Guest Host: David Shuster
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Matt Lauer, Margaret Carlson, Daniel Schorr, Hugh Downs
DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
First class hypocrisy: Governor Mark Sanford flying high on the taxpayers‘ dime. The phony fiscal conservative won‘t take federal stimulus money to educate the poor, but he will spend public funds on expensive airline tickets to South America—you know, the place where his mistress lives.
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GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: I‘ve let down a lot of people that‘s the bottom line.
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SHUSTER: A conservative think tank allegedly putting its thoughts up for sale to the highest bidder. Do I hear 2 million? And FedEx tells you it absolutely, positively, will not be part of your paper plate scandal, there‘s always UPS. What can green do for you?
It turns out not every McCain loves Joe the Plumber. Daughter Meghan sets her sights on her father‘s unofficial campaign mascot Samuel Wurzelbacher, quote, “Joe the plumber is a dumbass. He should stick to plumbing.” Then that‘s what I call mavericky.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would the senator like to apologize to Joe for that remark?
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SHUSTER: Crank calls gone wild: The brash pranksters who dupe folks and guests (ph) into destructive acts all for the enjoyment of their Internet followers. But have the jokes gone too far?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to break a window, ma‘am.
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SHUSTER: The King of Pop‘s new song hits the Internet.
SHUSTER: . as the wait grows even longer for the toxicology report that might answer the question of what killed Michael Jackson. And on Monday—a custody hearing to figure out who gets Michael‘s kids.
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: Good evening from New York. I‘m David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.
The governor never liked that crazy stimulus. The governor is a fiscal conservative. And as a candidate, he attacked officials for their hefty travel expenses, quote, “This kind of lavish spending with taxpayers footing the bill just doesn‘t make any sense to me. If I become your governor, I‘ll fix that problem.”
In our first story on THE COUNTDOWN: That governor spent nearly half a million dollars of taxpayer money traveling first-class and staying in the best hotels. Oops! And some of those trips by Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina were to Argentina, where he visited his mistress.
Evidently, Sanford had no problem with his own personal stimulus plan. When Sanford became governor of South Carolina more than six years ago, he did institute stricter rules about travel expenses for all state employees but records released under the Freedom of Information Act offer a different picture for “Governor Do as I Say Not as I Do.” More than $44,000 for Sanford‘s first-class and business class tickets, including trips to Poland, China, and London.
And in June of 2008, a South American trade mission where he later rendezvoused with his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur. Air fare? Close to $9,000. Sanford later had to reimburse the state for part of that. During almost all of these trips, other state employees flew further back in those planes in coach.
Officials in South Carolina are already responding. From the state Senate minority leader, “I reckon he‘s a hypocrite.” And from State Senator Larry Martin, a Republican, “I think it‘s going to be a huge disappointment to a lot of folks to realize that he just isn‘t the type of person on a number of fronts that people thought he was.”
But Governor Sanford‘s spokesman sees nothing amiss, saying that the governor was always very judicious and “compares quite favorably with previous administrations on use of the state plane, and we believe he would compare favorably on his use of other state travel as well.”
But even Sanford‘s use of the state plane easily exceeded that of his predecessor.
And this footnote: Regarding the governor‘s most recent trip to Argentina when he went AWOL, the Department of Homeland Security was concerned about his whereabouts.
Let‘s call in MSNBC political analyst and author of “Renegade: The Making of a President,” Richard Wolffe.
Richard, great to see you.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, David.
SHUSTER: Richard, just when the governor thought he was out of the spotlight, his own records drag him back in.
WOLFFE: Yes, the moment of maximum peril. Just when you think you‘re in the clear and all the storm has blown over, what comes out is another story to confirm what people have already thought about you, that you‘re not quite what you seem. You‘re not telling the truth.
And this is a guy who came in under the banner of authenticity—different kind of politician, someone who would clean things up, as you said. He was campaigning against bad stuff by his predecessor. There really ought to be a Blagojevich test on these people, you know?
If you really can‘t live up to the standards of someone who gets indicted before you or falls into disrepute, then you really ought to pack up and go home, or at least go to Argentina.
SHUSTER: And the truth is that most people would not begrudge their governor traveling at least in business class unless he railed against that kind of thing as a candidate and unless he was so frugal with state spending that he wanted to deny stimulus money to those in need.
WOLFFE: Well, those are two important analyses, but I would suggest that maybe the voters of South Carolina wouldn‘t be too happy about him taking a side trip in Argentina to go dove hunting. I mean, really, that‘s not exactly a trade mission. I mean, I don‘t know what kind of trade he‘s doing unless it‘s dead birds.
