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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Tracking Hurricane Rita; Interview With Dan Rather
Aired September 20, 2005 - 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, after pounding the Florida Keys, Hurricane Rita is now forecast to become a monster category four hurricane tomorrow afternoon. Will the gulf coast, devastated by Katrina, face Rita's fury too? We've got the latest from the hurricane zone.
And then broadcast news legend, my friend Dan Rather, on attending today's moving memorial service for the late Peter Jennings, plus, all the news of the day. He'll take your calls too next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always great to have Dan Rather with us here in New York and he'll be involved in the first portion too when we stay with the weather.
We'll start first with Rob Marciano on the scene in Key West, CNN weather and news anchor, how bad Rob?
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Larry, we had reports of unofficial wind gusts by a ham operator down along the coast of 102 mile-an-hour wind gusts, so it's certainly verifying as a category two storm.
As far as injuries and fatalities, very low number, and that's a good thing. About half of the residents here in Key West actually did evacuate. They followed that mandatory evacuation order. Lights are out, of course, the typical stuff that you would find in even a tropical storm, power lines down, trees down and water not really running.
We're getting the back half of the storm now, so from time to time there will be some gusts that come through. The winds have turned southerly but because this storm continues to strengthen as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico, the wind field is expanding.
And unlike a storm that would go inland after it made landfall, this one goes into the open water, so it looks like we're going to hold on to at least tropical storm if not hurricane conditions throughout the night -- Larry.
KING: And, Anderson Cooper, first how are they reacting to this in New Orleans. It does not appear to be a threat there.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they're taking it very seriously. I mean the governor of Louisiana just about an hour ago has formally requested from the president of the United States that he declare a state of emergency here in Louisiana in coastal areas and along certain highways that are being used by first responders, so that's a big change. The mayor here is already talking about evacuation plans.
Larry, as you know, the busses were a big problem before. They knew back then for Katrina they had 100,000 people who didn't have vehicles. They didn't provide them with busses. They didn't have bus drivers who could show up.
The mayor now claims they have busses and they have bus drivers. The problem is they don't know how many people are still living in New Orleans and they don't even know how many first responders are here, so some questions remain about how many people will actually be evacuated if you don't know how many people you have to evacuate -- Larry.
KING: And, Anderson, can the levees sustain more flood surge?
COOPER: No, according to the experts they cannot. I mean it remains to be seen. The repairs that have been done are temporary repairs. These levees were built for a category three storm. What they are saying tomorrow Hurricane Rita will be a category four storm.
If this thing does happen to come to New Orleans it could be a very serious situation indeed. The mayor says even, you know, any kind of storm surge, any kind of raise in the water level these levees could break.
You know, Larry, it wasn't just a problem of these levees being too short and the water being too high with Hurricane Katrina. I talked to Ivor van Heerden, a man you've had on your program many times. He says, look, this was likely a catastrophic failure of the levees, of the design of the levees, of the strength and the upkeep on these levees. These things are not strong enough. Any major storm could have several feet of flooding in New Orleans.
KING: Dan will have questions of both Rob and Anderson.
But first, let me ask you, do you miss this?
DAN RATHER, FMR CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: Sure, I miss it. How could I not miss it having grown up with the lore of hurricanes at my grandmother's knee on the Texas coast and covered hurricanes for a long time but I...
KING: Covered for us.
RATHER: Well, two, but of course I miss it. But, Larry, I do want to say that I think the coverage of Hurricane Katrina right across the board, CNN led by Anderson Cooper, stands out particularly but everybody across the board did such a good job. This new generation of reporters are better than -- potentially better certainly than any of us ever were.
They took us there to the hurricane. They put the facts in front of us and very important they sucked up their guts and talked truth to power. I can't tell you how much I admire it.
I think it's been one of the quintessential great moments in television news the coverage of Hurricane Katrina right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it. You know there's certain landmark coverages. I think has been one.
KING: A lot of talent out there.
RATHER: A lot of talent. One point I do want to make, Larry, if I may.
RATHER: That the hurricane, don't forget it moves in a counterclockwise position. We're talking about New Orleans. This hurricane doesn't have to hit New Orleans. It can come in at Lafayette, Louisiana or Beaumont or Houston or Galveston but because New Orleans will be on the upside of the hurricane this hurricane will push a lot of water ahead of it.
So, the hurricane doesn't have to hit New Orleans proper in order to be real trouble for the crescent city and our friends in there because it's on that upside.
