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Interview With Dan Rather

Aired November 4, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Dan Rather, anchor of the "CBS Evening's Rules (sic)." He's been around a long time. I think he's even covered more elections than I've seen. We'll take about it all, from elections to the latest headlines and more. It's an hour you don't want to miss. We'll even take your calls. He's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
I, of course, meant "The CBS Evening News." My tongue was caught in my teeth; I forgot what I was saying.

Happy birthday. Dan turns 71 on October 31. It's always good having him with us. Just one quick reminder, we'll have major election coverage tomorrow night. Coverage begins -- well, it really starts late afternoon. We're going to be making appearances throughout the hours. Our first one will be at 5:50 p.m. with Senator Trent Lott, and then we'll have interviews at about 10 minutes before the hour throughout the night in coverage.

We welcome Dan Rather. And happy birthday, Dan. Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.

DAN RATHER, ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: Thank you very much, Larry. Delighted to be here.

KING: And we love the way you're dressed, too. As always, you're in keeping with the history of this program.

What precautions is CBS taking to prevent a revamp of Florida?

RATHER: Well, we've made some major changes. Under Andrew Heyward, who is the president of CBS News and the people who run VNS, which is the cooperative, like an old milk cooperative, if you will, a voting cooperative for news organizations.

We have made a lot of changes. We have toughened up our language, which is to say we need to be more specific with our language. But, Larry, look, no one can do it perfectly. We're going to try to do it perfectly.

I would like to point out, and I hope you'll forgive me, but CNN hasn't been in business quite as long, over a 40-year period, CBS News has projected the winners on election nights of more than 10,000 national races. And of those 10,000, we have never gone off the air, never gone off the air with the wrong winner. During the time we were on the air, out of 10,000 races, we have projected 10 of them wrong. That's a batting average of better than 999 percent. It's twice as good as anybody else's in the business. We have always stood for accuracy. We made some mistakes on election night 2000, but we've done the best we can to bolster us where we can, and tomorrow night we'll be waiting to exhale when the whole thing is over.

KING: What are your concerns about tomorrow? Close races everywhere, lingering into the night, non-decisions for a while?

RATHER: I think all of that, Larry. It would not surprise me at all -- as you know, I've said over the years, those who live by the crystal ball learn to eat a lot of broken glass, and my gullet's been scarred for many, many years that way. But I would not be surprised to see people disappointed tomorrow night in this sense.

The premiere race is the race for control of the U.S. Senate, a very important race, by the way, because it controls in many ways the national agenda, and it will tee up momentum for the next presidential election. But given this situation in Louisiana, where Ms. Landrieu, Senator Landrieu has to get better than 50 percent against at least three Republican opponents. She may not be able to get that 50 percent. She may get a majority, but if she doesn't get over 50 percent, they're going to have to have a special election on December 7.

So mark it, tack it up on the refrigerator, we may not know who controls the U.S. Senate in the next Congress until after December 7, because of this wrinkle in Louisiana.

KING: Is it now a given that with the latest poll trends, the GOP will retain control by a slight majority in the House?

RATHER: Well, I don't know that, Larry. That certainly is the consensus. I think if you took a poll of 20 experienced political reporters in Washington, all of them would say that the Republicans will not only retain control of the House, but may very well pick up seats in the House, which is very unusual for a sitting president, particularly a new term president, in a midterm election.

However, I think this is one of those times where the polls -- they have wobbled and veered so much that even NASA can't keep track of them. So I assume nothing going into tomorrow night. There are all kinds of assumption. The assumption is that the Republicans will retain control of the House and they have at least a fighting chance to regain control of the Senate. The assumption is that Governor Davis will be reelected out in California, but assumption is the mother of all foul-ups. So people have to vote, and let's just see what happens tomorrow night.

KING: And the one thing no poll can tell you and we'll get your input on this, turnout. Nobody knows how many people will vote tomorrow. What do you think it's going to be like?

RATHER: Well, nobody can know. Beware of certitude. But turnout will be light and low. And frankly, that scares the leaders in both major parties. They're having 3,000 counter-attacks each hour for fear that their turnout, whether you're Republican or Democrat, will be low in one of the make-or-break races, say, South Dakota or Colorado or New Hampshire.

