updated 6/11/2004 11:43:43 AM ET 2004-06-11T15:43:43

Guests: Harry Thomason, Richard Cohen, Meredith Vieira



DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  The hunting of the president.  He was the second youngest president of the United States and the second to be impeached.  Was Bill Clinton the victim of a Republican witch-hunt?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON POLITICAL STRATEGIST:  And they were swept up in an era of madness. 

NORVILLE:  Tonight in a prime time exclusive, a look back at the case against President Clinton through the lens of a filmmaker and Clinton friend Harry Thomason. 

From Whitewater to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, this is a story featuring an all-star cast. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They don‘t believe you‘ll turn on Bill, but you must hate Hillary. 

NORVILLE:  Plus, the reluctant memoir of Richard Cohen.  An award-winning journalist stricken by multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, then he was ambushed by cancer.  Tonight, in a rare interview, Richard Cohen and his wife, Meredith Vieira, open up about a personal family affair, confronting adversity with love, strength and humor. 

And remembering a music legend.  Ray Charles. 

RAY CHARLES, MUSICIAN (singing):  Get your kicks on route 66.

ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville. 


NORVILLE:  And good evening, everybody. 

Tonight, thousands of people young and old are saying farewell to America‘s 40th president, Ronald Reagan. 

Despite the heat in Washington, D.C., capital police are estimating that 5,000 people an hour are slowly walking past the coffin, which has been placed on a catafalque at the center of the Capitol building‘s rotunda. 

This outpouring of emotion from people coming across the country will continue through the night and will end tomorrow. 

A good number of dignitaries, both past and present, have also been making this visit.  This afternoon, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev honored President Reagan by laying his hand on the coffin.  He then solemnly walked away. 

And tonight, President George W. Bush and the first lady paid their respects at the Capitol rotunda, then visiting Nancy Reagan at Blair House to offer their condolences.  President Bush will be attending tomorrow‘s state funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington. 

We‘ll have more on this extraordinary week as a nation remembers Ronald Reagan a little later in the program.  But first, a look at another former president. 

Bill Clinton is once again in the spotlight as his highly anticipated book is about to be released.  Tonight we bring you the story about another book, a book written about Bill Clinton, one that is now being turned into a movie. 

Back in 2001, two journalists published a “New York Times” best selling book entitled “The Hunting of the President.”  In it they outlined what they called an organized and well-funded effort by enemies of the former president to damage the reputations and careers of both President Clinton and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

That book is now coming to the movie screen as a documentary. 


JOE CONASON, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEW YORK OBSERVER”:  Do we really want a country where right wing millionaires and, you know, unethical lawyers can put together an attempt to have a coup d‘etat against a twice elected president, over nothing?  Over what turned out to be nothing, really?  Except a sex lie and a phony financial scandal?


NORVILLE:  The producer and director of the film is no stranger to the Clintons.  Harry Thomason has known Bill Clinton ever since 1966 when they were both ambitious and idealistic young men growing up in Arkansas. 

Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, have been close friends of the Clintons for years. 

And “The Hunting of the President: The 10-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill Clinton” opens next week.  It then rolls out nationally in theaters over the summer.  Their director and writer Harry Thomson joins us.  First prime time interview about the film.

Good to see you.


NORVILLE:  You are still steamed, I gather, about the way Bill Clinton got treated. 

THOMASON:  Well, I probably was steamed at the time.  But I don‘t think I‘m still steamed.  We made the movie because it‘s a wonderful, entertaining motion picture with three acts, and villains and good guys.  And it just happens to be in a form that people are not used to: it‘s real live people talking. 

NORVILLE:  Real live people.  It‘s a documentary style film that will be in movie theaters.  You know, where you get to talk more and...

THOMASON:  That‘s right.  You can sit in the theater and watch it, and you‘ll be entertained.  And you‘ll laugh.  And you‘ll cry.  And at the end we think you will have hopefully seen a coherent story. 

NORVILLE:  And at the end, will you have changed your opinion about the Bill Clinton story and how it was reported during his eight years in Washington?

THOMASON:  I think, if you‘re a member of the extreme right wing it will not change your opinion.  If you‘re a member—if you‘re a liberal it will not change your opinion.  The people in the middle, I think it quite possibly could change their opinion, because it will be revelatory. 

NORVILLE:  The jumping off point that I‘d like to start with for our conversation was the interview that Hillary Clinton did in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky affair, and she said to Matt Lauer, “It‘s a vast right wing conspiracy. 