KING: Do you have any questions for Anderson or Rob?
RATHER: Well first of all, Rob, how big is the hurricane in terms of its geographical size? Any idea how many miles it will cover of the gulf?
MARCIANO: Well, I can tell you, Dan, from what I know, I'm able to get technical discussions from the National Hurricane Center via Blackberry right now, don't know what the satellite picture looks like but I can tell you that the tropical storm force winds extend about 140 miles out from the center, hurricane force winds 45 miles out and that is expanding.
You remember Katrina's hurricane force winds at one point when it made landfall extended to 100 miles out. That's when it was a category four and five storm and we expect this to get to at least a three if not a four storm.
So, geographically speaking, you know, this thing could take up most of the Gulf of Mexico come this time tomorrow night, you know. It's going to be another scary situation as it heads into those warm waters of the gulf.
RATHER: Well, that's one reason I asked, Rob, because I believe it's still true that Hurricane Carla in September of 1961, which covered almost the entire Gulf of Mexico, if you can imagine that, is on record the largest storm on record in terms of the geographical size.
And, going to Anderson Cooper, Anderson is that well understood in New Orleans that once this thing gets out in the gulf it isn't just a case of extreme wind speed and velocity. It isn't just a case of the water moving up. The geographical size could put New Orleans in a very bad situation even if the hurricane comes in down on the Texas coast?
COOPER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, Dan, that's a great point because if you think about what happened with Katrina, everyone said, oh look, New Orleans dodged the worst of it. You know the hurricane jogged a little bit to the east, made a big difference there but we all know the levees failed Monday afternoon, late Monday and the catastrophe that resulted from that.
You know the key question is, is the city prepared? Is the state prepared? I mean we all know now a lot of mistakes were made at the local level, at the state level, at the federal level.
A lot of the politicians have said well, I take responsibility for the mistakes that, you know, the federal government made or the state government made or local government. No one has really specified. They haven't stood up and said, you know what, these are the mistakes in specific that I made and we're not going to do it again.
I pressed the mayor pretty hard tonight are they ready? Are there going to be busses? Are there going to be bus drivers? He says there are. At this point, we can only take them for their word but, by God, let's hope they learned the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina because this city cannot take another head on assault or even a glancing blow.
KING: Rob Marciano, who will be back with us with an update at the bottom of the hour, do you think Galveston is wise to have this early evacuation?
MARCIANO: Well, if there's one thing I think we learned in the wake of Katrina it's better safe than sorry. Clearly, New Orleans evacuations could have been done a lot sooner, so it seems -- the feel I've gotten here, Larry, across Florida and also when I was up in North Carolina from Ophelia, you know, the people who make decisions, most of them, you know, are political figures. They survive on votes and they're not going to make -- they're going to learn from mistakes made by others.
And, certainly if I was in an office that I was voted into in Texas and, you know, I was responsible for that many people, I would start to evacuate now. Right now I don't want to scare the people in Galveston but many of our computer models and from what I've read of the National Hurricane Center that is right in the cone of uncertainty and most probable landfall at this point probably late Friday night.
RATHER: One point I think we ought to make that Galveston, like New Orleans, is sea level or below. The great Galveston storm of 1900, which killed 7,000 to 9,000 people, killed 7,000 to 9,000 people the hurricane prediction business was not nearly what it is today of course but one reason was because Galveston is not above sea level and it shares that with New Orleans. Now, I want to emphasize we're not saying this hurricane is going to hit Galveston but right now the computer models have it headed that direction. As one who grew up on the Texas coast, who played on the Galveston beach when I was two years old, anybody in Galveston, Texas who doesn't take the advice to get out and get out now is running a greater risk than they may imagine.
KING: Rob Marciano, we'll check back with you at the bottom of the hour. And, Anderson, see you in an hour along with Aaron Brown for that two hour event each night which occurs at 10:00 Eastern.
And we'll be back with Dan Rather.
As we go to break, the Peter Jennings memorial was held today at Carnegie Hall, a very appropriate setting by the way. It was, if the word applies, a wonderful memorial and we'll ask Dan about it. He was there as well.
And, as we go to break, here's a few of the remarks made by Ted Koppel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED KOPPEL: The only good things about losing Peter so prematurely, he still had his hair, he still had his good looks and even in his last days, he still filled a room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN ALDA: If I could say one last thing to Peter it would be to say to him what he said to all of us in his final broadcast. Dear Friend, I'd say, thanks and good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What was it like for you there today?