We know the voter turnout is going to be low based on historical precedence. How low can it go? How low will it go? A lot of races will be determined on which side in each individual state gets out its core base.

I'll give you a good example. In North Carolina, Liddy Dole against Erskine Bowles. Dole trying to hold on to a Republican seat. It is absolutely essential that Liddy Dole get out the Republican base in North Carolina; otherwise Bowles will come from behind and beat her if he can get out his base. And that's just one of many, many examples where in a low voter turnout situation, everybody is scared.

KING: When you say low, are you talking like under 40 percent?

RATHER: Well, I hate to guess, but in a midterm election it would not surprise me to see the turnout below 40 percent. In fact, it would surprise me if it is 40 percent or above. I would hope otherwise. And, Larry, I promised myself I'd say this tonight, you know, given what happened on 9/11, how can any American face themselves if they don't go to the polls tomorrow? We have sent some of our best young men and women all the way over to Afghanistan and Yemen. If they can go to Afghanistan and Yemen to put their lives on the line, you, voter, can go down to the voting polls, walk down the block and cast your ballot. I couldn't feel stronger about it.

KING: By the way, I forgot to mention, Dan is part of a terrific book from CBS News called, "What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001 in Words, Pictures and Video." There you see its cover, terrifically done. And we salute you and the rest of the cast on putting it together, Dan.

RATHER: Thank you very much, Larry.

KING: How helpful will the Bush blitz be?

RATHER: Well, with the president -- with the kind of approval ratings that President Bush is carrying and has carried ever since 9/11, you have to believe that this blitz -- and let's face it, he's been running around like a man with his shirt tail on fire, trying to help Republican candidates -- has got to make some difference, particularly what we talked about before, activating, energizing, exciting the Republican base. And that's why he's been barnstorming around the country as he has.

It is only a guess, but I think in some tight races in the end, if they go Republican, people will say it's because President Bush came into the state. Some states more than once. Note well he's been in South Dakota almost as much as Tom Daschle, because he wants so badly to beat the Democratic incumbent in South Dakota. For one thing, it will help him in his fight to control the national agenda, President Bush, and the other is it would give him tremendous momentum for the presidential election in 2004.

KING: And what is your read on Jeb Bush retaining the governorship in Florida? RATHER: I have no read on it whatsoever. After all, it's Florida. Again, the consensus, which is so often wrong, is that Jeb Bush got into some difficulty maybe two and a half or three weeks ago, but partly because he steadied himself, partly because his opponent proposed an arrangement for schools which would require, perhaps, extra taxes, everybody now in Florida that I can talk to says Jeb Bush is going to be hard to beat. Also, his brother has been there campaigning for him.

However, in Florida, as with so many other states, in the end, turnout is going to be key. It's a cliche in political reporting to say that, but especially in Florida, potentially low voter turnout, and each side has to get out its base. The side that doesn't get out its base is going to lose, but if you have to bet the double-wide in Florida, then you bet on Jeb Bush.

KING: But if you see a big turnout in Dade County, you might go the other way.

RATHER: Might, but I'd want to wait a long time, given our history in Florida. You can bet...


KING: You will not call Florida early.

RATHER: I doubt it. I doubt it.

KING: Dan Rather...

RATHER: That's a safe bet.

KING: Great having Dan with us. He's our special guest. He's with us for the hour. We'll be including your phone calls. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE, and we'll both be right back.


RATHER: Voting is just hours away in the U.S. midterm elections. Both parties are mounting major drives to get out their basic vote tomorrow, because the stakes are so high. The nation's agenda, in many ways, at stake, including a lot of judgeships, and many of the races are extremely tight.

With control of Congress, and thus the nation's priorities hanging in the balance, the outcome will affect the lives of millions of Americans.




COLEMAN: The vice president goes back and said the Republicans did this, and now we're Democrats, and we are going to do this, and I keep saying, change the tone. I'm not -- I'm not going to say because one side did it that we should do it. It never stops. That's not what you do. What you do...


MONDALE: What you're doing is sticking with the right wing and pretending to change the tone. It is not the fluff of what kind of words you say...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, all right.

MONDALE: And Norm, we know you. We've seen you. We've seen you shift around. We know about all this. And now you're in this location, and you have to take responsibilities for the position you're taking.

