Fred Graham
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Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman
ISBN: 0393027767
Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman
The author was CBS News legal correspondent for almost 15 years. He described changes at the network after Dan Rather replaced Walter Cronkite as anchor in 1981. The ratings went down and non-journalists were brought in to run the news division. Graham recalled his introduction to an "infotainment" approach to news. He also discussed the high salaries of network correspondents. After leaving CBS, Graham returned to Nashville, Tennessee and became a local television news anchor. That experience proved less than satisfying and accounts for the "Happy Talk" in the book's title.
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TRANSCRIPT
Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman
Program Air Date: April 1, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Fred Graham, you have a new book out called "Happy Talk: Confessions of a TV Newsman." Why a book on your life at this point?
FRED GRAHAM, AUTHOR, "HAPPY TALK: CONFESSIONS OF A TV NEWSMAN": Because my life in television--that phase of it, the last 20 years--coincides with a remarkable and sometimes unhappy period in television years. And it happened that by telling my experiences, I could humanize for people who are not real new--news buffs, necessarily--you know, ordinary people--what went on and what's going on today and what--in some ways, what's likely to go on in the future in television news.
LAMB: You say in the acknowledgements when you're talking about your publisher that this particular outline of a book was accepted, but some in the past weren't--weren't accepted. Wha--what'd you try to write in the past that you never got to?
GRAHAM: I wanted to write about my experiences in journalism, and they were not interested until CBS sort of crashed and burned toward the end of the 1980s--CBS News. All of the--the bad things that happened: the--Bill Moyers leaving in a huff, the upheavals there, the firings, the sackings, the hard feelings and, finally, you know, culminating in some of the people who worked there trying to buy CBS News away from the network to save it from the network.
LAMB: Did you have to do anything in writing this book to get people's attention, that you didn't like--stories you...
GRAHAM: You mean to--to get the attention of some people I didn't like?
LAMB: No, of people that would buy the book. I mean, that--the--title, for instance, "Happy Talk."
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Was that s--did they--did you call it "Happy Talk," or did the publisher, Norton, say, `We got to have that kind of a name in order to sell it'?
GRAHAM: Oh, no. You know, every book--every book I've ever written--this is my fourth book--you agonize over the--what are you going to call it--the title. And this was like every book I've ever written. I and the publisher and my editor at the publishing house and my wife--e--everyone had different opinions. And I settled on that one early because at the time I wrote the book, I had gone back to lo--not back--I'd gone to local news. I'd gone home to my hometown to try and be a local anchor. And I was immersed in happy talk up to my ears and drowning in it. And it seemed to me that--that it was an apt name for this book.
LAMB: Did you really think, when you left Washington to return home to Nashville and to get back in the television business on a local basis, that it was going to work?
GRAHAM: Well, see, I misspoke a minute when I said `get back into local television' because the thing that I didn't really appreciate was that I had never been in local television. I--I was a very unusual network correspondent in that I was innocent of any exposure to local TV. I'd come up through The New York Times. So when I decided in--believe me, in my naivete, to leave CBS and--I saw it as the parallel to the print reporter who--who, in his middle years, goes back to the hometown newspaper and becomes the editor. And I thought the parallel situation was, well, you leave the network and you go back to be a local anchor. I've--I've discovered to my chagrin that those things are not parallel, and it is very hard, as a local TV anchor, to infuse much in the way of substance into the news.
LAMB: Let's quickly go over your career before we get to some of the things you said about--said--talked about in the book. You started at Yale in school?
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Where'd you go from there? What'd you study at Yale?
GRAHAM: Well, basically it was prelaw. I always thought I was going to be a lawyer. And I went in the Marine Corps and went to Korea, and came back to--to go to law school. But I worked my way through as a reporter on the local paper, The Nashville Tennessean--fine paper. And I write about--i--in the book about how fortuitously--there was a little clique there at that newspaper that was getting ready to infiltrate The New York Times: Tom Wicker, David Halberstam, Hedrick Smith, Bill Kovach and on and on. There were about eight of us. And they kidded later--they said it was like the Snopes family because once Wicker got his foot in the door, he started bringing his country cousins up. Before long, there were a lot of us there. And that's the way I--I drifted into it. I got bitten by the bug while I was working my way through law school.
LAMB: After law school.
GRAHAM: I w--I went to Oxford. I had a Fulbright Scholarship and got a--you never know when you might need a--an English law degree, so I went to Oxford and got one and then came back and practiced law.
LAMB: For how many years?
GRAHAM: Three.
LAMB: When'd you go to work for The New York Times and why?
GRAHAM: I went up to Washington as chief counsel of one of Senator Estes Kefauver's subcommittees--big Tennessean with a coonskin cap. And he had the bad grace to die shortly after I went up there, leaving me kind of adrift. The New York Times needed a legally trained reporter to replace Anthony Lewis, who was leaving the Supreme Court beat to go overseas. And in those days, Brian, there weren't many people who had that double credential. I did and so they took me.
LAMB: How long'd you spend at The New York Times?
GRAHAM: Eight years.
LAMB: Why did you leave?
GRAHAM: Because I had s--when I went in, I said to myself, `After I have been on this beat longer than Anthony Lewis, I'm going to look at myself and see if I want to do this for the rest of my life or if there's something else.' And I looked at it--the eight years was just past his tenure--and it turned out that I had the best job at The New York Times for me. I was a lawyer. I was--had the legal specialist job. But I--I--I didn't want to spend the rest of my life doing what I'd already done. And at that time, Watergate had occurred. CBS asked me to switch over and cover Watergate, and--and I thought it was a--a--a logical transition. They didn't know that I talk like this because they really picked me because of my byline and my reputation as a writer, and that caused some problems.
LAMB: Why did the Southern accent cause a problem?
