Fmr CBS Anchor Roger Mudd: Dan Rather In ‘Front Row’ of Journalists

NewsBusters.org | Still Shot of Harry Smith and Roger Mudd, April 24 At the end of Thursday’s CBS "Early Show" co-host Harry Smith interviewed former CBS News anchor Roger Mudd about his new memoir, "The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and The Glory Days of Television News," and teased the upcoming interview by declaring: "And we're also joined this morning by one of the great legends of CBS News, Roger Mudd, who's covered every major story in Washington for decades and worked along some of the best reporters who ever lived." One of those "best reporters," Mudd later explained, was Dan Rather: "There was a front row, Harry. And in the front row was Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, George Herman, Dan Schorr, Roger Mudd."

Mudd went on to describe Rather and his numerous other colleagues in these terms: "No, it was a -- it was just a great conjunction of very talented, very hard working, very honest, ethical men and women, linked up to 20 years of some of the greatest and most profound stories that could have happened." Of course after Rather’s controversial National Guard story about President Bush in 2004, based on forged documents, the terms "honest" and "ethical" do not exactly come to mind.

Near the end of the segment, Smith asked about Mudd’s famous interview with then Democratic presidential candidate Ted Kennedy in 1979 in which Mudd asked Kennedy why he was running for president. Mudd recalled to Smith: "And his answer was -- it wasn't incoherent, but it wasn't really coherent either. And I think the answer is, Harry, that he really hadn't thought very seriously about why he wanted to be. And that exposed a weakness. That interview was not helpful." Smith later commented that: "Wow and it ended his candidacy." However, that interview was in November 1979, just as Kennedy announced his candidacy and he did not drop out of the race until the Democratic convention in 1980.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

8:31AM TEASER:

HARRY SMITH: And we're also joined this morning by one of the great legends of CBS News, Roger Mudd, who's covered every major story in Washington for decades and worked along some of the best reporters who ever lived. He's written a memoir called "The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and The Glory Days of Television News" and he's going to tell us more about that in just a couple of minutes as well.

8:47AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Roger Mudd covered most of the major stories in Washington for CBS News. In his memoir, "The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and The Glory Days of Television News," he recounts the history making stories he covered and the great journalists who were his colleagues. And Roger Mudd is with us this morning. Good to see you.

ROGER MUDD: Hi Harry.

SMITH: Been a while. Talk about that newsroom in Washington, D.C., that place that you worked every day for all those many years. What was it like?

MUDD: There was a front row, Harry. And in the front row was Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, George Herman, Dan Schorr, Roger Mudd.

SMITH: Oh my gosh.

MUDD: But then there was also a back row. And the back row was Bob Schieffer, Fred Graham, Connie Chung, Lesley Stahl, Phil Jones, Bernard Kalb, then there was a third row. And Doug Kiker, Doug Kiker, who used to work for NBC, said once that if CBS's front row died in a plane crash and the back row was wiped out by diphtheria, he still couldn't get on the air. No, it was a -- it was just a great conjunction of very talented, very hard working, very honest, ethical men and women, linked up to 20 years of some of the greatest and most profound stories that could have happened. And it all came together in that -- in those two decades.

SMITH: In those times, you think of everything that was going on in the country, from civil rights in '60s all the way through Watergate and everything else. Is there a way to kind of describe what that experience was like? I mean, day to day to day, each story that was unfolding was bigger than the one before.

MUDD: You would wake up in the morning just wondering what had happened in the past 24 hours, particularly during Watergate, which was probably as close to a constitutional crisis as we've ever had. And The Washington Post owned that story for a long time. And you never knew when you went to bed, what they were going to spring on you the next morning.

SMITH: Right.

MUDD: It was not a good television story because it was so much off the record. But Dan Shore and Lesley Stahl kept us competitive and we -- we earned our stripes on Watergate.

SMITH: Right. I'm -- I'm thinking in my own memory of certain interviews that you did over the years, and the one that I will never forget and probably should be in every history book, is the one you did with Teddy Kennedy when he was running for president. You asked him 'why are you running?' And what did he say?

MUDD: Well, I had tried to find out the differences between him and Jimmy Carter. It's a big step for a Democratic Senator to try to unseat a sitting Democratic president. And I wanted to know simply why he wanted to be president. And his answer was -- it wasn't incoherent, but it wasn't really coherent either. And I think the answer is, Harry, that he really hadn't thought very seriously about why he wanted to be. And that exposed a weakness. That interview was not helpful.

SMITH: It's also in the way it was framed and the way it was shot, did you not have a conversation about 'we really want the cameras to be in on this?'

MUDD: The three of us before it began, as Howard Stringer, Andy Lack and I, decided that we should shoot it close up. And rather than 150 questions with answers that land ten seconds, we would do 12 questions, 15 questions and have the answer totally complete. So there was never any cause to accuse us of taking things out of context. And it made -- I must say it made just one hell of a broadcast.

SMITH: Wow and it ended his candidacy. Roger Mudd, the book is "The Place to Be." Thank you very much for coming by and sharing some stories with us.

MUDD: Thanks, Harry.

SMITH: Great to see you.

MUDD: Thank you.

SMITH: Alright. Let's get over to the other guys over there. Russ, Maggie.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Wow.

RUSS MITCHELL: A true legend.

RODRIGUEZ: You could hear a pin drop here in the studio during that interview.

MITCHELL: Oh my gosh, can you imagine being in the Washington Bureau at that time?

RODRIGUEZ: I'm inviting Roger Mudd to my next dinner party. I want more stories.

DAVE PRICE: Those were the days before the internet where you woke up and you didn't know what happened unless you read the paper and watched the morning shows. It's amazing, great to hear about it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC