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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Dan Rather
Aired July 12, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, exclusive, Dan Rather, what happened? His first live in-depth interview on his life after CBS. He tells his side of the abrupt departure that ended his legendary 44 years at CBS News, and he'll tell us about what he's doing next and why. Dan Rather covers it all and takes your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. It's always a great pleasure to have as our guest the broadcasting legend Dan Rather. As you know, he recently left CBS after 44 years, just got a new job. We'll talk about all that tonight. But first, let's take a quick look at an extraordinary career.
KING: He's reported from the front lines of wars and protests.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But don't push me. Take your hands off of me unless you plan to arrest me.
KING: Had memorable on-air run-ins with president Richard Nixon.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you running for something?
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?
KING: And then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well Dan, let's be careful here because you're --
RATHER: No sir, I want you to be careful, Mr. vice president, because ...
BUSH: I will be careful. I don't remember that.
RATHER: Then how do you explain that you can't remember what other people at the meetings --
BUSH: I was not there at that point.
KING: And by 1981 Dan Rather was ready to take over as CBS news anchor from a broadcast legend.
WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: A great broadcaster and gentleman Doug Edwards preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow.
KING: He would hold that chair for 24 years, three more than Walter Cronkite. And he never stopped chasing scoops. But in 2004 he was correspondent for a 60 minutes II story questioning president George W. Bush's national guard service. Internet bloggers challenged key documents in that report, and CBS finally acknowledged it couldn't authenticate them.
RATHER: It was a mistake. CBS news deeply regrets it. Also I want to say personally and directly I'm sorry.
KING: Before an independent panel released its findings on memogate Rather announced he'd step down as CBS news anchor in March of 2005, a year before what would have been his 25th anniversary.
RATHER: After nearly a quarter of a century as the anchor of this broadcast I've decided it's time to move on.
KING: And then three weeks ago a sudden, unceremonious exit from the network where he'd worked for four decades.
KING: We welcome Dan Rather, as always to LARRY KING LIVE. What happened? Why so abrupt? What happened, Dan?
RATHER: Larry, I don't know everything that happened. What I do know is that there was a contract which went unfulfilled and there were promises not kept. I was surprised by that. I never heard the other side of the story, which is to say that I never heard from the top of the corporation or the top of the news division.
KING: Didn't call you?
RATHER: No. So I don't know. But I want to make it clear, I don't have any complaints. My mother taught me, as she had been taught by her mother, my grandmother, Paige, about yesterday, no tears, about tomorrow, no fears. And what happened at CBS is yesterday. Much of it is a puzzle to me, it remains a puzzle to me. I wish I had the answers of exactly what happened. But I've said to you that there were promises unkept. I never heard the other side.
KING: Later we'll talk about the new job. But are they painful puzzles?
RATHER: The straight answer is, I hate to use the word painful, but it's apt. It's apt. I was disappointed and puzzled. And perhaps there were good reasons for this. But with so much of life we don't know the full story and I may never know the full story. It may be simple. It may be complicated. What I don't want to do is play any games with you or with the audience and say oh, well, it didn't matter. Of course it mattered. I had 44 years there. But in the end what I was told, what was relayed to me, was we just don't have a place for you.
KING: And how is that said? Were you at your desk? What happened? Did you get a phone call?
RATHER: I got a phone call from the lawyers. It was relayed by the lawyers. A little earlier than that the executive producer of "60 Minutes" had said that he expected me to be gone by the end of June, or the end of May. And that came as a surprise to me. But perhaps I should have known, you know, going along that there was a point in the middle of last year in which what I thought had been a warm, good relationship with the very top management turned marble slab cold.
And why that was I don't know. But I want to answer the questions directly, but it's important to me that you know and anybody watching and listening know that I've been extremely lucky. I was really lucky to work at CBS news. I was blessed to be able to live my dream in many ways at CBS news. And what happened, with all the things that the country has to worry about now.