GRAHAM: Well, at first, you know, there really was--it was quite a--a--a cause celebre when I first went on he air. People were calling in, writing letters and saying, you know, `Why'd you put that country boy on elevision?' And, you kn--and one of the really discouraging elements of it was that some people said, `And why did you put someone on the--on television who is--is--is prejudiced?' And I have some of those letters to this day because it just seemed so unfair to me to equate being a--from the South with being a prejudiced person. And, Brian, that happened--continued to happen until Jimmy Carter got elected president, and then I never heard it after that.
LAMB: Isn't there a story you tell about s--I think you were interviewing somebody when they thanked you for all the support...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...you'd given to Jimmy Carter.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: What was that?
GRAHAM: Well, it was embarrassing because there was an assumption by some of the Carter partisans that I, in some way, had gone into television to pave the way for this fellow Southerner to get accepted by the great masses of the people and get elected. And I was at--I was in New York at the Madison Square Garden at the convention and was interviewing a--a--a Carter delegate, and this woman suddenly turned to me and just gushed all over me and said, `Mr. Graham, we really appreciate all you've done for Jimmy Carter.' And I thought, `Oh, no, the--the viewers are not going to understand that.' So I bailed out at that point.
LAMB: What--what did you say?
GRAHAM: Oh, I--I tossed it back to Uncle Walter.
LAMB: Did you ever get any letters on that one?
GRAHAM: No, I di--you know, it's surprising how little feedback you get from things like that. As I write there, I got a lot of letters from the middle-of-the-night show that I did, "Nightwatch," because the viewers were much more concentrated. And I think probably C-SPAN has the same--y--it's the same phenomenon. When you have a show that's paced slower than a lot of the network shows, the people go to it with a little more reflective mental attitude, and they involve themselves with it more a--and they react more.
LAMB: How long were you at CBS?
GRAHAM: Almost 15 years.
LAMB: And then what?
GRAHAM: As you know, the `almost' turned out later to be crucial because at the time that I left CBS, in a final outrageous act as I was on the way out the door, they tried to--to make--they tried to, in ef--in essence, just to keep me out of 14 years of my severance pay by saying I'd only been there one year because there had been a slight hiatus a year before in my contract. It was s--it was such a--you know, it--CBS, at that time, was a--was a corporation undergoing a--a nervous breakdown. And I've never experienced nything as unhappy in my life. And it was quite a relief to--to leave.
LAMB: Before we go on to the next stop, you talk in your book--or you write in your book about how much money you were making at the time, after 14 years--$255,000, as I remember.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: And you thought it was your last day.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: And then what happened?
GRAHAM: They had decided to give me another year--to give me a whole new contract. And as I said, it was mysterious to me while they had--you have to explain a little bit here. What happened was that they had announced--CBS president, a man named Ed Joyce, who was called `the Velvet Shiv' within the company because of his executive style, had announced that they were not going to--to renew my contract and had announced that six months older--earlier. He was very shortly fired. Who knows what for? But he was let go, so that when the six months was--were--were up and it was time for me to depart because my contract hadn't been renewed, they had--L--Laurence Tisch, in the meantime, had bought CBS.
LAMB: Let me interrupt you just to tell our audience this is Ed Joyce.
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yes.
LAMB: And he's right next to...
GRAHAM: Van Gordon Sauter.
LAMB: Van Gordon Sauter. We can talk about that later.
GRAHAM: Van Gordon Sauter, for those of you who are watching it--with the beard--and Ed Joyce were brought in by management and they instituted what was called the `infotainment era' at CBS. They said, `We're going to have a mixture of entertainment and information, news with--with en--with entertainment mixed in.
LAMB: I'm sorry. You're starting to talk about Laurence Tisch.
GRAHAM: Yeah. And Laur--Laurence Tisch had bought CBS, and during an early conversation, when everybody was terrified of him, he said--and he was meeting all the vice presidents and there were a legion--and he aid to some of them--he said, `You know, I--I can't understand why, if you have this many vice presidents, you can't afford to keep Fred Graham.' Well, the word went around and they re-evaluated their decision to not renew my contract, and they decided to ask me to stay. And they forgot to tell me until the last day came. I packed--packed up and, you know, cleaned out my door--desk and was ready to go. And at the last minute, someone wised up and they said, `Oh, well, we forgot.' But it was--it was symptomatic of--of an uncaring and really unhealthy situation there. And so I decided I wanted to leave.
LAMB: You stayed for a year, but they paid you significantly less...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and w--and how much was that and why?
GRAHAM: I had been making this outrageous sum, which even I knew was outrageous. But, Brian, what happened was th--that was part of the culture at CBS. As part of infusing the entertainment values into it, they were very--it w--you know, it was like Cecil B. De Mille. It was--you know, they were spending a lot of--it was like Hollywood, and so they were spending the big bucks. But--and--and we had more peop le making a m--a illion dollars a year or more at CBS than the other two networks combined. But then later, of course, when the money crunch came, they were quite resentful of the fact that some of us were really earning more money than we could legitimately claim to be deserving. So in this year interim they said, `Well, you know'--they said, `Stay. We'll give you a four-year contract, but it goes down to $150,000 a year.' And that's a good salary, and it's--but--but it--it was their way of saying, `Stay, but we're not very enthusiastic about this.'
LAMB: I want to read a paragraph--quote, `"Always be underpaid,"' unquote...
GRAHAM: Yes.
LAMB: `...the revered uncle had said. "Always be underpaid." It had been some 30 years since he said it, and it made me nervous that I had not recalled that bit of wisdom until I learned'--my raise that day--`about my raise that day in the Denver airport.' What--what--who's the uncle and w--and what's he talking about? What do you--why did you use that?
