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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Dan Rather
Aired June 2, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive -- Dan Rather in his first live, in-depth, prime-time interview since he left the "CBS Evening News" anchor chair that he occupied for 24 years. Our friend, the one and only, Dan Rather for the hour and your phone calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
This is our 20th anniversary year. And it's an honor to have the array of guest that we had. Tomorrow night, Barbara Walters will host this program and interview me. And Monday night, Mark Geragos will make his first appearance since the Peterson trial. His first appearance in any media form. And there will be a retrospect of Saturday night. And Sunday night, we'll repeat an interview with the late president Richard Nixon.
And Carl Bernstein did ask me to say before he left that -- whenever you mention any of this, a lot of credit has to go to Katharine Graham, the publisher and Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post.
And Dan Rather, before we get into your triumphs and travails, what do you make of this story?
DAN RATHER, FRM. "CBS EVENING NEWS" ANCHOR: Well, what a terrific story, first of all. And one of the things I wanted to say is that if you believe, as I do, that this was great reporting, it's an overworked phrase in our business. It's rare. This was great reporting.
I think it's important for the public to know, great reporting starts with a publisher who has guts and an editor who has guts. And the role of Katharine Graham, the late Katharine Graham who owned the Washington Post -- and this is not to be underestimated -- the lady had heart and guts.
Ben Bradlee -- a lot of people worked with Woodward and Bernstein. The other thing is, they said it, but it's worth underscoring. Those of us who know how difficult it is to do this kind of work and can only aspire to do the kind of work that they did. It wasn't just "Deep Throat," Mark Felt deserves all the credit in the world as far as I'm concerned. But they worked hard. They had a lot of sources. They had dozens of sources. They made telephone calls, they wore out the shoe leather, they did it the old-fashioned way.
The role of Mark Felt, "Deep Throat," was to help them, give them some guide posts. And from where I sit, the most important thing he did just tell them you're off on the wrong thing. Or I don't know anything about that. And tout them off of bad material.
But, it needs to be underscored that when someone asks -- well, why do we have so little of this kind of reporting. And why have we only had this in a generation or whatever it is. A lot of it depends on the people who own, particularly the major newspapers and major networks. You have to have courage, you have to have guts at the top, or this kind of work, the Woodward/Bernstein kind of work doesn't get done.
KING: Did you get trumped by bad sourcing?
RATHER: Everybody does, sooner or later. You bet. They -- I think it Carl who pointed out they made a major mistake when they were doing their best work.
KING: They didn't lose the story, they weren't taken off it.
RATHER: Well, everybody gets stung once in a while with bad sourcing. No question about it.
KING: How's things since?
RATHER: Since March 9?
RATHER: Well Larry, I'm happy to say -- and you and I know each other well enough that I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true -- I feel terrific. I have been cautioned by a lot of people that the transition would be extremely difficult. I haven't found it so.
You know, not every second of every day has been, you know, all sugar and champagne. But plunging into my work at "60 Minutes," I feel great about it. I work with great people. I'm proud to work for CBS News, always have been. I can't imagine a day when I wouldn't be. I work under a terrific boss who does have guts and heart, Jeff Baker who is executive producer of "60 Minutes." And I feel terrific.
Now, I know you expected me to say that, well, I just kick back in the rocking chair, fished a little bit, listened to Willie Nelson tapes and watched old baseball games on the Classic Sports network. And, tell you the truth, I have done that for maybe about five total minutes.
KING: When you get a story like this, don't you miss the CBS Evening News?
RATHER: Sure, I miss the CBS Evening News. Mostly I miss the people.
The CBS Evening News is just chock full of first-rate professionals with whom I had terrific camaraderie. And I miss the people.
And yes, when there's a big story breaking, the adrenaline flow gets a hold of you. And you say to yourself, well, I have to get ready here, who knows, we may need to take air. And they say, Dan, that's not your job any more.
KING: What was it like, Dan, when it was breaking and kind of unraveling. And you were the focal point. And then you had to stand up and say we were wrong. Emotionally, what was it like for a reporter who devotes his life to this?
RATHER: It's never pleasant. But, you know, among the many things that my late father -- God rest his soul -- don't whine, don't complain, don't fall in a trap of saying it's bad luck or good luck. Stand up, look them in the eye and tell them what you know, tell them what you don't know.
And I tried to do that. I'm not a victim of anything except my own shortcomings. And it didn't feel terrific. There certainly were days when I felt I had been put to bed wet. But I always got up the next morning and said, you know what? This looks like a great day to me even during what other people might say were the worst of times.
KING: Do you think the Republicans, the right-wing Republicans were after you?
RATHER: No. Again, I'm not a victim of anything.
I don't say, no, they weren't. I don't know. But what I do know is that I've always tried to be an independent reporter. And italicize, all caps if necessary, independent reporter. And when you do that, not everybody is going to like you.
And, certainly, there are some people in the category that you mentioned who are not all that fond of me or my work, there are some on other side of my fence who are not. It goes with the territory of a reporter.So, I'm not here to say that anybody was out to get us.
Clearly, there's some people for their own partisan, political and ideological reasons want to jump on people that they perceive to be not with them. You and I have talked about this before. And I think it's so important for the public to understand that what people in power want to do is, explicitly or implied, they want to say and they want to have you, the reporter, and more importantly, your bosses believe either you report the news the way we want it to be reported or we'll make you pay a price.
And the price will begin by calling you some name. Radical, whatever. And the mark of trying to be decent, trying to be a good reporter, is you don't succumb to that. You say, you know, look, I try my best to report the news without fear of favor. I try my best to pull no punches, play no favorites.
And the mark an independent reporter is someone who says, I'm willing to pay the price. Whatever the price is. Because -- I know this strikes a lot of people perhaps as either old-fashioned, archaic or so out of touch as to be impossible -- but I do believe in journalism as a public service. I believe that in my id, it's a public service. It's something bigger than one's self when you do it right. And being human, we don't always do it right.
KING: When it doesn't go right, doesn't it play right into the hands of the critic?
RATHER: Sure. Absolutely. And they pour through, critics -- whatever side they come from -- over a career, over more than 50 years in journalism, I've had from all sides, top, bottom, sideways.
KING: How did you get the image that you were favoring the liberal side, the Democratic side? That did CBS have that image?
RATHER: Well, part of it is that I work for CBS News and proudly so and to this day for what now? 44 years. So, part of it is that. CBS News has a history. Murrow and McCarthy, "Harvest of Shame," civil rights movement in which we led in the coverage of civil rights movement. Not everybody liked it at the time.
KING: Cronkite and Vietnam.
RATHER: The Watergate -- Vietnam, Watergate. Stories that CBS News has a reputation. It's a reputation that I'm proud of, which is, we are independent. We're fiercely independent when it's necessary. And we'll make the tough calls. We'll take on the tough ones. So, that's part of it is CBS.
Part of it is myself. I'm not looking for somebody else.
Look, I have made my mistakes. Have I ever. Nobody can do it perfectly. I hope that one mistake I haven't made is to be cowed -- if you want to see when my neck swell, or forearms tightened, you just try to tell me where to line up and what to report.
Now, people don't like that, particularly the higher you go in the power pyramid, the less they like it. Whether they're Republicans, Democrats, mugwumps or what have you, they don't like it.
If you believe as I do, and as many reporters do -- and Woodward and Bernstein, you know, in their core, they believe it -- that news is what somebody, somewhere, doesn't want you to know that the public needs to know. All the rest is just advertising, just to paraphrase what some Canadian press baron said.
Now, look at today, just for a second. How many stories out of Washington do you think are anything but advertising for somebody's point of view? I would say, at least eight out of 10, probably nine out of 10, come out from a handout, conveyer belt. So the question arises, and to ask the question is not to suggest that I know the answer, but the question arises, is the press -- electronic and otherwise -- is it doing its job today or is it cowed? Is it reluctant? If you like it (INAUDIBLE)...