But, you know, yes, there is a legitimate case for governors, of course, to travel business class. That‘s fine. No one begrudges that.
But the hypocrisy piece of this is important because it takes the story in another direction. Again, it comes back down to the idea that he‘s not telling the truth, lying, deceiving people, and a core element of his story—not just the family values piece—but the money, the fiscal conservativism wasn‘t true, either. And that‘s the reinforcement that‘s so difficult.
SHUSTER: A criminal probe found that Sanford committed no criminal wrongdoing on his trips to Argentina. But now, a state legislative panel will hold hearings on whether Sanford spent state money on trysts with his mistress. So, the whole mistress/soul mate mess is not yet going away.
WOLFFE: No. And what‘s the downside for these state officials, state legislators to go after this stuff? You know, his base has collapsed.
If you‘re a Republican, you want to show that you do take this stuff seriously, that you have values, and you do stand for something you believe in some of those principles that Sanford pretended that he upheld. And if you‘re a Democrat, of course, you want to make as much hay as possible.
So, yes. This one rumbles on because he‘s given them the ammunition.
SHUSTER: And, by the way, when Sanford was interviewed by “The Associated Press” about one of his recent trips to Argentina, he evidently lied, claiming that he flew coach. Now, it seems to make the hypocrisy that much more egregious—which may or may not have been too much for a Sanford spokesman who announced today he was resigning. Abandon ship?
WOLFFE: When the rats disembark, there is a signal there. But—look, the spokesman, the communications director said he was leaving for personal reasons. You know—and Mark Sanford was not in the clearest of minds when he was speaking. So, let‘s forgive him “The A.P.” stuff but nothing else.
SHUSTER: And, Richard, how much damage does this continue to do to the Republican Party the longer that Sanford decides to essentially dig in and say, “I‘m not going anywhere”?
WOLFFE: Well, for a start, there‘s nothing he can achieve in South Carolina, but more broadly for the brand—you know, the party needs to clean house. It‘s very hard when it comes down to a state level, but nationally—and Sanford was, for better or worse, a national figure, too, they‘ve got a lot of cleaning up to do. And they need to find some new flames, some new characters to pin their hopes on.
SHUSTER: MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe—Richard, thanks as always. We appreciate it.
WOLFFE: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
And today, a cold case in the area of politics, sex, and hypocrisy has suddenly become white hot—thanks to a lawsuit filed by the wife of a former Republican Congressman Chip Pickering who served 12 years representing the third congressional district until his retirement in January. In the lawsuit filed against Pickering‘s mistress, Pickering‘s wife claims that the adulterous relationship ruined both the marriage and Pickering‘s political career.
Leisha Pickering claims that Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour actually offered then-Congressman Pickering the Senate seat of Trent Lott in 2007. And the lawsuit further claims that Pickering‘s mistress, Creekmore Byrd, insisted that if Pickering accepted the position that their relationship would not be able to continue.
A spokesman for Barbour denies that the governor ever offered Pickering that seat.
But here‘s the real curiosity: Not only did Mr. Pickering campaign on family values and pushed a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, not only did he call for the resignation of President Bill Clinton, but Mr. Pickering was living in the Christian fellowship home on C Street in Washington, D.C. otherwise known as the fellowship or the Family while he was allegedly carrying on his extramarital affair.
The C Street fellowship home was also occupied by the Nevada senator and now confessed adulterer, John Ensign, as well as former congressman and now confessed adulterer Mark Sanford.
Let‘s bring in “Washington Post” associate editor, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, and MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson.
Eugene, great to see you.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, David.
SHUSTER: Eugene, wow—that C Street fellowship was busy.
ROBINSON: It sure was. And you know, they were doing—did a lot of Bible study there and you have to wonder what parts of the Bible they were reading. I mean, they—some parts they obviously kept reading again and again, the part where so and so begat so and so and somebody else begat somebody else. You know—and all the lying with that they did in parts of the Old Testament.
Clearly, they seemed to keep going back to the racy parts and took that as some sort of example.
SHUSTER: Obviously, Democrats sometimes have affairs, too. But on the Republican side, there seems to be that extra layer. These Republicans campaigned on family values as if they had them and their opponents did not.
ROBINSON: They did. And, you know, obviously, the Republicans have no sort of lock on the market of sin. Democrats, sure, if they were all to be found out, it would balance out. But that is a crucial difference, because it does bring the whole hypocrisy question into play.
And, you know, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Well, clearly, the Republican lawmakers are not without sin. They keep throwing the stones. And their glass houses keep getting shattered.
SHUSTER: As a party, have Republicans learned any lessons about the family values stick or are there still plenty of office-holders and candidates ready and willing to go there?