COLEMAN: Again, this is the tone that you don't want to see in Washington. This is the tone that has resulted in where we're at today.


KING: That, of course, the Mondale/Coleman historic debate this morning for an hour in Minnesota. Dan Rather, what do you make of all that, and the race?

RATHER: Well, dangerous for both candidates to debate this late in the campaign with -- what, fewer than 24 hours to go, and they got together for a debate. You know, Larry, among politicians, it is just considered part of the...


KING: A no-no.

RATHER: You don't debate this close to the election. However, they may argue, and there is some validity to it they didn't have any choice. Frankly, I'm not sure how it played in Minnesota. From the outside looking in, it was one of those fights where neither scored a major -- certainly, not a knockout. I would say neither side scored a knockdown. Each side made its basic points, and that race is one that might carry us far into the night. Before Senator Paul Wellstone died, the race in Minnesota, uncharacteristically for Minnesota, was nasty enough to gag a possum. But after Paul Wellstone died, there was that period, despite the -- quote -- "rally" that, instead of a funeral service, as many put it, things quieted down for a bit. This was a pretty high toned debate as debates go.

KING: Did Bill Clinton, do you think, help Democrats?

RATHER: Well, we'll know after all the votes are in and tallied. Bill Clinton's job, of course, was to get out the Democratic base, particularly among those voters who have -- attached to unions, and minorities, particularly in Florida. You've got to believe Bill Clinton would love -- absolutely love to beat the president's brother in Florida. Uphill climb, but he was out there trying to turn out the Democratic base.

We'll know after tomorrow, but no one can be mistaken that a former president doesn't have the power to excite the base the way a sitting, popular president, such as George Bush does.

KING: A lot of negative advertising all over the country this year. Does that trouble you? It seems on the increase.

RATHER: Well, it is on the increase, and the reason it is on the increase, Larry, is it wins. That every election cycle, we go through this. Everybody, particularly people in my business and yours, say, Oh, the negative campaigning is just terrible. But the reason candidates continue to do it, and they are doing it increasingly, is that the record shows when you go negative and you go negative effectively, you tend to win. And so it is like a football team that says, Listen, you win with defense against the run, and being able to run the ball. That's the reason that many coaches do it. This is the reason so many politicians take it down and dirty, particularly in very, very tight races.

KING: Is there a race that Dan Rather is going to particularly look at tomorrow night to give him an indication of -- as something goes, so goes the nation?

RATHER: Well, Larry, I think that's true, and let me write down something that I hope viewers -- and for those who follow politics carefully, they don't need this, but the way I look at it, there are 34 Senate seats up for grabs. The Republicans have to win 21 of those seats in order to regain control of the Senate. This the way it comes down. Thirty-four seats up, the Republicans have to, absolutely just have to win 21 of those. And I would say, of the races to watch, South Dakota, and Louisiana. If -- if the Republicans win South Dakota and Louisiana, they regain control of the Senate in my judgment. If they pick up one of those, they've got a good fighting chance of getting control of the Senate. So if somebody wants to wander away from the set tomorrow night, I would say just from time to time, check what is happening in South Dakota and Louisiana and you may get a pretty good summary of how it is going to go.

KING: So if they win in South Dakota, then -- and they have got to wait three weeks to see if someone beats the incumbent in Louisiana, and that someone might be favored.

RATHER: I don't know he'd be favored, but they certainly would have a chance. First of all, it would be on December 7, that is a Saturday, it would be one of those "who knows" elections. But keep in mind, if it comes down to Louisiana, and if the Democratic candidate gets a majority but not over 50 percent tomorrow, and it comes down to that December 7 date, President Bush, who is very popular in Louisiana, you can bet he would be virtually camped out there, to swing that if it meant -- particularly if it meant control of the entire Senate. Larry, another way to look at this thing is that the Democrats, they nearly have to hold on to seats in Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Dakota. And the Republicans nearly have to hold on to their seats in Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Texas. And because that's the case, it is one reason that I say this Louisiana race could, could -- mark the word well -- be the determining one, and particularly if it goes into special election on December 7, which it very well could do, the Republicans would have to like their chances in that.

KING: Safe to say there will be surprises?