Let‘s roll the tape and use that as our starting spot. 


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. 

A few journalists have kind of caught onto it and explained it.  But it has not yet been fully revealed to the American public.  And actually, you know, in a bizarre sort of way, this may do it. 


NORVILLE:  At that time she was saying the allegation that Monica Lewinsky and her husband, Bill Clinton, had had a relationship was part of that vast conspiracy.  That turned out to be true. 

Was there is a vast conspiracy?

THOMASON:  You know, she was wrong on two counts. 

No. 1, there was no vast right-wing conspiracy.  It was a small, well-organized right-wing conspiracy. 

And—and secondly, it started long before he ever even announced that he was going to run for president. 

NORVILLE:  They targeted him when he was still governor?

THOMASON:  Long before he became governor, Lee Atwater, who was then head of the—and this is not in the film—but Lee Atwater, who‘s head of the National Republican Committee at the time came back to Washington.  And he basically said, “I met Darth Vader, and we have to get him.” 

NORVILLE:  And he lives in Arkansas?

THOMASON:  And he lives in Arkansas.  And Lee was in Arkansas for a party that just so happened that my wife and I attended. 

NORVILLE:  And what was it about Bill Clinton that had Lee Atwater so concerned that he was going to be the object of the Republican Party‘s disaffection?

THOMASON:  Well, I think mainly it was that he held a lot of positions that Lee Atwater did.  You know, not extreme positions, but they were both more to the middle of the spectrum. 

And Lee Atwater realized that that was very dangerous, to let a guy like Bill Clinton run for president and who moved more toward the middle.  That could disrupt things for the Republicans. 

NORVILLE:  In the movie you were able to convince a number of people who were players in the Bill Clinton story to sit down in front of your cameras and talk.  But a lot of people said no.  Who said no?

THOMASON:  You know, we invited 137 people that were—would be considered right-wing reporters, right-wing Republicans, to talk to us.  And only one talked to us on the national scene, and that was Jerry Falwell. 

Though I must tell you that a couple of Republicans that were in the thing when it started back in Arkansas did talk to us.  They didn‘t make the cut, because we dropped that part of the film.  But they were gracious enough to talk to us. 

NORVILLE:  But one who did speak to you was the person who did a great deal of damage as far as Bill Clinton was concerned, and was David Brock, who was sort of the lead reporter for “The American Spectator,” the magazine that broke so many of the stories. 

THOMASON:  That‘s correct.  David Brock broke the trooper story and other stories for “American Spectator.” 

And by the time we were doing the film, he had sort of rethought his position on things.  And we were able, because of Joe Conason and Gene Lanche (ph), who reporters—who had a good relationship with him, to finally persuade him to talk. 

NORVILLE:  And here‘s a little bit of what David Brock said when he did finally sit down in front of the camera. 


DAVID BROCK, “THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR”:  If the Republicans are again confronted with a politician who is as threatening as Bill Clinton that—that, you know, I don‘t think they have necessarily learned anything from the ‘90s, except that they almost won. 


NORVILLE:  How did that remark make the final cut?

THOMASON:  Well, it made the—it made the remark—I‘m sorry.  The remark made the final cut, because when they were able to get Bill Clinton impeached on lying about a personal matter, then that sort of expanded the universe and the realm of what you could do.  Because never before had a president been impeached for personal matters, and so this expanded the possible. 

NORVILLE:  But wasn‘t the president impeached for lying under oath?

THOMASON:  The president...

NORVILLE:  It wasn‘t the personal matter.  It was—you know, it was like the Nixon thing.  It was the cover up.  It was the lie about it. 

THOMASON:  That‘s true.  And a lie driven by, I think, a desire to protect his family. 

But you have to understand when this thing started off, it wasn‘t all Republicans.  It started off when he was a college student at Oxford.  I mean, that‘s what led to the seeds. 

As it went along, it was a group of guys trying to make money.  They‘re actually sort of funny guys, you know.  And they joined up with some right-wingers. 

But by the end of eight years it was, you know, “If we could just get Bill Clinton under oath about anything, an auto accident, anything, and we could get him to lie, that would be a reason that we could remove him.” 

NORVILLE:  And the idea being if we could just get him under oath it‘s inevitable that he would lie.  That sounds like the thought process you‘re saying. 