RATHER: Bittersweet. Peter's been gone long enough that the suddenness of his passing has gone by but the ache is still there. On the other hand, this was such a beautifully done memorial service, two hours, just wonderful. And one of the things that made it so was it was so Peter.
It's very hard in a memorial service or a funeral, you know, to strike just the right notes that are compatible right down the line with the person's interests and core self and this did this.
And example would be the music. You know, Peter was interested in all kinds of music. He's best known for...
KING: Yo-Yo Ma. RATHER: Yes, well, any memorial service that has Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis playing has to be pretty good, the wonderful choir that sang and ended it with "He's got the Whole World in His Hand."
But Peter is best known for his interest in jazz because he did Jennings and Jazz for a charity in which he was intimately involved, he and his wife Casey (ph), out in the Hamptons.
And, tonight, they had a jazz concert and jazz festival if you will at Lincoln Center in Peter's honor sort of a postponed wake in the light of today's memorial service.
But Peter was interested in all kind of music. I remember talking to him once. Larry, you know me, if Willie Nelson doesn't sing it I don't know it. But with Peter his range of interest and knowledge of music, I remember he said to me, he said, "What do you know about clogging?"
I thought he was talking about heart arteries or something clogging but he was talking about the dancers, the clogging dancers and he said, "I just love that music." He was talking about taking clogging lessons. I don't know whether he ever did or not.
KING: You were on with us the night after he died. You were in Beirut I think.
RATHER: I was.
KING: For "60 Minutes," right, of course, yeah.
KING: What is it like when a contemporary dies for you? What is it like doing the same job in the same age group when they leave?
RATHER: Well, part of what it's like is to recognize your own mortality and I know that sounds like a cliche but when someone, particularly someone like Peter, whom I knew well. I'm not going to pad my part here. Peter had a lot better closer friends than I ever was. I guess part of that was because we were competitors but I knew him well, liked him, respected him enormously.
Part of what went through my mind and I remember it after -- within minutes after being told that Peter had passed, better get ready, you know. The fine boys of Alabama sang a great old hymn along the lines of better get ready, so that was one of the things that went through my mind and how few of us do that, Larry you know in the swift pace, particularly pell-mell pace of American life these days?
You don't often think about better get ready but when someone like Peter dies in my life well that's what I thought and I thought about it a lot in the wee hours of that morning in Beirut.
KING: When we come back we'll ask Dan about last night's Emmy's and the incredible applause given him and Tom Brokaw, along with the picture of Peter Jennings on the stage. We'll be right back with Dan Rather; your calls at the bottom of the hour.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER JENNINGS: A very small group of witnesses, Iraqis and Americans, including three reporters, I was one of them, had waited only a few minutes when Saddam Hussein walked through the door.
We cannot see them but we can certainly hear them, the Israeli helicopters coming over from behind a ridge just two ridges away from us.
The Syrians reply that the Geneva Conventions also guarantee the right of civilians to return to their homes as soon as the fighting stops.
Like the '48 and '67 refugees of war before them, going home for these people has soon become of paramount importance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is that the kind of reporting you like to do too? You seem to like the scene. He loved it and you love it.
RATHER: I love and Peter loved it (INAUDIBLE) any number of times today. Because Peter was in television and because he came up young and, yes, because he was good looking and had a sophisticated, cosmopolitan way about him, one tends to forget what a good reporter he was.
What was brought up today at the memorial service and they played it was if Peter had gone to print he would be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for "The New York Times."
RATHER: "The Washington Post."
KING: Yes. Dan and Tom talked about it last night at the Emmy's. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: It still comes as something of a shock to say that the word "we" in the absence brought by Peter's passing, he left us far too soon and with everyone thought so much good work still ahead of him.
TOM BROKAW: You know, despite the occasional differences that the three of us may have had, Dan, Peter and I had a common commitment to the importance of serious journalism because that's what the American people expected, no less than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I said last night. That was Sunday night. What was your reaction to the way you were greeted?
RATHER: Well, there was a standing ovation and applause which naturally I was glad to see and hear.
KING: About two minutes.
RATHER: Because I think I had it in context. A lot of that, most of that was out of respect for Peter and his work and I think the rest of it almost overwhelmingly was an indication from the public that they understand those of us in news are going through a troubled and difficult time now. And it was -- I saw it as kind of a cheer for serious news, not to take yourself seriously but to take the news seriously. I absorbed it in that context.
KING: Not only were you honored with a news Emmy for lifetime achievement but did you see the irony. You won an investigative journalism Emmy.
RATHER: Well, I've said to you before, Larry, that being in journalism, particularly daily journalism is a humbling experience because among other things filled with all kinds of ironies and, of course, there's some irony in that.
KING: Is there any bitterness?
RATHER: No. There might have been a little in the beginning.
KING: Why not?
RATHER: Well, because I'm a pro and I don't say that in any self-serving way but, you know, I have a passion for journalism and over the years I've gotten credit for a lot more than I ever deserved. I've had a lot more come to me than I deserved.
And so, when the bad times come, by this stage of my life I'm able to put it in some perspective. I'm not bitter about it at all but we, you know, we did the best we could at the time. I've told you and I've told others did we do it perfectly, no. Do I wish we had done it better, of course, but I'm not bitter about it.
To think right now I can't say I'm incapable of being bitter but I think I'm incapable of being bitter about work and Peter's death fits into that, as I said to you before. You know it gives you perspective about what's important. I sometimes may attach too much importance to work because I do love it so but family, friends, in the end that's what counts and I know that.
KING: Bob Schieffer said he's only going to do it for about a year. Do you have any thoughts as to who's going to get that slot?
RATHER: I have not one clue, Larry, except that Les Moonves, whom I respect as a person and a leader has said that he does not want one person to become the new all-purpose center for a revised, we hope innovating new "CBS Evening News."
So, I don't have any idea. John Roberts, Scott Pelley, we have a long list of people in the inside who could do it but given what Les Moonves has said it's very clear to me that he wants to build more a repertoire company than to have one center anchor.
KING: What do you think of that idea?
RATHER: Listen, I work now for "60 Minutes." I'm not paid to think about any idea the boss has.
KING: But you grew up in the one anchor.
RATHER: I did.
KING: Although you had to share it once.
RATHER: Well, and to be not overly serious about it, serious for a moment, I can see some difficulties with this concept, which isn't to say that it won't work but when big news breaks, unexpected news, 9/11, Oklahoma City bombing, Hurricane Katrina, somebody has got to step in the chair and lead.
Now, you certainly could have a lot of other people around if you choose to or three or four people around the desk with you or on the outside but it's hard for me to imagine on breaking news, this is apart from the evening news, how you can escape having somebody that you say this is our experienced person. This is a person who can think while he talks and handle all the incoming information at the center of your breaking news coverage. Now, for the evening news, you don't have to have that.
KING: Could a good-looking anchor who reads well make it today just on that?
RATHER: Not on the "CBS Evening News." I don't think on the "CBS Evening News." I don't think so. I think our audience expects more than that. You know, with the great Ed Murrow setting the pace very early on, Ed Murrow's basic message was if you want to know who's responsible for this newscast you're looking at him or you're listening to him that the anchor needed to be someone who was emotionally involved in the responsibilities of what he was doing and that the person who covers the news is the person who brings you the news. Now, in somebody else's system what you described might work. At "CBS News" I can't imagine it.
KING: Before we break, be a movie critic for a second. You told me you've already seen something not many of us have, George Clooney's movie about Edward R. Murrow, "Good Night and Good Luck," right?
RATHER: "Good Night and Good Luck," is a George Clooney movie. I think it's great. You said, well I expect that out of you. You know, you've been listening to Ed Murrow since you were a child and you revere him and I do. But even setting aside my own personal prejudice as much as I can, there's no question this is a great movie and whether you walk out saying you agree with my review or not, you will learn a lot about journalism, particularly about electronic journalism by seeing this film. I think it's a great film.
KING: We'll be back. We'll include your calls. We'll get an update from Rob Marciano on Hurricane Rita. We're with Dan Rather. Don't go away.
KING: Very proud to announce that Dan Rather has sat on this side of the chair hosting this program. And he will host one of the weekend shows this weekend, when we cover Rita live. It will either be Saturday or Sunday. We hope it's not necessary, but it looks like it's going to be covering.
Before we get back with Dan and your phone calls, let's go to the CNN Weather Center and Chad Myers for an immediate update -- Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good evening, Larry.
Temperatures now very warm in the water. Things are getting heated up in the storm, as well. This entire thing, now, is just going to be its own heat engine.
The storm right there. Hurricane hunter aircraft just flew through it. One hundred twenty-one miles per hour. Now that's not down at the water level. That's where the planes fly, a couple thousand feet up. But that means this storm is getting stronger. Every time a plane goes through it, the storm gets stronger.
