BRIAN LAMB, HOST:
Roger Mudd, one of the things that popped out when I read your book, "Great Minds of History," was that you were a coach and a history teacher at one time in your life. Is that right?
Mr. ROGER MUDD, AUTHOR, "GREAT MINDS OF HISTORY": Where'd you find that, Brian?
LAMB: It's tucked in there somewhere.
Mr. MUDD: Yeah. Well, it wa--I--I was. I was a--I was a JV coach of a--of a boys football team down in Rome, Georgia, Darlington School for Boys. And I was--and we had an undefeated team that year. There were only--I had five games, and one of the--one of the ballplayers on that team was the son of Happy Chandler, who was the old baseball commissioner, Dan Chandler. And Dan wound up doing some jail time in Kentucky, and he's now an official greeter out in Las Vegas. So...
LAMB: And Happy Chandler--What?--governor of the state, wasn't he? Yeah.
Mr. MUDD: Well, governor of--of Kentucky...
Mr. MUDD: ...and--and commissioner of baseball, and so you can see what Mudd's coaching di--did for the Chandlers.
LAMB: How did you get to be a coach and a history teacher in Rome, Georgia?
Mr. MUDD: I'd gone to--I'd gone to the University of North Carolina and gotten a master's degree in history because I wanted to teach. And this was sort of 1952 or '3, and teaching was--teaching jobs were very scarce because the wave of World War II veterans were back, the--all the PhDs, and all I had was a master's. And so I did get a job, and what was available was teaching at a boys prep school down in Georgia. And I taught history and English and American literature and coached on the football team. You had to do that, you know? You had to have many roles at--at a boys prep school.
LAMB: Well, I got this in the interview with David McCullough, where he was kind of fussing over the fact that history's gone by the way in high schools and that it's often sent over to the coach to teach. But he went on to say he had a teacher who was a coach and he was a good one. But what do you think of history today and the way it's being taught?
Mr. MUDD: Well, wh--what's happened, it's become--it's not history anymore, it's--it's relevant societal needs and it's social studies and it's everything but history. And--and I think McCullough's comment was that even though history is required in grade schools and high schools, it is no longer regarded as a vital subject that every American citizen must understand. I mean, history--I don't think you learn specific lessons from history, but you learn proportion and you learn some heritage and you learn to be aware of wh--what came before you. And that knowledge, it seems to me, causes you not to do certain things and to do other things. But without that feeling of--of--of heritage and tradition and culture, it seems to me, you do rattle around in sort of an empty vacuum.
LAMB: This book is about what?
Mr. MUDD: "Great Minds of History" is--is about four--or five at-the-top-of-their-game historians talking about the profession, their profession. Each of those five professors is an expert in the--in their field, beginning with Gordon Wood in the colonial period, and then moving up through Stephen Ambrose, World War II and--and post-war. The book came from a series of television interviews that I had done for The History Channel. And the publisher, John Wylie & Sons, took the transcripts and made them into a book. Th--so that it's a book. There are videotapes and also audiotapes.
LAMB: What do you--is there any thread that runs through what you learn from interviewing historians?
Mr. MUDD: The thread is that they absolutely are in love with what they're doing. The enthusiasm that comes through in the interviews is--I--I mean, it's visceral. And I sat there interviewing McCullough and Ambrose and f--forgetting that I was supposed to be asking the questions, 'cause my jaw kept dropping and it was one marvelous story after another that Ambrose would tell about the GIs and the Battle of the Bulge; or McCullough would tell about immigrants who came to America not speaking English, but knowing that they were part of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and how proud they were to be a part of this new industrial America; and McPherson discriminating between Robert E. Lee's lack of strategic planning and Grant's mastery of strategy; listening to--to Richard West talk about Buffalo Bill and--and Frederick Jackson Turner.