THOMASON:  Well, I mean, the fault lies—it‘s inevitable that we can ask enough questions that you could construe it as lying. 

Whether it was or not, I don‘t know. 

NORVILLE:  You also—You certainly point the finger at members of the far right and the conservative movement in this country, but you also don‘t let the media off the hook.  And you say the media should watch this film and have a certain sense of mea culpa as they do. 

THOMASON:  Actually to me the biggest culprit in the film is not the right wing or the people that were in it for the money, it‘s the press for participating. 

But you have to understand, it‘s just like the National Football League.  In 1970 half the people playing in the National Football League today couldn‘t have played because there were not enough teams.  And so once they expanded the National Football League, you know, then people that could never have played pro football were playing and being stars. 

The same thing happened in news.  We see cable channels like this one proliferating. 

NORVILLE:  We say cable channels like the others. 

THOMASON:  Well, cable channels like the others.  This is one of the best ones. 

NORVILLE:  Thank you. 

THOMASON:  And—and we see that proliferation, and pretty soon you‘ve got what we call the pond—the pond scum journalists operating on the bottom of the food chain.  They‘ll go without leads.  They‘ll make things up. 

Corporations, in the meantime, bought up the media—bought up media companies and so they put pressure on their top reporters.  Wait, this guy down here has got a story and I... 

NORVILLE:  You‘ve got to go with it, too. 

THOMASON:  You‘ve got to go.  Our stockholders, they have to get a profit on their—on their stock. 

NORVILLE:  This is an issue that extends way beyond Bill Clinton and the Republicans and Democrats.  And I want to talk more with you about it in just a second.

We‘ll take a short time out.  More with Harry Thomason right after this. 

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up, acclaimed television producer Richard Cohen and his wife, Meredith Vieira‘s remarkable story about celebrating life while coping with two devastating illnesses. 

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.



BEGALA:  From the highest courts in America to the most elite newspapers in America they were all wrong.  And they were swept up in an era of madness, and they were used as tools of hatred. 


NORVILLE:  That was a clip of former Clinton political strategist Paul Begala from the documentary called “The Hunting of the President.”  Harry Thomason is the director and writer of the film, a long-time friend of Clinton.  And he‘s with us this evening.

You say this isn‘t a propaganda film, but it is. 

THOMASON:  Well, you know, it‘s not a propaganda film, we don‘t think.  

But Nick Perry, who did the film with me, I mean, we did put an opinion.  But the history of documentaries is that they have opinions, but they are covered with facts. 

And so we tried not to—We let the reporters and everybody that wanted to have an opinion have one, but we tried not to interject any into the narrative of the film.

We wanted it to be entertaining...

NORVILLE:  So let the individuals tell their stories?

THOMASON:  Right.  And we—we make no comment to bias it either way. 

NORVILLE:  I want to get back to what we were talking about before the break and the media and how there are so many more places now where news can be reported and news can be obtained. 

And the Internet is another huge source that‘s usually not sourced that‘s often just an idea, a rumor, a weblog that suddenly gets picked up. 

If it was as bad as you say it was during the Clinton years, what‘s the likelihood for the future that it‘s going to be any better?

THOMASON:  Oh, I think it will continue to get worse until corporations that own news gathering systems and so forth say, “You know, we‘re not going to worry if you make a profit.  You do the best job you can.”

In fact, I‘m not so sure the FCC shouldn‘t require that, that news cannot make a profit.  Because otherwise, it‘s always going to be driven by the pond scum reporters on the bottom, making the guys at the top, like you, you know, have to run out and dig up things that ordinarily you would look at sort of askance. 

NORVILLE:  But you know what?  Those jazzy (ph) stories wouldn‘t get reported—and usually there‘s, like, an Nth of truth in them somewhere—if the people weren‘t watching the TV shows that talked about it or buying the magazines that put it on the cover. 

THOMASON:  Well, that‘s true.  But you know, used to people‘s favorite television show was “Playhouse Ninety,” and we taught them to—we taught them to like reality shows.  So it may be a period that we would have to teach the public what they should be watching. 

NORVILLE:  I want to talk a little bit about Ronald Reagan and the outpouring that‘s gone on this week. 

As you‘ve watched, as both a person who‘s been intimately close to the presidential office and also someone who‘s involved in television and production and the theatrics of the world, how do you think this has all played out?

THOMASON:  I think it has been minutely and well planned.  And they‘ve delivered dramatic pictures. 

