Andrea Mitchell Offers Mea Culpa on Pre-War News; Calls Castro "Engaging," Clinton "Fun"

September 12th, 2005 4:30 PM

On to promote her book Talking Back, NBC's Andrea Mitchell offered a mea culpa on pre-war reporting and asked to recall her favorite interviews called Fidel Castro, "engaging" and Bill Clinton, "fun."

At 8:44 am Katie Couric began the interview asking Mitchell about her start in the business and how it has changed.

Couric: "Well you know obviously a lot has changed in the business since you started and you've been at NBC since 1978, right? Andrea how has, how has newsgathering changed? I guess the technology..."

Mitchell: "Oh it's, it's completely different and that's one of the reasons I wrote the book because we are now in this environment where everyone is being inundated by information. There's the internet and cable and broadcasting. When I started there were three broadcast networks. There was a 6:30 news or a 7:00 o'clock news. That was it. And now you have so many different choices and I think people are really, not only confused, but we've seen the polling. Our own credibility is, you know, has really gone down. So as journalists I think we have to be concerned about our profession and particularly after the war and the misjudgments that we and political, you know, leaders made. We have to ask ourselves so I wrote about that. I took a really hard look at myself, my colleagues and political people."

Couric: "You're talking about the lead up, the lead up to the Iraq..."

Mitchell: "The lead up to the Iraq war and now we've distinguished ourselves, I think as a profession all of our colleagues you and, and everyone else and Brian Williams and the wonderful teams from all the networks down in, in the Gulf zone."

Couric: "Getting back though, Andrea to the buildup before Iraq do you think reporters were remiss in not questioning the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in a, in a more stringent sort of, vital way?"

Mitchell: "Sure. I think we tried but it's one of the great fallacies that we can really cover intelligence. We're only as good as our sources and our information. And if the intelligence gatherers are wrong, sometimes because they are just not up to it, sometimes because they have bad sources themselves then we're gonna be wrong as well."

Couric: "Right."

Mitchell: "And I wanted to tell people, tell our viewers and our readers that we have issues, that we have to address."

And keeping with this morning's Today show theme Couric couldn't resist getting Mitchell's take on the adminstration's performance in the wake of Katrina:

Couric: "Meanwhile I know that the President has been facing a lot of criticism in recent days about the disaster along the Gulf Coast."

Mitchell: "Absolutely."

Couric: "You've covered a lot of different presidents."

Mitchell: "Five presidents!"

Couric: "Wow!"

Mitchell: "That's one of the reasons I wrote the book is thinking back about five White Houses and the way they compare and contrast."Couric: "And what, what has struck you about the situation the Bush administration finds itself in at this point?"

Mitchell: "Well almost ironically because this President was so effective after 9/11 the contrast with that is hurting him now in that they didn't respond quickly, they didn't get it. It's almost like what their initial slow response to the tsunami was. They didn't interrupt vacations. August is always a critical period for presidents. I write about President Reagan and all the presidents. President Carter, Clinton who all had difficulties during August. It's a vacation month. Washington shuts down. I think that had something to do with it.

Sending Dick Cheney has been a big plus he, at least, represents, you know competence for them. But we've seen also a real downgrading in FEMA, in emergency management and that is a profoundly important issue."

Back to plugging the book Couric prompted Mitchell to discuss some of her biggest interviews:

Couric: "And meanwhile you've, you've interviewed obviously almost everybody on the planet. Who do you think was the toughest interview?"

Mitchell: "Probably Fidel Castro."

Couric: "We just happened to have some tape of that, Andrea."

Mitchell: "Oh do you? Great planning.

Couric: "I'm so surprised. Anyway I think we do Joe, at some point, anyway. There, there we go. Why was he so tough?"

Mitchell: "He's tough because he's, he's so isolated. He's still in his Cold War environment and because he's hard to get to but once you reach him and I've had a number of interviews with him, he's very engaging, and we debated and fought back and forth. Margaret Thatcher is probably a close second because she is the..."

Couric: "Really?"

Mitchell: "...really the Iron Lady."

Couric: "And one, one of the most fun I know you say is Bill Clinton?"

Mitchell: "Bill Clinton is always fun because he, he comes armed with a lot of information and also he's a great debater."

Near the end of the interview Couric had the following reading recommendation:

Couric: "Well your book is a great read..."

Mitchell: "Thank you."Couric: "...and it's really must reading for anybody who might want to get into this business who's interested, especially women. Right?"

Judging from Mitchell's career, this probably will be required reading for aspring liberal reporters at journalism schools all across America.