W--and what Buffalo Bill would do, White said, he would--he would actually go out and fight the Indians, scalp one of them, bring the scalp back to Philadelphia and put on a show. But he was reality back then. And then listening to Gordon Wood talk about the colonial period and, in fact, that the conditions that Jefferson described in the Declaration of Independence did not exist. There was not treason, there was not oppression; there was the threat of oppression. And Wood telling me that the Declaration of Independence was hyperbole.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite period that you like to read about?
Mr. MUDD: Well, it used to be--Brian, it used to be the Civil War, and it st--it still is a favorite of mine, but I must say, given the exposure and the work I had to do to--to do the interviews, I think that period between Worl--between the Civil War and--and right after World War II is probably as unexplored as any period in American history. But so much happened during that period s--not only in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, but we've--we had a--we had a--our own literature was--was rising. We had great artists coming to the--to the forefront. And it--it's a period somehow that g--that got--got a bad name, because all it--all it was in school was a--a bunch of sort of non-descript presidents and a lot of big businessmen. But there's much more to that period than just those.
LAMB: You mentioned the Panama Canal, and--and did you know David McCullough talks about the French losing 20,000 people trying to build it, couldn't and then the United States builds it, losing five...
Mr. MUDD: Thousand.
LAMB: ...thousand? That--I had not seen that before. Was that a surprise to you that it happened?
Mr. MUDD: It was a surprise, and I--you know, that's another part of our history that we--all we know is that we built the Panama Canal. You don't know what--what happened before. And--and knowing how the French c--the French had lost to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War, and they were determined to regain their place on the--on the world stage. And this was the way they hoped to do it.
They went in there and they were not able to figure out how to get the--the two level waters--the--the level of the water from the Pacific and the level of the water from the Atlantic to flow into one canal because they're, you know, several hundred feet apart. Couldn't figure it out. The Ameri--and they lost to malaria and disease, dysentery, the 20,000. They gave up. It collapsed, and it led to a--you know, a--a--a collapse of the French Republic.
The Americans came in, and with that marvelous can-do engineering, they figured out that you use the water itself to equalize the two levels. The Chagres River was the big problem, so they harnessed the Chagres River and used a system of loches rather than a canal. And they w--it was the marvel of the world. And th--they lost 5,000, and that seemed like a lot to Americans, but when you realize what had happened before and how inept and incompetent the French were, then you realize what a marvelous accomplishment it was for America.
LAMB: What part of the world were you born in?
Mr. MUDD: Right here in Washington, DC, Brian, born and raised.
LAMB: What were--what were your parents doing here?
Mr. MUDD: My father was from southern Maryland, from Charles County. My mother was from what, she always said with a wink, was the great inland empire of eastern Washington, born in Johnson and grew up in--went to school in Pullman, Washington State College. They met during World War I. My father was a--a graduate of the University of Maryland when it was then the Maryland Agricultural College, all male and military. My mother'd gone to Washington State College, and in World War I, had come East to become a physiotherapist and was trained at Harvard and then came down to Walter Reed Hospital. My father, a--a bachelor lieutenant, came home from France wounded, shelled by the Germans and his physiotherapist was Irma Harrison, my mother.
And they met, and back then at Walter Reed Hospital, you--you rented horses and rode through Rock Creek Park over to the McLean Estate in--in Friendship. And they would go down to the Willard Hotel. That long lobby that runs the--the width of the Willard from F to E was called Peacock Alley because that's where the young maidens of World War I strutted with their feathers. And they were married then in San Francisco. Father was then back to the US Geological Survey in the Interior Department as a topographic engineer. And they sailed for the Hawaiian Islands, where my father was the chief surveyor, making the first government topographic maps of the Hawaiian Islands, where my brother was born a couple years later. And then he came back--my father and family came back to Washington, where he made his maps at the--in the Interior Department, and I was born here in--1928?
LAMB: How many brothers and sisters?
Mr. MUDD: Just one, Brian.
LAMB: Where is he?