RATHER: Oh, there are always surprises. One reason, Larry, you know, I love politics. You know, Fat Albert used to say, Hey, hey, hey, love that tackle football.

Well, I love politics, and one thing I like about it is the unpredictability. There certainly will be surprises tomorrow night, and there will be red faces among people who have made predictions about the election, probably my own.

KING: Were you surprised that the Ventura naming the independent to be an interim senator in Minnesota today?

RATHER: I wasn't, Larry, not after the way the funeral service for Paul Wellstone went. I thought that rightly or wrongly, whether you agree with it or not, I thought Governor Ventura made it pretty clear after that that he was peeved, to use a gentle word. And I thought he signaled at that time he was going to appoint an independent.

KING: When we go to break, we'll show you a statement from Jesse Ventura today. One reminder, we'll touch some other bases in the news with Dan Rather, and go to your calls at the bottom of the hour. We will be part of the CNN election coverage tomorrow night, starting at ten to 6:00 Eastern time, when Senator Trent Lott will join us, and then we will be on at ten minutes before the hour in every hour of election coverage. But our first report will be with Senator Trent Lott, and that will be at ten minutes before 6:00 Eastern time. We'll cover some other areas of the news. Here is what Jesse Ventura had to say today, and then back with Dan Rather.


GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: Today, three very powerful institutions, the Republican Party, the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, and the Minnesota media are conspiring to limit the hard-earned rights of ordinary citizens to rise up and compete for elected office without having -- having to be a Democrat or a Republican.



KING: We'll go to your calls at the bottom of the hour. Some other items in the news for Dan Rather. Was the sniper story overcovered?

RATHER: Well, that's a tough call, Larry. I always like to give you a direct answer.

I think overall and in the main it was overcovered, particularly on some of the cable channels. Forgive me if you must. I understand the imperative. Unlike the -- say, the O.J. Simpson chase or some of the murder cases since then out in California, which were clearly overcovered -- I thought the Condit case was overcovered -- this was a tougher case to make. A very big story, a very important story.

The problem for cable networks, of course, is they have to fill all that time. They have a deadline every nanosecond and sometimes the time was filled with something other than news. A lot of it was, forgive the word if you must, just blather. News that wasn't actually news, experts who were not experts and I -- that's where the complaint of overcoverage came in. But, you know, in a big important story like that, put me down with a wavering vote to say, Yeah, in some cases it was but in the main, a lot of people cared about this story and it's hard to complain when the story as serious as that one was.

KING: The polls show apparently losing of interest in going into Iraq. It 's down somewhat. It was high 60 percent. It is now low 50s. A new CNN/"Time" Magazine indicates 50 percent trust Bush to handle it well. Forty-six percent say they have doubts. What do you make of that?

RATHER: Well, first of all, you know, you never met anybody, Larry that believed in polls less than I do. And if you believe the polls, you will believe that trees can grow in the sun. That's No. 1.

No. 2, even so far -- insofar as the polls may reflect opinion, it's important to remember it is a snapshot in a moment in time. And it can change in a second.

The third is Harry Truman's great line may apply, that if Moses had taken a poll, he'd never left Egypt. And there are times when a president cannot and should not just read the polls about making a decision. Having said that, there is no question a lot of people are beginning to have second thoughts about Iraq. If I'm a judge and I may not be, I think the core concern if not most, many Americans is, You know, our major enemy has revealed themselves to be al Qaeda. And all of a sudden we're talking about going into Iraq.

Now, the president obviously thinks that there's a direct connection and it's necessary to go into Iraq. But I think the record shows that a lot of people he's not yet made that case. That's what I hear most often from people is, Listen, I have nothing for Saddam Hussein. I'm ready to go in and blow him away, ready to go into Iraq. But what about -- why now and should we or should we not keep our main concentration on doing what we need to do to finish the job in Afghanistan, to do what we need do in Yemen and other places that there are al Qaeda.

I think the American people are much more angry at al Qaeda than they are Saddam Hussein, although they see Saddam Hussein as a thug that sooner or later has to go.

If I'm in a judge and having to repeat again I may not be, I think that's where the public opinion is. There's also this, Larry: that the longer he waits to go into Iraq, the more questions are going to be asked. There are people who believe the president, from a historical perspective, may have made a mistake by moving on Iraq, say, last January or February.

The president no doubt has very good and better reasons why he didn't do that. But in January or February, American public opinion would have supported going against Iraq, I think, overwhelmingly. As time goes along, people do begin to ask these questions and it makes it more difficult for the president to move. However, having said all that, every indication of President Bush is that he does intend to move against Saddam Hussein certainly in his first term and I, for one, would be surprised if he doesn't do it by, say, next March at the latest. But I'm often surprised.

KING: Another suicide bombing today in the Middle East. Do you see any hope for peace there?

RATHER: I'm sorry to say I don't see any hope, much hope in a short to medium run, Larry. I'm an optimist by experience and by nature. But it's very hard to be off the mystic about anything in that situation at the moment. The most extreme haters on both sides have in some way captured the situation.

But mark well, mark well that I'm not giving equivalency to those on the Palestinian side with those in Israel. I recognize this can be controversial and I understand why. But I want to make it very clear that I'm simply saying that in situations such as this, the extremes on each side, extremes feed extremes and that's what happened in the Middle East and, unfortunately, I don't see prospects for peace anytime soon.

I would pray that I'm wrong about that but you've asked for an assessment and there it is.

KING: We'll take a break. When we come back, we will include your phone calls for Dan Rather, the anchor and managing editor of "The CBS Evening News" on this election eve 2002. We'll be right back with your phone calls for Dan Rather. Don't go away.



RATHER: Thank you, Mr. President. Dan Rather, with CBS News. Mr. President...




RATHER: No, sir, Mr. President, are you?



KING: A little moment in the life and times of Dan Rather. Let's go to your phone calls. Tampa, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. Me question for Mr. Rather is what are your thoughts on the political aspirations of one James Traficant Jr. who, despite the fact that he's currently sitting in jail on bribery and racketeering charges, is running for political office?

RATHER: Well, that is not the ideal situation for him to run, is it?

KING: Hard to campaign.

RATHER: It's very hard to campaign. But you know, what an unusual situation. What can you say? I don't quite know what to think about it. I'll be surprised if he wins, but I've said before and say again, I'm often surprised what we least expect sometimes happens. I certainly wouldn't rule it out.

KING: Dallas -- wouldn't rule it out. Dallas, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Yes, good evening. I wanted to know if Mr. Rather feels that network news is still relevant when most people have access to 24-hour cable news and the Internet.

RATHER: I do, and let's face it I'm a biased witness. I'm prejudiced about this. But insofar as it is humanly possible to be objective, and I think network news has never been more relevant, particularly in the post-9/11 period.

And here's why. Network news speaks to more Americans more often than anybody on cable at any given time. An example might be -- one way to put it in perspective, if all three network newscasts, the evening newscasts of just ABC, NBC and CBS were put together, it would be every week the single most watched program in all of television. Network news newscasts speak to somewhere between seven and 10 million homes each. That would translate to maybe 2.5 people per home, many more people than a cable network, even the most watched cable program can turn out for any half-hour period.

I think that cable television is very relevant, but I think network television is also very relevant. And at this particular moment in history, much more relevant.

KING: What do you make about the proposed ABC/CNN merger? Proposed in that it is being talked about.

RATHER: Well, Larry, you and I have talked about this over time. My analysis for whatever it may be worth -- and I suspect it's not worth very much -- is as follows: The Disney Company, I hate to describe it as desperate, but it certainly is looking for something that would signal Wall Street a positive sign that would pump up its stock price some. Time Warner AOL is in somewhat the same situation. When you have two parties, each of which needs it so badly, there is a temptation to say they're going to find a way.

However, in this particular circumstance there are some enormous hurdles to overcome. My guess would be if it's going to happen, it doesn't happen this year, sometime early next year, always a possibility. We'll see as time goes along.

Each side, for their own purposes, particularly at the corporate level, wants it. At the working newsroom level, it's my impression that each side has some reservations about it because neither CNN nor ABC News wants to lose their core identity. And when you merge -- and keep in mind, this is -- this is what we have been talking about here is separating CNN from Time Warner/AOL, separating ABC News from ABC and forming a completely different news company. It does have the potential for enormous, wide and deep worldwide reach, but it also has the potential for a lot of people losing their jobs and for each of the two entities to lose their identity.

KING: Nashville, Tennessee, for Dan Rather. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Rather, with the closeness of the governors and Senate races, do you think it would be an embarrassment to the president if his brother lost in Florida and the Democratic nominee from Texas won in his home state?

RATHER: Well, certainly those would be embarrassments for the president. You know, the conventional wisdom is that both of those things are not going to happen. One of them possibly could happen, but your question is a good one.

Listen, no doubt, it would hurt George W. Bush enormously if his younger brother lost the Florida race. And it would be an embarrassment for him. And it would be an embarrassment for him if he lost either the governor's race or the Senate race in Texas.

Having said that, allow me to add this, that one reason George Bush is out there working so hard, he has the potential, one of the most difficult words in the English language when applied to one's efforts, but he has the potential to be first American president in a very long time to have -- to be president, have control of the Senate, control of the House of Representatives. That hasn't happened since before the Great Depression for any Republican president. So he has the potential here of doing something historic tomorrow.

That's one reason he's working so hard. And if you had to bet the rent money, it's a better bet to say that he would wind up with both houses of the legislative branch in control of his party than it is that he would lose the governorship of Florida and the governorship and/or Senate in Texas.

KING: Houston, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mr. Rather, I have a question for you. As with the 2000 election, will you inject your sage Texas wisdom into your 2000 (sic) election projections?

RATHER: Well, I wish I had some wisdom, ma'am. And I appreciate your asking, but, you know, I find election nights very interesting. I get passionate about them. Sometimes I get excited about them. Sometimes that's not the best idea, but I talk the way I was raised, and we have far less time tomorrow night. Our main effort at CBS News -- we'll have updates throughout the evening -- but our main effort starts at 10:00 in the East and 9:00 in the middle time zone, where you are there in Houston, and I'll be surprised if some don't get sprinkled in, but we'll just have to see how it rides.

KING: Huntsville, Alabama, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry.


CALLER: Mr. Rather, there has always been voter apathy. Is it getting better or worse, and what can we do to change it?

RATHER: Well, the record shows it's been getting worse. It isn't true that we have always had voter apathy. There have been times in our history where we've had very high voter turnout. World War II comes to mind, the 1960 election, that was Kennedy versus Nixon, we had a high voter turnout.

I don't have the answer. I wish I had the answer. I do think, madame, that it's time that we considered at least something bold, such as changing election day from Tuesday to a weekend day, or going to a universal closing time coast to coast and border to border. Something has to give if voter apathy continues as it has been going these last few years, and as we said earlier, I'll be surprised if it isn't a fairly low voter turnout tomorrow. Your question is a good one. I wish I had an answer, a solution for you, but I just don't.

KING: Why not a whole weekend as in some countries?

RATHER: I'd vote for that in a second, Larry.


RATHER: The argument against it is beginning with, of course, Saturday is the sabbath for some Americans, and Sunday is the sabbath for a lot of Americans. And so you have the argument that, well, you don't want to hold an election on holy days for some citizens. That's one argument.

However, I'd vote for it in a minute to have a 48-hour voting time, but I don't expect to see that in my lifetime. But if the voter turnout continues to decrease and go down, down, down, something dramatic is going to have to change.

KING: Does it take just the vote of the Congress?

RATHER: It would take the vote of the Congress, and the president would have to sign it into law.

KING: Yeah. We'll be right back with more calls for Dan Rather on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Dan Rather's been doing it a long time. Perfect guest for election eve. Another call, Skippers, Virginia -- hello.

CALLER: Good evening. I have a couple of things to inject there about if a dirty bomb hit Washington, D.C. nobody would live there for 1,000 years. Another thing, polls don't vote, people do. I'd like to know Mr. King and Mr. Rather if you all are going to call the results after the polls close?

KING: Dan, I don't know what CNN's plans are. I don't think they call anything. I'm not sure what we do at CNN. Dan?

RATHER: Well we don't decide anything and we don't declare winners. That's a legal proposition.

What we do is we, through a combination of talking to voters after they leave the polls, what's called exit polling, taking tabulated votes, calling people in the field, through a number of ways -- after the polls have closed in any given state if we believe -- if we are confident we have an estimate that will hold up, then we will say, CBS News estimates, CBS News figures that is the way the race is going to end when all the votes are in and tabulated.