NORVILLE:  Do you think that—they say every president has to have a plan.  I presume Bill Clinton has a plan of some sort. 

THOMASON:  I‘m not sure he does yet. 

NORVILLE:  I actually heard that maybe he didn‘t, that somebody had one for him. 

THOMASON:  Well, I wasn‘t going to say that.

NORVILLE:  Well, but maybe we won‘t need to get around to it, we hope, any time soon. 

But when you look at the revisionist history, how do you think, 20 years hence, Bill Clinton‘s presidency will be remembered, when there‘s the distance of time from his time in office? 

THOMASON:  Well, you know what?  And I‘m sure I‘ll make members of the right wing mad with this. 

But you know, there were a lot of ways in which President Reagan and President Clinton were alike. 

You know, both—they came from broken homes.  They had to make their own way in life.  They had genuinely good hearts.  They never bore any malice toward anybody.  They cared for this country, and they did their best to serve the people. 

And so I think as you get further away from someone with those—those attributes, that it always looks better.  Because the first things that disappear in memory are the bad things.  And so I think his reputation will get better, just as President Reagan‘s did. 

NORVILLE:  And I know you and he are quite close.  Has he seen your movie yet?

THOMASON:  You know, when I first started this process, I said, you know, “We‘re going to try to make a movie that people will like to buy a ticket and go in and look, and it‘s going to be exciting.  And I don‘t want to be hamstrung by political directives or what other people on your staff thought or think or what you think.  So I‘m never going to show you this movie until it‘s over.” 

Now, I still haven‘t shown it to him.  But I know friends of mine that are friends of his have copies.  And I‘m sure—I‘m sure he has seen it.  And I think it must be OK because he‘s still speaking to me. 

NORVILLE:  You weren‘t talking.  And you‘ve been talking to him about his book, too, right?

THOMASON:  You know, every once in a while over the past few months the phone will ring in the office or it will ring home late at night.  Even on the West Coast it‘s late at night. 

And you know, he‘ll say, “Look, I want to read you this chapter in the book.”  And he reads this chapter.  And I‘ll tell you, here is what people will find out about him.  He is a magnificent writer.  He has that Mark Twain, southern storyteller quality to it that I think—I think people will love. 

NORVILLE:  Is he tickled when he picks up the phone at 2 in the morning or whatever and calls you and says, “Harry, you‘re going to love this.”  I mean, that kind of energy.  Or just “I finished another one.  Do you want to hear it?”

THOMASON:  No.  He‘s always excited about what he‘s done.  And quite truthfully, that‘s why so many people like him.

NORVILLE:  Because of that excitement?

THOMASON:  Because of that excitement that‘s always there. 

NORVILLE:  Now, what are you predicting as far as book sales go?

THOMASON:  I think it will probably eclipse all modern records. 

NORVILLE:  That‘s pretty special.

THOMASON:  So I will come back and eat my shirt later if it doesn‘t. 

NORVILLE:  We won‘t make you do that. 

But I also want to ask you, as you know, Ray Charles passed today at the age of 73.  His voice was on the theme song of “Designing Women,” wasn‘t it?

THOMASON:  Right.  The song about your home state. 

NORVILLE:  About Georgia. 

THOMASON:  That‘s right.  That‘s right. 

NORVILLE:  Tell me you memories about him. 

THOMASON:  Well, I remember when he recorded that song and we were trying to condense it down to within a tenth of a second of what we needed.  So we did it four or five times and it was long, it was short. 

And so he said, “Well, that‘s it.  I‘m not going to do it anymore.” 

And so I walked out of the control room and on stage, and I said, “Mr.

Charles, we don‘t have the right length.”  And I explained it all to him. 

I said, “Could you just do it one more time.” 

And he—there was a long beat and he said, “OK, son I‘m going to do this again for you, because you talk with a southern accent like I do.”

And so he did it and it was perfect.  And I said, “That‘s it.” 

And he said, “Well, I‘ll do it again.” 

And I said, “You don‘t need to.” 

NORVILLE:  That‘s great.

THOMASON:  He was great. 

NORVILLE:  Well, the movie is called “The Hunting of the President.” 

It will be rolling out nationwide this summer. 

Harry Thomason, it‘s a pleasure to see you.  Thank you so much for coming on tonight.

NORVILLE:  Thank you.  Bye-bye.

NORVILLE:  Wish you well.

We‘ll be right back.