Mr. MUDD: He passed away some years ago. He was a lawyer in Baltimore, went to the University of Virginia, Bucknell University, and was with the law firm of Sims, Bowen and Sims.
LAMB: Where'd you go to high school?
Mr. MUDD: I went to the local public high school in Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Woodrow Wilson Tigers. And then I enlisted in the Army right out of high school, in 1945, and went basic training down at Ft. McClellan and then was with the 2nd Armored Division that had just come back from Europe. And we went down to Camp Wood, Texas, and I was in for two years. I was, you know, a--a peacetime--I was in just at the end of the war so we were on our way to Japan, and then they dropped the bomb and so we never went.
LAMB: What years did you go to Washington and Lee?
Mr. MUDD: This was after the Army, and I was there from--I came in as a transfer student in the winter of 1948 and graduated in 1950. So I was there two and a half years.
LAMB: And then history somehow figured into all this. Where--can you put your finger on how you got interested in history?
Mr. MUDD: No, I can't. No, not really, not a finger. I just--I don't know how you get interested in something like that. It's just--it--it was there, and my fa--my father and my mother read books and there were books in the house, and I was aware of--somehow of what was going on around me, but I--there wasn't any--I don't--I can't remember reading a book that lighted the fire. It was just a general sort of osmosis. But it was something I always enjoyed and majored in history in college, and then went on to graduate school, because I--you know, I--it's just a vital, vital subject. It's filled with marvelous stories.
LAMB: When did you first get into broadcasting?
Mr. MUDD: I had--let's see, I had finished my master's degree, taught school down in Darlington, was this marvelous c--football coach, 5-and-O. And--and I'd written my master's thesis on Roosevelt's b--brain trust--the press and the brain trust and wanted to go on for a PhD. But before I did, I thought I'd better work for a newspaper to find out, you know, how i--how it worked.
So I got a job on the Richmond, Virginia, News Leader, on the rewrite desk, and I wasn't very good and I was a summer substitute. I'd replaced some woman who was on maternity leave, and she came back and they said they didn't need me anymore, `But why don't you go across the street? The company owns a radio station.' So I got a job at the radio station being a reporter. So that was '53, and I was there three or four years, and then came up to Washington to work at a local CBS station and then I went to CBS in '61, and then bounced around for a while.
LAMB: How long were you at CBS?
Mr. MUDD: I--almost 20 years, from '61 to '79 maybe. Yeah, '79.
LAMB: And then NBC?
Mr. MUDD: NBC from '80 until '87. And then I went to "The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour" from '87 to '92, and then taught up at Princeton for a couple semesters, and then down at Washington and Lee where you were a--a--an underpaid guest lecturer.
LAMB: And then the American Heritage book here and The History Channel, and w--how did you get into The History Channel business and how much do you do for them now?
Mr. MUDD: Well, between semesters, at--well, whenever it w--between semesters at Princeton, which would have been sort of '93 I think, The History Channel, which is owned by A&E, which is owned also in three equal parts by NBC, ABC and The Hearst Corporation--A&E wanted to start a new channel, a history channel, and they--they were looking for people to, you know, be their on-air people. So I got a call, would I be interested? And I said, `I'd love to talk.' So we talked about it, and we went on the air in whatever it was, in '92 or '3, with maybe a million and a half houses hooked up, and now it's 57 million. And so I'm their weeknight documentary host, and I have a program on 9:00 each evening, Sunday through Thursday, I think it is, called "History Alive." And I write at home, and I go up to New York about every five or six weeks and tape maybe f--15 or 20 studio introductions. And then you do them--as you know, you do them a--a month, six weeks ahead. And so I take some different shirts and ties up, and then I wear a different tie for every fourth show so they can never catch me wearing the same tie two nights in a row.
LAMB: An--and speaking about history--and I don't know if this is a moment that you think was that important in your life--but, you know, if people were to go back and say, `Was there a Roger Mudd moment?' it would be the question to Ted Kennedy, `Why do you want to be president?' How did that happen, and what was the impact of that, and was that important to you?