GRAHAM: One day in 1982, I was standing in the Denver airport calling my lawyer, who had been negotiating with the two gentlemen who you just showed on the air here. And he said to me, `Fred, I closed the deal. They're going to pay you $255,000.' And I--I laughed and I said, `Hey, I would have taken $100,000 less.' And the first thing I thought was, `I never thought this Texarkana boy would say a thing'--you know, `would be in a position to say, "I would have taken $100,000 less."' And then for the first time in, I'm sure, 30 years, it came back to me that--I'd been out fishing with who I considered my wise--wisest uncle, and he had said, `Always be underpaid because, you know, then you're--y--that's the proper relationship to have with your job.' And it bothered me, as you read there, that that came back to me at that moment. Later, when we--when I came to grief, I realized that there was a reason for me to remember it at that time.
LAMB: You also mentioned that when you left CBS eventually to go back to WKRN, I believe...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...Channel 2 in Nashville, that you became the highest-paid anchorman...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in the city.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Can you tell us--I--I don't remember seeing what you--the--do you tell us what you were paid there?
GRAHAM: You know, I never did, and al--and I--I guess I shouldn't since those are things that have never been disclosed, other than to say that it was about what I had made at the top of my form as a correspondent at CBS.
LAMB: Is there too much money in this business for correspondents?
GRAHAM: You know, it--the--it's--I don't understand why some people are making, you know, really astronomical amounts of money for doing work that does not appear to be successful. The--there's been a lot of c--of musical chairs with anchors in--at the networks, particularly with the women: Connie Chung, Diane Sawyer and on and on. There--there must be four or five of them, and they've all gotten million-dollar contracts when they jump ship to another network. Now I may be wrong, but I don't think any of them have yet been a success in terms of creating a successful or a successfully rated program in the new venture.

Now the ratings of the--and--and the financial position of all the networks are perilous and declining. And I really do wonder how long they can continue to do this. They're basically letting the--the--the talent play them off against each other, but they're not having success out of it on the other end. And--and I--I'm afraid that they are going to have occasion, somewhere down the line, to ponder my sage uncle's advice.
LAMB: When you were with CBS, Roone Arledge came after you...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...the head of ABC?
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Did he try to buy you away?
GRAHAM: Yeah. But--but his ba--his basic pitch was--he did--he offered me considerably more money than I was making at CBS, but his basic pitch was that, `There's such a strong bench there at CBS, you don't really get a chance to develop yourself and prove yourself. You go over to ABC and we're just really starting to build ourselves up'--this was in the late 1970s--`and you're going to have an opportunity to grow with us as we improve our--our news operation.' The irony of that, Brian, was that I turned him down, and the reason was that CBS was the Tiffany of broadcast operations, news operations, and ABC, in my judgment, was not. It was with considerable irony that I realized, five years later, that CBS had squandered its specialness and it was no better or no worse than the others. And so the reason that it prompted me to stick around was no longer valid.
LAMB: I remember reading in Ed Joyce's book, the gentleman that we showed here earlier, who was...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...head of CBS News, that Dan Rather signed a contract for 10 years for $36 million to be the anchorman. Why is that?
GRAHAM: A--and that was--well, now, that was part of what I mentioned earlier, the--the sort of Cecil B. De Mille approach to network news. Why they did that--they ga--they gave Dan an $800,000-a-year raise. Peter Jennings was making $800,000 a year at that time, so Dan went up by the amount that Peter Jennings was making and Dan went to $3.5 million a year. Peter Jennings is now on the top of the ratings; Dan is at the bottom. And a l--a lot of people think that one--one reason for ABC's success is that the viewers fee--feel more comfortable with Peter Jennings. But you just--you know, you have to ask yourself what was going through their minds when they were making commitments like that.
LAMB: Do you think this kind of money paid to people in television news will continue?
GRAHAM: No. I think it will continue in some kind of s--very special circumstances. I have an idea that--that the network evening news programs--"CBS Evening News," ABC, NBC--may be the dinosaurs of the 1990s, and some or all of them may--may not survive into the 21st century because CNN's killing them. And if you can get national, international news on television when you want it, you just don't have to arrive there when they tell you to in the evening.

So you can see now the--the network news operations trying to carve out new niches for themselves, and one of them is the kind of special s--treatment of the news. And you see it in the anchorpeople being sent to Moscow and being sent to Johannesburg and to other places when news seems to be stirring. And I think what they will do is I think they will still cover the--the big events--the disasters, the wars, election night, that sort of thing--and they ill do prime-time stuff--"60 Minutes," "20/20," whatever else survives there. So the--they--they are going to still need the very well-known person to preside over that in a recognizable way, and I think they'll still pay them a lot of money.
LAMB: Now when you went to Channel 2 in Nashville, how long did you stay there?
GRAHAM: You know what I'd like to do, if I may?
LAMB: Sure.
GRAHAM: I--I'd like to talk for a minute about why I left CBS because one of the things--when I wrote this book--and you asked me why I called it "Happy Talk"--I w--did not intend to and would not have written a book in which I would be a crybaby. I was--I had no interest in doing a sour-grapes book. And if I couldn't tell a--kind of a funny, engaging story in a way for n--for people to learn about broadcast news, I wasn't going to do it. And that's really what this is. Most of it is about--is--is telling about television news and the changes through things--most of the things--mostly funny and interesting that have happened to me.

But what did happen in the middle of that, that gives it real insight into some of the important events of the last 15 years, was that after Walter Cronkite was replaced by Dan Rather as the CBS anchor in 1981, the ratings went into the s--the basement at CBS. And management panicked, and they brought in the two gentlemen that you just showed, Van Gordon Sauter and Ed Joyce, to run the news division, and they were not basically journalists. They were company men. They were TV--people who could present pictures on the screen.