ROBINSON: Ready, willing, and able—and, you know, it seems to me, almost, and this will sound silly, but it seems the way it‘s happening, that it has to be learned, you know, one congressman and one senator at a time. After someone is found out in one of these affairs and there‘s a scandal, you don‘t hear a whole lot more from that individual whose sex life has been exposed in that way, you know, preaching to everybody about family values.
But it‘s—it seems that the party as a whole doesn‘t quite get the hint. It‘s not that you have to be in favor of immorality as a party. It‘s just that if you claim to hold yourselves to some sort of impossible standard—well, doggone it, you don‘t make it because it‘s an impossible standard.
SHUSTER: And getting back to this C Street stuff at the house, a cautionary tale there. I mean, should religious right Republicans seriously not—seriously consider not living together ever? And on top of that, should spouses now be skeptical when a congressman says, “I won‘t be home this evening because I‘m studying Bible with the guys”?
ROBINSON: I think a lot of spouses probably have already put that house off-limits to their lawmaker hubbies. And, you know, I think one lesson to be learned here—you can imagine an atmosphere that something like the atmosphere of a very pious frat house. And even a very pious frat house is not, perhaps, the healthiest atmosphere for someone to spend those long nights, you know, away from home here in the Sodom and Gomorrah of Washington.
And once again, we find that—you know, it‘s better if they just, at the end of the day, go home.
SHUSTER: And just like their fraternity houses where things are all fine and on the up and up, there are also, of course, religious study groups where these things don‘t happen, where they do actual religious study and studying the Bible as opposed to studying, I don‘t know, other things. Those people have to be the most infuriated of all because it essentially diminishes their work.
ROBINSON: It does. And unfairly, as you point out. Of course, there are—there are Bible study, religious study classes and seminars and groups that get together, and this sort of thing doesn‘t happen. But, you know, it‘s a bunch of Republican congressman and it‘s this one C Street house, it just—there seems to be a tendency there and one hopes we‘ve heard the last of it, but who knows?
SHUSTER: Some of us hope that we haven‘t heard the last of it, Eugene.
SHUSTER: Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winner, a native South Carolinian, Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and “The Washington Post”—Eugene, thanks as always.
ROBINSON: Good to be here, David.
A conservative think tank full of thoughts and opinions if not any actual principles. The American Conservative Union accused of putting its endorsement up for sale, $2 million -- $3 million? It would believe whatever a corporation asked. FedEx apparently said, absolutely, positively not. But did UPS deliver? We‘ll find out next on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: A right-wing think tank accused of formulating its opinions and offering its endorsement based on which corporation would be willing to cut it the biggest check. Has conservative thought become more corrupt than we‘ve suspected? Nope. It sounds like conservative thought could be exactly as corrupt as we‘ve suspected.
SHUSTER: An Astroturf campaign is defined as a public relations campaign seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior. And a stunning example of that—our fourth story on THE COUNTDOWN: Conservative principles apparently for sale in the nation‘s capital.
In a letter obtained by Politico.com, the executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, Dennis Whitfield, two weeks ago, wrote a letter to Federal Express, allegedly trying to pry money from that company in exchange for the ACU‘s support in a legislative battle with UPS over unionization.
First, the come on. Quote, “We have reviewed your concerns regarding the NLRB, National Labor Relations Board, and we believe we could strongly support your position. We stand with FedEx in support of this legislation.”
Then, show us the money. Quote, “For the activist contact portion of the program $2,147,550 to implement the entire program.”
When FedEx said it wouldn‘t pay, the ACU flipped and joined with other groups, informing FedEx it was going to back the UPS position.
We are going to actually stop this story right now because we do have some breaking news now. We have just learned from CBS News that the newsman who poignantly informed the world of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 has, himself, died today.
CBS News, a short time ago, announced the passing of legendary journalist Walter Cronkite. He was 92 years old. Cronkite spent 19 of those years as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”
NBC‘s Matt Lauer now takes a look back at the life and impact of Walter Cronkite.
WALTER CRONKITE, LEGENDARY JOURNALIST: Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official. President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walter Cronkite was a natural-born reporter who became as much a part of our lives as the events he covered.
CRONKITE: Tension is mounting here at Cape Canaveral. Our interview with the senator will be entirely unrehearsed.
LAUER: His steady telling of history made him the most trusted man in America, chronicling the nation‘s triumphs and its tragedies.
CRONKITE: Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: He was a quintessential American. He came from the heartland. He wasn‘t flashy one way or the other. And his reporting was straightforward.
CRONKITE: I just fell into whatever it is I do naturally.
In a hostile environment of outer space.