ANNOUNCER:  Still to come: memoirs of a life of accomplishment and adversity.  Producer Richard Cohen and his wife, Meredith Vieira when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.



NORVILLE:  My next guest was a promising young journalist with a limitless future when illness struck at the age of 25.  Richard Cohen became one of about 400,000 Americans who face an insidious enemy: multiple sclerosis. 

For 30 years, Richard Cohen has been waging a daily battle with M.S., but he has not been doing it alone.  He‘s a family man, married to Meredith Vieira, co-host of “The View,” and a devoted father of three lovely children.

In his new moving book called “Blindsided, A Reluctant Memoir,” Richard Cohen chronicles his struggle with the disease that he kept secret for so many years and he now talks about openly. 

For a rare interview together, it‘s a treat to welcome Richard Cohen and Meredith Vieira. 

Good to see you.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”:  Good to see you, too.

NORVILLE:  Richard, your book is incredible.  Congratulations.


NORVILLE:  I can‘t imagine how difficult it was to write about something as personal as the struggle with M.S.?

COHEN:  It was, but—but there was a sense of mission to it, I think, and—and a real hope that it would help other people.  It was really OK. 

NORVILLE:  You didn‘t set out to write that book. 

COHEN:  I resisted revealing myself.  I wanted to write much more dispassionately, but really, telling my story was the best way to do it. 

NORVILLE:  Well, you‘re a television producer. 

COHEN:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  And as TV producers, we know people watch people, and the personal story is the one that everybody reacts to. 

COHEN:  Absolutely. 

NORVILLE:  Meredith, how—how difficult was it for you, knowing that Richard would be going public in a very large way with the disease that you and he privately have been dealing with?

VIEIRA:  Well, you know what?  I actually was very happy when the decision was made to—to treat this as a memoir instead of something else.  Because I saw it as being very cathartic for him. 

That for a long time he had chosen to deal with the illness by not talking about it.  And I thought it was very good for him to deal with it emotionally.  Take what he was internalizing and externalize it.  And good for us as a family, to go through the process. 

But I made a decision not to ever look at it.  Originally my plan was to go and buy it at Barnes and Noble.  I thought, I‘m going to go in and go, “Look at this book.  This book!” 

NORVILLE:  “Look at my husband.” 

VIEIRA:  Exactly.  But as we were approaching the day when it was supposed to be published, or prior to that, he said, “It would be really good if you could look at it so when we do interviews, you can honestly say you read the book.” 

So I did.  And I also didn‘t want to influence him.  I thought if I saw something that was his take but I found difficult to handle, I didn‘t want to have a position where I would go back and say I‘m having trouble with something. 

NORVILLE:  Richard, you talk in the book about denial, about not wanting to acknowledge what was quickly becoming pretty obvious in your life, and that was M.S.  Because you have a very compelling family history with this disease.  Your grandmother has it—had it.  Your dad has it.

And what were your first symptoms?  

COHEN:  My first symptoms were actually very minor.  I dropped a coffee pot.  I fell off a curb.  And I noticed a little bit of numbness in my leg. 

And that is when I just happened to talk to my father and tell him about it.  And he called me back five or 10 minutes later and said, I think you may have M.S.  And it was very unlike him, I think, quite out of character to jump to that kind of conclusion.  Except knowing what I know now, it was probably pretty obvious. 

NORVILLE:  And in the book, you talk about, prior to ever having any of these episodes, these dreams that you would have, where your legs would go out from under you.  And it was the time of Vietnam.  And there was war and there was a lot of stress in the world.  And, at the time, you chalked it up to angst about the world situation. 

In the book, it seems, looking back, you wonder if you weren‘t getting some precognitions about what was to come. 

COHEN:  Yes. 

I mean, that is one of those things that I will never resolve.  But I don‘t know whether knowing my family history somewhere in the recesses of my mind gave me doubts.  I don‘t know. 

NORVILLE:  And Meredith Vieira, this hot young chick reporter...

VIEIRA:  Thank you very much. 


NORVILLE:  In Chicago walks into your life, or, rather, you walked into hers when she is feet up in her office in Chicago.  And it wasn‘t quite love at first sight, but pretty darn close to it. 

VIEIRA:  Yes.  It was, for me, recognition at first sight that I was going to marry this guy.  And I don‘t know—when I say that, people go, no, come on.  But it really is true. 

I remember looking at him.  He was very sarcastic and I thought sort of a jerky guy, but I‘m going to be with him. 