KING: Yes, but you're part of the country. You're part of the country's lore. You're a part of us. I'll read you a statement made by Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports. Of all the famous names associated with CBS news, the biggest and brightest on the marquee are Murrow, Cronkite, and Rather. With the utmost respect we mark the extraordinary and singular role Dan has played in writing the script not only of CBS news but of broadcast journalism. There will always be a part of Dan Rather at CBS news. He is truly a reporter's reporter and he's helped to train several generations of broadcast journalists. His legacy cannot be replicated. Does that ease it?
RATHER: I very much appreciate that. I appreciate Sean McManus saying that.
KING: Would it be nicer if he said it to you?
RATHER: Well, after I was gone, as I was going this is what they said. And I do appreciate it. Larry, but I'm looking ahead. CBS news is in my rearview mirror now. I have a special place for the people, present and past at CBS news, I worked with. It's filled with really caring, dedicated, working people. There came a time when I realized and everybody realized, I shouldn't speak for everybody. I'll speak for myself. That we were working for not CBS and not CBS news. We were working for Viacom News, which was a whole different thing, a larger company.
KING: An entertainment company.
RATHER: That was the, yes. It was a large entertainment company. And now they've split back. But we started working for Viacom News with different interests, different traditions. And more lately, and they have a right to do this, they indicated they want to go in a different direction. The very top management has said they want, I think this is a paraphrase of a quote, they want to break with the past past. They want to be done with the past and build something new. And I'll be interested to see what that something new is.
But it's, I want to do news that matters. And so much of news these days, and this is not directed at CBS and I include myself as one who from time to time, maybe more than time to time, but it's so driven by ratings, so driven by demographics, so driven by, we used to be told stockholder value. It's driven by things other than the public interest. I want to do news that's fair and accurate, do it with integrity and I want to do it in the public interest, and I now have an opportunity to do that at HD Net.
KING: We'll talk about that later. Our guest is Dan Rather. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
RATHER: Good evening. President Reagan, still training his spotlight on the economy.
It's now officially called Operation Desert Storm.
The American evacuation, similar to that from Pnom Pen, Cambodia just 17 days ago.
Unemployment higher or lower?
It's important to say these things at the very beginning. There is much that is not known about what has happened.
Tim McVeigh is about to learn his fate for blowing up the federal building.
Much of it is first person. The users, the sellers, the families, the law.
And to each of you, courage. For the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: The failure of CBS News to do just that, to properly fully scrutinize the documents and their source, led to our airing the documents when we should not have done so. It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it. Also I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You think that was it, that's the reason you're gone? Even though you stayed a while.
RATHER: I don't know. It's certainly possible.
KING: In your statement you said, "as for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignment, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing." How did they make that offer? They said to you, what, do you want to sit around?
RATHER: No, it came again, it came through lawyers.
KING: Like you want a desk?
RATHER: It was, "if you want to stay with a desk and a secretary and an office, certainly not an office right here, and if you're prepared to sign a piece of paper that says you'll never say anything derogatory about CBS or won't do it for a long time and that you'll never sue the company, then you can do that."
But anybody who knows me knows that, you know, I want to work. I'd much rather wear out than rust out. And for others that may be a good way to go. And some others have gone that way. They're quite comfortable with taking an office.
You know, age comes into it and your hunger for work and what you want to do. But frankly, I saw this as kind of a version of not golden handcuffs, but maybe brass handcuffs.
But you know, it's behind me. They handled it in a curious way. And I wish I knew the whole story. I wish I had had an opportunity to say hey, what's happening? This is Dan.
KING: You think they're calling one of the suits and saying let's have lunch?
RATHER: It never happened. After a certain point I didn't talk to anybody at the top, and I found that strange.