Mr. MUDD: Well, y--y--it was--it was--yeah, it was a--it was a major, major part of my career, a--and it was the--the documentary we'd done. I was at CBS at the time, and it was obvious he was getting ready to run i...
LAMB: What year?
Mr. MUDD: ...in 1980. And up until that time, the senator had limited his television appearances to oc--occasional "Meet the Press" or "Face the Nation," but always on a given t--topic. He had never--as far as we knew, he'd never allowed himself to--to--he'd never done a--a one-on-one, rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred interview. And the--the managers at CBS said, `You know, if he's gonna be a candidate, he better do--he ought to do this.' So we--we--they proposed an hour on the senator, and would I do it. And I had to think couple times about it because I was a semisocial friend of--of the senator and of--of--of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Kenne--Ethel Kennedy. But I decided after a day or two that, I mean, if--if I couldn't do it, then I ought to get out of the business, I mean, really. And I couldn't think of anybody else at the company who would--who would do as good a job, and I--so I felt confident. I--so I said, `You bet I will.'
So when we sat down for the interview, I knew almost as much about him and Chappaquiddick and--as he did so that--i--it was not an adversarial interview so much as it was h--he knew that he couldn't get by with very much. And he'd have to answer the questions because, you know, I knew where to go. So w--we did it in two parts. One was up at--up at Hyannis Port and the other in his office. And I kept saying, `Well, I mean, how do you differ from--from J--President Carter? I mean, what--what would be different?' And the answers were not very articulate, and f--suddenly I said, `We--but--OK, so wh--why--why do you want to be president?' And he--the answer was, `Well, because the sky is so blue and the grass is so green and the water's so cold,' is basically what he said, and the--the s--answer did not make sense.
And it suddenly occurred to people that maybe the senator didn't know why he wanted to be president or maybe he hadn't thought about it; maybe he hadn't gone to the mountain and figured out who he wanted to punish and who he wanted to reward and what elements of society he wanted to--and it was a difficult moment for him because an awful lot of writers, columnists, reporters used that interview to--to dump on him. They had not been willing to do that before because I think they were taken by the Kennedy magic, and this re--revealed the senator as--as inarticulate in--in many ways.
I think he's a terrific senator, by the way. I think he has, you know, some character flaws, but he's--seems to be matured and gotten beyond them. And I think he represents, for people in the United States, many not living in Massachusetts--he represents them in--in an interesting social way, that they look to him as--as a defender of--of their unfortunate circumstances.
LAMB: What impact did the results of that interview have on his presidential race, do you think?
Mr. MUDD: Well, it--it--there was a wave of--of unfavorable c--reporting, and it--it--it--it--it got an enormous audience, almost outpolled "Jaws," which was on--on against us. B--but what it did was it enabled the political journalists of the country to write really critical pieces about him, and it--it enabled them to l--to watch out for and to be aware of this--this strange inarticulateness that--that he--he was carrying. It--and--and the--the campaign never really got off the ground. And I don't think it was because of the interview, but I think the cumulative effect of the interview was to--to make his relations with the press considerably more difficult than they were before.
LAMB: In your book, American Heritage, "Great Minds of History" and your historians here, if I remember correctly from reading it, not much talk about the media and its impact on history. Did you talk about it in your longer interviews?
Mr. MUDD: Well, on--for instance, on--with Jim McPherson of Princeton, we talked about Ken Burns and the Civil War. And with Ambrose, we talked about the media. But it was--that was not--the point of those interviews was to p--so--sort of get them to tell me what it was like to be in that world.
LAMB: Well, what I was talking about, though, was the im--impact of the media...
Mr. MUDD: Yeah.
LAMB: ...in those times. What do you think--what was the role of the media in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and these periods that you're talking about?