KING: Do you have an answer?
RATHER: ...because if you don't like it -- I don't have an answer, but I think it's a question that's very pertinent today.
KING: Got to get a break. We'll be right back. This is an extra edition of LARRY KING LIVE tonight. We thank Aaron Brown, who sends his best. Well, we gave him a night off. I guess he's happy about that. And we'll be right back with Dan, your calls, at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
RATHER: Good evening. President Reagan, still training his spotlight on the economy, today talked about...
What if President Brezhnev has sent personal letters to Western leaders, trying to drum up support for his proposed early summit with the United...
That's our report tonight. Until tomorrow, Dan Rather, CBS News, good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did you hate the people who criticized you? You know, the image was presented that you were a hater of the main order. Did you hate Dan Rather when he stood up?
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, no, no. As far as Dan Rather and the -- my other critics in the media, and I have a number of them -- I have a number of friends, as well, as I pointed out in my book, as you note -- I realized that their attitude toward me was due to the fact that they simply disagreed with me. I was a conservative. They were liberal.
KING: But did you take it that way, personally?
NIXON: No, I did not take it personally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Well, first of all, I don't want to debate the word conservative, but by my definition, a conservative is someone who wants to conserve the Constitution of the United States and the American tradition and law that no one is above the law. And I think it's so important to see what Woodward and Bernstein and "The Washington Post" began to break and then some others, only a few, begin to get on to it and it finally broke open, was a widespread criminal conspiracy led by the president of the United States -- it's still difficult for me to say it because I hated it was happening -- widespread criminal conspiracy led by the president of the United States himself out of the Oval Office, using their power to take the view, the Constitution doesn't apply right down the line to us because we're in power, and the -- what's carved in stone in Washington buildings including the Supreme Court, equal justice under the law, doesn't apply to us and they very nearly got away with it. So, when President Richard Nixon, one of the brightest men ever to come to the American presidency, a man of great experience and great talent says, well, I was a conservative and they were something else, what do you mean conservative? I'm -- I want to conserve the Constitution of the United States and that's what that story is about. I think a lot of people -- listen, Larry, some were not born at the time of Watergate, some were not of memory age, and also memories fade, but this was a crisis for the country because the people in power took the attitude I described and they almost got away with it.
If Mark Felt and others had not provided information to the gutsy people at "The Washington Post," I think they would have gotten away with it.
KING: As you reflect, and after seeing the report, what went wrong in your matter on the Air National Guard story? Where along the way did it snap?
RATHER: Without agreeing with the premise of whether it snapped or not...
KING: Well, I don't know another word. You might still believe the story, by the way.
RATHER: Well, without getting into that because the panel, this panel that was chosen by CBS to look into it, they issued their report. CBS adopted the report. I said at the time and I say now, I read the report. I absorbed it. I carried forward in my work. Anybody wants to know the panel's version of what happened should read the report.
The situation that we had and still have is the last line of this has not been written. I will be very interested to see the last line of this story (INAUDIBLE) written. But, you know, I've acknowledged that we didn't do it perfectly. I wish we had. Others may say, well, you didn't do it well. They're entitled to that judgment.
We'll say this, that -- Carl Bernstein used the phrase, which is popular among journalists and I think is apt, that you get the best obtainable version of the truth. Others will have to judge how good or how bad our version of the truth was and how close we came to it. We had here was, again, the documents, which were a weakness and I'm accountable and responsible for a great part of that, and when my name is on it, I take responsibility for it. But the documents were part of a fairly wide array of information we had, that the facts that we presented as -- and some of it new information -- was supported by all kind of things other than the documents.
Now, the documents were a support for those and an important support, and when questions were raised, well, how do we know that documents are true? We had some problems. However, I do want to point out, and I -- listen, anybody who wants to castigate this or fuss with this, have at it. I will point out that the panel, which was headed by a President Nixon, Reagan, Bush family supporter and a journalist who said that George Bush one was one of the greatest people he ever met -- this panel came forward and what they concluded, among the things they concluded after months of investigation and spending millions of dollars, they could not determine that the documents were fraudulent. Important point, that we don't know whether the documents were fraudulent or not.
