ABC's Chris Cuomo Hits Ayers on Bombings; Skips Specific Victims
In part two of "Good Morning America's" Friday interview with former bomber William Ayers, news anchor Chris Cuomo did challenge the ex-'60s radical on whether or not he was a terrorist. But after Ayers contended, "It's not terrorism because it doesn't target people. It doesn't target people to either kill or injure," the journalist failed to offer specifics that would refute that point. Cuomo could have easily cited the example of John Murtagh. He was a child in 1970 when the Weather Underground, founded by Mr. Ayers, placed multiple bombs, one underneath the gas tank of the family car, at the home of his New York judge father.
In a New York Daily News op-ed on April 30, 2008, Murtagh wrote, "I was only 9 then, the year Ayers' Weathermen tried to murder me." However, while not pressing Ayers on specific victims, he did skeptically wonder, "How can a sophisticated academic like yourself believe that the inherent recklessness of exploding bombs that you know too well killed three of your own- you know the potential for deadliness there."
Although he didn't press the point that the Weather Underground tried to harm specific people, Cuomo should be credited for grilling Ayers over the bomber's insistence that he's not a terrorist. At one point, Cuomo retorted, "How is what you did there, blowing up, detonating a bomb in the Pentagon, the New York Police Department headquarters, trying to target the Capitol. How is that not terrorism?"
Finally, Cuomo actually addressed the fact that the Weather Underground dedicated its 1974 manifesto "The Prairie Fire" to Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Cuomo questioned, "I mean, what message does that send? Especially if you don't reject it today and say, 'We praised Sirhan Sirhan. We should not have.'" This prompted Ayers to admit, "I reject that. Absolutely."
An analysis of part one of Cuomo's interview can be found here.
A transcript of part two of the interview, which aired at 7:42am on November 14, follows:
ROBIN ROBERTS: Also this morning, we have more of Chris's exclusive interview with Bill Ayers, the '60s radical who Republicans once called Barack Obama's terrorist pal. We will have more of that interview straight ahead.
SAWYER: That's right. He is speaking out this morning. And in this half hour, talking about some of the statements that were attributed to him that created such polarized and angry reactions.
CHRIS CUOMO: We are joined again now by William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground, a group that during the '70s claimed responsibility for at least a dozen bombings, including the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. His relationship with President-elect Barack Obama, of course, became an issue during the campaign. He is the author of "Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist" which has just been reissued with a new afterword in paperback. There it is. Mr. Ayers, thanks for joining us again. Why re-release "Fugitive Days" now?
WILLIAM AYERS: You know, that's really a publisher's decision, not my decision. But, I wrote the book eight years ago and I wrote it in part to try to understand what it meant to be a young person set down in that historic period, a person from tremendous privilege and making my way through the world and, kind of, the choices I made.
CUOMO: But the timing becomes relevant. You know, because-
AYERS: I'm sorry?
CUOMO: The timing becomes relevant coming out of the election. You didn't want to come out during the election?
AYERS: Well, no one predicted the attention I would get in the election. I mean, this was not a decision based on that at all.
CUOMO: But you talk about the issues that happen there in the new afterward of the book. Do you regret not coming out during the election and saying, "There's nothing here?"
AYERS: Well, the premise of the whole come-on to this segment, that I've been silent is just not true. I've been teaching. I've been writing. I've been doing all the things I always do. But I did decide not to comment to the media on the presidential campaign, because, again, I felt that I would be feeding a profoundly dishonest narrative and I didn't really want to participate in that. So, I didn't see any way to interrupt it. And since I couldn't interrupt it, I decided to just wait until it passed. And, you know, I think that the dishonesty of it kind of runs to the point of, like, I was somehow in hiding. One of my sons sent me a segment from some 24 hour news outfit and they acted as if they had stalked me down and found me in hiding. Just not true. I was doing the things I always do.
CUOMO: Now, this book, the ideas in it, with perspective on Barack Obama. You ever talk to him about what's in "Fugitive Days."