Key West getting another squall through here. You see the green. But the heaviest squalls are, in fact, well east of the center, coming into Key Largo hurricane and hurricane warnings and tornado warnings at the same time for Key Largo about an hour ago. And some of that weather almost all the way up to Fort Myers.
If you're living in Miami, you think it's over. Wait until you see this band of weather headed your way. There's Miami, and there's an outer band that's just been spreading heavy rain across the Straits there, through the Bahamas. But more rain to come, more severe weather to come for you tonight.
The eye tightening up. Watch this last couple of frames here. Look at that thing. You can just see the eye right there, right in middle of your screen. That means the storm is getting stronger.
Category 4 storm, 115 knots, 135 or so miles per hour by tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. And it stays strong the entire time.
The big question is, "Well, where does it go?" We know it's in the Gulf of Mexico. It has to hit something. It's completely surrounded by land mass now. What's going to stop it from going west or north or south? That big high pressure, right up there over the continental U.S.
As the low, the hurricane moves to the west. It has to wait for the high to get out of the way. That high says, "No, you can't come here until I leave." Well, it's not leaving until the storm gets very close to Galveston. That's the official forecast.
But some of the latest, greatest computer models we're looking at now, Larry, actually bring the storm from Beaumont, Port Arthur (ph), maybe over to Lafayette and also even into the Galveston area at 140 miles per hour.
If this storm moves anywhere near New Orleans, we're going to get that storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain again, and it's going be one disaster the after another. Because those levees that are barely keeping the water out now, just a foot and a half higher than the water, will never be able to counteract another storm surge.
KING: Thank you, Chad.
Before we get an update from Rob Marciano -- you kept shaking your head there, Dan.
RATHER: Well, here's why, Larry. I want to talk about my friend Peter Jennings, and more in a second. This is essentially a huge story in the making.
Two things that he just pointed out. No. 1, it's tightening up around the eye. When it tightens -- when it loosens, that's good news. When it tightens in the inner area, not good news.
Also, these aircraft flying at high altitudes, already 121 miles per hour wind gusts. They're talking about a Category 4 hurricane. That's the current projection. But no one should kid themselves. It has the potential to become a Category 5, the most devastating kind of hurricane, which would be winds 155 miles an hour, roughly, and above it.
Here's why. As long as that inner part of it is tightening, and it already has winds of 121 miles an hour, as it goes over the warm waters of the Gulf, it's got a long way to run. And that warm water does nothing but build it. This is a monster loose in the Gulf of Mexico, and there's no getting around it.
KING: And it's earlier than Katrina. Katrina didn't really start to build to this level, until it was up past Tampa.
RATHER: That's the reason I say that it could. I'm not a weather forecaster. We need to listen to the weather people. But following these things over the years, right now, it's going toward a 3. They say it's going to be a 4. But as long as it has to run, and as long as it's tightening up, and the water of the Gulf, warm water feeding it, it has the potential to be a really terrible hurricane.
KING: Rob Marciano, you're the weather expert. Is Dan right?
MARCIANO: Yes, very often that's the case. That's exactly the case. You start to tighten that eye up, you start to get things tightened like that, it's just like a figure skater. You use that analogy when you talk to kids about weather. A figure skater pulls her arms in and she starts to spin. So that does half the work for you.
So yes, it's a scary situation. I remember when Katrina came through three weeks ago and dove down across the southern Keys, and then into the Gulf of Mexico. And when that thing strengthened, I remember seeing the satellite picture, just like the unveiling of that eye, and it looked like a monster out there in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. And this has the potential to do the exact same thing.
If Dan's still with me, I'm curious, Dan, being a Texan. What other towns and communities, either north of Galveston or south, you know, are in danger, are susceptible, are low lying areas?
RATHER: Well, the best I can make out Rob, right now, the area and you've described it to what's most closely, is between roughly Lafayette, Louisiana, which is not far from the Texas border, on moving south and southwest, through the Beaumont, Port Arthur (ph) area, the so-called Golden Triangle are of the upper Texas coast. Galveston, Houston and Corpus Christi.
I would say from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Corpus Christi, Texas, is the place to keep an eye on.
As you pointed out, it has to go somewhere. Once it's in the Gulf, it's going to hit land somewhere. Now, there's a possibility, and we have a historical reference here, that it could get knocked down into northern Mexico. But that's not the way it looks right now. I would say Lafayette to Corpus Christi, that's the area to watch.
MARCIANO: Fair enough. We certainly hope that it weakens. But that doesn't like it's going to be the case.
