tv After Words Scott Pelley Truth Worth Telling CSPAN August 24, 2019 1:10am-2:10am EDT
>> it's great to see you congratulations on the book. >> thank you very much, david. great to be with you. >> this is fun for me because about 25 years ago i was the young reporter that cornered you in a local newsroom in albuquerque to quiz you that about your career and for me to continue the conversation i will continue right left off 25 years ago. [laughter] >> i remember that very clearly then we worked opposite each other you are in
dc covering the trial of timothy mcveigh in denver. >> and one of the lead prosecutors from that horrible event that has stayed with me that also in a pleasant way in the aftermath. >> starting with journalism this is an example of a wonderful career in journalism and done the right way with its sense of meaning. so you write in your book that the dividing line that matters now is the one between journalism and junk.
>> never before in human history has more information been available and for the first time never in their history has bad information been available to poor people. so much of what we see on the internet is cast by foreign hostile governments and cynical politicians to bend and change american opinion. i ask myself the question what is the fastest way to destroy democracy? war? terrorism? another great depression? i don't think so the fastest way to destroy a democracy is to poison the information. that's exactly what we are seeing right now.
and that's where people like you and i come in. and so what we are seeing is simple gossip with the influence of social media with the amplification of opinion but yet we also sit astride the reality where there is such great interest in a high level of engagement to see traditional news sources although ironically more in print than in broadcast to the investigative journalism. >> somebody stopped me the other day to say this must be a terrible time to be a reporter. no. it is a great time. it is the best time because
for all the criticism focused on us by the administration the american people are watching us so this is a wonderful opportunity to show the american people what we do and the principles. >> all of that is true and to the ranks journalism those that report it straight of a façade. >> i think the bias is almost always in the eye of the holder not journalism but
those watching it. where the mail comes in 5050 you dirty democrat. and then you dirty republican now you are not able to do that prick with the same interview but the interviewers are very different. so what worries me today, david i fear the american people are withdrawing into the citadels of affirming information where they choose the media that tells them what they already believe is right. and compromise is the only way to move forward and to put ourselves off in the
citadels. so the message of the book with the biggest threat to our country is the condemnation of placing the information and so many people talk about the mainstream media. that's where i want to be. i don't want to be on a tributary and asked where the american people are and i'm proud of the mainstream media. >> the notion of the mainstream media which i agree it is ironic on a couple of levels that which is considered mainstream which is
>> but the public skeptical of media i think they should be skeptical of media and very skeptical of government. with the internet age very aware and what we are seeing as a spectacle about those things. so that the viewer sees a lot of journalists and television but to be credible. and then to see a real reporter appearing in the
movie but the presidential election numbers and then next night reporting an alien invasion from space. i worry a great deal about that unfortunately because no audience member will confuse which is real or fake. so what is the reporters motivation? and then i worry about that. journalism is public service as you well know. and has nothing whatever it to do with being popular. if you are doing journalism correctly you are to be unpopular because you tell people the unpopular truth but the truth nonetheless. and those that have eroded confidence in the media but
james madison wrote freedom of the press guarantees all the others. and madison believed if all of us if we could say what we want to say, write and read what we want then all other rights would be protected. madison believed freedom of speech and freedom of the press was just that important. i would argue that there is no democracy without journalism. because the people have to have independent reliable informatio information. they gave us the power over the government.
and then to become skeptical of the media and then to the functioning of democracy. so how would you approach covering the white house now with that level of toxicity? and we were there covering big issues in war and peace scandal but the toxicity now is different because we have a president who so disingenuously in many ways effectively dismisses them as enemy of the people. and those who believe it. >> there is a sector of the
country who believes that because the president said it because of all the things we said about the founders and that democracy information for everyone to use. when i was anchoring the cbs evening news in the first few months of the president's term, i was thinking moved into governing mode from the campaign mode but the falsehoods continued into the administration's on the evening news we just started telling people the president said this. it is false. these are the real facts. and then the president
described us as the enemy of the american people. journalists the people who live in your town and we bring vitality to the national conversation and serve the public interest in serve public safety. you just cannot have a great america without a great journalism function within the country. so i say the enemy of the american people rhetoric concerns me because it might incite violence or some deranged individual will walk into a tv station or newspaper and shoot the receptionist because we are the enemy of the american peopl people.
he thought for a second and he said i don't worry about that. so i took him aside. i was thinking maybe he was performing so i took him aside privately and i said i really hope you will think about this and he said okay i will. but nothing change. but then i got a call from the fbi that the bomber who mailed the dozen bombs to various people he felt were enemies of the president had a file on me and my family. this is what i'm talking about. and now this is getting out of hand. and then with the safety of women and children and the
very idea of bombs going through the post office in public mail is a horror and because of the rhetoric. >> it is chilling. the power of platform in journalism is important i speak for myself but i know others for anybody who wishes they could do that job but you have that platform for and i got the first derivative the first producer of 60 minutes
to say that we tell stories for co- that's what he relates in this book. why is that the building block of your career used to go into don's office and say climate change. it's a big deal we have to do a story about it and he would wave you off and say that's an issue. tell me the story. so what he meant was if you find a story that eliminates all of the issues he did not write a book called d day it was called saving private ryan. he learned everything he needed to know about d day on a very personal story but did not do a movie called the
holocaust it was called schindler's list. and again you learn everything you need to know about the holocaust in the very personal story. that's what we do with 60 minutes and go into the 52nd season. and i say this without enormous gratitude the most successful television program of its kind in history and we work like hell every week to make it as good as we can. >> how does it work what stories do you want to tell? >> mechanically i have a dozen people this is like the one you were speeding up earlier. so what i will do 20 stories.
what will they be? we could do 200 but we want to focus on the best things we can do so can we do some good to expose corruption or like what we've done on opioids with an enormous public service. can we eliminate a problem most people are not aware of? or tell a fascinating story to go through those ideas that producers start to research and really the only interview
people who are great storytellers themselves. so to say we tried we just cannot find the right people. so discard that and move on to the next. those that are all in the same office working together but each has our own team and i have no idea what leslie's call one - - leslie stahl is doing i see their stories for the very first time sunday at 7:00 p.m. eastern i am surprised and delighted. but as you know, as i like to tell young people there is no such thing as good writing. so i think the audience would be amazed have a times we
write, edit, rewrite and edit these stories before they ever see them. a typical story not on a pressing deadline will go through 12 iterations watch i it, take out what's working well, throughout the bits that are not. rewrite again and again and check the facts again and again. the audience i think would be amazed at the fact checking effort from cnn or cbs or any other major news organizations. we really sweat bullets none of this is cavalier. i wish the audience understood that a little bit better it's really up to us to give them a better look into what we are doing that mechanically had we put 60 minutes together there is the answer. >> i am an admirer of your
work but as an impact on the audience to tell a story to feel not just see or hear but with the craftsmanship that specific to a medium that we love which is television and i could go through many stories but one story i remember in particular and people who worked with you in part of your reputation is you are a storied producer and you think in the field what you shoot and how the story comes together. i always remember a piece you did for the evening news of the destruction of what was left of the murrah building in oklahoma city. multiple cameras were set up to capture the implosion of the building but that wasn't the story but the impact of those who watched it.
talk about how a day like that comes together where you think i will use all of my tools in the basket to make an impression to tell a story. >> in that particular case, it occurred to me everyone was focusing on the building. but the building was a symbol of what had been, what had been lost. and an enormous burden on the families of oklahoma city. everyone knew someone that was impacted by the terrible act of terrorism. i wanted to turn the camera away from the building and search the hearts of the people watching the building be destroyed ultimately in the implosion. it just seems to me that every story is about people and the
way they are reacting to those emotions and what's happening in the world today. it reminds me of the anecdote and i was in paris anchoring the evening news the day of the isis attack that killed 120 parisians years ago. that night it was raining and i was watching a parade of people come to a makeshift memorial on cobblestone streets in paris and children and women and i was looking in their faces of the candles and all that once i thought i've seen these people before. the world trade center on 9/11, oklahoma city after the
bombing, every language and every culture around the world. there is an expression on their face of utter bewilderment like what is the meaning of life? it occurred to me maybe were asking the wrong question. don't ask the meaning of life. life is asking what is the meaning of you? that is the organizing principle around the book because i had met so many people all around the world who exhibit the greatest principles during the most difficult times. i wanted to write about those people. it is a memoir, yes but i wanted to write one that wasn't about me but it occurred to me i had met the most incredible people in this
profession. so that was the device i used to tell those stories of the people and what made them great. >> you talk about the book or colleagues who have had a tremendous influence on you and as a war correspondent through your career covering the major conflicts of recent memory relied on the influence of your former colleagues of the legendary war correspondent paving and surviving all of the danger so what did they teach you about journalism?
>> mostly by observing. is work was titanic and just amazing. that we were in 1991 in saudi arabia for how this is the rent up to the gulf war and we had the bureau set up in the hotel and the protocol was when this --dash the warded would come in and escort everyone did the bomb shelter. so the first thing on - - time this happened i hadn't been there more than a year, the air raid simon goes off the wording comes in we go down.