Mr. MUDD: Well, in--one thing--one thing that Gordon Wood, the colonial historian, mentioned is that--that the media in--he--Wood claims almost that it was the media--the press at the time almost drove him out of office, that the--that the--the--the bitterness--the bitterness between the Jeffersonians, the anti-Federalists and the Federalists w--was such that--that Wilson--that Washington could not stand the criticism. And Wood says if--if you think Nixon had it tough, you ought to go back and read the--the--the sheets on George Washington stimulated by the anti-Federalists and Jefferson. He said it's--it d--it doesn't bear comparison to what we went through.
In the case, say, of Lincoln, Jim McPherson compares Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. The criticism of Lincoln was ferocious. In the South, there was one--virtually party politics had been suspended. This was a beleaguered part of the country. The press was un--unified behind Jefferson Davis, with a few exceptions, unified a--against the North. So Jefferson Davis didn't have the criticism that Lincoln had, but Lincoln had the thick skin and Jefferson Davis had the thin skin.
In--in--in--in World War II, under--under Roosevelt, Roosevelt had charmed the media. Worl--after World War II, you had the media rising, with television now playing the major role in the--in the Johnson-Kennedy-Nixon period. So th--the role has changed, but basic
changes come with the rise of television, because remember the famous Jody Carter quote? He says, you know, "When the--when you see those television crews arriving at the West Wing, all you can think of is these huge elephants crunching little grapes as they come down the driveway, because here--here they are looming at you." It makes all the difference in the world with television now. And I'm not sure that we operate our democratic system any better with television than we did before.
LAMB: I--I noticed that the word `great' was used several times in the book, by historians, by you in your questions. And I'll tell you a little bit more what I'm talking about. First of all, let me ask you what you think of the great man theory of history.
Mr. MUDD: Well, I think--I think there are great men who rise, and not necessarily during periods of crisis. I--I believe--I'm a semibeliever in the great man theory. I think that gr--there are great men and they do rise, but I don't think that, n--necessarily, you can explain the way a country goes, the route it takes because of its great men. I think s--there's so much in the roll of the dice that cannot be explained by the presence of great men. So much is happenstance, so much is luck, so much is conditions beyond your control.
LAMB: Who would--do you say, for instance, would be the great leaders in your lifetime, or even that you've read in history? Who are your favorite leaders?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I think--I think in my own lifetime, growing up with FDR. I can remember back in the early '60s how exciting it was to--simply to be in the city with John Kennedy and to be a reporter. Of course, it was something quite different, and you--it was very hard not to--to--to catch the contagion, to maintain some distance, because he was r--you know, of your generation and it was very difficult to--to keep the cordon sanitaire between you and the--and the Kennedys.
I--I would not call him a g--a great president. He wasn't there long enough to--but I think probably--having read about Lincoln, I think probably Lincoln. And you hate to s--you hate to leave out Wilson, but sometimes there's something about Wilson that--that bothers me. He's sort of--he's kind of persnickety and fussy and, you know, overly Presbyterian. That sort of disqualifies him from being the great leader. But he was in his way, I think. But I th--I would say Lincoln and Roosevelt were the two that I would find.
LAMB: On the Lincoln front, your relationship from a family standpoint to all that. What--what's the Mudd connection--the Dr. Samuel Mudd connection?
Mr. MUDD: Well, he...
LAMB: And who was he, by the way?
Mr. MUDD: Yeah, but S--Sam Mudd--Samuel Alexander Mudd was a country doctor down in Charles County, south of Washington, DC, and he owned a few slaves, as most s--as many did. And he was a known s--s--Confederate sympathizer. So into this mix comes this Shakespearean actor, strikingly handsome, dashing, John Wilkes Booth, who is consumed by hatred for Lincoln, the North and the oppression of the Union and so forth. And he--he hatches a plan and enlists seven or eight, including John Surrat, Mary Surrat and I think Dr. Mudd. There is some contention about how--how close the enlistment was.