KING: Are you saying the story might be correct?
RATHER: Well, I'm saying a prudent person might take that view.
KING: Do you have that view?
RATHER: Well, I'm saying a prudent person might take that view.
Number two, it's important, the panel said that this story was not -- the story was not born of any personal or political bias. Now, that's not all they said. They were very critical of CBS News, of "60 Minutes Weekday," and of myself, very critical of us for all kinds of things that they believe we should have done that we didn't do. And with some of those things, I do agree.
But I do hope people will keep in mind that two of their findings were what I just described to you. Wasn't born of political or personal bias, and they could not determine whether the documents were fraudulent or not. It's not a complaint, but I do want to point out -- and I understand what people write about this story, they often say, well, they dealt with fake documents or fraudulent documents. Let's just say gently that that's not known. That's not a fact. And if you're going to criticize us -- and I think we should be criticized for some of the things we did and didn't do in reporting -- then gently I say, maybe you wouldn't want to say that, and the panel could not and did not conclude it.
Now, James Goodale, a well-known First Amendment lawyer, has written, well, this is what Goodale wrote -- that if the panel couldn't prove that the documents were fraudulent, then why did they issue a report?
Now, I think I know the answer to that. That CBS, and I think rightly, and Viacom, which owns CBS, said, listen, we're catching so much heat that we need to address this.
But you know, by this late stage, I think this may be boring people cross-eyed to be talking about it.
This much we know: Journalism is not a precise science. It's, on its best day, is a crude art. We make mistakes; I make mistakes. With more than 50 years as a journalist, I have at least had the opportunity to blow more stories, make more mistakes than maybe anybody in television. I'm not proud of this, but I do know the reality of reporting, and as good as they were, and they were as good as anybody in my lifetime, Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee and company -- they're not -- you make mistakes as you go along. What you hope is the public will understand.
KING: We'll be back with Dan Rather. We'll ask him about returning to "60 Minutes Sunday." And we'll take your calls at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Mr. President, I think many Americans are concerned that there may be a war. And the question they want to know is, who is this man, Saddam Hussein? How would you do describe yourself?
SADDAM HUSSEIN (through translator): I don't think there would be as much interest in knowing who Saddam Hussein is as they would be interested in knowing the best way to avoid war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: We've shared a lot in the 24 years we've been meeting here each evening, and before I say good night this night, I need to say thank you. Thank you to the thousands of wonderful professionals at CBS News, past and present, with whom it's been my honor to work with over these years. And a deeply felt thanks to all of you, who have let us into your homes night after night. And to each of you -- courage.
For the "CBS Evening News," Dan Rather reporting. Good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: How hard was that to do?
RATHER: It wasn't hard.
KING: Not hard?
RATHER: No. No. I had a long time to know it was coming, a long time to prepare for it.
KING: A lot of emotion.
RATHER: Right after that, right after that got hard to do.
KING: When you all gathered around.
RATHER: Gathered around, and you know, remembered the people who contributed so much. You know, journalism, particularly at the network level, is such a collaborative process. And people stand by your side, watch your back, and so many people do that. And, so, that was -- that wasn't tough. I'm not here to complain. But it was after that, that I had to work on controlling emotions.
KING: The Wednesday night "60 Minutes" has been canceled after a pretty good run.
RATHER: That's right.
KING: And you now return to "60 Minutes" that you used to work at, the Sunday night.
KING: Are you doing stories already?
RATHER: Yes. We're getting ready for the fall, and working on some investigative pieces.
KING: What's it like to go back?
RATHER: Well, I haven't -- first of all, I haven't been there very long, back into "60 Minutes." What I will call "60 Minutes Sunday," "60 Minutes" with us, because I was dedicated to saving "60 Minutes Weekday" if we could do it, and I tried to pour myself into that. And then, when it didn't survive, it is a law of the television jungle, it was -- and no complaint about it. It's a business, and ratings and demographics. We didn't have the ratings, we didn't have the demographics. You know, I held out hope that we could somehow save it.