KING: Concerning the National Guard story, Mike Wallace was on this show, and I asked him about it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Rather is a friend, first of all, good friend, a man I respect. Brave, courageous, first-rate reporter. He and the people that he was working with took on the piece about the president's military service. The people who were fired as a result of that were the people who helped him. I felt that Dan, when these people who worked so hard with him on that piece, when they were fired that he -- and I told him so. Dan, I think you should have -- I think you probably still should, you should have resigned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: I'm not going to get in an argument with Mike Wallace or any of the others who have seen fit to pass their judgments on me. He's entitled to his opinion.
One thing I'd like the record to show, that the first time Mike said that to me was after he had done an interview for NBC "Dateline." That's the first time he mentioned to me what he thought I could have, might have, should have done.
But you know, Mike and the others who've been critical and had their own view in hindsight of what might have done, could have done, they have to answer for themselves and the times in the past when things may not have gone right.
But I'm not going to get into an argument with him. There's too much of journalists arguing with one another, too much in the personalities of things that I would also like to say that when Mike says he's a friend, that during the year and a half before I left there was some -- speaking of curious things, some curious things happened. But he's entitled.
KING: Regarding Mike and you?
KING: Does it leave you with a bad taste?
RATHER: It wasn't the best of tastes.
KING: Do you still feel a loyalty to those producers who worked with you?
RATHER: Absolutely. One of my disappointments was that, you know, over most if not all of my career, I've taken the view that we go into stories together, no matter what happens we stay together and we come out the other side together.
But Larry, I can't believe very many people are still interested in this -- that of course it's painful when Mike Wallace, whom I've known for a long time, says these kinds of things in retrospect. And he wasn't the only one.
But it's an old story in life as well as journalism that when the heat gets on and when you get knocked down, some people surprise you because they come to your aid and you say, "Well, I never knew that guy would do that or I never knew that woman would do that." And other people are the other way. But overall and in the main, you're looking at one lucky man. I've been a lucky journalist all my life.
KING: And luck is the residue of design. We have an e-mail to our Web site from Cynthia of Easton, Maryland who wants to know, "Do you think age discrimination played any role in your departure from CBS?"
RATHER: Well as I said, I don't know. I know so little about the departure, I simply don't know. It certainly has not been a factor in what I'm moving to. To get this opportunity I have at HDNet to do a program of my own in which I have editorial and creative control, working for a man in Mark Cuban, who I think understands that hard news needs backers who won't back down, won't back away when the heat gets on.
KING: I want to get to that. How do you deal with -- we were talking earlier in the offices about loss. And the hardest thing would probably be the loss of a child and then divorce or break-ups. The loss of a job, how do you deal with that when you're told good- bye? Your wife a big help?
RATHER: Of course. But Larry, it's different. When you change jobs at my age and stage of career -- the reason I said before I was lucky, listen, I haven't had it tough over the last year and a half.
You know, a single mother trying to make it with kids, the policeman who walks a beat in a tough neighborhood late at night, people who work at a charity hospital after midnight on Saturday morning, these people have it tough.
And many, many people when they lose a job have real financial issues. I remember my father who worked with his back and his hands all his life, dug ditches for pipelines and eventually climbed poles as a lineman, that he quit a job once and went into business and the business folded.
And I remember the concern, fear bordering on terror, of my mother because my father was out of work. Now, many Americans, particularly those who are of age during the depression, have these stories. The answer to your question, of course it's never comfortable to lose a job. And I want to make sure that people understand that I know how lucky I am and for me, I can't say it was no big deal, but...
KING: ... You weren't in a financial bind.
RATHER: I was not in a financial bind and it had reached a point where I was eager to move on to whatever the next thing, I wish it had been at CBS News but it wasn't and so I moved on to the next thing.
KING: We'll take a break when we come back we'll ask Dan's thoughts about the coming of Katie Couric to CBS. And later we'll talk about his new job. We'll also be including your phone calls for Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: He's a superb reporter. Look, he let his heart show. You remember the hassle that he had with George W. Bush's father, on the air. While Brokaw and Jennings kept it at arms length, Rather showed the way he felt. Big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARD R. MURROW, CBS NEWS 1935-1961: Good evening. The Atomic Energy Commission has just announced ...