LAUER: Born Walter Leland Cronkite in 1916 in St. Joseph, Missouri, to Helen and Walter Cronkite, Sr., he was an only child. An enterprising boy, his first job at age 7 was selling magazines and later, “The Kansas City Star.” He reported for his college newspaper at the University of Texas.
At 23, Cronkite took a job where he would first make his name—as a wire service reporter for “United Press,” covering the Second World War.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get me London, United Press Bureau. Make it snappy.
LAUER: He learned to write—as he said later—fast, accurate, and unbiased.
CRONKITE: It‘s just one of the most exciting businesses there can be.
LAUER: Cronkite accompanied bombing missions over Germany and covered the landing of American troops at Normandy on D-Day.
CRONKITE: I‘m just back from the biggest assignment that any American reporter could have so far in this war.
LAUER: After the war, he covered the Nuremberg trials. By 1950, a new medium beckoned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: History in the last 24 hours. Today‘s news.
LAUER: The brave new world of television. Edward R. Murrow asked him to join CBS News. At that time, TV was less reputable than radio, fraught with risk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, however, the film seems to be upside down.
LAUER: But for the young reporter, at that time, television was the future.
Even without formal broadcast training, Cronkite seemed born for the job. It wasn‘t always hard news. For a time, he co-hosted the morning show with a puppet Charlemagne.
CRONKITE: How is it going? What‘s up?
LAUER: But in 1962, he was named anchorman of the “Evening News,” and just 15 minutes long.
CRONKITE: Hello, I‘m Walter Cronkite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Walter grew in stature, television news grew in stature, Cronkite made CBS News respectable.
LAUER: Less than a year later, the news expanded to 30 minutes and viewers increasingly tuned in to Cronkite, who saw his job as a mission to get the facts fast and to educate his audience.
Sanford Socolow was his long-time producer.
SANFORD SOCOLOW, WALTER CRONKITE‘S PRODUCER: You kind of believed and trusted what he said to you because he had more experience, he had more knowledge, and it was in a day when news was a much more serious teaching tool.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was family. He was someone who made us feel safe and secure.
CRONKITE: Good morning. And it‘s windy.
LAUER: For nearly 20 years, Cronkite brought the news to as many as 22 million Americans every night. His broadcast was the number one evening show for 13 years. He covered presidents from Truman to Clinton, and was fascinated by politics. He took us to convention after convention, perched in his booth over the floor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
LAUER: Sometimes, his emotions showed on air.
CRONKITE: I think we‘ve got a bunch of thugs here, Dan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re at T-minus 19 seconds.
LAUER: When it came to American exploration in space, he was particularly excited and awed.
During a tumultuous time in our history, his nightly sign-off became one constant we all counted on.
CRONKITE: And that‘s the way it is.
LAUER: Away from the anchor chair, he had many interests—a passion for fast cars and song and dance. And most of all, for sailing—a sport he shared with his beloved Betsy, their family, and others.
March 6th, 1981, after nearly 20 years on the “CBS Evening News,” he anchored his last broadcast.
ANNOUNCER: This is the “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite.
CRONKITE: Good evening. President.
BROKAW: Walter was a gold standard. He set the pace. He had this almost personification of integrity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walter was the ultimate television preacher who they came to, to be told, everything‘s fine.
LAUER: Walter Cronkite lived out the rest of his years still itching to cover the big stories that broke. He worried, though, about the fate of journalism.
CRONKITE: The quest of journalism ought to be about telling people what they need to know, not what they want to know. You must be responsible if we‘re going to have the informed public that we need to have to make this democracy work.
LAUER: But in the end, Walter Cronkite remained an optimist, who believed mightily in America.
CRONKITE: Anything I‘ve learned, it is that we, Americans, do have a way of rising to the challenges that confront us. There‘s reason to hope for the 21st century.
SHUSTER: Again, the news from CBS News tonight that Walter Cronkite, once the most trusted man in America, has passed at the age of 92. He was the anchor of the CBS News from 1962 to 1981, a constant presence for so many people who grew up or watched the news during those 1960s and 1970s.
Joining us now is Margaret Carlson of “The Week” magazine and “Bloomberg News.”
And, Margaret, I know you have your own memories of watching Walter, but what do you thinking now?
MARGARET CARLSON, “THE WEEK” MAGAZINE: That piece, which was wonderful, reminded me how much the news mattered and how much he mattered to the news. You know, my daughter‘s first recognizable face from the TV was that she said, “Walter Conkite (ph),” because we, you know, how you would choose your broadcasts. That was the one that we turned on.
And, you know, he was always old. I remember when—can you remember Walter Cronkite being young? And he always had that authority that comes with looking old. And then he had it just because of what he conveyed and how he did it.