's now i'm in the bomb shelter and i'm looking around but i'm worried about bob. he's not in the bomb shelter so i leave the bomb shelter to go look for him and i found him. he is on the roof of the building with a life camera near rating what is happening as the warheads are dropping. and it just hit me like a scud missile and i said to mysel myself, that is what a war correspondent does. i had seen my last bomb shelter and it was just that moment it is exactly right edward r merle standing on top of the roof of the bbc recording the blitz as the nazi bombers came over london and bob simon is doing the same thing that is what a war
correspondent does. many colleagues and friends have been killed because now by the war correspondent on the battlefield. indispensable to a democracy at war. so the risks are great but when you see your colleagues like bob simon you begin to understand what is required as a reporter and war correspondent the other thing is that bob was just an exquisite writer. i would get transcripts of his scripts so i can see them on paper to see the way they were
constructed. i learned more about writing from bob simon dan just about anybody in my career. >>host: this is why i love 60 minutes where that still is prized and you uphold those values in news and i enjoyed all of my years of reporting the nightly news but we both know in the company of the news media space there is a lot more talking and writing. a lot more commentary than there is craftsmanship and then you have much in this amount of time after a tornado i pointed out with the power
of images but what you're talking about was aspiring people to read and think about if they are writing as a journalist or any other platform. >> the last chapter is too young journalist to impart this wisdom and my hope at this point is the next generation of journalist moving forward hoping to create a zest for what we do and a real appreciation for the art and the writing and photography we are blessed at
60 minutes each is 12 minutes long they are many documentaries that so much of what we have to do cbs evening news or cnn is that our stories are one or two or three minutes. for 12 minutes really gives you an opportunity to do some writing that people often ask me how have they survived i think that's one of the answers the audience appreciates qualities. >> not just to aspiring journalist but it resonates with me because this is what i had to do you worked in dallas you grew up in lubbock
spending time as a copy boy at 15 years old and ultimately tried to get into the door at w faa with the affiliate in dallas but functionally that was a network news operation and it wasn't easy to get in the door with a legendary figure in our business who was the news director then but there was an issue getting into this business. >> nobody ever wanted to hire me. [laughter] not at any level i had to bash my way into everyplace i ever worked. i just cap dad him and finally he hired me to work one day a week, eight hours a week i
never work so hard at that job but they gave me a full-time job but quickly another anecdote he desperately did not want to hire me he heard of my work at w faa and working with refugees in guatemala and so they invited me to come up to new york to meet dan rather to me if - - to see if they wanted to make me a correspondent. i thought it went great i went home to dallas and they never called me back they didn't even call me to say no they just did not call the next year worked in my material i saw them again went home and they never called me back but the third year a friend said they are hiring now is your chance so i called the director of recruitment at cbs and they said you might want
to look at that correspondent he said scott, we know your work and there's no need for you to apply. [laughter] i said have you filled the job? i'm coming this week anytime minutes of your time so now and the tom hanks hollywood version i get the job i was an overnight success after four years of trying and that is the important thing young people need to know. i tell young journalists in college you will be told no. through them over your shoulder it is another step to yes the only people who don't work in the industry are those who give up and you are another living example of that.
>> tell people to make a point of meeting someone like you and say i will achieve x and it's important that you know that i would walk out thinking they don't care what i intend to do but it was my own statement of ambition to get to these people and then i will find out how they did it and i will announce my arrival. talk about your parents is in the influences on you. not just to go after a career and a profession you that would be meaningful that shaping your values with public service that it was worth this kind of sacrifice quick. >> my parents with a classic greatest generation growing up in the dustbowl of oklahoma
, the father would estimate my father got out of high school signed up for the army and air force flying 35 missions over germany during world war ii. my mother was a riveting rosie and built airplanes in the united states when dad was flying them over germany. there is just a lot of grit in my parents and people like them. people that i grew up with in lubbock texas in the farming community. people lived and died by the weather and that would attack the cotton crops and then other years would be great and then you see perseverance to under come the dustbowl and then you begin to think if they can do that then i can as well and to persevere and too much easier times compared to
those. but my career in pursuit of the truth actually began with a lie. i wanted a job at the newspaper because i thought i wanted to be a photographer but the problem is they only hired kids who were 16 and older to be copy boys and i was only 15. so i lied about my age and i got the job in my co-conspirator mom way to drop me off a couple of weeks one - - blocks from the papers adobe side didn't have a driver's license maybe this is the first time they are hearing about this. [laughter] but that's how it began in one day working on my high school homework and the executive editor came in and said you want to be a reporter? i said i don't know he said do
you or don't you? i said sure i guess he sent me in front of a typewriter which i had no idea how to operate and i have been a reporter ever since and i was 16 years old. >> there are lots of ways to know this but i know that when you cover the white house a lot of times you are traveling because you connect with your colleagues over long periods of time around the world and around the country they would say he would come on these trips and he would be reading history and ultimately being a journalist is we have a front row seat of history but your coverage of oklahoma city also
the events but also the trial of timothy mcveigh as i did that i was coming to the white house during 9/11 and among others you did an amazing one hour documentary on the one-year anniversary because i've been thinking coming up on the 20th anniversary of the oklahoma city bombing so many younger americans don't think about it in its importance because it is displaced by 9/11 but in meaningful ways and as you are reflective about the response to those events i wonder what you think the changes were and have been in this country. >> so much time has passed and it occurs to me that it is very likely we have troops
fighting in afghanistan today who were not born on 9/11. the reason we are in afghanistan. certainly there are a lot of people in the military today from every walk of life who has read about those events only in history books which is remarkable we were in downtown manhattan earlier and i said looking back it was hard to believe these things had actually happened and that oklahoma does one - - oklahoma city that was so monstrous and then 9/11 i was at the world trade center when the buildings came down. it's what i witnessed with the firefighters as they went charging into those buildings knowing the risk with just a chance to be able to help.