When we didn't, we have a lot of good people at CBS News who are now are about to be out of work. So, I've tried to point myself into helping them as most I -- the best I can.
KING: Helping them get jobs?
RATHER: Yeah, try to help them get jobs.
But I'm beginning to try to focus on what I have to produce for them this fall, including some investigative reports, which are my favorite. We got to do a number of different kind of stories.
KING: You like Jeff Fager, the producer?
RATHER: Yeah. Listen, you know, I would follow Jeff Fager into hell until hell freezes over and then help him cut through the ice. He's a really good leader, a terrific journalist.
KING: Do you pick your own stories?
RATHER: No. It's a collaborative process. If I go to Jeff Fager and say, this is something I really want to do, he may say, are you sure you want to do it? If I have a passion for it, you know, I can call the shot, but the way it generally works is you say, what do you think about this? And we talk it over, talk it over with executive producer Jeff Fager, Patti Hassler, who is the senior of producers, and because it's a collaborative effort, you have to work with one another, it's rare that you just walk in and say, I don't care what the rest of you think, I want to do this.
Now, if you can arrange an interview with the leader of North Korea, I wouldn't have any trouble selling that.
KING: We'll take a break and come back, and go to your phone calls for Dan Rather. Barbara Walters hosts tomorrow night, and this is our 20th anniversary week, and we certainly thank Dan for coming out tonight. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Take your hands off of me!
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS ANCHOR: Dan Rather...
RATHER: Unless you intend to arrest me, don't put -- don't push me, please!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
RATHER: I know you won't, but don't push me! Take your hands off of me unless you're trying to arrest me!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute, wait a minute.
RATHER: Walter, as you can see...
CRONKITE: I don't know what's going on, but this -- these are security people, apparently, around Dan. He's obviously getting roughed up.
RATHER: Walter, we've tried to talk to the man and we got bodily pushed out of the way. This is the kind of thing that's been going on outside the hall. This is the first time we've had it happen inside the hall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're proud to say that Dan Rather has hosted this program, and he's wearing the braces synonymous with this program. Dan Rather's our special guest. We'll go to your phone calls.
Ashburn, Virginia. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Mr. Rather.
RATHER: Good evening.
CALLER: One of my -- hi. One of my favorite books growing up was "The Camera Never Blinks," and reading about your on-the-spot reporting, the hurricane in Texas, the Kennedy assassination, and then reaching the anchor chair, I just want to know if being anchor was as satisfying as being out in the field.
RATHER: Well, first of all, thank you. There's a special place in heaven for anybody who's actually read "The Camera Never Blinks," and I appreciate that very much.
KING: A lot of people read it when it was...
RATHER: And, the short answer is no. I loved anchoring. I tried to get as good at it as I could be, but field reporting and especially investigative reporting is my favorite. Close behind that is a big breaking story, hurricane, war, something such as that. But I love the field work.
KING: Anchoring is -- really, you got to be good at it. You got to be a good read -- tying things together.
KING: But is it reporting? Is an anchor a reporter?
RATHER: Well, it depends on the anchor. That -- I came into the anchor chair after the great Walter Cronkite left, saying to myself, listen, I got to be the best Dan Rather I can be and I'm a reporter. I've spent almost 20 years on the line as a reporter for CBS, so I had it in my mind that I wanted to be a reporter anchor, all-caps reporter, italicized reporter, anchor. Not just an anchor or an anchor-reporter and I tried to operate that way. It's not for everybody and maybe it was a mistake to do that, but that's what is in my core.
KING: Were you hurt by Walter's discouraging comment?
RATHER: The only thing I'm going to say about that is, you know, I've always been in awe of Walter Cronkite and if that's -- since that's the way he felt, he had a right to say it.
RATHER: That's as much as I'm going to say because I never want to say anything, and I don't think I have. I never want anybody to hear out of my mouth anything that could be interpreted as any criticism of Walter Cronkite.