NORVILLE:  But a nice jerky guy.

VIEIRA:  Yes.  Yes.  There was just something about him. 

NORVILLE:  And when, Richard, did you share with Meredith your health condition? 

COHEN:  Well, fairly early on, because I think people learn to get it on the table quickly, because if the other person is going to react and go in the other direction, you might as well know it and deal with it. 

And it was probably—the other thing is that I—because I‘m legally blind, it becomes fairly obvious to people.  And the questions come pretty—like, what is the matter with you?  You can‘t see anything.  And so it is just—you just learn to get it out there and just live with whatever happens. 

NORVILLE:  A lot of people, Meredith, would have run like a wet cat. 

But you didn‘t flinch. 

VIEIRA:  Well, you know, it may have been just ignorance about M.S., which can be bliss. 

When he told me—and I‘m the product of—my dad was a doctor.  He has since died, but he was a doctor.  And so when he told me this, I don‘t know.  I didn‘t feel like that was the end of the world.  I felt like, we all have baggage in our life.  There‘s always something.  And I liked the man and I wanted to know more about him and about the disease.  But I wasn‘t going to run because of the disease. 


In the book, you talk about your own episode of trying to run from the disease.  And there is an excerpt in here in which you say: “I accidentally stumbled upon a coping mechanism of some value, denial, misused by amateur shrinks, misjudged by those who just think it is bad, misunderstood by those who have not thought it through.”

But it works for you? 

COHEN:  Yes.  I think denial can be a great thing. 

Look, if you are standing on the train tracks and the train is coming toward you and you deny it is going to hit you, you are making a mistake.  But if you deny the inevitability of certain outcomes that really aren‘t inevitable, if you say to yourself, I‘m going to beat it, even though really you can‘t beat it, then you try.  Then you go out.  The whole objective is to live your life. 

NORVILLE:  And you have done that to the fullest.  You are at the kids‘ soccer games.  You are there when they come home from school.  I mean, you have taken great pains, both of you, to make sure that family life continues. 

COHEN:  Sure. 

NORVILLE:  As it does for every other family in America. 

COHEN:  Sure.

And the kids know about all of this.  You know, this is built into their lives.  And it can be seen as a negative, because it is tough for them to deal with.  But, also, it can be seen as a positive.  It can be seen as something they learn from, something that has taught them some lessons about life. 

NORVILLE:  I want to get into some of those lessons.

COHEN:  Sure.

NORVILLE:  Because the lessons to teach kids dealing with something as serious as this have got to be pretty enormous. 

We are going to take a short break.  We‘ll be back, more with Richard Cohen and Meredith Vieira right after this. 


NORVILLE:  He‘s an acclaimed television producer.  She is the host of “The View.”  Richard Cohen and Meredith Vieira on their fight with M.S.

More after this.


NORVILLE:  We‘re back now with Richard Cohen, an acclaimed news producer who has been battling multiple sclerosis for the past 30 years, and his wife, Meredith Vieira, the co-host of “The View,” the wife who has been at his side every step of the way.  His book is called “Blindsided:

Lifting a Life Above Illness.”

I imagine one of the hardest things, Richard, in putting this book on paper was knowing that this is a legacy that you leave behind for you and Meredith‘s three kids.  Were the children always sort of in the back of your mind as you were typing away? 

COHEN:  Yes. 

But I want to think that the kids feel empowered by it.  We talked the book through with them.  I‘d talked to them before, because I wrote about them in my columns in “The New York Times.”  And each time, I got their permission.  Each time, I said, I won‘t write this if you don‘t agree. 

And when it came to the book, I said to them, and I think we both said to them, maybe we can help other people.  Maybe what we‘re doing here will reach out to other people, will tell other people that they are not alone.  Other people will see what we‘ve been through.  And that‘s a good thing. 


COHEN:  You know?  And I think they really believed in that.  I think that they felt proud to be part of that, yes.  But it was great.

NORVILLE:  Right, that they were trusted with getting this story out there. 


VIEIRA:  But, by the same token, our oldest son, who was 15 then, said, I want to read this on my own and has not yet done that.  And our two youngest ones, Gabe and Lily, asked if I would read it to them each night.  And by the time we got to the third chapter—I only read it when they asked—they stopped asking.  So I think it is a lot.  It is a lot to absorb.  And they know the story, but they‘re not quite ready yet to really plow through. 