so everything seems to have changed because of those events. i am worried the country is tilting away from healthy skepticism into cynicism because of the wars that have occurred after 9/11 and what the bush administration had not leveled with the american people about why we were getting into iraq and the evidence. this is such a wonderful country i love america with all of my heart and i hope we can move from the cynicism that we see particularly in washington today to move back into an age of optimism for a new american century. these have been difficult times for with regard to terrorism and war and it is my
hope that our young people of today can put those behind them and move into a much brighter future. >> that the lessons that you write about in that you covered at the time in great detail of iraq and afghanistan , and then your interview with the director of the cia george tenet, speaks to an enormous challenge which is how do governments and societies respond to fear when they are afraid? we were afraid after oklahoma city that many people don't remember with the attack on the heartland but how the country felt and the fear. interviewing for 60 minutes writing about powerfully because over torture and enhanced interrogation the response of 9/11 shows who we
were as americans at one point he was very animated to say don't judge us or the cia until you walk a mile in her shoes and you wrote there it was george tenet will never acknowledge the programs but that was the explanation why he violated the law that he got after the attacks of 9/11. talk about that. >> mike wallace from 60 minutes did a story immediately after 9/11 asked the question would america resort to torture? i was outraged by the story
because i thought it was ridiculous the damage the credibility of the broadcaster because it was such a ridiculous idea. of course it was exactly right. the enhanced interrogation techniques were clearly in violation of the us antitorture statute. one of the things that was so gratifying about this book is i was eyewitness to many events for writing the book i could find recently declassified documents that have been formed that i was seeing with my own eyes and some came from the cia archives. and there is a letter from cia attorneys to the justice department that says essentially these are the techniques we want to use.
we realize they violate the law and we would like you to tell us in writing, in advance that you will not prosecute anyone who uses these techniques on behalf of cia. the attorney general didn't want to put this on paper but john ashcroft phone back and there's a record of the phone call in the archives and said you are good to go. violate the law. now imagine the position the bush administration is in. the worst attack ever on american soil since the civil war just occurred on their watc watch. they were going to make sure nothing like this would happen again in his george tenet said i said why were these enhanced interrogation techniques necessary? he said because these are people who will never ever
ever tell you a thing and would cut your throat the moment they got out of wherever they are being held. he has seen withering criticism about the days before and after 9/11 and the iraq war he was dc dci. this was his first opportunity to answer all of that and he came at me the most fun i have ever had in an interview because it was so engaging and combative and he kept saying we do not torture people. we do not torture people. it was a semantic debate because clearly that is what
we were doing and senator mccain said when he cosponsored the new antitorture bill, he said from the well that we have lost our principles and we had to get back on the side of the angels. >> asking you about sketches and leadership so your coverage of politics given your great curiosity and love to be a globetrotter to find stories and be in the white house briefing room and cover the president is confining and you tried to break out from always covering the white house but you write about bill clinton in great detail and the opportunity to meet mrs. secretary clinton during gennifer flowers scandal. you describe the former president as an earlier version of donald trump.
>> but what i'm talking about very specifically there is the ability and proclivity towards lying and one specific thing. not about policy but his own demons shall we say with regard to his sexual urges which became obvious so this is somebody who lied boldly in their face president trump is now elevated into lying into just about everything including policy president clinton was a shrewd politician. one of the brightest people i think we have had in the white house in modern times because he had a real command of
policies they were working with and wanted to change. was very excited coming out of the goal for 1992 the presidential campaign is heating up i was assigned to the unknown governor of arkansas which was okay with me because i was a new correspondent at cbs. i got a phone call before new hampshire when i was supposed to join up with the clinton campaign the national desk editor said go right now your guy is dropping out of the race tomorrow. i said you've got to be kidding me my first campaign i'm going to cover and he's gone? he said there is a woman who said she had an affair so he is out. go to little rock and do a story how he is dropping out.