And it‘s no slight to the people doing the news now including you, David. But—you know, he is part of the greatest generation that Tom Brokaw wrote about. And we‘ve come—we‘ve come away since then and it‘s not that it is—it‘s not as good. It‘s just that it‘s different now.
And it mattered so much back then that you, when something happened, you would tune in to Walter Cronkite.
SHUSTER: Walter Cronkite‘s family said that he had been suffering recently with a cerebral vascular disease, which is essentially the veins and the arteries in your brain and your head essentially degenerating. So, I gather it was tough at the end. But by all accounts, he had a remarkably healthy, very rewarding and enriching life.
CARLSON: Well, knowing how to say good-bye at the right time was another gift he had. He left when he still had some good years in him and spent them with his family and spent them sailing and seemed to, you know, just lead a good, happy life—which is harder these days in the 24/7 news cycle.
Back then, you felt like there was a possibility that, you know, people like Walter Cronkite, thought about the news. He was an anchor in the sense that he was heavy and grounded, but he also still had time to report and have a life.
SHUSTER: Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg”—Margaret, thank you so much.
Again, the end of a television broadcasting era, CBS News announcing the death of Walter Cronkite at the age of 92. We will have more on the impact on television, the impact on the news, and more memories of Walter Cronkite on the other side of this break.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
SHUSTER: This day now marks the passing of a broadcasting legend.
Walter Cronkite, age 92, died today. CBS News cut into their prime-time programming about a half-hour ago and announced that their legendary anchor from the 1960s and ‘70s had passed, again, at the age of 92.
Walter Cronkite had covered everything for CBS News, from the Kennedy assassination, to Vietnam, to the Apollo missions to the moon, to Watergate and everything in between. He was, by all accounts, a legendary, iconic symbol of broadcasting news greatness.
And joining us now to talk about the impact of his life on all of us is Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News.”
And, Brian, your thoughts on this—on this passing?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Well, David, thanks for having me.
I headed home tonight after “Nightly News.” And, unbelievably, I did a telephone interview for a friend who‘s preparing a journalism textbook. And she‘s writing this in Los Angeles. And I just finished talking about Walter and the effect he had on, not just my life, but our—our country and our industry for the past half-hour, not knowing until a few minutes ago what had happened.
He—you know, from the perspective of my low-class living room, as a little kid, I was born in ‘59. So, I came up right during the height of the Cold War, the space shots, as he used to call them, the moon mission, Vietnam War, he was—he was it.
Our dinner couldn‘t be served in my house until he said, “That‘s the way it is” at the end of the broadcast. He was the icon. And, you know, when that opinion poll came out in the 1970s calling him the most trusted man in America, it stuck.
No one quarreled with it. The moniker just stuck to him forever. He was the—really, the first modern-day anchor. I guess Don Hewitt at CBS was credited with coming up with that term.
And people forget—over the next couple of days, we will talk a lot about how he broke the news of Kennedy‘s assassination to the country. We remember the—the black-and-white video from that day in 1963. He removes his glasses, loses his composure just ever so briefly. He was 47 years old on that day.
He had covered, of course, World War II. And young men got old. We‘re looking at it right now on the air. Young men got old very quickly in that era. And Walter Cronkite lived one of the great American lives.
SHUSTER: Brian, for—for a lot of people who were born after Walter Cronkite was off the air, I wonder if you can put in words the—the—the steadfastness or the gravitas of Walter Cronkite that exists to this day, the impact that he still has had on broadcasts, whether it‘s yours or CBS or ABC, that the—the network broadcasts in so many ways were defined by the likes of Walter Cronkite.
WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, try to imagine a country with three networks, so just three choices in this amazing new box called television.
And families, like—as they used to gather—and it‘s hard for us to believe—gather around a radio and kind of stare at it and watch the words come out of it. This was magical. It was black and white, but we didn‘t know any better.
And so, when the—the—the notion of an evening newscast came around, various anchor combinations were tried. “The Camel News Caravan” on NBC actually, you know, bore the name of a cigarette company. And then CBS News—they loved the nickname the Tiffany Network—really made their bones from hard news coverage, dating back to Ed Murrow, the Blitz in London over radio.
They came up with a very, very strong combination headed by Walter Cronkite, who set journalistic standards. He was an old-school print reporter from the Midwest. He was a no-nonsense guy. He—look, he—he loved the airtime. He was an on—he was on-camera creature, after all.
But his first concern, his first love was journalism (AUDIO GAP) government. I‘m a great collector of the recorded telephone conversations of President Johnson. And, to hear those two guys talking, a president at the prime of his power, an anchorman at the prime of his, it really sounds like they‘re running the country over the phone, almost too close a collusion for journalists and—and president.