But in any event, the plan was--the original plan was that Booth was gonna--he needed horses because he wanted to kidnap Lincoln and abduct him either to Canada or to the South and then ransom him back for peace. So he needed horses. And during this period leading up to April 14th of 1865, he went about collecting horses. He'd ha--he'd been to Dr. Mudd's house down in Bryantown, in southern Maryland. My reading indicates that he had had a meal or two with Booth, Dr. Mudd had. And--so when the time came--as the--as the time drew closer, suddenly Booth decided, `No, it--it's too hard to kidnap, I'm gonna kill him.' And at that point, four of the so-called conspirators dropped off, including Dr. Mudd. Four stayed with him. The four that stayed with him were hanged. The four who said, `I don't want any part of any assassination,' got life imprisonment. And Dr. Mudd was sent off down to Shark Island, Dry Tortugas. And a yellow fever epidemic hit the prison and he was, you know, instrumental in--in conquering the epidemic.
Andrew Johnson gave him a pardon. His wife, Mrs. Mudd, persistently circulated at the White House petitions signed by many, many. And he--finally he came home, and he died a relatively young man from the ravages of the--of the--of the disease. He was--I'm not a direct descendant, I'm a collateral descendant, so he's an uncle about six, seven times removed.
LAMB: Is that house down near the place where John Wilkes Booth was killed and--is that hi--still his house?
Mr. MUDD: No. No. Booth--Booth was killed over in Virginia, the Garrett farm, across the--across the Potomac.
LAMB: It seems like it's close when you--when you...
Mr. MUDD: Well, it--yeah.
LAMB: ...take in the fact that...
Mr. MUDD: But--yeah, it's not--he was--he was killed in a--shot in a barn. He--he'd gotten across into Virginia. The--the Mudd house is near--in--near Surratsville, Bryantown, in Maryland, Charles County.
LAMB: Is that house still, in fact...
Mr. MUDD: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Is it...
Mr. MUDD: Yeah. It's a--it's--Samuel Mudd Society, and the house is open for--for tourists. And they have a little newsletter.
LAMB: Who maintains it? Who pays for it?
Mr. MUDD: Membership. Membership...
LAMB: Why do...
Mr. MUDD: ...of the Society.
LAMB: Why are people, all these years later, members of the Mudd Society, do you think?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I--I joined here recently simply because I thought I ought to. I--I've--I don't--one of the problems, Brian, was that wh--when the--when the Mudd family, the direct descendants of Dr. Mudd, were very active in petitioning the Congress for--for total exoneration, they kept thinking that I would--I ca--I couldn't help because when you're a member of the congressional galleries, you sign a pledge that you will not lobby or have no interest in--in pending legislation. So I've never--never joined in the lobbying and probably wouldn't.
I--I think the direct descendants of--of--think that Dr. Mudd is totally, totally innocent, but there--but there's some doubt about--there's no question that he was not a part of the assassination plot, but you can--you know what life was like after Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. There--there's just a cry of vengeance, you know, swell through the country. You could imagine what it must have been like in April 1865 when anybody was--within 100 miles of the assassination or any--the remotest connection to the assassination they wanted either hanged or jailed for life.
LAMB: In your book, your five historians--Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough, James McPherson, Richard White and Gordon Wood--why those five? And I must say that the--you look at--there are two of us, white men, those are five white men. Is there too much of that, in your view...
Mr. MUDD: Well, it...
LAMB: ...or what's your ofish--opinion? So much of history is determined by a man white.
Mr. MUDD: The--th--the fact is that after this book was published, we did a sixth interview with Jim Horton, who is a black professor at George Washington University, and his--his specialty is the northern free black, but beyond that, we talked about the whole scope of what life was like for the blacks and--and the role in history. Un--he's not in the book, but he was on the television series. But, no, I think--I think that we've come to realize that--that it's probably easier to do history through--through the records of--of white men because they left lots of diaries, they left artifacts that are--were salvageable. And the records of--of slaves were--were not as numerous and--and not as easy to find. But I think, slowly, that pendulum is swinging so that, I think, there's some rough equilibrium now.
