know, I hate to say play it, but it seems pragmatically that the best thing for the United States to do in regards to the war on terrorism is to have a new leader. So I guess my question is, how does Kerry do that without kind of coming off aggressive or...?

KING: That's a good question. What does Kerry do, Tim?

RUSSERT: Well, it's interesting, because it's exactly what John Kerry said a few weeks ago on "Meet the Press," that he's come to the conclusion that you have to change the leadership in the United States if you want a different direction in Iraq, which is obviously self- serving because it means that he would be elected president.

I think many Democrats, Larry, over the last couple of days have tried to make the case that there is, in their mind, quote, "a level of arrogance in foreign policy with the Bush administration," the idea of going to war without the United Nations and going with too few troops and not finding weapons of mass destruction, and enabling this kind of behavior because of the disregard for Geneva Conventions. That's the Democratic view, and my sense is that Senator Kerry will cobble that together and use that as a way of distinguishing himself from George Bush on this particular issue.

KING: When do you think he will select a vice presidential running mate?

RUSSERT: Well, there had been some discussions about May, because they wanted someone to be out there arguing on behalf of the Kerry candidacy against Vice President Cheney and against President Bush, but this is the biggest decision he'll make before the convention. He's clearly taking his time, and there's kind of two schools emerging, we've learned, from our reporting.

One is the kind of pick that is -- to the political media community, wow! Isn't that different? When Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish American on a major ticket, or when Bill Clinton picked Al Gore, of the same generation from an adjacent state. And that would seem to suggest something like John Edwards, a former opponent, vigorous candidate.

Or does he say, "I want someone from the Midwest, who can help me with blue collar workers, or help me carry Missouri, and someone who can help me govern. That would seem to suggest Dick Gephardt. But I don't think we're going to hear a decision on this at least for a couple of weeks.

KING: Toledo, Ohio, for Tim Russert. Hello.

CALLER: Tim, good evening. Tim, how are you doing?


CALLER: Tim, I'm wondering how you feel about the quality of the present leadership of this country. I really don't feel we're being led in the right direction and I feel this country is getting more out of control daily. And I haven't felt this way since the Vietnam days.

KING: Tim is not going to give a political opinion of who he likes and doesn't like. But have you ever seen a country with more discord?

RUSSERT: No. We are a 50/50 nation. There is no doubt about it. The governor, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, came up to me in New Hampshire and he said, "You know, the Democratic Party is now as united against George Bush as the Republican Party was united against Bill Clinton."

Larry, we have 50 states in this great union. Thirty-eight of those 50 states, we know how they're going to vote. We know that Utah is going to go for George Bush, Massachusetts and Vermont are going to go for John Kerry. There are 18 undecided states, and they're 45 Bush, 45 Kerry, 10 percent undecided. So 10 percent of the American people in 18 states are going to determine this election. That's how divided we are.

KING: So all those millions of dollars are being spent for them?

RUSSERT: We are going to spend $1 billion on this presidential race when you add up all the money of the major parties, the major candidates, the independent committees, exactly right. And what motivates that 10 percent undecided voter to vote? What issues resonate? My gut, my instinct tells me, having gone around the country, and I've believed this for some time, that in the end it's going to be Iraq and the economy, and they're inextricably linked in terms of the American psyche.

If people feel confident and secure on election day about Iraq, about job creation and the economy, George Bush wins. If they're insecure and anxious, it could mean for John Kerry the possibility of winning.

And we have this, Larry, when incumbents run for reelection, the races generally start out close but don't end close. Jimmy Carter, not reelected by a wide margin. Former President Bush, not reelected. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, reelected by big margin. It's as if the race goes back and forth, and then a week before the outcome of an incumbent election, the country collectively makes a uniform decision and says we're going to stay or we're going to change.

KING: And issues like gay marriage and abortion get dimmer?