DOUGLAS EDWARDS, CBS EVENING NEWS, 1948-1962: President Truman held a news conference, as is customary on Thursday, and he answered one of the big questions ...
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS EVENING NEWS, 1962-1981: Good evening from our CBS news room in New York on this, the first broadcast of network television's first daily half hour news program.
RATHER: This is the CBS evening news. Dan Rather reporting. Never before in 25 years of Americans in space ...
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS EVENING NEWS, 2005-Present: Good evening. I'm Bob Schieffer. Tom Delay's fall from power is complete. The former House Republican leader is resigning from Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A little history of a great network. The next one in that anchor chair will be Katie Couric. What do you think?
RATHER: She's a very good interviewer. She's a good and decent person. Her father was a newspaper man. She has a very good on- screen personality. And if she demonstrates she loves the news and has leadership skills, which I think she does in both cases, she'll be fine.
KING: Danny Foreman of Overland Park, Kansas asks, concerning her, what will be her largest challenge or obstacle in becoming the first female ever to be the solo anchor of an evening news for a major network?
RATHER: To demonstrate that she loves the news. That particularly doing evening news broadcasts, there has to be a sense of trust. It's less in my opinion-others have other opinions. It's less whether people like your smile or like your tie or like what you're wearing or like your personality, than whether they think that you're a journalist in your core. There are other people with other views who don't believe this. This is my view.
KING: You think the public recognizes it?
RATHER: I do. My experience is that people who watch news broadcasts recognize it. And they, you know, people will have their favorites, but they do recognize it.
KING: In Katie's case, because she's such a good broadcaster, that the odds would be in her favor?
RATHER: If, as I say, she demonstrates she loves the news. I expect her to do well. I think she'll do well. A lot of it, again, you know, we're talking about personalities. It's, frankly, I think it's less what Katie can do than it is what do the people who run the network and run the news division, what kind of news do they want, do they really want to put on?
If it's completely ratings driven, driven by demographics, and doesn't have a sense, a very strong sense of public service, then whatever she does will be, would be more difficult. There are other factors we're not going to go into. For example, the owned and operated stations of the CBS chain haven't been the strongest in recent years, and what comes before you and what follows you on the air in the evening news has a great deal to do with how you do in the ratings. I said for years you give me Oprah in front of me and Wheel of Fortune behind me and I'll win for you. I'll win in Dallas, I'll win in Dubuque, I'll win in Des Moines for you. It was a way of saying what comes before and you what comes after you. But we'll have to see. Ms. Couric is at CBS News now and we'll see in the fall how she does. I like her chances.
KING: You do like her chances?
RATHER: I do.
KING: We will take a break, and when we come back, more with Dan Rather. In the next half hour we'll also be including some of your phone calls, some more e-mails as well. And we'll find out about Dan's new gig. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: To our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in dangerous places, to those who have endured the tsunami, and to all who have suffered natural disasters and who must now find the will to rebuild, to the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle in financial hardship or in failing health, to my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all, and to each of you, courage. For the CBS evening news, Dan Rather reporting. Good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with an extraordinary broadcaster, an old friend, Dan Rather. You mentioned earlier, I want to go back to it, unkept promises. Like?
RATHER: Well, I was told that I was going to be a regular correspondent on "60 Minutes." I wasn't. That's an example. There were unkept promises. And I asked several times that the promises be kept, and...
KING: What'd they tell you?
RATHER: ... Well, I was told through third parties we think we're keeping them. That was part of it. In some cases it was demonstrably true that they weren't keeping it.
And Larry, as I talk about this, and I want to answer your questions as truthfully as I can, as candidly as I can, but compared to what news ought to be doing, concentrating on whatever happened to Dan Rather at CBS News, how he left, under what circumstances, and even the story in which I didn't -- we didn't do as good a job as I thought we should have done -- and I do want to make clear, you've played several times the clip of what I said on the air.