And immediately, our marching orders at CBS were changed and our superiors--I'll remember forever the first day right after the--they came in, and the producer took me aside and said, `Now we are now going to present infotainment.' And I said, `What is'--I'd never heard that word. And he said, `Well, it's a mixture of information and entertainment.' And it had two elements. One was when you--when I w uld take a story--and all of us--and say, `Hey, I've got a story,' first question was, `How many elements does it have?' And by that they meant, `How many changes on the screen will there be during this piece?' Because they were afraid that if the screen didn't change often enough, people would get bored and use their zappers and switch to another channel.'

And the second question was, `Does it have any moments?' And they meant, `Does--are there any magic moments?' And the magic moments was--could we get pictures of heart-rending incidents, moments of pathos, oments of anger or incrimination or indignation. Well, the Supreme Court i--you know, it's--it's not the stuff of which magic moments are made, and y--you didn't get that kind of video. And what happened in my dealing and many others' was that over the years the kinds of stories that I would do on the Supreme Court, which were news by any objective valuation, were simply, many of them, not presented on CBS News because they didn't have jazzy pictures and there were no heart-plucking moments.

So what happened was that by the--the mid- and late 1980s, CBS had really ceased to be that--it--it had ceased to follow the kind of journalistic standards that had lured me there in the first place, and that's the reason I decided to leave. Believe me, it was a--no special desire to be a local anchorman.
LAMB: We're showing some pictures from your book...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...at the Supreme Court. Have you--have you heard the story that Chief Justice--former Chief Justice Warren Burger tells about the CBS camera crew that...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...that--that--that--and it's--and he's--he--when he talks about television in the court, he always tells the story about how CBS--somebody from CBS shoved a mike in his face.
GRAHAM: Yeah, but have you seen--have you seen the--the--the tape that resulted from that? I...
LAMB: I don't remember.
GRAHAM: Well, I've kept it because to me--I mean, Chief Justice Burger--I write in there that he and I had this long, odd relationship in which we were at odds repeatedly over the years. And we remained friends and--in fact, at a time when I was having professional problems with CBS, Chief Justice Burger befriended me in a very--very thoughtful way. But that story he tells--I mean, I must say he has a way of reconstructing reality. And--and in this instance, the camera was rolling when this happened, and--and it did not happen the way he tells it because you can see. I have the film. And what happened was the CBS camera was following him into a elevator, and you see him going along and go into the elevator, and the camera goes in and he reaches out and grabs the camera and slams it down. It's as plain as--you can see it happened that way. He--you know, you re--you tend to someki--sometimes reconstruct things in your memory, and when he remembers that it was shoved in his face, it's not the way the film shows it.
LAMB: Were you there at that incident?
GRAHAM: No.
LAMB: So you won't take the blame for never letting cameras--the--the--Chief Justice Burger never letting cameras into the Supreme Court because of that incident?
GRAHAM: As I say in my book, I kn--I've known Chief Justice Burger since he was a lower-court judge, and we were--we were friends. And he told me about his bitterness toward the--the media. And it was really directed at the Washington Post. That's where it started. He felt that when he was a conservative judge on the very liberal District of Columbia Court of Appeals, that the Washington Post--which, of course, is a liberal newspaper--didn't give him a fair hearing. He--he felt that they--they didn't let his dissents--he would write dissents and he wouldn't see them in the paper. His views weren't getting in the paper. And there was some bitterness there; he didn't try to hide it. Well, later, he turned that against the television press with a vengeance, and he--you know, he--he called us--I've forgotten the pejorative names, but there were many. The odd thing about it was, because I am a lawyer, he would tell me these stories as if--and he was lambasting reporters, and I'd be looking at him, thinking, `But I'm a reporter.' But because I was a lawyer, he seemed to--to think it was OK.
LAMB: A lot of--when you were at the s--court, a lot of other reporters with you were lawyers, too, weren't they? Like Carl Stern and...
GRAHAM: Well, not--not so much in those days, but...
LAMB: You--were you the first lawyer from a network?
GRAHAM: No. Carl was. Carl Stern of NBC was the first one, and he was really the model for what CBS hired me for, and I was the second. And then there was a--sort of a hiatus before anymore came in. ABC got Tim O'Brien, and now there are several of them over there. But there was a time when I--when I first came there as New York Times reporter, I do believe I was the only lawyer covering the court at that time.
LAMB: There are some personal a--things that you admit in here, and--and I--I just want to go back and--and go over some...
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...of them and get you to tell us why.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: On two pages, page 200 and page 201...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...you write, `As a lou--as a young lawyer with considerable skills and even more arrogance'--let--let me read the next one.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: `Years passed in blissful arrogance before I first saw a television set attached to a cable.' Why did you feel the need to refer to yourself as arrogant?
GRAHAM: That's probably been a--a trait that I have struggled with, with more or less success, throughout my life, and I've found that my--my pratfalls in life have, more often than not, been associated with a period of arrogance in which I l--lowered my guard and did stupid things. And--and I mentioned that that was responsible for the mistakes we made with regard to the Pike papers, where Dan Schorr and I got into a terrible pickle over release of the top-secret Pike papers, and--and--and, to a certain extent, my problems with Vice President Spiro Agnew, where he subpoenaed me and I was at the point of going to jail for refusing to disclose my sources. So, you know, I th--I hope in life I've learned a little bit better to--to keep my guard up from--from arrogance, but it doesn't always work.
LAMB: Where--where does it come from? And what is it...
GRAHAM: You know, I guess we all have a certain amount of that in life, but I do think that--that life as a TV journalist probably encourages that as much as--maybe--maybe if you were a movie actor or something, it might be in the same--same league with encouraging that, but I think that it's the nature of the job that it plays up that.
