CNN’s Larry King Live Interview with Dan Rather Thursday, September 20, 2007 LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive -- Dan Rather, his first and only TV interview since his explosive $70 million lawsuit against CBS. He says his old bosses caved to an angry White House and scapegoated him off the anchor desk and out of the network. Dan Rather with his side of a very controversial story. Plus, the man who testified against O.J. Simpson at his double murder trial, then sat face-to-face with him as Simpson described those brutal murders. O.J.'s "If I Did It" ghostwriter. Does he think one of the most talked about books of the year is truly a confession? And O.J.'s attorney -- he flew from Vegas to Florida with Simpson last night. How does he plan to fight those 10 felony charges that could put his client behind bars for life? It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE. Good evening. We begin one of the major stories of the day. It involves Dan Rather who's had his share of them -- covering them and about him, being about him. Why? Why are you suing? DAN RATHER, FORMER ANCHOR & MANAGING EDITOR OF "CBS EVENING NEWS": Thank you for having me... KING: Thank you for coming. RATHER: Thanks for having me on tonight. Good to see you again. KING: Same here. Why are you suing? RATHER: Two reasons, two core reasons. In no particular order -- although I do think the most important reason is somebody sometime has got to take a stand and say democracy cannot survive, much less thrive, with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in news. KING: And how were you interfered with? What happened with you? RATHER: Well, this was a case in which -- I think it's one of a number of different kinds of cases that speak to that principle. I'll come back to it in a minute why this case and what happened. But you said why this suit? And the other is fair dealing. They had a contract with me. They had obligations under the contract and they didn't fulfill the obligations of that contract. KING: I thought they met -- I thought they paid you off. I thought you were compensated. RATHER: No. That there were specific things in the contract that called for a certain number of appearances -- what I would do after I left the anchor chair, be a regular, I say a full-time correspondent in "60 Minutes," in "60 Minutes II" when it was still on the air. But, you know, I consider this, if you will, the weeds of the story, which is to say, yes, it's an important part of the story and the lawsuit will, I think, demonstrate what you said. But the most important thing, Larry, and I can't emphasize it too much, is when somebody says why did you bring this lawsuit now, you know, I've had a lot of time to think over this the last year working for Ray Shiette (ph) and doing the "Dan Rather Reports" every Tuesday, and working for Mark Cuban -- who, for whatever else you may think of him, believes in total, complete, absolute independence, backs up his people in the way that Ted Turner did, in the way that William S. Paley did, in the great tradition of CBS News. That's the way it worked. And I made the mistake of believing that's the way it still worked. KING: In essence, you are saying that that network got rid of you -- copped out on the report, etc. Because of appealing to the Bush White House? Is that what you're saying, they were trying to appeal to the Bush White House? RATHER: Yes is the short answer to that. But I think that they and others have been doing it to part of Washington's power structure long before them. And what I'm trying -- look, in my own wee small way -- perhaps, I can't succeed at it, is to say people, whether you're Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative -- big government and big corporations have far too much influence and are intimidating, especially investigative reporting. You may remember, Larry, after the 2000 election, when all three of the news division presidents went down to Washington and testified. They never should have been there. Big government has no business in the newsroom. KING: Yes. RATHER: And they read scripts prepared for them written on the corporate side. KING: Now, you were on the show in June 2005, about a year before you left CBS News. We talked about the controversy and how it was affecting you. Let's watch that exchange. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 2005) KING: You were the focal point and then you had to stand up and say you were wrong. RATHER: Well... KING: But emotionally, what was it like for a reporter who devotes his life to this? RATHER: Well, this is never -- it's never pleasant. But, you know, among the many things that my late father, God rest his soul, taught me, is don't whine, don't complain, don't fall in the trap of saying well, it's bad luck or good luck. Stand up, look them in the eye, 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. (END VIDEO CLIP) KING: You said you weren't anyone's victim. But in filing a lawsuit, you're saying you're a victim. RATHER: When was that done, though, Larry? Do you remember the date of that? KING: June 2005. RATHER: OK. What I've learned since June 2005 -- I've learned a good deal since that time. A long list of things, some of which are in the lawsuit, things that I didn't know anything about. For example, it's reported that Sumner Redstone... KING: The president of Viacom RATHER: Yes. KING: The head honcho. RATHER: The head man -- had said for directors that he was he was, you know, he was described as being enraged that a news division - - this story had cost Viacom and CBS in Washington. And he wanted Dan Rather