We have done that in the past. We will do that again tomorrow night, if that's the major thrust of your question and I think it is. I want to repeat something to you, though, at the risk of -- well it is redundant, but over 10,000 national races at CBS, when we have estimated a winner, we have been right better -- better than 999 percent out of 1,000 times. Our record for accuracy is unmatched. Nobody else in the business has even been within 50 percent of that.

KING: I believe CNN also projects and also reports what the other networks are saying.

Cleveland, Tennessee -- hello.

CALLER: Good evening Mr. King and Mr. Rather. First of all, Mr. Rather, I would like to say happy birthday to you.

RATHER: Thank you.

CALLER: My question is regarding the war on terror. I'd like to ask you, are you happy or maybe the word would be satisfied with the press' access to the war on terrorism? And also does CBS News have any plans already if the United States invades Iraq?

RATHER: Let me take the latter first, of course we have plans. But as we learned the last time, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. We certainly have plans to cover any major U.S. assault on Iraq.

Now, as the -- your first question, am I satisfied with the press access to American fighting men and women in the war on terror? The answer and I say this gently and respectfully to everybody in government and certainly including the president and my old friend Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, the answer is no. And here's why -- the official policy, the stated policy of the United States Department of Defense with the president's approval, is maximum access and maximum information consistent with national security. The Defense Department, I'm sorry to say, although I think they've tried in some important ways, has not lived up to their own policy.

I would love to do the kind of work in Afghanistan with American fighting men and women that Ernie Pyle did in World War II. I've tried on two occasions, been to Afghanistan twice over the last year. Less than a year. And you just can't do it because they close off so much. I'm all for secrecy when it is a matter of saving lives or national security. But we have a policy in place in government now when it is, Just don't ask us because we're not going to tell you. We know the best way to run the war and frankly I think the attitude is pretty much press be damned.

Now there are people who applaud that -- I hope you'll forgive me if I'm not among them because I do believe so strongly that in a republic -- constitutional republic based on the principles of democracies such as our own there that there must be -- it is imperative there be a higher degree of communicable trust between the leadership and the led. You can't have that when you operate with as much secrecy as has been the case so far.

I'm hoping it will change because as long as this war figures to be, there's a very good chance that when things don't go well, people will not have the information, individual citizens will not have the information to make their best judgment on Well, what should we do now? I recognize that a lot of controversy about this and not everyone will agree but that's where I stand. I can stand no other place.

KING: And we are informed that CNN will not call a race until the polls are closed in that state.

RATHER: That's true at CBS News as well. When the polls close in an individual state, that's right. When the polls close...

KING: Never call a state until the polls are closed.

RATHER: That's correct.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather. Some more phone calls. Don't go away.


KING: By the way, an interesting footnote, Dan. Today is Laura Bush's 56th birthday. It is Walter Cronkite's 86th birthday. A little note there. I don't know if there is an interconnection but you did replace Mr. Cronkite. Hard to believe he's 86.

RATHER: Ah, Larry. Nobody replaces the great and still great Walter Cronkite. I succeeded Walter Cronkite, didn't replace him. A good time to wish Walter a happy birthday and first lady as well. KING: As well.

Oklahoma City -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, gentlemen. Mr. Rather, 10, 20 years down the road, how you to think history will judge the governorship of Jesse Ventura?

KING: Good question.

RATHER: Isn't that a good question? Well I'm tempted to give that old bromide of too early to tell. I think it is. Governorships come and go. And with the exception of some of the larger states, New York, California, and Texas come to mind, no matter how effective or ineffective a governor is, he or she tends to be a footnote in history.

But Ventura's win in Minnesota, coming as it did almost literally out of that blue sky in Minnesota, I think you'll get a line in the history books 45 or 50 years from now. And also, let's note that Governor Ventura's political career is not necessarily over. He may get -- run for something else.

KING: Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. Mr. Rather, on the question about Iraq, should we go in alone or should we wait for the U.N. to go along with us?