LAMB: Wh--when I read it--and you refer to this so often in the book, I wanted to ask you this. When I read your book...
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...you--you talked about going to Yale...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and going to Oxford in a...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...on a Fulbright Scholarship and writing for The New York Times and being a lawyer...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and then going to work for CBS.
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Was it--and you admit this arrogance problem from time to time.
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Was it difficult for you to go back to Tennessee and not m--and that not work for you?
GRAHAM: Well, you know, anybody--anyone who has had a--uniformly successful career, who suddenly gets sort of publicly dumped with a certain amount of hu--humiliation, you know, there's--there's a chance there that you--you could get kind of down in the mouth over it. I mean, that could ruin your whole day. But, you know, I really think--and I--I'm pretty honest with myself and--I think you've implied here--with my readers in this book. I felt--see, I could have stayed at CBS, but I decided that if I was not going to be a success, if I was going to be just putting in my time, I was going to take a chance, go back home where I started and risk being a--a--risk whatever that involved in order to have a chance of making a success of it. And I've never regretted that.
LAMB: A couple other personal things.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Page 262...
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...`That night, for the first time in a quarter-century, I cried.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Why?
GRAHAM: Well, now you have to tell them what night that was.
LAMB: Of course, and I want you to tell them, but I want to ask you why you admitted to crying. That must not have been the easiest thing to do in a book.
GRAHAM: No. You know, I--I don't--for a grown man to cry in justified circumstances is just fine with me.
LAMB: What were the circumstances?
GRAHAM: It was the day that my wife and I had moved into our dream home here in--in Washington, and we had bought a lovely house out off Massachusetts Avenue and we had refurnished it. And the movers had come, and they were carrying in furniture and all that. And my wife was just ecstatic. But toward the end of the day, the telephone installer came, installed the phone and very quickly it rang. So we'd been there two days without--moving--moving in and out without a telephone. And it was my lawyer, saying, `They've just told--told me they're not going to renew your contract.'

We had gotten a letter from them shortly before saying they would, and they kind of blindsided us. And I--I couldn't bear to tell my wife what had happened because she was so happy. And I knew we couldn't stay; we--we couldn't afford it. So we spent the rest of the day, and I was going to wait. And that night, she s--she knows me too well and she knew something was wrong, and she asked me and I told her. And then I cried.
LAMB: One more on this track. On page 198--I don't know where to start this. `It fascinated me that an elaborately produced report to 18 million viewers of the "CBS Evening News" would bring comment from nobody but my wife, but each morning brought a stack of letters from the ranks of 900,000 night watchers.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: That was the "CBS Nightwatch."
GRAHAM: That's what I mentioned before. The...
LAMB: Right.
GRAHAM: The--the popularit--well, the fact that people who watched "Nightwatch" really thought about it and remembered it and recognized me from it.
LAMB: It's on in the middle of the night. Here's what I want to ask you about, though.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: In parentheses, you then say, `We lied and claimed two million viewers on the rationale that we taped the show and ran it twice.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: `We lied.' You admitted to lying. Why would you do that?
GRAHAM: Well, there's a little hyperbole there. We fudged our figures and, you know, that probably is not the first time in the history of broadcasting that a network has--had fudged its figures and--under the ratings. But we were hanging by a thread that--the "Nightwatch" program, which at CBS fills the space between two in the morning and six in the morning. And when they kept cutting the budgets--and they'd cut our budget every time--and we were trying to--to make people believe that we were really earning our keep because of the size of our audience. Well, we fudged a bit on that, but, you know, in terms of just quality work and satisfaction, we didn't have to inflate that at all because we were delivering.
LAMB: I want to ask you...
GRAHAM: By the way, they--"Nightwatch" has--has interviewed me in connection with this book...
LAMB: This week.
GRAHAM: ...and it shows--you know, pretty gutsy. I'm not all that popular in some corridors of CBS. It's a CBS show. Pretty good.
LAMB: I tuned in as Charlie Rose was saying good night to you, so I didn't see the interview, but...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...but did Charlie Rose have the opportunity, free of any interference to invite you on that show?
GRAHAM: I asked one of the executives there afterwards, because I was intrigued. I said, `Did he get your permission to do this?' And I was told, `No, they just did it.' And--and--and the person who told me that--with--with no disapproval.
LAMB: And...
GRAHAM: I mean, I--I admire that.
LAMB: Did you discuss how you felt about CBS on the program?
GRAHAM: You know, when I'm a guest in any circumstance, I--I don't violate that. I don't believe in violating that by being unpleasant, and so I went in there and--and my attitude was going to be, `I will answer the questions,' and if Charlie wanted to lead me into those areas, I would answer, but I wasn't going to volunteer. And then he--he very skillfully did lead me into those areas, but in a way that gave me an opportunity to say what I wanted to say without any, you know, unnecessary jagged edges. And we both did it, and I thought he was journalistically as sound as he could have been, and--and--and I--you know, I didn't trim my sails, but we--we didn't make any un--unnecessary--unnecessary scars.
LAMB: But you used to sit where he sat last night.
GRAHAM: Well, I--I--I used to be his substitute. And he had a lot of fun with it because when I wrote about be--that in there, I didn't mention his name. I just said, `When the regular anchor was gone, I would substitute.' And Charlie was flailing through this book as if for--realizing for the first time that I'd left his name out. And so he had some fun with it. He kind of--you know, he--he got in his ribbing of me.
LAMB: I want you to talk a little bit about personalities, and I'll go back and read some of these. The first one is Dan Schorr.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: You write, `Among the correspondents at CBS'--this is when you were there...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...`the hands-down personification of in-house competitiveness--competitiveness was Daniel Schorr. Over the years, my dealings with Schorr usually left me with an urge to count my change.'