and everybody connected with it out. So that's an example of the kind of thing that a year ago that I didn't know. KING: Let's refresh people's minds. Back to the starting point. On September 8th, 2004, "60 Minutes II" broadcast their report, narrated by you, produced by Mary Mapes, later fired by CBS. The report involves George W. Bush's service as an officer in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Let's take a brief look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "60 MINUTES II," SEPTEMBER 8, 2004, COURTESY CBS) RATHER: Did then Lieutenant Bush fulfill all of his military commitments? And just how did he land that coveted slot in the Guard in the first place? Tonight, we have new documents and new information on the president's military service and the first ever interview with the man who says he pulled the strings to get young George W. Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. (END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Are you sorry about that now? RATHER: No. KING: You think the report was correct? RATHER: Yes. And I think most people know by now that it was correct. Keep in mind that Colonel Killian's -- he's the deceased commander of George Bush -- his secretary took a look at the document and said everything in here is true. Yes, that's what he thought. Everything outlined in here -- and, by the way, I think there was a lot more in the president's military record we don't know about. Picture this, Larry. We have a wartime president whom I, among others, have supported and we want to support the troops. We have a wartime president whose own military records are rather mysteriously missing. That's not, you know, that's not at issue in this lawsuit. But it was in the story. And when I see that -- I'm glad you played that because I had forgotten how completely we describe in that story what turns out to be the military records of President Bush. It wasn't -- it wasn't a fraud in -- the facts of the story were true. KING: Are you saying that CBS, then, copped out? That they should have (INAUDIBLE) management? RATHER: The management -- the ownership and management. And, you know, what they did was they sacrificed support for independent journalism for corporate financial gain. And in so doing, I think they undermined a lot at CBS News (INAUDIBLE). KING: But there were some erroneous things in the report, right, weren't there? RATHER: That has not been proven. What -- the one place, the one place that we were vulnerable -- I acknowledged it and wish we hadn't been was -- I want to make it very clear, nobody to this day has shown that these documents were fraudulent. Nobody has proved that they were fraudulent, much less a forgery, which they're often described that way. The facts of the story, the truth of the story stands up to this day. And what is journalism? Journalism is trying to get at the truth, trying to separate bull shine from brass tacks. And the brass tacks were in that story. The story was true. But the lawsuit -- and I want to come back to it -- this is not - - and somebody who has the power of attorney -- an investigative group, a house or somebody -- could look into the story and, I think, get to the end of it pretty quickly. All I can do is try to say what happened inside CBS and why (INAUDIBLE). KING: We have a from the lawsuit when we come back. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with Dan Rather. In talking about the "60 Minutes II" piece, your lawsuit maintains, "Mr. Rather played largely a supervisory role." Now, what does that mean? Josh Howard, who resigned as executive producer of "60 Minutes" in the aftermath of the controversy, is quoted as saying this about you in "The Washington Post": "I think he's gone off the deep end. He seems to be saying he was just the narrator. He did every interview. He worked the sources over the phone. He was there in the room with the so-called document experts. He argued over everything in the script. It's laughable." Comment. RATHER: I respect Josh Howard quite a bit. And I'd like to see the full context of it. But I will say this, to the business of he's off the deep end or something, I've never been clearer in my mind about anything -- I can't recall being clearer. And this is the right stand at the right time about the right issue. The business of we have to somehow get back to integrity in the news and somehow alleviate -- at least alleviate it, not eliminate -- these big corporate and big government pressures. Now, I was in a supervisory role -- that each story is different. I have 57 years as an American journalist and I invite anybody to check my record as to whether I'm a reporter or just a "talking head." In this particular situation, in a hurricane, Republican National Convention, President Bill Clinton was having heart surgery and we had this President Bush story. Plus, "60 Minutes" had, at that time, a very good story questioning some of what was being said about why we needed to go to war and have we gone to war. All of this was coming together at one time. Now, I did the best I can. I did work on this story. But my role in this particular case, as it was in some others, was to have a supervisory capacity. However... KING: So Josh is wrong is what you're saying? RATHER: Yes, in the context of that... KING: He's saying you did everything. RATHER: I have no desire to get into an argument with him. But I will point out that he made his peace with CBS. He's -- he took the money and he signed a thing and so, you know, God bless him. I have no argument with him. Our problem started, Larry, when we did Abu Ghraib. We did