RATHER: Well, President Bush has made it clear that he would prefer to have the full U.N. support. He's also made it clear that if we can't get U.N. support, we don't get U.N. support, that he's prepared to go alone. And, you know, I'm of the belief that you can have only one commander-in-chief at a time, only one president at a time. President Bush is our president. Whatever he decides vis-a-vis war or peace in Iraq is what we will do as a country. And I for one will swing in behind him as a citizen, as a citizen, and support whatever his decision is. As a journalist, I'll do my best to be an honest broker of information.

But clearly it would be better, and President Bush has said this repeatedly, it would be better if we had allies. It would be better if we had a broad and deep coalition, and it certainly would be better if we had the approval of the United Nations. But President Bush has in several ways also said there are times when a leader, a real leader has to go it alone, as Churchill did in Great Britain. So we'll see how it plays itself out over the next six to eight months.

KING: San Diego for Dan Rather -- hello. San Diego. Sorry, San Diego -- hello. I forgot to put the button down. Hello.

CALLER: Good evening. Mr. Rather, first I want to say to you, thank you so much for the way you covered September 11. You were a great comfort to myself and many others I know. In regard to the situation we now have with Iraq, if we were to go to war with Iraq, would you consider being a correspondent once again and report from Iraq? RATHER: Well, absolutely. But also let me say that I appreciate your kind words, your generous words. I'm not worthy of those words, but I'll be inspired by what you say to go out tomorrow and try to do a better job and be as close as I can to being worthy of them.

But, of course if we go to war in Iraq, I would want to be there and I would want to be there as a front line correspondent, frankly. Whether I'm able to do that and how much I'm able to do that consistent with anchor responsibilities is always a close call.

KING: You would rather be there than anchoring a desk?

RATHER: I would. It's not always my choice to make, but that's what's inside of me. But as was the case in the Gulf War, there is a way to do both. You can go to the front line, you can be a front line correspondent, and also meet most if not all of your anchor responsibilities.

KING: A couple of other things. Do you think New York has a shot at the Summer Olympics in 2012? Its opponents are apparently Moscow, Paris and London.

RATHER: Tough competition. Do we have a shot? I think a very strong chance, Larry. Let's face it, television in the United States pays for most of the Olympics. And a dateline New York and what that would mean in television revenues is not to be overlooked in these considerations.

On the other hand, when you talk about Moscow, Paris and London, you're talking about great world cities that could easily accommodate the Olympics. Tough call, but do we have a chance? Yes. And I think a very good chance, but it's a long way away, and as we remind ourselves about politics, in politics, overnight is a long time, a week is forever, and with the Olympics, much the same applies, and we're talking about something years and years away.

KING: Is CBS covering the Winona Ryder shoplifting trial?

RATHER: The "CBS Evening News" is not. Whether CBS anywhere across the dial is covering it or not I don't know. I don't think so. I would put that in the category myself of -- you know, it's a trial that some people are going to cover. It's not the kind of thing that I want "The CBS Evening News" to spend much, if any time on. We try to hang out a sign to the viewer and to the listener, news that matters. And it's hard for me to see how the Winona Ryder trial is news that matters for a truly national audience, but there will be plenty of other people who will cover it, and God bless them.

KING: We have 20 seconds. Any firm forecast for tomorrow from Dan Rather? Firm, lock in stone?

RATHER: Not a single one. There will be a surprise. That's my one firm...

KING: There will be a surprise.

RATHER: Where and how and when, I have no idea.

KING: Dan, I always thank you for being with us. A great pleasure welcoming you to this program, and especially to salute the way you dress.

RATHER: Larry, thank you very much. Always honored to be with you, my friend.

KING: Dan Rather, the anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News" and a participant in "What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001, in Words, Pictures and Video" from CBS News.

We'll be back in a moment to tell you about what's ahead. Don't go away.


KING: Tomorrow, of course, election coverage on CNN. Our role will be on for about 10 minutes in each hour of coverage to bring you up to the latest with interviews with people who analyze and make news as well. It all starts for us at 5:50 Eastern, when we'll take with Senator Trent Lott.

And we'll have an unusual thing tomorrow. Instead of me throwing to my man Aaron Brown at "NEWSNIGHT" in New York, he, in some occasions, will be throwing to me, which will be my honor, Mr. Brown, to serve as your recipient.


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