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What are you talking about?
GRAHAM: Well, actually, right before--I want to add what I said right before that. I said that `Dan Schorr is a remarkable journalist,' first for his intelligence and his industry. And secondly, so many journalists begin to slow own at bit as they get older, and Schorr, from what I can see, is just as good today as the day I met him, and so I have great admiration for that side of him. Sometimes his aggressiveness was directed too much in house, I thought. You know, there's--it's--there are sort of unspoken limits as to how much you compete with your in-house colleagues, and there was a feeling on the part of various people that he stepped over the line sometimes in that regard.

I told the--the story there when Schorr--Schorr always in--in--wou--wound up on--on the topside whenever I had any deals with him, and--dealings with him. And one time--the day President Nixon had made it clear that he was going to resign, we took over--we, the news division, took over the network, and it--everyone in the country was watching and every red-blooded correspondent wanted to be on the air. Schorr and I were not asked to be on the air, and he was very nervous about it. He came up to me and he said, `Fred, I'll tell you what let's do. Let's propose to them...'
LAMB: Let me interrupt for you. You lost your mike over there...
GRAHAM: Oh.
LAMB: ...and so we want to interrupt just--you--this has probably never happened to you before.
GRAHAM: I'm flail--I'm flailing around here--I'm...
LAMB: I know. I just don't want you to keep telling us...
GRAHAM: I'm flailing around here so much I lost--he said, `Let's--let's propose to them that you, Fred, who have been covering the legal side of this--you--you write out a question about where--what's going to happen--the possibility of President Nixon being indicted, and I will--and you have the answer to that--and I will write out a question about where the investigation will go from this. We'll give the questions to Walter; he'll ask us the questions and we'll answer them.' And so they said, `Fine.'

Dan and I sat side by side. The picture of the moment this happened is in that book. Show it to them as I tell them. So the red light goes on. Walter Cronkite asks the question about where this is all going, which I had written out. I opened my mouth to reply, and Schorr answered the question. Then Walter asked the question that Dan had written about the investigation, and of course Dan had a--a very erudite answer to that, leaving me just kind of slack-jawed. And I just--yeah. What can you do? That--that was a--sort of a--I would say a colorful illustration of that relationship.
LAMB: Was there a time while you were there that you ever paid for the number of times you got on the network, on the evening news?
GRAHAM: That you got paid for?
LAMB: Per piece?
GRAHAM: No. They had stopped that just as I joined the network.
LAMB: Another individual you write about is Roger Mudd.
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And you tell a story that--`but an off-the-wall incident involving Roger Mudd grabbed everyone's attention and turned that into a breeze,' and I--I'm not being fair...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...because of what you said earlier, but you were...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...you were having lunch or dinner...
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...with some--some CBS brass?
GRAHAM: Yeah. And they were tr--they--they were going to officially hire me, and this was the sort of formal approval. And it was in New York and everyone was on their best behavior. I was meeting with the president of the news division and other bigwigs, and we were--there was a kind of a hushed dignity about this luncheon there at CBS. The phone rings, and the president of CBS News, Richard Salant, goes over to the wall, picks up the phone and starts yelling, `Yes, damn it! Tell him yes!' And he comes back and he's all in a froth and he says, `Well, that's Roger Mudd. He's in the airport in New Orleans and he wants to fly first class.'

Well, what had happened was, in an effort to stop correspondents from wasting money flying first class, they had put out a memo saying that `Before you can do it, you have to get permission from the president of CBS News,' thinking that nobody would ever do that. Well, Roger obviously thought that e'd--he--he'd make him pay for that. He would ask him every time. And that's what he did.
LAMB: You write, `It has been alleged that Roger hates "up",' in quote marks.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: What did you mean by `hates "up"'?
GRAHAM: Roger Mudd is a real purist as a journalist, and his--his value system basically is that--th--th--you know, that sort of the purest form of human endeavor is journalism. And those who don't do journalism and do it in a very purist form--or those who don't are a lower-order of human beings than those who do. And since our executives tended to be, you know, bureaucrats and--and--and others and not journalists, he tended to look at them with a certain amount of disdain.
LAMB: You write about Walter Cronkite, and at one point, you say that he didn't write a word of what he read on the evening news.
GRAHAM: Well, I don't think I said it that way, no. But generally, Walter came in and his copy had been written for him. You know what I learned was, when I later became an anchor myself--was that, to a large extent, you add nothing--you, the anchor--by writing your own copy. If--if it was important, Walter would have done it. But, you know, his role there was generally to act as a--sort of a segue between one filmed piece and another, and, generally speaking, the writing that goes into that--it's--it's so routine that it makes no difference who does it.
LAMB: What did you think of Walter Cronkite?
GRAHAM: Well, I thought then and I still do that--that he was just magnificent. He--you know, he--he--he is the same person off camera that he is on camera, and he's very secure in his--his--who he is off camera and on camera. And one of the things that Dan Rather has suffered from is that he appears to the viewers to be acting on camera as he's a--as he's a--he's anchoring, and--and there's a sense sometimes that he's not being himself. And I think that that's a weakness in--in the way he performs.
LAMB: You've got a whole chapter here devoted to--well, the title of the chapter is Rather Inscrutable.
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Did you--did you c--was that your chapter title? Did you write that?
GRAHAM: Sure.
LAMB: Why would you title a chapter Rather Inscrutable?