Abu Ghraib on "60 Minutes II." We broke that story worldwide with a really good team of people. Right after that, the corporate -- the network wanted to cancel "60 Minutes II". In sort of what was described to me as a last minute decision, because there was so much publicity about it, they decided to keep it on the air. But they didn't want the program on the air. And when they told me the next year -- this is now in 2004 -- well, we're going to take you out of the anchor chair -- by the way, they did that the morning after the 2004 election. That's when I was told, finally, you're going out of the anchor chair. That you're going to go into "60 Minutes II" and we want you to help keep "60 Minutes II" on the air. I believe it can be shown when we get people under oath, they didn't intend to keep "60 Minutes II" on the air and they didn't intend for me to be a regular -- anywhere near a full-time correspondent on "60 Minutes". But here's the point. That's not what they told me. Now, why would they do that? Why would they do that when the preceding summer both Les Moonves and Sumner Redstone had praised me for hard work and going to places like Iraq? Now, suddenly they changed. Why did they change? You know the answer and so do I. KING: When you have a lawsuit like this, there are major -- there's depositions. A lot comes out. RATHER: Right. KING: They've got the chance to question you. Is there anything... RATHER: I welcome it. KING: You're not worried about anything? RATHER: Well, you know, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm not worried about anything. But I'm the person who stepped forward and said, OK, I'm ready to go under oath. KING: Yes, you did. RATHER: I'm ready to be deposed. The question is, are they? Because that's the only way you're going to get the truth of what happened at CBS News. And it may not be... KING: Are you saying you don't want to settle? RATHER: What I'm saying is... KING: Because if you settle... RATHER: I want to find out the truth. KING: ...we'll never know the truth. RATHER: Well, no, if they -- if the truth comes out, if they acknowledge the truth... KING: You mean if they offered you a financial package to settle, never going through that... RATHER: A strictly financial package? KING: Yes. RATHER: Absolutely not. Not. No. Absolutely not. KING: Not. RATHER: I do want to make a point, Larry, here, that somebody will look at it and say he's suing for $70 million. For me, it's not about the money. It is about this principle of what we're going to do with our democracy. Now, so if -- if the time comes that there's money as a settlement, a substantial part of that will go to such outfits as the investigative and editors, reporters, Reporters and Investigative Editors Association, The Committee To Protect Journalists, because I would like the legacy of this lawsuit to be not that I made tons of money out of it, but that we kept the little flame, the flickering flame of hard-nose investigative reporting alive. KING: Former CNN correspondent -- you remember Peter Arnett took a lot of flak over the Tailwind in reporting that. I think you supported him, am I right? RATHER: I did. I've supported CNN and I supported him and I supported everybody involved in it. KING: I mean do you think he got a bad rap in getting fired? RATHER: I don't feel qualified to say that. Peter Arnett is a great reporter. He was then and he is now. I will say this, that one of the things I didn't do -- and I've been criticized for it and I understand it -- is that I stuck by my people. That is to say Mary Mapes -- matter, Josh Howard -- I don't think he was involved in the Abu Ghraib thing. But this was a team of really experienced people. And they had brought the American people the Abu Ghraib story, which the network kept off the air for three weeks. And I understand that they thought they had their reasons for it. In some ways, perhaps, they had did. But the same group of people who -- management, who stepped in, the president's division, and said listen, this Abu Ghraib thing, I want to be involved in the decision of when it goes on the air and how it goes on the air, did the same thing with the Bush story. Except the Bush story, there was so much blowback from it they said oh, no, you know what? Dan Rather was the supervisor on this. Point one, I don't take programs to air. That can only be done by management and with the approval of the corporate side. I don't have a button on my computer that takes "60 Minutes" to air. That belongs to other people -- the executive producer and the president of the division. KING: We'll be back with more of Dan Rather. Stimulating. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with Dan Rather. Dan, on September 20th, 2004, you delivered a public apology for the "60 Minutes II" piece during your "Evening News" broadcast. Let's take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE CBS EVENING NEWS," SEPTEMBER 20, 2004, COURTESY CBS) RATHER: At the time, CBS News and this reporter fully believed the documents were genuine. Tonight, after further investigation, we can no longer vouch for their authenticity. 