That was -- first of all, I was playing team. I meant every word of it. In that the -- we had a lot, a lot of corroboration, of what we broadcast about President Bush's military record. It wasn't just the documents.
But it's a very old technique used that when those who don't like what you're reporting believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough. It's a diversionary technique.
KING: You're saying that was a fair report, I mean that was -- you believe that report to this day?
RATHER: Do I believe the truth of the story, absolutely.
KING: Have you ever thought of entertaining a lawsuit?
RATHER: Notice that I pause.
KING: Pregnant pause.
RATHER: I'm not going to talk about that.
KING: But you're not saying no? I'll just -- I'm being a Dan Rather journalist now. You did not say no.
RATHER: You asked me had I ever thought about it. And the answer is I can't say that I never thought about it.
KING: It's been reported that you refused to be interviewed for the upcoming PBS American masters documentary on Walter Cronkite. Katie Couric reportedly is the narrator of that. Is that true?
RATHER: I don't know that Katie Couric is the narrator. Here's what's true. Walter never asked me to do that. That Walter Cronkite has never asked me to do anything that I didn't try very hard to do. Walter never asked me to do this and therefore, I never was in a position to say no to him.
KING: Oh, it's his program? Or is it the producers' program?
RATHER: Well, it's a program -- I don't know the name of the program. But here's the thing, that if he'd asked me to do it, I would do it. I think this is somebody looking to try to stir something up. I'm sure it'll be a good program, and I'll be watching.
KING: CBS has said it plans to do a primetime special about your career this fall. What do you think of that? Will you be involved?
RATHER: They have said that, and I don't know what to think about it. And we haven't got to the point -- they haven't discussed it with me in any detail. So I don't know. I haven't been asked to be involved.
KING: Does it make you feel good? I mean, obviously it's going to be a salute.
RATHER: Well, I don't know. Do you have that in writing, by the way?
KING: No, I don't know that they're doing it. But have you heard that they're doing it?
RATHER: They told me they were doing it. When they do it -- but you know, my goal now is to get this new thing going, this HDNet thing going. And if they do it, that'll be fine.
KING: A harsh e-mail from Maxine of New Orleans. "Why can't Dan Rather just retire gracefully? He gets no sympathy here."
RATHER: Well, I appreciate the lady saying that. And she's entitled. And it's a fair enough question, that I could retire. But I don't want to stop doing the news. The news is -- it's in my marrow and as long as I have my health -- and this is not something I've been saying since I reached my 70s or in my 60s or my 50s.
I said it all my life. As long as I have my health, I want to be reporting somewhere. So while I can respect the lady's point of view and smile a bit about it, I have to say respectfully, it's just not in my nature, that I want to work.
I was raised by people who worked very hard and who loved to work hard and took joy in their work. And I came up in an environment -- that's the way I feel now. I can't wait to get to HDNet and do Dan Rather reports in an environment in which ratings, demographics, the corporate entanglements with the need for legislation and regulation, all of that's behind me now.
KING: I'm going to ask you about that next after the break. But you mentioned loving the news. What do you mean by that? In other words, you get up in the morning, you love the story? You'd love war stories? You love -- you love that?
RATHER: Well, I don't love war stories. Nobody loves war stories.
KING: Most news is bad.
RATHER: But that's not altogether true. But another subject for another day. What do I mean by loving the news? You know what love is. It's a dictionary definition of love, and it's inside you. You know what you love.
KING: You know when you love it.
RATHER: You know when you love it. And for whatever reason I've loved the news since I can remember. I loved it when I was in elementary school.
KING: Now, do you know it when you watch someone if they love it?
RATHER: Over a period of time I can tell. You can't tell it snap like that. You can't tell in 15 minutes. But you know, I think I can tell. Sometimes I miss.
But you know, when you love something, you want to continue doing it. We're talking about work. If you love to play the piano, if you love to dance. I love to report. And I want to do news that matters.