RATHER: Said all I'm going to say.
KING: OK. Tallahassee, Florida.
CALLER: Hi, Mr. King and Mr. Rather.
CALLER: Mr. Rather, you have often been criticized for showing emotion on air, especially after the death of J.F.K., Jr. and 9/11. Do you have regrets about showing emotion on air?
KING: Yes, what's the good rule on that? Is there a good rule on that?
RATHER: Well, I want to answer your question. First all, thank you for the question, and the answer is no. I don't think you can apologize for grief. So, while I hope I'm a pretty good reporter and hoped I was at least a half-decent anchor, I'm not a robot and I never wanted to be. I do agree that most of the time you should be able to hold your emotions in check, but there are times when you just can't do it, and in the wake of 9/11, I'd held them in for some days when I finally went to the David Letterman program, and it's a different environment and we started talking about "America the Beautiful" -- just couldn't hold it in. No, I don't have any apologies for that.
You ask about what's sort of the rule of the road.
KING: Is there a rule?
KING: If you were teaching a journalism class...
RATHER: Well, teaching journalism school (ph) I would say, just keep in mind that nobody's perfect, and that it's too much to ask of yourself to say that you will never, ever, about anything, show any emotion.
But know this, that one mark of a pro, one way a pro is judged and should be judged, is how often and how well you can keep your emotions in check, and you should try to do it as often as you can, but recognize that you can't always do it.
KING: Was 9/11 the toughest test of it?
RATHER: Absolutely. Not a day goes by -- I'm tempted to say not an hour or two goes by that I don't think of 9/11 still. I tried as often as I could to end the CBS "Evening News" with the thought of, lest we forget, it still had been a long while and I'm still saying to myself, you know, lest we forget.
KING: Well, I forgot. Where were you that morning?
RATHER: I came immediately in to CBS.
KING: You were -- you were at home?
RATHER: I was at home and I came out on -- we have a small balcony and looked in the direction of where the plane crash went up. When it first came, it was a plane and it was some early assumption, it was a, you know, light plane, a small plane, but any plane hitting the World Trade Center is a story, so I bolted in and by the time I got to our offices on 57th Street, you know, and I looked up on both 10th and 11th Avenue and you see people beginning to come in the direction and smoke...
KING: How far up?
RATHER: ...and begin -- I said to myself, you know, either drive to the heart of the story, which is the World Trade Center, which everything in me wanted to do, say, you know, my job is to be in the anchor chair. I've trained myself most of my life for this kind of story. That's my job.
KING: Did you have the radio on?
RATHER: We went on pretty quickly.
KING: Were you listening on the radio, driving?
RATHER: Oh, I was, yes.
KING: And talking on the cell phone?
RATHER: Yep, both. Two cell phones, as a matter of fact.
KING: And thinking the world will never be the same.
RATHER: Well, you know, it didn't happen all of a sudden. It, you know, slowly it was, well, it's not a small plane, it's a large plane. It's a kind of large plane. Then, it's an airliner. It wasn't -- snap right away -- the world will never be the same. But, I would say by, certainly by 10:30, 11:00 at the latest, Eastern time, you knew the world would never be the same, and it has not been.
Larry, I think it's worth pointing out that anchoring gets dissed a lot, and it probably should be. And I said I like field reporting better, but the definition of a good anchor is leader, and particularly, at times such as, well, 9/11 is unique. But at times when you take air on a breaking story, it shouldn't be underestimated that the anchor's role is to be a leader and lead the organization. I think that's often underestimated and the best anchors -- I was not among them -- but the best anchors are people who can take air, hold air and connect with the audience under those circumstances and, at the same time, lead his organization.
KING: Why do you think less of you? Weren't your reportorial skills at play, too?
RATHER: Sure. Your reportorial skills are always at play, even when you're doing interviews. Larry King's a very good reporter. One reason he's a good reporter, maybe the best reason is, he's an excellent interviewer, knows how to draw people out. But certainly your reporting skills come into play. I don't think you can be a -- an excellent network news anchor and not have at least some reporting skills. I'm not saying you couldn't do it other places, but at one of the big networks, I just don't believe it.