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: Does your lawsuit belie that? RATHER: No, but it puts it in context. First of all, note that this was about the documents, not of about the truth of what we reported in it, coming back to, Larry, this is where the corporation didn't back us up. They knew we were under extreme attack from partisan political elements and deeply ideological people. There were other people who genuinely thought we were wrong in doing it. Where we were vulnerable is that we couldn't demonstrate to everybody's satisfaction that the documents (INAUDIBLE) note in that what we didn't say, what the story reports isn't true, because it was true. Now, on the apology, did I play team? (ph) I'm accountable for that and I understand when somebody says, well wait a minute, you know, at the time you apologized. But two things. I played team. I worked at CBS for 44 years. I believe in the tradition, believed in the mystique, believed in the people. And I think for a long time, that was justified. And it was said to me, Dan, if you care about the institution, if you care about the people that you work with and, indeed, if you care about your own reputation, it's time for us to say something about the documents and time for us to say sorry and time for you to say you're sorry. In the end, it was left up to me and I read it. I think anybody who's worked in a large corporation and had team leadership, responsibility, understands there's pressures. Now the other thing is I didn't know then what I know now. A great deal has come out. It became obvious as time went along that what the management, the ownership, the management of the corporation and the head of the news division, to a degree, wanted to do was make sure that they shifted whatever blame there was going to be for whatever, if anything had happened, away from themselves and put it on me and some other good people in the news division. And they succeeded in doing it. Some of it they did in secret, talking among themselves. But I understand that the apology, I said it, I meant it at the time, I mean it now. KING: Did you write it? RATHER: No. KING: You did not write it? RATHER: No. The -- most of it was written, I think, by the corporation. I don't know who, but most of it was written. I was asked to, you know, (INAUDIBLE) I can remember that in my office, the president of the news division was in fairly late working on it. But we were working together at that time because I thought that we were a team. As it turned out, there was this effort to scapegoat myself and others in the news division. We haven't even talked about this so- called alleged independent commission that investigated it. KING: You say that was (INAUDIBLE)... RATHER: They spent months and they spent tens of millions of dollars... KING: Was there a distinguished lawyer involved in that? RATHER: A former attorney general of the United States, a good friend of the Bushes and a loyal Republican, Mr. Thornburgh, headed it. I don't have -- it's nothing personal with him. But what this was, and the lawsuit alleges -- and I think it can be shown -- this was, in many ways, a fraud. It was a setup. It was designed... KING: A fraud? RATHER: Yes. It was designed to achieve a certain result so that the corporation would be exonerated. KING: Are you saying Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, former -- participated in a fraud? RATHER: That's what the record shows. That's what we allege. That's what we allege. KING: You allege in -- all right. Your lawsuit does... RATHER: That's right. And I think the record shows that clearly. Why didn't they go -- they had tens of millions of dollars and a lot of time and they said we didn't even investigate whether the documents were true or not. Now, we now know that an investigator was hired by CBS -- what I call a mystery man -- who wasn't even mentioned in the report, had looked into it. So what did he say? What did he say to them? We don't know. KING: Your lawsuit asserts the following about that apology: "Despite his own personal feelings that no apology from him was warranted, Mr. Rather had read the apology as instructed." So you were instructed to read that. It was written by someone else. RATHER: Most of it. Nearly all of it was written by somebody else. That's correct. KING: Who was (INAUDIBLE)? RATHER: And that -- I stand by that. That's correct. KING: All right. That must have been a very hard thing for you to do, then. RATHER: Well... KING: The worst night of your life? RATHER: Yes. No. Of course not the worst... KING: Career-wise? RATHER: No. Career-wise, it was not a comfortable (INAUDIBLE). I didn't want to apologize. I didn't think we should apologize. But, as I say, I cared enough about CBS News and it was put to me that way. And later events, later things that have come out have indicated that this was all designed to put the blame on myself and the members of the team and exonerate the supervisors who had put this program on the air. Larry, I was -- I was not even invited to the final screening. Some people have used that against me saying gosh, you didn't even go to the final screening. I wasn't told when the final screening of the piece was even being held. In there were two corporate attorneys from the corporation, I think two good people. But two corporate attorneys were in -- Andrew Hayward himself, a rare thing for the president of the division to be in. Except I was -- you know, I didn't know the final screening was taking place. I was called at 5:00 and saying, it's a green light, the program is on at 8:00 Eastern time. It's a green light. The point here is that they had -- they were the ones responsible for putting it on the air. I depended on a team of people, that's true, to vet it. It didn't happen. But I do want to get back to higher ground, Larry, that I'm prepared to discuss all of these things in due course of the lawsuit. But the central thing here is you can't have freedom of the press if you're going to have large, big corporations and big government, intruding and intimidating in newsrooms. The chilling effect on investigative reporting is going to be something we don't want to see. KING: We have just a couple of -- and Dan will be back for another segment. The -- here's our disclaimer for CBS. "Dan Rather's lawsuit is against CBS. CBS' former parent company, Viacom; CBS chairman, Les Moonves; Viacom's CEO, Sumner Redstone; and former CBS News President Andrew Hayward. LARRY KING LIVE sought comments from all the defendants in this suit. From CBS, there was this response: "These complaints are old news. This lawsuit is without merit." When contacted, Mr. Moonves and Mr. Hayward referred us to the official CBS statement. We also sought an official comment from Viacom and its CEO, Sumner Redstone. That request was declined. In a little while, we'll meet the ghostwriter of O.J. Simpson's book. Back with more of Dan Rather. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with Dan Rather. We're going to move to some other areas. Before we get back to this, your thoughts on how Katie Couric's doing. RATHER: I don't see the broadcast as often as I wish I could, Larry. I travel a lot now with this one-hour weekly investigative mostly program that I do for HDNet and proud to do it. I just don't see the program enough. I have seen it on a few occasions when there seem to be at least -- at least a little more international news and hard news and on nights when they have that, I like that. The other two also do a good job. KING: But not doing harder news wouldn't be her fault, that would be management, right? RATHER: Well, exactly. Another time we may want to talk about evening news. Right now we're talking about other things. I would say Les Moonves said he wanted to change the whole dynamic and even talked about naked news at one point. Much of what any anchor does is determined by what the corporate management wants. Now, if you've been at the network a long time, if you've demonstrated you're bona fide to work on certain things, you can have some wee, small influence. Larry, I think about it, and I hope you forgive me for saying this, I've thought about filing this lawsuit, when I was 18, 19-years- old just getting into journalism, my first reporter job, how idealistic I was, how much I wanted -- news had been tabled. I believed my seventh grade civics teacher who said journalism, independent journalism is so important, checks and balances. You and I know, you bounce around, the years go by, but there comes a time when either all that idealism has been booted out of you or you say, you know, at my age and stage, blessed as I am, I can do what maybe some others can't take the chance to do, make a stand. And this is where I can stand to another place. KING: Just a couple more moments left. Here's what Mike Wallace said about all of this when he was on our show. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE WALLACE, JOURNALIST: Rather is a friend, first of all. Good friend, a man I respect. Brave, courageous, first-rate reporter. 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 because if your people were fired because of that piece, then, hell, if they go, I go. (END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Should you have left, in retrospect? RATHER: Well, we don't get to play it in retrospect. KING: No. RATHER: What Mike said, he's entitled. Mike had his own troubles over the years. He'll answer for himself. He shouldn't answer for me. KING: Were you hurt? RATHER: I'd rather just let that pass. KING: We have an e-mail from Katrina in Lexington, Kentucky. "Do you still have friends at CBS News? And I wish you luck in your lawsuit." RATHER: Well I appreciate the letter and the answer is yes. And I have a lot of respect for so many people who work there. And they know how hollowed out the ownership and corporate direction of the news is. And they know how much they've hollowed out CBS News. But there are enough people there with a little help from the very top, a little backbone from the very top, can still make it a great news organization. KING: So you didn't just quit because? RATHER: I didn't just quit -- KING: Why didn't you just quit? RATHER: It came about as a sudden -- of a sudden, which is to say one Monday morning, boom. It was done. And that at that time what the network was saying to me, with the management and the corporate side was saying to me, Dan, let's -- we can get through this. Give us a year. At the end of that year, we'll talk about a new contract for you in the same way we were talking about it last spring, go into "60 minutes II," save "60 Minutes II," go in and do great work for "60 Minutes." And I believed them. And the question was raised, why didn't I walk out the door right then? If it had been done, what difference would it have made? It wouldn't have made any difference. And again, sometimes you talk about how Mike, how he handled his own situation, but each of us has to answer for our own thing. KING: Again, I want to reiterate, you will only settle if that settlement includes some statements from CBS to your - RATHER: I won't negotiate a settlement here. KING: But it won't be a financial statement. That's what you said, it will not be just a financial statement. RATHER: If God smiles and we'll be a little lucky, we will be able to make a legacy of the principle that independent journalism is very important in our way of life and our government. KING: Thank you, Dan, as always. RATHER: Appreciate you having me. KING: Dan Rather. When we come back, we'll meet Pablo Fenjves, an extraordinary story. He wrote the book "If I Did It." In fact, he testified against O.J. and then worked with O.J. Hey, the whole thing's strange. Don't go away.