GRAHAM: Because, you know, those of u--there was a lot of conversation between those of us who worked as correspondents at CBS News about what Dan seemed to be going through as he stopped being a reporter and switched to being the star anchor. And it appeared to us that he was sort of struggling with his identity. He--he is such a fine reporter and seems so comfortable in that, and when he per--you know, when--when he was moving from that into the role of the star anchor, he seemed to be trying to create a more appropriate persona for that, as the--kind of a sophisticated country boy--country slicker from Texas. And I--I tell there about early on in that process--and many of the viewers may recall that Dan at that time, on camera, would spout out these good-old-boy sayings--you know, `That dog won't hunt' and `Stick with one end' and--and those other country...
LAMB: I've got--I've got some more; I might as well read them so that you can get them on the air.
GRAHAM: Sure. Yeah.
LAMB: `You can pour water on the fire, call in the dogs; the hunt is over.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: `If the day were a fish, Walter Mondale would throw it back in.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: `We're going at each other with everything but hand axes.' `Wou ld like to dig a hole and become a radish.'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: `As shaky as a caf--as cafeteria Jell-O.' Anyway, I didn't mean to interrupt. Go ahead.
GRAHAM: Well--and those that you just read Dan rattled off at various points during election night in 1978 as he was being groomed to be--to replace Walter Cronkite. At the end of that evening, he picked up his--his materials and left, and we were all exhausted. He left a scrap of paper, which someone picked up and passed around gleefully because it was a note from Dan's secretary saying, `Mickey called in with the following,' and then listing many of those quotes. And Mickey--Mickey Herskowitz is a Houston, Texas, sportswriter who collaborated with Dan and was a co-author of his autobiography, "The Camera Never Blinks." And that evidence, that he was having these spontaneous good-old-boy country sayings ghost-written by a Houston, Texas, sportswriter was the start of a--of a feeling of unease among the troops about what was happening to Dan as he became a star anchor.
LAMB: There's another story you tell, and I almost have to read it to get the full flavor of it and it--and you tell it through the eyes of Lem Tucker.
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah. I'll just tell that.
LAMB: T--tell and--and I'll--I'll read the quotes here when you get to this.
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah. OK. Lem Tucker, for those--for those of you who have seen him, is a--a very enthusiastic CBS correspondent, but not one to hide his feelings. He's--he's very up-front. Well, one day, Dan was in the studio waiting to broadcast a bulletin during the Iran-Contra crisis. And there were delays and delays and delays, and he was sitting there and--and there was some nervousness about this. And right outside the circle of light, Tucker came up and started standing there in the dark, staring at Dan Rather. Well, after a while, a colleague came up and said, `Look, Tucker, you've seen Dan Rather before. Why are you standing here staring at Dan Rather?'

Well, Tucker's a kind of excitable guy, and he said, `Look,' he says, `that guy--he is going to blow his top. He's going to go stark-raving mad one of these days. And if he does that and I'm around and I'm not watching, I'll never forgive myself.' Well, what happened was that bef--before long, there were some other people standing around watching him. Of course, the--the broadcast went off fine, but it was symptomatic of a--of a sense of unease among some of the troops in the--in the ranks.
LAMB: And t--to quote you exactly, `"Don't you understand," Tucker explained, "that this guy, sometime, someplace, somewhere, is going to go stark-raving mad? If it happens when he's around me, I don't want to miss it."'
GRAHAM: Yeah.
LAMB: You write on the next page, `It all amounted to what seemed to be an unspoken consensus among the ranks that CBS' star anchor was, well, a bit of a phony.'
GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Was that hard for you to write?
GRAHAM: I thought about that a long time, but when I got into writing this book, I decided that I would be willing to expose my own warts and, to the extent that it's relevant to all of this, those of others. And that was one that you--I had to bite the bullet on that one.
LAMB: You also talk about the fact that Dan Rather would never return your phone call at some stage in this process.
GRAHAM: Well, not that he would never do it, but...
LAMB: I mean at the end.
GRAHAM: W--what happened was that, obviously, after writing this, as you've implied, I had to give it a lot of thought. And I called Dan to talk with him, to discuss it with him. First, as I say there, we were both covering the--the Republican and the Democratic conventions that summer, 1988. And I tried to find him and went to try and--I thought it would be best if we sat down and--and had a chat, and w--at one point blundered into an executive meeting there at CBS, and I got some startled looks from the top executives there because they knew that I had left CBS. I couldn't arrange that, and then I started calling him to discuss it on the phone and--and was--was unable to get through.
LAMB: Is this whole experience difficult? Is this cathartic at all? I mean, did--are these things you're getting out of your system?
GRAHAM: The writing was and this process now is--is anticlimactic in that sense. Once I--I wrote all of this and--and got that done, then in many ways, it was cathartic, yeah.
LAMB: Are you getting tired of talking about it?
GRAHAM: Well, not yet, but I've just started this process now. This is a two-week author's tour, and I'm not even halfway through it.
LAMB: What's the rea--what do most people want to talk to you about that--when you go on the shows?
GRAHAM: You know, it surpris--some of the things are frightening. Everybody--almost everybody--asks about Lem Tucker. I--I'm just so surprised at that. To me, it's not that...
LAMB: You mean that story.
GRAHAM: Yeah, that story about Lem Tucker. And almost every--as I say in the--in the book, over my career, the question that has most often been asked of me is: What's Dan Rather really like? People are fascinated by that, and that's one thing that they ask about.
LAMB: What are you going to do next?
GRAHAM: I am going to be the chief anchor and the--the managing editor's the title. I'm going to be in charge of programming--the program content for a new cable TV channel that will be put on the air by the Time Warner Corporation. And what we will do is televise real courtroom trials. We'll go--we'll--we'll go into those courtrooms around the country--about half of the states permit us to bring our cameras into the court--and we'll pick interesting and relevant and important trials and bring that right into people's homes.
LAMB: Where is it going to be located?
GRAHAM: New York.
LAMB: When do you start?