KING: Back with more of Dan Rather, don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Why would you think that you could prevail this time on the battlefield, or do you?
HUSSEIN (through translator): You know that in both cases we did not cross the Atlantic to commit aggression against the United States, neither by land or sea or air. The officials in America are the ones who are talking about the intention of attacking Iraq. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You were on with us after that. What was it like in retrospect for you?
RATHER: I don't think about it much. What it was like was strange, weird, bizarre, certainly, to be in the presidential palace knowing that the war was coming and coming very quickly. Knowing that he knew the war was coming and coming very quickly. You know, I found myself taking some deep breaths, sure.
KING: Santa Monica, California, for Dan Rather.
CALLER: Yes, I have a question for Dan Rather. I would like to know your opinion on the speculation that Mark Felt should have gone to his boss at the FBI, or to the president with concerns about the Watergate investigation. You've played a major role in investigative journalism. And it's realistic to even think that?
RATHER: No. In short. That, I don't want to argue about it, because some of the people who are trying to under cut what Mark Felt did and what the Washington Post and Woodward and Bernstein did, to argue with him is like arguing with a wooden Indian. So it's no sense in going through that.
But, I don't think Mark Felt, frankly, had a choice. The second that he would tip his hand, in my opinion, he would have been destroyed. Others have -- and not all of them have a political -- partisan political view point or something. You know, it's something that we could talk about and debate. But in Mark Felt's case, the answer to your question is no.
I don't think he had a choice. I think he took the way that he knew would be most effective. And that is to be a source and as Woodward and Bernstein pointed out earlier in a conversation with Larry earlier, he didn't give them confidential information out of FBI documents, he guided them, helped them. Say, you're in the right direction, you're in the wrong direction.
Look, I don't want any ambiguity about this. I think the country owes Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Mark Felt a debt of gratitude for what they did. Because I repeat for emphasis this was people believing they were above the constitution, they were above the law and they were very nearly pulling it off. And whatever it took to get them, that is to expose them, to bring it into the sunlight, I don't think you could applaud enough.
KING: Bob Schieffer says he doesn't want to stay more than a year. What do you think CBS ought to do with the evening news?
RATHER: That is for CBS to decide. Bob Schieffer is a friend of mine. I think he's doing a good job on the evening news. They even asked me what I thought they should do with the evening news, nor do I particularly think they should. It's they're decision to make.
I will say this, CBS News is a great news organization. It's a valuable national institution, in my judgment. And I think in the end that CBS news will emerge stronger, stouter, independent as ever. I certainly hope so.
KING: Spartanburg, South Carolina, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Mr. Rather. What advice would you give to a young aspiring journalist who looks to you as an American icon?
RATHER: Well first of all, I really appreciate that. But I'm not an icon, I'm a reporter who got lucky. And I really mean that. And I think it's important to understand that. Icon status should be for people who find a cure for cancer or Alzheimer's Disease, not for working day reporters.
Now for your question about advice, one, read, continue to read. Commit yourself to a lifetime of reading. The other is learn to write and keep on learning to write. Because writing is the bedrock, the fundamental necessity of the craft. I think a lot of people with who want to get into journalism, particularly television, don't understand that.
So, those are two things. The other I would say, is that old Winston Churchill line of never, ever, ever give up.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather on our 20th anniversary week here in New York. Don't go away.
KING: Both Dan and I, by the way, want to thank Aaron Brown for giving up his hour tonight for this appearance. He'll be back tomorrow night. We will have nothing but the highest regard for Aaron.
You have been holding a piece of paper in front of you for half an hour, and you better tell me what it is.
RATHER: Well, I appreciate the opportunity, Larry. That CBS News played a role in this Watergate story -- nothing to compare with "The Washington Post" role and maybe we can talk about it another time -- and the role was the edges that -- we couldn't match "The Post's" reporting, but we knew enough about the story to know that they were on to something very big. And we credited them and built our own reporting into it at a time when a lot of people in the national media missed it.