COHEN:  When the book was published, I gave each of them a copy that I inscribed to them.

NORVILLE:  Right. 

COHEN:  And I put a letter in each one.  And I said, put this away.  Read this tomorrow or a year from tomorrow or a decade from tomorrow.  And you‘ll know when the time is right. 

VIEIRA:  He made me buy my copy, by the way.  But that‘s...


VIEIRA:  I‘m not going to read into it. 

NORVILLE:  There‘s no free lunch, even if you‘re married to him.

VIEIRA:  Exactly. 


NORVILLE:  There is a wonderful part in here where you talk about your children. 

And I would love to read it.  You say: “When he throws his arms around my neck and kisses me and says, quite simply, I love you, daddy, I know he has taken in more than my foibles and flaws on that day.  Gabriel gets something from me.  My entire family must understand that the real person is not in the sneakers, but in the soul.  Why can‘t I settle that score for myself?”

Your kids are teaching you a lot. 

COHEN:  Yes, it‘s true.  I think that—I think that people who deal with serious chronic illness have to deal with a diminished view of themselves.  There are self-esteem issues that are implicit in illness.  And it‘s not...

NORVILLE:  You have had a hell of a road, too, not only dealing with the M.S., but you have also had two bouts with colon cancer. 

COHEN:  Correct. 

NORVILLE:  It‘s kind of like, they kept throwing the bad cards your way.  And yet you have managed to keep drawing from the pile and keep going. 

COHEN:  I got somebody mad.


COHEN:  Right. 

But I do think that there‘s a simplicity and a truth to what you get back from family and from kids.  And it is very much a countervailing force in a very positive way to some of the negative feelings that I think a lot of us can get. 

NORVILLE:  Tell me a little bit about your disease itself.  You mentioned that you are now legally blind.  How else does M.S. manifest in your own situation? 

COHEN:  Well, I mean, I walk with a cane.  I have a lot of problems with my whole right side, diminished use of my hand, and cognitive problems that are not obvious to anybody, but I‘m very clear on what they are in terms of speaking and reasoning. 

And, you know, it just presents itself to me in ways that other people can‘t see.  And it affects everything you do in a day.  See, that‘s the thing about chronic illness.  Chronic illness so often is quiet and it‘s slow and it‘s understated and not obvious to the world, you know?  And so it becomes a very private experience. 

NORVILLE:  But I know from my own personal experience, having grown up with a mother who was chronically ill, kid cans be incredibly independent and incredibly can-do. 

How are you, Meredith, making sure that your kids take all the blessings that can come from having a dad who has an illness and try to minimize the bad side? 

VIEIRA:  Well, I think a lot of that comes with their own maturity. 

I think that there was more anger in the kids when they were younger because they didn‘t understand it or embarrassment if dad fell down or something like that happened, because every kid puts their dad on a pedestal.  And when he does something that‘s different, they shy away, because they feel discomfort in it.  But the more we have been open and honest with them, I think the more they have seen Richard not as a diminished person, but as someone who, in many ways, is larger than life, because he has taken these things and dealt with them, and dealt with them with such dignity. 

And they also see their dad.  The other day, Richard was honored at Yankee Stadium for this book.


VIEIRA:  How cool is that for the kids?

NORVILLE:  How cool is that?

VIEIRA:  Yes.  And their dad is out there.  I think they thought he was going to throw the first pitch or somehow save the game.  But it still was a very...


NORVILLE:  Now coming in as relief pitcher, Richard Cohen. 

VIEIRA:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

But there is a lot of that.  And they are—I don‘t want to be Pollyannaish, but I think they are stronger people for dealing with this sort of thing. 

COHEN:  I mean, it really does teach kids that we‘re all flawed, that we are all vulnerable, that nothing is perfect.  And they‘re really useful lessons.


VIEIRA:  And life is fragile, too. 

NORVILLE:  Life is fragile,

VIEIRA:  So you just enjoy it. 

NORVILLE:  Live in the moment. 

VIEIRA:  Yes, live in the moment.

NORVILLE:  Well, this moment calls for a commercial.  But we‘re going to take a short one. 

We‘ll be back—more with Richard Cohen and Meredith Vieira in just a moment.


NORVILLE: Back now with a rare interview with both Richard Cohen, who is the author of “Blindsided,” a reluctant memoir, and his wife, Meredith Vieira, the co-host of “The View.”

We have been talking about multiple sclerosis and learning to live with a chronic illness. 

