The 81 year old veteran news anchor and host of one of America’s most watched nightly news programs speaks to Global Citizen about the decline of TV, Bin Laden and American Presidents.
Do you get your news from television?
I do get some of the news from TV. Almost any channel you can mention, there’s a high probability that I’ll at least spend a few seconds during the day. I’m a voracious reader of news, and of course these days that includes a lot of places on the Internet.
How has TV news changed since you started?
My own opinion is that more people probably get their news from the Internet now than they do television. But if I’m wrong about that, then it won’t be for long. The Internet is destined to become the place where most people get their news.
What are the concerns arising out of digital news media?
My biggest concern is accountability. On the Internet you can say terrible things about your neighbour, or about an institution that are demonstrably untrue. But if you choose, you can be unaccountable, you can anonymous.
What is the greatest threat to journalism today?
The greatest strength of journalism today is its reach. And the greatest threat is the reach. Journalism now has the ability to reach more people faster than it’s ever had. Also that reach can be a problem because the breadth and speed of the coverage leaves journalism more often than ever open to exploitation. To be used to spread propaganda, lies, and smear people’s reputations.
What do you think the media fails to cover the most?
The list is long, but you said “the most.” On a worldwide basis, I think we drastically undercover the plight of the poor and the poverty-stricken, the hungry, the homeless, the heartbroken, the helpless… the people who have no hope. It was true when I first got into journalism, and it’s even truer today than it was then.
What is the most pressing issue of our time?
I have three. The gap that is growing between the haves and the have-nots, on a global basis. Second, the exploding population growth that has slowed somewhat in the 21st century. Third, the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Which U.S. President were you closest to and whom did you admire the most?
I’ve not been close to any of the U.S. Presidents. Some have allowed more access. I probably had the most exposure, personally and professionally, to President Johnson and President Clinton.
I’ve interviewed every president since Harry Truman. All of the American presidents that I’ve been around or interviewed, without exception, were bright and capable men. Unfortunately we haven’t yet had a woman president. There isn’t a single president that, if you met them, you wouldn’t say “this is an intelligent person.” In that sense we’ve been lucky as a country.
What is the first question you would have asked Osama Bin Laden if you had had the chance to interview him?
It might have been a long question but I would have liked to delve into his childhood and education leading to and answering the question, “Why?”
If you weren’t a journalist, what would you have been?
It’s very difficult for me to imagine. I have dreamed since my early childhood of being a journalist. While it is unimaginable to me, if forced to imagine something, I might have been a teacher.
When do you plan to retire?
I don’t. My running credo is that I would rather wear out than rust out.