And if it was important -- I'm not sure it was -- it was important because the whole power of the executive branch was to isolate "The Post," say it's just "The Post." You know, not have it break out to be a national story, and they did not want it on national network television.
And they almost succeeded in keeping it off. But Dick Salant, who was former president of CBS News, he was president at that time, that he wrote something, and if you had time, it's not a bad way to close the hour, especially when you are talking about Woodward, Bernstein, "The Post" and what they did.
"I strongly believe that responsible journalism cannot have as its central objective giving people what they want, or avoiding displeasing them. The objective must not be merely to interest and titillate to grab an audience, but to provide the information they need. And, so, if journalism is to perform the function which a democratic society has a right to expect, there will inevitably be some, usually the most vocal, who will be displeased."
I wish I could memorize it. And for the lady who called about young journalists, they'd do well to peruse that.
KING: Dick -- the late Dick Salant. What a guy.
What do you hear and what do you think and feel about Peter Jennings?
RATHER: Well, I hope it's clear that everybody who knows Peter, particularly those of us who know him at least reasonably well, are pulling for him. And I think the best thing we can do for Peter and his family is just let them know that we're pulling for them and give them their privacy.
KING: Do you think of retirement?
RATHER: Do I think of retirement? No. I can't imagine what I would do in retirement. And, look, I have one of the greatest jobs in television journalism. A correspondent with "60 Minutes." How many people would cut off the fingers of their hand to have that job?
No, look, I like to fish, I like to walk in the woods, I like to go to plays with my wife, and I like to play with my grandchildren and see my children. I have time to do all those things, but I'd like to believe and I do believe, Larry, that I have a chance for my best work to still be ahead of me. That I would like before I go to do great journalism. That's different than saying being a great journalist. To do great work. Before I go, I'd like to do great work.
And there's an opportunity to do that at "60 Minutes," so I'm still striving, still trying to do great work, because I think it can be a public service. And for people to say, you know, I wish you didn't talk about public service, well, it may not be true, but because I believe it so strongly, that it's real to me. That a public journal is a public trust. "The CBS Evening News" was and is that to me, and so is "60 Minutes." And believing that, you know, my feet hit the floor every morning, it's where is the great story, and let me get on it.
KING: They say you can't go home again. Isn't "60 Minutes" home again for you?
RATHER: It is home again for me. But you can go home again. At least professionally, you can go home. I never believed that you can't go home again. But I'll start finding out this summer and fall whether I can or not. And about that, I like my chances.
KING: Without telling us, are you excited about some of the assignments you know you're getting?
RATHER: Yes. I'm excited -- might be a little strong. I'm very interested in particularly some of the investigative reports that we're beginning to scratch around on, and I hope we can bring to air.
KING: You're going to be traveling a lot?
RATHER: Well, I hope so, because what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm a little disappointed some newspapers now put it back on page 14 just, quote, "just because we lost only three American soldiers today." Again, it's never far from my mind. It's still the best running story we have.
I've been to Iraq, I think, seven or eight times in the last two or three years. I want to go to Iraq, I want to go to Afghanistan, because I think it's important, and I want to report on "60 Minutes" out of there. Whether I'm able to do that or not, we'll -- Jeff Fager and I will have some conversations.
KING: I thank you so much.
RATHER: Larry, thank you.
KING: You haven't been out talking much, and I appreciate you giving us this hour tonight.
RATHER: And Larry, I should have said it earlier, congratulations to you.
KING: Thank you. Twenty years.
We continue the celebration tomorrow night, by reversing chairs, and Barbara Walters will be sitting here and I'll be sitting there, and she'll interview me.
And Saturday night, we'll have a retrospective of the last 20 years.
Sunday night, we'll play an interview we did with Richard Nixon, and we'll continue into Monday, with the first appearance since the Peterson trial of Mark Geragos.
We thank Woodward, Bernstein and Rather. Now, there is a trifecta. Stay tuned for news on CNN and good night.
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