KING: We're going to take a break, come back, talk about his new job and take your phone calls. Tomorrow night Jimmy Kimmel is with us. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Back there behind this first vehicle is a humvee which is described by someone who's seen it as quote, "having the glass, the windows blown out."
Shrimpy's Restaurant by the Sea became in effect a bunker for Iraqi troops with their SAM missiles and see where they're living all back in here. They left here in a hurry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather. We'll ask about his new job and take some calls, but first I did ask you and than I skipped over the answer of who was your strong rock who stood by you when this happened? I mean, where did comfort come from?
RATHER: Well, my wife, Jean, and my children and grandchildren. I think this is true of most people who go through whatever trouble. Having said that, I didn't consider it a particularly difficult time.
KING: You didn't?
RATHER: No. Partly because I did have a lot of support and partly because I had it in a context. I always talk about reporting needs more context and perspective and more depth and I tried to apply it to my situation. I said, listen, compared to most people you're among the luckiest guys on the planet.
KING: Sure are.
RATHER: And I particularly feel that since I signed this new arrangement with Mark Cuban at HD Net.
KING: What is that deal
RATHER: It has three parts. First and foremost, to do a one- hour weekly news program, in which I have creative and editorial control, complete and total, do what I want to do. That we hope to make a combination of hard-edged field reports, investigative stories, and interviews. I love to, I would like to do interviews, Larry, as well as you do them.
I'd like to do interviews that with a combination of doing your homework and good common sense, that you ask the kind of questions that people sitting in their living room watching TV shout at the TV set when a news program is on and say why don't you ask him this question, why don't you ask him that question? I think I can have some fun with it. But most importantly, I'd like to make a contribution. I know that may strike some people as trite or corny, but I really feel it.
KING: What are the other parts?
RATHER: The other part of this arrangement are I'm going to do at least two documentaries a year. Once we get up and rolling we might be able to do more. But two a year. And if I can contribute anything to their movie business, then they're eager to hear it. They helped produce "Good Night and Good Luck." They've had a very good run of movies. Now, what I know about the movie business can be written on the stomach of a germ, and I'm not sure that I can contribute very much. But those are the three parts of it.
KING: Now, what is the HD Network?
RATHER: Well, the HD Net is, HD is high def.
KING: But I mean where is it seen?
RATHER: If you have a high def television set, which the day is coming when, if not everybody, almost everybody will have a high def television set, because the image is so much sharper ...
KING: There's only 30 channels there now on HD. You're one of the 30?
RATHER: They have two. But HD Net is one. And I've found the best of the group for reasons we can go into another time. But if you have, when you get a high def television set and you then call your cable subscriber or your satellite provider and they take it the rest of the way.
KING: Can you see it in other areas? I mean, you must have HD to see this?
RATHER: Yes. It's a high definition ...
KING: So you're going to have a much lower audience to start than you're used to.
RATHER: Well, that's true. But at this time I'm more interested in the quality of what we do than the quantity that we get to watch it. I'm very eager to get to it, Larry, because the new technology, not just high def, also what's happening on the Internet, the new technology can make news so much better than it's been. I'm eager to get to it and explore ways to use the new technology, to use the new ways ...
KING: Did Mark Cuban contact you?
RATHER: A mutual friend ...
KING: ... put you together?
RATHER: A mutual acquaintance put us together. That I, look, I was looking for the next generation of investors, who understood news, understood what it took to back a news operation in the tradition of Bill Paley, what he did in the late '20s and early '30s and on into the '40s and '50s, what Ted Turner did. And when people say to me, well, HD Net, I don't know, high definition, I can remember when they said that about CNN. Well, it's a noodle network, it's not going to amount to anything, Ted Turner's a wild man. Well, here we are in 2006 and we see where they are. I believe in the future of high definition television. And I also want to do something online in the Internet world. I'm not sure what that will be, but I want to do that.
KING: You ain't going away.