Right now, Dan and Larry, squalls continue to come through. I heard in my ear, Chad talking about how they are still feeder bands rotating in from Miami. So this is not a weakening storm. And just in the last 20 minutes, gusts have continued to pulverize this out of the south. Certainly not more than 50 miles an hour, I think. That danger is gone. But it's going to be a long, long night for the folks who live especially in the lower Keys.
Back to you.
KING: Thank you very much, Rob Marciano. He'll be checking in later on with Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper.
We'll take a break and be back with phone calls for Dan Rather. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with a great reporter, Dan Rather, the former anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News," correspondent for "60 Minutes," last with us August 8, the night after Peter Jennings passed away.
Tucson, Arizona, hello.
CALLER: Hello. Thank you for my call. Mr. Rather, with your extensive interest in weather, did you ever consider being a meteorologist instead of a news person?
RATHER: No. You know, I dreamed of doing news from the time I was about 4 or 5 years old, I think because my father and mother were such avid newspaper readers. But I never thought about going into meteorology.
Once long ago and far away, I thought about a football coach. I thought, "Well, if I can't do news, maybe I'll wind up being a football coach."
But not -- I'm amateur at best at meteorology.
KING: Worst case, how far into Texas could this go?
RATHER: Well, if it maintains its current size and strength, both in wind velocity and what it's doing, building this great wave of water -- and Larry, if I may, I do want to point out again, because so many don't understand it, keep in mind, underscore, italicize, hurricanes spin in a counterclockwise manner, again.
And again, when I said Lafayette to Corpus Christi just off the top of my head, what I see here is the most dangerous area, anybody on the upside of this hurricane, even outside of that area, and that would include New Orleans, if it stays on the present track, could be in for a lot of trouble.
Now in answering your question how far inland could it go...
KING: Could Houston be into it?
RATHER: Houston is roughly 50 miles inland. If it stays on its present course, if it comes in at or near Galveston, Houston could have a bad time. This kind of hurricane can affect, I would say, as far inland as Austin, if it stays in its present course and present strength.
KING: Do you mean the people who escaped New Orleans could get hit in Houston?
RATHER: Well, absolutely. And it's my understanding the authorities are already moving. Many of the people who have been moved from New Orleans into Houston are being evacuated from Houston to other states.
KING: Calgary -- Calgary, Alberta, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry.
CALLER: Mr. Rather.
CALLER: I would like to ask Mr. Rather what he thinks Peter Jennings will be most remembered by.
RATHER: Peter accomplished so much it's hard to point to one thing. But if there's one thing that he'll be remembered for more than any other, I think it will be his dedication to international coverage, what we used to call foreign news coverage.
Peter's a very important person in the history of electronic journalism, because he was one of those building on the traditions of the Edward R. Murrows and Charles Conywoods (ph) of the world, who opened American electronic journalism to international coverage in the build-up to World War II on radio, and then kept it going on television.
Peter was part of the next generation that had such an interest in international affairs. As you know, he was one of the great foreign correspondents, print or broadcast, at any time. So I think he may be remembered most for his dedication to international coverage.
The other thing is his courage. I've said it on this program before. I've said it elsewhere. Anybody who talks about Peter Jennings, and does not mention his courage, has missed something very important about him. And I think he'll be well remembered for that, as well.
KING: Durango, Colorado, hello.
CALLER: Good evening. Did you ever feel overwhelmed by the news you needed to present to the viewer?
KING: Good question.
RATHER: Many times. Many times. For example, the Kennedy assassination, what we now know -- call the four dark days in Dallas. I remember when it became clear that President Kennedy not only had been shot at but had been hit, and then it came through he was dead...
KING: You were a journalist in Dallas.
RATHER: I was in Dallas at the time it happened, covering for CBS News. And CBS News broke the news before the official announcement that the president was dead.
I came very near to being overwhelmed. But what happens if you're a pro -- and at that time, I'd been a working reporter for probably about 12 or 13 years -- is you either go to pieces and steady yourself and get focus, kind of laser beam focus on the story. That was an occasion in which I was very nearly overwhelmed by the story.
Nine 11, how could you see what was happening on 9/11 and not feel a sense of being overwhelmed by it? I certainly did. KING: We all remember the famous radio broadcast of that journalist in Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the Hindenburg came from Germany and exploded. And he's describing the fire and people jumping out and later was -- had to be hospitalized for some period of time.
Did you ever come close to losing it?