But Walter never crossed that line. And he worried about that line until the day he died. He expressed his dismay over some of the trends in television news early and often.
SHUSTER: Brian, I‘m—I‘m told that you had at least some contact with Walter Cronkite as you made the transition into the anchor chair at—at NBC News.
I wonder if you can talk briefly about what you knew about him personally.
WILLIAMS: Oh, I have been very lucky to get to know him.
He‘s had—I‘m happy to say, he‘s had dinner in my home. And, you know, when you have public figures who are your icons growing up, people you—you worship, this is the guy I wanted to be—I don‘t know how to say it any more plainly—it‘s so nice when they turn out to be everything you wanted them to be.
And this was one—one such case. He was—he was gracious. He had a terrific sense of humor. Walter‘s friends were Walter‘s friends. And there‘s no one who made fun of Walter more than Walter or his beloved wife, Betsy, who we lost a few years ago—a fantastic guy.
SHUSTER: Brian, I know that “NBC Nightly News” and MSNBC, we have all been going back through a lot of tapes in the preparation for the anniversary on Monday, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
And—and correct me if I‘m wrong, but I believe that was the one where, when Walter Cronkite was doing the broadcast, he was momentarily speechless when Neil Armstrong was putting—putting his foot down and that famous transmission, “One small step.”
And, later, he apologized for being speechless.
WILLIAMS: Yes, talk about old-school. Can you imagine?
And he—they did something quite controversial. Obviously, we were glued to those grainy black-and-white live TV images from the surface of the moon, after all. And we watched Armstrong step out. We heard Walter say, simply, “man on the moon.”
And after the landing, Cronkite appeared to be drenched in sweat. They cut away from the surface of the moon to show the anchorman. And he had—he was just looking around in absolute amazement, because this American life had spanned such a—a great distance.
It was still an outlandish idea that this was happening at all. But, again, you know, I was watching him that night. I was watching that coverage. It‘s unbelievable that his death comes now, as we‘re looking 40 years back to—to the moon shot.
And so many Americans were watching him at the height of his power. A friend of mine says, Cronkite used to address the nation. Other people did the evening news.
SHUSTER: Brian Williams, managing editor, anchor of “The NBC Nightly News,” who got to know Walter Cronkite, and, like so many of us, grew up watching Walter Cronkite and his incredible broadcasts on “The CBS Evening News.”
And—and, Brian, thank you so much for—for being part of this and part of our coverage tonight, as we remember Walter Cronkite, who died today at the age of 92.
And, Brian, thanks again.
WILLIAMS: David, thanks. I‘m flattered to be asked.
We‘re going to have much more on the—the life of Walter Cronkite, his work, how he‘s being remembered tonight by his friends. We will talk to Daniel Schorr, a correspondent with CBS News for many years, who now works at NPR, but worked with Walter Cronkite for so many years. We will talk to him on the other side of this break.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
SHUSTER: A sad day for CBS News, a sad day for the entire world of broadcast news.
CBS announced tonight that Walter Cronkite, legendary anchor of “The CBS Evening News” from 1962, 1961, to roughly 1981, he died today at the age of 92 -- 92.
We‘re pleased to be joined by Daniel Schorr, a legendary CBS News correspondent for 1950s and 1960s, all the way through Watergate, who now works at NPR. But he was, of course, a correspondent in Germany when Walter Cronkite was in the anchor chair, but, most notably, Daniel Schorr was covering Washington and covering Watergate when Walter, of course, was in the anchor chair in the 1970s.
And, Daniel, first of all, your thoughts on the passing of Walter Cronkite?
DANIEL SCHORR, FORMER CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, my thoughts, I mean, he—he represented an era. We used to call him Uncle Walter, because we felt so close to him.
He was sort of a journalist‘s journalist. I mean, he didn‘t have any airs about him. He took everything as a job that he had to do. I think he will be remembered by a great many people, among other things, for going to Vietnam after the Tet Offensive there, which didn‘t work. And he did a piece on camera in which he made clear—he said, you know, as a reporter, I‘m not supposed to give you my opinion, but I make a big exception.
And he said, the war wasn‘t working. And the result was that President Johnson, as we later learned, said: We‘re finished there. If Walter Cronkite is speaking against it, the country will be against it.
SHUSTER: Daniel, what kind of managing editor or boss was Walter? When you would call from Berlin or send your dispatches, describe the interaction when you were overseas and—and Walter was—was the anchor.
SCHORR: Well, overseas—overseas, and here in Washington as well—and my time was more or less split between the two.