RUSSERT: Those issues are important to people who have already made up their mind, on either side, whether Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative. The swing independent voters are largely focusing on, I believe, Iraq and the economy, right track, wrong track, and the future of our country.

KING: Birmingham, Alabama, for Tim Russert, the author of "Big Russ and Me," already number four on Amazon. It only came out today. Next week it's a golden oldie. Yeah, go ahead, Birmingham.

CALLER: The importance of interrogating Iraqi prisoners, don't you find it incredible that the administration hasn't been able to tell us who is in charge of those interrogations?

KING: Yeah, isn't that puzzling though, honestly?

RUSSERT: This is going to be, I think, one of the central issues as we talked about, how did National Guardsmen in that situation, in that setting, take it upon themselves to carry out this kind of activity? Clearly, in the eyes of many I've talked to, there was some motivation or instruction given to them to try to break the will of these Iraqi prisoners, and we have to find out exactly where that came from and how up high up the chain of command it went.

I think we will. I think some of the initial reports from the investigators has been quite revealing. I've actually read it on the Internet, and very comprehensive, but we still don't know exactly who set the specific instructions.

The Democrats will say it was a tone set at the top. That will be much more a political debate than the actual investigation as to who specifically ordered these kinds of interrogations, if anyone.

KING: Ruidoso, New Mexico for Tim Russert of "Meet the Press." Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Tim. Hi, Larry.


CALLER: Do we have a policy of always filming our detainees? Do we follow this in all of our prison facilities? And if so, have we had this problem before, and it was kept silent by previous presidents? If not, who ran the camera in this instance? Was it a U.S. affiliated station or another country? Could this even have been a voluntary strategy, just to make Rumsfeld and the United States look bad?

RUSSERT: Well, it's interesting, the digital photographs that we have seen were taken by the soldiers, and that's how they were released. One of the soldiers who has been accused went to his father and said, "I think I'm going to be made a scapegoat." The father contacted his brother-in-law, who went on the Web site of retired General David Hackworth, and was put in touch with a consultant from "60 Minutes II."

So these pictures were being circulated amongst the military personnel by themselves. They were not official government photos.

KING: Winston-Salem, North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Russert, you said that your dad helped build the middle class and that you're a product of the middle class. Do you think the middle class is disappearing in the United States and becoming less influential in public policy than when your dad's generation came along and then when you came along?

RUSSERT: I think we still have the most robust and vital middle class of any democracy in the world. But clearly, things are changing. When my dad came home without a high school education from the war, he was able to find two hard, difficult, but productive jobs, and he was able to be a wage earner in that sense, and able to give us an opportunity to become educated. It is now more and more difficult to find the same kind of jobs my dad had. In Buffalo, for example, at the Bethlehem Steel and Republic Steel, there were 40,000 men who earned the livelihood off those plants. There are now about 2,000. So as we have changed or recalibrated our economy from industrial to more service, obviously, there will be more of a strain or a challenge for the middle class to stay middle class.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Tim Russert. The book, "Big Russ and Me." The publisher Miramax. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very honored to have him as a son. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him. He knows that, and I don't think there's anything he wouldn't do for me, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 40 years ago you were chasing down JFK's limo for a handshake. Today, presidents come to talk to you. It is hard not to be struck by how far the Russerts have come in one generation.

RUSSERT: And yet how much we are still so much the same.


KING: Does your father comment, Tim, on your work?

RUSSERT: All the time, Larry. Every Monday he does a complete analysis of "Meet the Press," and then concludes the conversation by saying, I still can't believe they pay you all this money to B.S.

KING: The question I'm asked the most, I guess, we'll ask of you. Who would you most like to interview?

RUSSERT: I was asked this question as I was writing the book, it was my dad. I wanted to draw him out about his views on a whole lot of things. You know, his favorite expression in life, Larry, is what a country, and I can almost see his heart beating when he says it and it's from the fall of Adolph Hitler to having a very good chargrilled hotdog. He just has this innate optimism that he brings to life and it's infectious.