RATHER: Many times, Larry.
RATHER: More times than I can recount. As they say in the first few moments when I learned that President Kennedy was dead, came very close to losing it. Plenty of times during the Vietnam War in the green jungle hell that was Vietnam. I always paused to say I wasn't a combatant. I was a correspondent. That was much worse. Any number of times during that one, almost lost it.
And 9/11. When we would take a break in the 9/11 broadcasts, I would -- I talked to myself, you know, "Steady." Ed Murrow's favorite word, "Steady."
KING: In Vietnam did you watch people die?
RATHER: Of course.
KING: And have to report it almost instantaneously?
RATHER: We didn't have instantaneous...
KING: On film.
RATHER: Yes. On camera. On camera. It sounds like an oxymoron, but delayed instantaneous. No one could do live broadcasting in Vietnam. To show how long ago it's been, Larry, in the shack (ph) in the evening around a sarsaparilla or two, we used to talk about how very soon that there would be live coverage of war.
But, there were situations when, as we filmed, people were shot and killed.
The thing about war, I think about this in relation to what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, now there's so much live coverage, and so much coverage, so much on television, if one isn't careful, one begins to think of it as kind of a video game. It ain't a video game. It's real mud and real blood, real screams of the wounded, real moans of the dying.
And when you're there, up close and personal, as we say, in television, it's about all you can do to hold yourself together while it's happening.
KING: We'll be right back with more of Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with Dan Rather. It was the day of the Peter Jennings memorial service here in New York. It's at Carnegie Hall. And news swirling all around us, weather wise.
Pensacola, Florida, hello.
CALLER: Hello. I have a question for Dan.
KING: Go ahead. Ask him.
CALLER: In the beginning of the golden trio between Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and yourself, was there any rivalry to see who could get the first story on air before the other on? And then before I hang up, I just always want to let you know, you're as equally as handsome as Peter Jennings was.
RATHER: Well, thanks for the compliment, although I know that's not true.
But as to the thrust of your question, of course. We had three young -- both Peter and Tom were younger than I was. Tom still is.
KING: It stays that way.
RATHER: I'd love to tell you that -- I didn't think about that. But I did. There were two young as we'd say in Texas, horses, the best compliment you can pay a man in Texas, say he's a horse. And I knew both of them were a horse.
And you bet we had lot of competition. And let me say in the early going, when Tom got the anchor chair at NBC, and then Peter became the anchor at ABC, the -- at the same time, the arena, the competitive arena in television news was expanding, becoming fiercer. One reason was CNN had been invented by Ted Turner and others -- and was coming on.
So as the competitive arena, and this is important for you as a viewer, I think, to understand. As the competitive arena got much longer in the 1980s, it got fiercer. Before that time, there were three over the airwaves major networks and that was the news competitive arena.
So we were not only competing against one another, but we could, as they say in pro football, hear the patter of little feet behind us, of cable coming on and that competition.
So speaking only for myself, but I know that both Tom and Peter felt the same way, we made some mistakes in letting the competition get a hold of our better selves. And I regret that.
But we became as -- Tom Brokaw's code of the brotherhood might be a little overstatement, but we came out of that most fiercely competitive period with mutual respect among the three of us. And that knocked off some of the edges of the worst of our competitive nature.
KING: Macon, Georgia, for Dan Rather, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Dan. My question is, with the devastation of Katrina and this new devastation, possible devastation of this new storm coming, in your opinion, do you think it would it be good for our troops to come on home from Iraq, to help here, to help the economy, to help their families and everything and just bring them on home?
RATHER: Thank you for the question. And I'm glad you called in. And I hope you'll take this with respect. President Nagier (ph) once said, "There are times when you should not miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut." And this is going to be one of those times for me.
That's a legitimate question. It's one that we should be having a national debate about. It's not for working reporters, even old, decrepit ones like myself, to comment on that kind of thing.
KING: Is it being, do you gather, talked about in newsrooms? Forget what the opinion might be.
RATHER: Sure. As it is on people hanging on the subway and bus straps every morning and in carpools every morning. Certainly it's being talked about.
But as best as I can judge, Larry, and sometimes I'm wrong about these things. Often wrong about these things. The American people are very much worried about what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in Iraq, because our casualties have been high there.
But there's also an understanding, wide and deep -- not everybody agrees. But sort of consensus, whatever you think of the war, whatever one thinks of the war, we're there now. And the question is how to extract ourselves with honor and what's smart. And I think that's what gets talked about in newsrooms perhaps more than bring the troops home to help in places like New Orleans.