RATHER: Well, with God's grace I won't be going away.
KING: Let's check in with Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360." What's up at the top of the hour Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Larry, thanks. Dan, thanks. Coming up at the top of the hour on "360," 23 major wildfires burning across the west tonight. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and now many of those homes are burning. What's worse, the conditions do not look good for containing some of the largest fires. We'll have the latest.
Also tonight, major developments in the Middle East. Truly taking the story to the next level and a very dangerous level. Israel now attacking positions inside Lebanon and threatening to do the same to Syria. There have been more kidnappings of soldiers, and sadly, more deaths. We'll have all that and more at the top of the hour. Larry?
KING: Thanks, Anderson. That's "AC 360" at 9:00 Eastern -- at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. We'll be back with Dan Rather. We'll take some calls and an e-mail or two. Don't go away.
KING: Got a call waiting a while. Let's take it. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Hello.
Caller: Good evening, Larry. It's wonderful to see two great broadcasters on the program tonight. Dan, I have two quick questions for you. One is do you feel cheated by the way CBS treated you, by the outcome of what you reported? And my second question is who do or did you admire or is your mentor in broadcasting?
RATHER: Well, as to the first, we've spoken about it here. Do I feel cheated? No. As to the second, I've always admired Edward R. Murrow and not just since the film, the recent film has been made. You know, I consider him to be the platinum standard, that when he died Eric Sevareid, who was also a mentor and great help to me, said of Ed Murrow, he was a shooting star. We're not likely to see his kind anytime soon. Well, I doubt that we'll ever see him again. But he set such a high standard that you know ...
KING: No one can reach that. RATHER: I can't meet that standard. But those are the answers to your questions. Always with Murrow I admired him. But I have many people in journalism that I admire. I admire young people, younger correspondents, let's face it Larry, they're all younger now, at CBS News that I worked that I'm glad I don't have to compete against.
KING: What do you think of our John Roberts, who we got from CBS?
RATHER: John Roberts is first grade help.
KING: What did you -- when you left the office the last day, did you clear out everything? Did you have mementos? What did you take?
RATHER: I've never been a great memento saver, but I had a few. But basically, I left and someone who works with me cleaned out the rest of it. But let's don't overdramatize this.
KING: I don't want to do that, either. We have an e-mail from Kathy Strauss of Linthicum, Maryland who asks, "Do you think mainstream media news will continue to be most people's primary news service with the proliferation of blogs and other non-mainstream sources?"
RATHER: No, I don't. I think as time goes along that there will always be a place for what we now call quote "mainstream media." I can't see ahead. You know, my crystal ball is permanently in the hock shop.
But in terms of looking ahead, it seems inevitable to me that things are moving so swiftly with the new technology, not just high definition, which I've cast my luck with, high definition television, but with the Internet and the new technologies, it will be value added provided we think about it and answer to our best instincts instead of our base instincts.
KING: Gail Shister in today's "Philadelphia Inquirer," who I guess you know pretty well, she's been around a long time. She quotes Tom Brokaw and describing your exit from CBS as "a train wreck you could see coming for months."
What do you make of that?
RATHER: I don't quite know what to make of it. I did read it. Gail Shister's a very good reporter. I have no doubt about it.
But while we're talking about Tom Brokaw, I've noticed that he's catching some flack about this documentary on the environment that he's done. And I don't want to miss an opportunity to back him.
I haven't seen the documentary, but I know that Tom Brokaw is a first-rate journalist and accusations by people who haven't even seen it that he was unfair, inaccurate, I think you can put it in the general heading that it happens regularly when you don't report the news the way some people in power want you to report it, they're going to try to make you pay the price for it. And my support for Tom is complete in this.
KING: Something you were attacked about a lot, right? They called Dan Rather and CBS the liberal network, right?
RATHER: Well, they call you names when you insist on being independent. Larry, I think it's so important for the public to understand -- it's not important for Dan Rather, not important for people who have made a lot of money and got more credit than they deserve, which I have over the years.