You said, Richard, that you hoped and the whole family hoped that your writing this book would make a difference to people who are out there.  What have you learned in your own journey of dealing with chronic illness that you wish you had known 30 years ago, when you started on this journey? 

COHEN:  Oh, I think I have learned that I‘m much stronger than I thought I was.  I think people all are much stronger than we think.  You know, until you are tested, until you deal with any kind of a crisis, I think it is very easy to think you couldn‘t cope with it.  And I think people are incredibly strong and able to deal with stuff.  And I think we all sell ourselves short. 

And I think the other thing I finally learned—and I was pretty slow in doing it—was that illness is really a family affair. 


COHEN:  You know, it is not—I think people who are sick frequently become self-absorbed. 

And I think, probably, it is natural to think—not to be able to see beyond yourself.  And the truth is, when you are lying in that hospital bed with all the tubes and monitors and all that stuff, your family is there with you. 

NORVILLE:  Right.   

COHEN:  And we may not see them, but they are there.  And they‘re just as important as we are.  And it‘s just so important to keep that in mind. 

NORVILLE:  It‘s a group affair. 

VIEIRA:  Yes. 


NORVILLE:  I‘ve got two news reporters and producers sitting across the desk from me.  And, of course, the big story this week has been Ronald Reagan. 

When something this monumental happens in the country, is there a part of you, Meredith, that wishes you were back out there holding the microphone and doing the reporting thing? 

VIEIRA:  There always is, and I think there always will be, to some extent. 

But I was a reporter and I traveled extensively.  And it‘s—as wonderful as it was, and I got to experience so much of life, nothing can replace the moments you spend with your family.  Nothing can.  And I never wanted to wake up 10, 20 years from now having missed out on that.  So I had it in my life and it was great.  And maybe I will again to some extent when the kids are out of the house and all of that.

But I‘m very glad with the decisions that I made.  And 9/11, more than anything, my instinct was not to run towards those buildings.  It was to run and gather my children and make sure that we were safe.  And that said a lot to me about where my love was at that point. 

NORVILLE:  Yes, yes, when you‘re thinking of the home and the hearth and not necessarily a deadline. 

VIEIRA:  Exactly, and not being there with a—that‘s right.

NORVILLE:  And the headline.

COHEN:  Richard Cohen, good luck to you.  It is a lovely book, “Blindsided.”  It is so nice of you and Meredith both to come here.

And God bless your kids, too.  They have got some pretty cool parents.  



VIEIRA:  So do yours. 

NORVILLE:  Thank you very much.  It‘s great to see you both.


VIEIRA:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  And thanks for being here.

And all of you who are interested in Richard‘s book, all you have to do is go onto our Web site.  You can get excerpts of it on there.  The address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.com.  We‘ve got some good reading for you.

And when we come back, speaking of the president, a final farewell to President Reagan and a tribute to music legend Ray Charles. 


NORVILLE:  There have been so many poignant images to emerge this week, as former President Ronald Reagan‘s life has been remembered and celebrated. 

But there‘s one which will be forever etched in our minds.  And it is this week‘s “American Moment.”  It took place on Monday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.  In a touching scene, Nancy Reagan placed her cheek on the former president‘s flag-draped coffin and then softly told the Reverend Michael Wenning, “I can‘t believe it.” 

Nancy and Ronald Reagan were married for 52 years.  And theirs was an American love story.  Through, as Hollywood actors, and the birth of their two children, their time together when Mr. Reagan was governor of California and on to the White House years and after, during Mr. Reagan‘s long struggle with Alzheimer‘s disease, through it all, Nancy Reagan was by his side.  And she was again on Monday, true love that could not have been more real. 

That‘s this week‘s “American Moment.”

That‘s our program for tonight.  Thanks so much for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.

All day tomorrow, tune in to MSNBC for live coverage of the national funeral service for Ronald Reagan.  The service begins at the National Cathedral at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, following that, the president‘s return to his beloved California to the Reagan Library and his final resting place—all day tomorrow right here on MSNBC. 

And this afternoon, we learned of another passing, that of Ray Charles.  The legendary singer and musician who blended Gospel and blues died today at the age of 73.  Blind by the age of 7, Charles defied the odds.  He was a gifted pianist, a saxophonist and the winner of multiple Grammys, 12, to be correct. 

From the 1984 convention, here is Ray Charles serenading President and Mrs. Reagan with “America the Beautiful.”



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