KING: By the way...

RUSSERT: And so he is the most accurate and cheapest focus group you could ever dream of. If he calls someone a phony, it's over. You don't get his vote and you never recover.

KING: What about mom?

RUSSERT: Mom is doing well, 75, up in Buffalo, central part of my life. You know, when my dad was working these two jobs, it was mom who was home, putting us at the kitchen table, making us do our homework, all the while cooking. So if we wanted to trade our pen for a fork, which was a big deal in our household, we had to finish our homework.

KING: How long they married?

RUSSERT: Long time. I better mention my sisters, B.A., Betty Anne (ph), Kathy (ph) and Patricia (ph), who used to be Patty (ph) but now she's Trish (ph), it's like Prince, you know, formerly known as. She's now Trish.

KING: Bakersfield, California for Tim Russert. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Tim, I want to commend you on your book. I think it's marvelous.

RUSSERT: Thank you.

CALLER: My uncle was shot down over Germany, and was a prisoner of war for about a year and nobody knew anything. When he came back, one of his eyes had been shot out and he has a hole in his back the size of your fist from flack (ph).

KING: What's the question?

CALLER: He won't talk to anybody. I was wondering if your dad ever opens up to anything like that, his buddies or something?

KING: It's very common, they won't talk about war experiences, World War II veterans very often will not talk about it.

RUSSERT: Right. They're proud what have they did but it's behind them. Mission accomplished, on to the next one. Larry, you know, it still burns inside what they went through, when my dad turned 75, I said, Dad, I always dreamed about buying you a new car, and I sent him catalogues for Lexus and Mercedes and other cars and I flew home to take him to buy his new car and we got in his old one, we drove around a couple blocks and pulled into a big sign that said Jack Atkins (ph) Ford. And he walked in and said, Charlie, show him the car I want. It was a black Crown Victoria. I said, Dad, this is a cop car. He said, Charlie, open the trunk. You put two cases of beer, two suitcases and a real spare, not one of the doughnuts. So we drove it off the lot and we're driving home and I said, Dad, why didn't you want a Lexus or a Mercedes? He said, because we beat those guys in the war. I want an American car. I said, what about a Cadillac? He said, if I drove home with a Cadillac, the neighbors would say, oh, the kid made it big and so now Big Russ is trying to be a show-off. Even in accepting my gift, he was teaching me a lesson. That's how grounded he is.

KING: What a great story. Conyers, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: The two of you are the best interrogators on TV and yet you guys get sidestepped often with politicians saying, I don't answer hypotheticals, I don't accept that proposition and then they slip into their stump speech. This time when we're getting into the election, we need to know what they would do on the hypothetical because it's the next four years we're talking about and things that we don't know are going to happen, rather than how dogmatic they are about their stump speech. My question is also, I guess a suggestion, in the silly season, when you have politicians on is you could make them answer some of these hypotheticals because that 10 percent you're talking about, Tim, that is undecided, how else can we decide?

KING: Tim?

RUSSET: You're right and, boy, do we try. I put things up on the board. This is what you said before. What are you going to do now. You know, caller, think about the 2000 election. We all talked about the lock box and the surplus. That's long gone. We never mentioned al Qaeda, never mentioned terrorism hardly at all. So we have to really be aggressive and put those kinds of questions out there and do the best we can to demand answers, but you know what? If a candidate doesn't give you an answer. The public knows it. They see right through it, believe me.

KING: And hypothetical questions are good questions.

RUSSERT: Absolutely.

KING: If this happened, what would you do. It's a fair question. Many people answer it except politicians.

RUSSERT: They're afraid of the unknown, Larry.

KING: Well put. Richmond, Virginia, with Tim Russert, hello.