But it's important for the American people to understand that a journalist or journalistic enterprise that's willing to be truly independent and fiercely independent when called upon and dedicated to pulling no punches and playing no favorites, have become in recent years a bit of an endangered species.
And it's not for their sake. It's not for journalists' sake but for the sake of the country, you want journalists knocking on doors and saying what's going on in there?
Now, journalism is a human endeavor. And nobody can do it perfectly. Certainly I didn't do it perfectly. A lot of people think I did it lousy. Maybe I did. And I've got my scars and I've got my wounds. And yes, people always want to put a sign around you and call you something bad if you refuse to report the news the way they want it reported.
I had my difficulties with Lyndon Johnson, with -- certainly with Richard Nixon, with President Carter. It's in the nature. If you're an independent-minded journalist, then people who have a highly politically partisan and/or ideological point of view, what they come at you with in saying, "Listen, if you don't report the news the way we want you to report it, we're going to make you pay a price and we'll damage you badly and if we can destroy you we'll destroy you."
Now, this is important for the public to understand. And forgive the personal reference if you must. But CBS News has a history. Edward R. Murrow took on Senator McCarthy and what he stood for. He took on with harvest of shame in a great documentary about the poor.
Then CBS News led with civil rights, led in coverage of the Vietnam War, led in coverage of the only president in history who resigned as an unindicted co-conspirator in a widespread criminal conspiracy.
Now, when you're a reporter taking -- involved in those kinds of stories on a regular basis, there are people and there are powerful people who say, we've got to get rid of this guy or we have to have this guy -- we're going to damage him up. And that's when they start hanging the signs around you.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather, who ain't going away. Don't go away.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: One of the things we'll miss from Dan on CBS is that Rather turn of a phrase. We've pulled together a few moments from election night 2000. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Back at CBS News, election headquarters in New York. This much tension you can't cut with a saw. It requires a blowtorch. Bush is sweeping through the south like a tornado through a trailer park. His lead is now shakier than cafeteria Jello. Turn the lights down, the party just got wilder.
That will have the Bush people in Austin jumping out of their seats like they were stabbed with hat pins. But close only counts with hand grenades and horseshoes. Under the journalist's creed of you trust your mother but you cut the cards and you check it out, I'm going to double check whether that's true. Mark it if you will. If you're in the kitchen, Mable, come back in the front room, 145 for Gore.
If Gore comes back now, it would have to be rated as one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus. But I'll tell you, when it comes to reporting a race like this, I'm a long-distance runner and an all-day hunter and I'll be here because this is just too good to miss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Those things come naturally to you, right? You whip them out like a Ross Perot.
RATHER: Well, election night's a long night, you know. And you always like to keep it interesting.
KING: Did you have fun doing that? Did you like election night?
RATHER: I love election nights, Larry. I love covering politics. And election nights are something special. And who would not have wanted to cover -- who would not have wanted to be in the anchor chair on election night 2000?
KING: How'd you like being a White House correspondent?
RATHER: Loved it. My problem is, if it is a problem, is I love it all. I never walked through the White House gates, not a single day, I covered the White House for 10 years almost total, I never walked through those gates a single morning that I didn't say to myself, this is an honor.
KING: Good luck to you, Dan. We'll be seeing lots of you.
RATHER: Thanks, Larry.
KING: Have you back when the show starts too.
RATHER: I'll hold you to that. KING: Dan Rather. One last note before we go, tomorrow night Jimmy Kimmel will here and Owen Wilson too, from his new movie "You, Me and Dupree." And Friday night, supermodel Heidi Klum and the "Project Runway" team will join us to take you inside the fashion world's answer to "American Idol." They'll all answer your e-mails, so if you have a question for Jimmy, Owen or Heidi and company, e-mail us by going to CNN.com/LarryKing. We'll take your calls, too. Right now we'll take you to New York. Anderson Cooper will host "A.C. 360." Anderson?
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