CUOMO: He ever ask you about it?
CUOMO: Is that unusual for you that being William Ayers and being in the Chicago area that somebody talks to you and doesn't talk to you about your past?
AYERS: I've written seven books. I've edited another 13 and mostly what I talk about is schools and kids and juvenile justice as you know. And those are the things that my work focuses on. And the fact that I have this past is of little interest. And when you say the fact that you're Bill Ayers, that character was created in this election.
CUOMO: Well, he exists because of what happened. I mean, one of the interesting things about this book is that while it provides perspective about that period in history, dismisses the notion that your actions were heroic, expresses your doubts but not an apology or a complete rejection of what happened during those years, the bombings.
AYERS: Well, you know, again, I think you have to read this as a memoir, not as a manifesto, not even as a history. But the reason that I undertook it actually was because- and, remember, I wrote it- it was published in 2001, so I wrote it in the two years leading up to it. But, I had enough distance from it that I felt that I could say something about it. But I wrote it as a memoir, as a way of, kind of, understanding a ten year period in our history. And I thought it was relevant then. I think it's more relevant now and the reason it is, is because we are once again bogged down in two wars. And if you add Israel/Palestine, that's a third major conflict. And, and we don't seem to as a democracy-we don't seem to be able to figure out how to assert the public will and bring these things to an end. I think people want these wars to end. And I think they should.
CUOMO: Isn't that all the more reason for you to take a look back and reject what the Weather Underground is?
AYERS: Well, there's nothing in there that's- there's an attempt to understand the things we did. You know, here we were in a situation where, really, a violent terrorist war was being waged against an entire population. We objected. We tried to end that war. And in trying to end it, we did cross lines of propriety, of legality, maybe even of common sense. But we never committed terror.
CUOMO: Why not? I really- I have a tough time understanding this. How is what you did there, blowing up, detonating a bomb in the Pentagon, the New York Police Department headquarters, trying to target the Capitol. How is that not terrorism?
AYERS: It's not terrorism because it doesn't target people. It doesn't target people to either kill or injure. What it does is- You could call it-
CUOMO: How can a sophisticated academic like yourself believe that the inherent recklessness of exploding bombs that you know too well killed three of your own- you know the potential for deadliness there.
AYERS: Right. It was definitely over lots of lines. Definitely dangerous and had we killed or injured anyone, I'm sure it would have been devastating for everyone. Them and us. But my point is that in a period when 2000 people a week are being murdered, how do you end that? What do you do? And, frankly, in those ten years of that war, I was arrested many times. I took direct, non-violent action again and again. But, the question comes, after 70 percent of America oppose the war, after the war has been virtually lost, how do you end it? What do you do? And there's nothing in the book that says what we did was either brilliant or heroic or wonderful. It tries to understand, as memoirs do, the context in which that actor was acting.
CUOMO: But you would think that looking forward, you would want to set a table for people in addressing the current situations that didn't expose the violence. I mean, even looking back in the 1974 manifesto of "The Prairie Fire," of the Weather Underground, one of the people you dedicate this book to is Sirhan Sirhan. I mean, what message does that send? Especially if you don't reject it today and say, "We praised Sirhan Sirhan. We should not have."
AYERS: I reject that. Absolutely. Absolutely.
CUOMO: "We did these things. We should not have." The 9/11 quote. We should have done more. We should not have. It's wrong. It's bad."
AYERS: No, no. I disagree on the question of we should not have- we should have done more. What I'm saying there and I've said it very clearly is that no one did enough in this country to end the war. We knew it was wrong. We knew it was illegal. We knew it was immoral.
CUOMO: But going that route- but going that route, violence-
AYERS: Again, I don't defend the route we went and I really urge people to participate in resistance, non-violent direct action to these wars. I don't urge violence at all. But, let's admit that we live, often, in a sewer of violence and opposing that violence is key.
CUOMO: Mr. Ayers, thank you very much for taking the opportunity today. The book is "Fugitive Days."