But Walter Cronkite wanted and asked for the type of a managing editor of the program. He didn‘t want to be just another pretty face, although he was a good-looking fellow. And he didn‘t want to be simply handed copy all the time. And, so, he—he made a point of saying: I‘m not just a guy sitting here, and you hand me a script or put it on the Teleprompter. I am a reporter.
He had been. He had worked in the early days for United Press during World War II in—in Moscow, and eventually came to work for CBS.
We used to meet with him every year. All the correspondents from around the world would come in, and they would do a program called “Years of Crisis,” which was a year-end review on CBS. Originally, Ed Murrow was the anchor of it. And, after Murrow, Walter Cronkite became that.
And it was a thoroughly collegial—I guess that‘s the word I would have to use—“a thoroughly collegial experience.” He never pulled rank, although he had a lot of rank. And—and—and it was: We have got a job to do, fellows. Let‘s do the job.
And all of us felt that way about him.
SHUSTER: We‘re looking at video of Walter Cronkite moderating one of the famous Nixon—a famous Nixon-Kennedy debate. And so many people are familiar with that moment when Walter Cronkite took off the glasses on that awful day in 1963 and announced that President Kennedy was dead.
SHUSTER: Did he talk much about it and the impact that that episode had on him, but also how he sort of put it in perspective in terms of—I mean, so many hundreds of millions of people have now seen that. And that was sort of woven into the collective memory of how so many Americans experienced the Kennedy assassination.
SCHORR: That‘s right. Well, I thought you said it very well.
Americans tended to see the world through—through Cronkite‘s eyes.
And, if Walter said it, it had to be so. And all this business of “Uncle Walter” was only half-joking, but he was accepted as the presence who, when he said it, it was for real.
He tried very hard not to let his emotions show. And the Kennedy assassination was one of the exceptions to it. I remember another exception during the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, when there were a lot of things going on, including the fact that reporters on the floor were being roughed up by the police.
And, at one point, they began pushing Dan Rather around a little bit. And, from his anchor booth, from his anchor booth, Walter said—the camera went down there, and Walter said, “Those thugs.”
And that was another thing, remember. It had to be really something of an occasion for Walter to let his hair down and say how he really felt as a human being, because, as a—the kind of professional he was is: We just report. We don‘t let our emotions get in the way.
Well, it didn‘t often.
SHUSTER: It was 28 years ago when he retired, back in 1981.
Were you surprised back then when he retired? And what do you know about his life since then, and how much contact were you able to have in the...
SCHORR: Well, I don‘t know how much I want to get into inside baseball at CBS.
He was not very happy to retire. He would have liked to have given them two years more. Then they put him to work doing things on doing things for “60 Minutes.” But he was like some of the rest of us. We don‘t like to retire.
But they wanted—they wanted then to make room for Dan Rather. They wanted a younger face and so on. And, so, he went not gently into the good night.
SHUSTER: Your most recent conversations with Walter Cronkite, and what is it—as you think about the next several days and all the collective memories that people will have, what will stand out in your memory?
SCHORR: I haven‘t seen Walter for a very long time. As a matter of fact, I think the last time I saw him was when we ran—ran into him in Martha‘s Vineyard and chatted for a few minutes.
We were not what you would call very close friends (INAUDIBLE) go back and forth at dinner all the time. He was a professional colleague. And all our relationships tended to be collegial.
SHUSTER: Well, Daniel Schorr, we appreciate you coming on and being part of our coverage tonight, and helping us remember the career of Walter Cronkite and what an impact that he had and you had and so many of your colleagues at CBS News and throughout the world of journalism who had the opportunity to—to be part of that.
And thanks again for being part of our coverage tonight.
Again, CBS News announcing that—announcing tonight that Walter Cronkite, the legendary news anchor of “The CBS Evening News” for nearly 20 years—he retired back in 1981, but he covered the Kennedy assassination. He covered Vietnam. He covered the missions to the moon. He covered politics and everything in between -- 92 years old. He passed today. CBS News made the announcement within the past hour.
We will have more on the life of Walter Cronkite after this.
SHUSTER: Walter Cronkite, the legendary news anchor of “The CBS Evening News” for 19 years, he died today at the age of 92.
So, what was it like to compete against Walter when you were at another network? We will have more on that ahead.
You‘re watching MSNBC.
SHUSTER: For an entire generation of us who grew up essentially watching television in the 1970s, “The CBS Evening News,” at least when we started watching the news, when I did, in the late 1970s, was something that my brothers and I and our parents did every night. And, then, for a lot of us, we would simply sit around and talk about what Walter Cronkite had just told us.
It‘s that sort of impact that you will find on so many people who remember watching “The CBS Evening News” in the 1960s or the ‘70s, until 1981, and—and then even afterwards, when Dan Rather took over the anchor chair from Walter Cronkite.
But, again, the passing of a legend tonight—Walter Cronkite, the CBS News announcer who this evening died today at the age of 92. He was the voice and the prism through which so many people experienced the Kennedy assassination, or Vietnam, or the floods, or the landing on the moon, or Watergate, or political conventions.
CBS was unbeatable for many years when Walter Cronkite was in the anchor chair. And he was a difficult person to compete against, when you‘re somebody like Hugh Downs. Despite all the talents of Hugh Downs, who worked here at NBC News, before working at ABC, this was a competitive business.
And Hugh Downs joins us now.
And, Hugh, what was it like when you were there trying to compete against “The CBS Evening News” and Uncle Walter?
HUGH DOWNS, FORMER “20/20” HOST: You know, the funny thing is, we got together at space shots and things of that kind, but we always were very cordial. And I don‘t know that we, either one, felt competitive.
But it was a—it was good relationship. And I did get to know him. And I‘m really saddened to get that news now, because I think that one of the—even after he was—he retired way too early, but I think one of the things—one of many incidents which I would like to give you, that...
DOWNS: ... why he was called the most trusted man in America, even years after he left the regular nightly news.
And this was a thing that happened at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And Clinton‘s family were in Martha‘s Vineyard, trying to vacation, and the paparazzi were all over them. And they finally—
Walter offered them sanctuary aboard his yacht. And they escaped that way and had a whole day, a very pleasant day, and they didn‘t get bothered by the press.
Then, what happened was that, when they...
DOWNS: ... when they came back, the press was all over Walter, trying and offering, I have heard, obscene amounts of money if he would talk about what they talked about, how they felt.
And he would never say a word, because he—and that spelled out to me one of the reasons that he was the most trusted man in America.
SHUSTER: Talk a little bit more about the camaraderie that you and—and Walter and others felt towards each other when you were covering things like the mission to the moon.
We had a chance to chat. And one of things he said one time that I—I—I thought was very interesting—and it didn‘t surprise me, knowing Walter—he knew what it took to be a good journalist.
And he said—this will sound ideological to some people, but I thought—I admired the way he said it. He said, to be a good journalist, you have got to be a liberal.
And that‘s something that I think would stir up a—a lot of problems now with some people. But I—I kind of admired the way he just flat-out said that.
SHUSTER: But liberal in terms of—not perhaps in terms of the classic definition today, but, rather, somebody who embraces freedom of the press and—and asking tough questions.
And I think we have just lost Hugh Downs.
But, again, in case you‘re just joining us, Walter Cronkite—and we have been showing clips now. There he is talking about Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton‘s former secretary of state, who, of course, also had a crucial role in foreign policy in the 1970s, and there talking about Algeria, another big story of the 1970s.
Walter Cronkite, “The CBS Evening News” anchor from 1962 to 1981, and then he retired in 1981, when Dan Rather came in, but still a huge presence in the world of broadcast news.
And, tonight, CBS News broke into their prime-time programming to announce that Walter Cronkite had died. He was 92 years old. According to his family, in the last couple of weeks, if not months, he had had a degenerative disease which essentially causes the arteries and the veins in the brain to essentially melt away.
But, for most of Walter Cronkite‘s life—and what a life he led—very healthy, very vigorous, three children in his family, plenty of grandchildren. There was a time not too long ago where he appeared on a kids television network with his grandchild and described it as one of the great broadcast experiences of his life, certainly a family man and certainly somebody that so many of us in the broadcasting world looked up to when we were growing up and coming of age.
And, again, if you loved the news, you certainly loved Walter Cronkite and what CBS News was doing back in the 1960s and ‘70s, and certainly the early ‘80s.
We are going to just do a—read a quick statement here that is in our file, in terms of a statement that‘s come out from CBS—I‘m sorry—from President—I‘m sorry—from Steve Capus, the president of NBC News.
“There are few who were more insightful or more dedicated to the craft of journalism than Walter Cronkite. It takes someone truly gifted to make the entire country feel like he was a member of the family. We are all better for his pioneering work. And the journalism world will forever be shaped by what he accomplished. On behalf of NBC News, I extend our deepest sympathies to Walter‘s family and his CBS colleagues”—Steve Capus, the president of NBC News—and, again, Steve, like so many others, influenced and impacted by the incredible career and life of Walter Cronkite.
Our coverage, of course, is going to continue on MSNBC with “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
But, again, we will continue to cover the passing of a broadcast legend.
Walter Cronkite dead at the age of 92.
I‘m David Shuster.
MSNBC coverage continues now with Rachel Maddow.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.