CALLER: Yes, this question for you regarding the way we treat our own people, i.e., the brass with regard to, say somebody from Rwanda or Burundi, Bosnia, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or even Nazi Germany in regards to the atrocities going on in Iraq, we would be the first ones to stand up and ask and demand that these people be brought before the International Court and The Hague, but we're sitting here and patting Donald Rumsfeld on the back and saying, you took responsibility. You did a good thing, and my thing is, from the top man up on top all the way down to the low-league private, this was an atrocity.

No matter how we look at it, we stand for more than this, like your father did when he fought in the war. We represent something that's better, something that's greater and I'm just curious why the media, why the people are just kind of brushing this all aside and not getting out there and demanding we take our own leaders before the international community.

KING: Tim.

RUSSERT: I think the investigations are going to be very aggressive.

KING: It's not going away, right?

RUSSERT: Listening to Lindsey Graham, Republican, South Carolina, John McCain, Republican, Arizona. People are going to demand answers and caller, you're exactly right. There is the moral authority of the United States at stake. That's how we are. When we won the World War II against all the odds. We were the 12th ranked military. We did it because we were able to mobilize an appeal to a higher calling that there is some goodness here that has to win out. And so when we go to the world and say we stand for human rights, and we stand for decency and we stand for justice, we have to back that up. It can't be empty rhetoric, and that's why it's imperative we resolve this situation.

KING: Back with our remaining moments of Tim Russert the author of "Big Russ and Me," right after this.


KING: Seattle for Tim Russert, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Larry. Good evening, Tim.



CALLER: Hi, this is B.J. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Seattle. Quickly here for you, Tim, my question is...

KING: And why didn't that get on the air.

To Dover, Delaware, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.


CALLER: I was interested in the influence of Catholic school education on your life. And secondly, I was interested in knowing what you think about the controversy surrounding Kerry's Catholicism and the conservatives viewpoints on his receiving communion.

KING: Excellent question. We got about a minute, Tim.

RUSSERT: Well, for me growing up with a sister (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Jesuit, was extraordinary. I received a first rate education, learned how to diagram, four years of Latin. It's just been essential to who I am and also had a moral grounding. I find it ironic that 1960, the issue of John Kennedy was he's too Catholic and now about John Kerry is, he's not Catholic enough. I think it's something that a candidate has to reconcile in his own heart and mind and conscience, and obviously, John Kerry's conversation with the hierarchy has just begun, and it's an issue that we will cover.

KING: You think it will be a big story?

RUSSERT: I don't. I think Catholics have pretty much made up their mind about the role of the hierarchy in their lives. I think, there are strong feelings in the Catholic community about the whole abuse of children situation, and the demands that the hierarchy take steps which absolutely guarantee will never happen again. I think people are now looking, Larry, at issues of the economy and Iraq much more in this presidential race.

KING: See you long the trail, Tim. See you Boston for the Democrats.

RUSSERT: My son has built a Web site, Take a look, it's something else.

KING: The book, "Big Russ and Me: Lessons of Life" by Tim Russert.

Thanks, Tim.

KING: One sad note before we go. One of the kings of comedy, Alan King, lost his battle with lung cancer just the other day. In fact, he was a strong friend of this program. He died at age 76. In a world that could always use a good laugh, Alan King was one of the best ever. He was a frequent guest on this show, the final time last summer when he told us a funny story about another comedy giant, George Burns.


ALAN KING, COMEDIAN: I loved him because besides being a great monologist and the best straight man ever, he looked and reminded me of my father. And until the last weeks that I saw George, I always kissed him when I'd meet him. I saw him in a restaurant, I kissed him. He was seated with a young lady. He said, Alan, I don't know what it is, this young lady don't excite me, but one kiss from you.


KING: What a treasure he was, Alan King. Great actor, too. I'll be back in a couple of minutes, and tell but tomorrow night.


KING: The prison abuse hearings are going to get hotter tomorrow when the general testifies and we're going to do a program about it tomorrow night. I'm sure my man in New York is going cover it tonight.

Aaron Brown and "NEWSNIGHT" next.


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