GRAHAM: We haven't said. It'll be after Labor Day; how soon after, I don't know.
LAMB: And how big an organization is it going to be? And are you doing...
GRAHAM: Well, you know, the size of...
LAMB: Are you hiring now?
GRAHAM: The size of an organization isn't very important with--you know, with a t--a television channel. You know that this is one--C-SPAN. And we are working now on our, you know, table of organization. We're hiring some people, but we--we haven't hired many yet because that's--it's premature now. We have to decide how we go about this, and what we're doing--we are now in the process of practice runs. We'll go into a studio, we'll get a satellite, we'll go to some trial, we'll bring it in and we'll use--practice the techniques. We're using some techniques that you use in sportscasts to try--what we want to do is to make a trial more interesting and more understandable than it would be if you were sitting there in the courtroom.
LAMB: And what sense do you get from the courts that allow cameras in about the whole project? Are they excited about it--the states?
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah. I--you know, judges are just as egotistical as--as anyone else, and they enjoy being on television. In fact, I've had judges tell me, `You know, it's great. You know, I--come election time, everybody knows me.' Most judges are elected, you know, and it helps them get re-elected. And they like to be on television. I think what's going to happen is--first of all, I think that this is good. I think--you know, there used to be a tradition in this country that people went down to the courthouse and sat and watched trials for entertainment and just to sort of find out what's going on in the government. And that withered away. And we are going to return that--and it's a good tradition--but through the magic of television. So it's--this is going to be good for the public and good for the system of justice because its flaws will be laid open now to the public.

But that being said, what I think will happen is that--half the states now let us in with our cameras. I think we're going to be a success and people are going to appreciate it and, very quickly, the others--or most of them--are going to let us in because they're going to say, `We want to be on television, too.'
LAMB: Are you worried about the kind of trials you'll have to cover in order to get a big enough audience to matter?
GRAHAM: I'm worried about--see, I'll be making the decisions--me along with others, but I'm in charge of the programming. And I am going to now be faced with the same dilemmas that Van Gordon Sauter and Ed Joyce were--and I've been critical of them--when they were trying to decide how much flash to put into CBS' mix in order to get ratings. And I know that. And it's interesting--in our discussions that we've had as we go through mock sessions of what we would be covering, more often than not, I am arguing on the side of--of putting that really appealing, colorful trial on the air, where the lawyers who are in on this project tend to be more conservative about it. And I see that.
LAMB: Are you assoc--is this the one th at--there are two channels; one's--the other one called...
GRAHAM: Yeah. This one--this is a partnership between the Time Warner Corporation and the American Lawyer publishing group. It's a--a man, Steve Brill, who is a--really an innovator in legal publishing. So it's a teamwork between a legal unit and a television cable unit. There is a competing group, Cablevision, it's called, and they--they have a--a kind of a--it's like a CNN--like a local CNN operation on Long Island, and they've been experimenting with--with broadcasting trials.
LAMB: Is there room for both of these channels on cable from what you've...
GRAHAM: Well, we don't know. See, neither one of us are on now. We intend to go on, and if they want to--if--you know, competition is great and I'm all for it, but we're going on and we're going to be the best. And if they want to come in and walk in our--in our dust, it's fine with me.
LAMB: Do you have a commitment from Time Warner and American Lawyer for how long they'll stay with it in allowing it to become a success?
GRAHAM: No. You know, anything like this has to be a success or, after some period of time; if it's not, you go on to other things. But they--they appear to be in t--in there to make it a success, and so that's--it's in that attitude that we're going forward.
LAMB: Will it always be criminal trials?
GRAHAM: No. Oh, no. One of the things we're finding is--see, we have--what we've done is we have hired newspaper reporters around the country to help us spot these cases all around the country. And what we find is they tend to know about criminal cases. And we want to know about s--other cases. We want to know about all kinds of cases, because that really tells you what's going on in the country. And we're going to have to do some work to get our spotters to look harder for non-criminal cases.
LAMB: How many trials a day?
GRAHAM: Three. Now that's not a full trial. And we'll--we'll--and--and we'll vary it, depending on--if there's a big case--for instance, I think that the public may become so interested and absorbed in the so-called Central Park jogger rape case, the young woman who was attacked there in Central Park--when that trial goes on, if we're on the air at that time--and we--we'll show it probably start to finish. So that'll start in the morning at 9 and go until 4:30 or so in the afternoon. Then we'll have one trial after that. If we d--if we had a less interesting tri--situation, we might have--show one trial in the morning, one in the early afternoon and one after that.
LAMB: Commercially supported?
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah, we'll have commercials.
LAMB: Have any idea how many viewers you're going to have to have to make it a success?
GRAHAM: Well, you know, I don't think we're going to operate in the traditional sense out of bureaus because I'll be sitting in a New York studio, and then we'll use satellites and other ways to get from the courtroom to where I am. So you don't need a big force of people out around the country where the trials are.
LAMB: I'm sorry. I mis--I may have misspoke or you misheard. How many viewers I--what I meant to ask you.
GRAHAM: I thought you said bureaus.
LAMB: Bureaus--yeah. How many viewers do you think you're going to need?
GRAHAM: You know, the people at Time Warner are in this business, and they--they have talked about how many you need to have. And I don't know what it is, but there's a certain percentage and it's far smaller than, say, a network has to have. And that's the promising aspect of this--this and--and new channels like this--because you can make a go of it with a smaller sliver of the viewing audience than previously. And it--it holds out the--the--the promise in the future that you'll be able to turn on cable TV and just get pretty much what--what interests you.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been Fred Graham, and this is what the book looks like. It's called "Happy Talk"--in your bookstores. Thank you, Mr. Graham.
GRAHAM: Thank you for having me.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1990. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.