KING: Do you ever fear that weather can overwhelm us? I mean, we're still in the middle of the hurricane season.
RATHER: We are.
KING: There could be another one and another one.
RATHER: Larry, I'm an optimist by nature and by experience. And I'm an American. It's quintessentially American to believe that nothing's going to overwhelm us. Now I know some in Europe and Asia say, "Well, that's the reason you're the world's children, because that's not the way it works."
But I really believe that. No, I don't think the weather can overwhelm us. We're capable -- we are capable of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and handling natural disasters. I'm not saying that that's the best strategy for us in terms of national defense, but are we capable of doing it? We are.
And if I read public opinion right, one reason people are so outraged about what happened in New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi with Hurricane Katrina, is that we didn't get the best out of ourselves. We didn't get anywhere near the best out of ourselves. I think the national sentiment is saying we're better than this. We're a lot better than this.
KING: Back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What's the kick a newsman gets? Is it that, "I know something, and I'm going to tell you"?
PETER JENNINGS, FORMER ABC ANCHOR: Well, I think it's -- not in any pious way. Not in any "I know something you don't know." But I think it is the "I know something and I want to pass it on."
But I think many of us -- not telling you anything you don't know. Many of us get into this business for the opportunity that it gives us to have a front seat for -- as history unfolds.
KING: A front seat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather. Couple things I haven't asked about. The John Roberts nomination. What do you make?
RATHER: It's what we'd call in Texas a gut cinch. No question. And not a surprise nomination. He's someone unquestionably qualified to be on the Supreme Court. I know the argument that while he may be qualified but there are other factors. But he's going to be a chief justice and, if his health holds, he'll be chief justice for a very long time and he will affect the judiciary direction of the country. Particularly given that President Bush has another appointment coming along behind him.
KING: Were you surprised at the weakness of the federal response to Katrina, initially?
RATHER: No, I was astonished.
RATHER: Absolutely. It was too little too late. Slow. This business of well, we didn't know ahead of time this could happen. I'm sorry. Bullfeathers. Everybody knew those levees were built to sustain a Category 2 at most. And the weather bureau was saying for days it was saying this thing was coming in that direction.
And the idea, we didn't know that people were suffering. People like Anderson, John Roberts of CBS, Brian Williams at ABC, FOX, everybody was saying these people in this Superdome and things here are not well. Now if we have somebody in a leadership position, whatever level, responsible for getting help to those people, and they weren't watching television, then there's something very much wrong.
Larry, I don't consider it's a partisan political matter at all. There has to be a high degree of communicable trust between the leadership and the led in a country such as ours. We depend on the leadership. And there was failure up and down the line. Not just in Washington. There was a good deal of failure in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as well, particularly in Louisiana.
KING: Former President Clinton said here Friday FEMA should go back to being an independent.
RATHER: Well, that's well above my pay rate, but I will say this. That FEMA had -- FEMA had a lot of trouble, came under justified criticism after Hurricane Andrew devastated just below Miami in the early '90s. And they were slow and terrible.
As a result of that, good leadership came into FEMA. And FEMA in the late 1990s...
KING: James Lee Witt.
RATHER: ... when Witt came in, got to be what it was supposed to be. And Republicans in Congress helped. Again, it wasn't a bipartisan matter.
When FEMA was moved into the new super bureaucracy of Homeland Security, it certainly raises the question of whether that was a good idea or not. And I heard President Clinton on the program the other night. It was a very good interview with him, and he has a point of view.
But I will say this, that if the argument is no, we don't want to move FEMA out of homeland security, then you've got to find a way to make it more effective than it was in New Orleans.
KING: Dan, I can't thank you enough. It's always great seeing you.
RATHER: Great pleasure to be here.
KING: And you'll be seeing more of him. Dan Rather, our man. We really like Dan Rather. I'm going to have Dan -- he said so many things about Anderson Cooper and off the air about Aaron Brown. They're going to co-host the next two hours, as they've done so nobly the past three weeks. Why don't you turn it over to Aaron and Anderson, with a comment, maybe?
RATHER: For "LARRY KING LIVE" and for the latest on the hurricane and other news, here's Aaron Brown in New York and Anderson Cooper in the Crescent City of New Orleans.
AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": Gee, Dan, it sounds like you've done television before. Thank you. It's nice to see you. RATHER: You're welcome. Good seeing you.
BROWN: You're looking great. Thank you.
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