LAMB: Stephen Ambrose told you he was a pacifist.
Mr. MUDD: Yeah. Wasn't that weird? I mean, I--I couldn't--I--I--I didn't know that about him, and h--here he is--here he is the--the leading spokesman of GI Joe and trench foot and grenades and wet feet and soggy uniforms and misery in--in the trenches, and he's a pacifist. He--I must say, to read the interview, he is in awe--he is in awe of the American soldier. There are passages in there which you just--to hear him talk about the--the--the ingenuity of the American soldier--he said, `You know, the British and the French and the--and the Russians, when they lost a tank, they'd just leave it, but an American kid, you know, he grew up stripping an automobile. They'd go in there and clean out those spark plugs, and they'd repair that t--tank tread, and in a couple hours, they'd have a tank running again.' He just loves the GIs.
And the--the passage--the one passage in there that I've--asked--people ask me of the favorite, and he says in the--in the spring of 1944, he says, `The worst spring in the history of the world, was killing all over the world: Japan, Russia. The sight of a dozen armed teen-age Russians or Japanese or Germans struck terror in the hearts of civilians, because once those teen-agers showed up, those Russians, the Germans and the Fr--and the Japanese, it meant rape, pillage, wanton destruction, looting.' He said, `Twelve armed American boys meant freedom, chocolate, liberation.' He says, `It's a great moment in American history.'
LAMB: This is one of these little facts I--I'd never seen it before. You--you had in the same interview that Harry Truman and Eisenhower--General Eisenhower's older brother, Arthur, were roommates in Kansas City at the turn of the century.
Mr. MUDD: I saw that. I saw that. And it--the other thing--the other thing that amazed me was that Harry Truman, in a memorandum, said he would be willing to run in 1948 as Ike's vice president, only--if only Ike would agree to take the Democratic presidential nomination. I'd never heard that before.
LAMB: But had you ever heard of...
Mr. MUDD: No. I...
LAMB: ...Arthur Eisenhower being Harry Truman's roommate?
Mr. MUDD: No. No. Did not know that either.
LAMB: And when it comes to the--back to the word `great,' David McCullough said that, `FDR, the great--the greatest of the 20th century.' And this is in your book. Stephen Ambrose said, `Ike--this is the best man this century produced, best president of the century.' You go through there, and you find e--all of these historians willing to say, `This was the--the Revolutionary War is the most important war in history,' all of us. What was your--what's your reaction when you hear that?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I--you know, that was interesting because I was, the other night, going through just re--refreshing my memory about what they'd said. E--each one of them--Wood thinks--Gordon Wood thinks the Revolutionary War was the--was the most important war in American history. Jim McPherson says, you know, the Civil War was because the Revolution left undone whether the country could survive or not, and it left undone the issue of slavery. McCullough thinks that World War I had the greatest impact on America in the 20th century. And, of course, Ambrose thinks World War II i--is--it was the greatest display of American ingenuity, bravery and--and selflessness of any nation in the history of the world.
So you have--I mean, I--that's understandable. It's--it's understandable that each man would--because they're so immersed in their field, would regard the central event of their period to be critical to the nation's formation.
LAMB: But they also said that--and I--I wrote it down--`History isn't history, and--and all history is distorted.'
Mr. MUDD: Yeah.
LAMB: And so when you read history and think about history, how do you go about it to protect yourself from falling in a trap where somebody's in love with this part of the...
Mr. MUDD: Well, what--what you do is you read as much--I mean, if--if you're--if you're reading, if you're preparing for a--a historical documentary and you're writing, you read as m--I mean, you do not accept one source. You read as many different sources as you can. And so much of that, as--as they've indicated, is distorted, not deliberately, but it--there is a distortion. I think the--the word `distortion' was--was used mainly because of--of the television. Television approaches history in quite a different way than these fo--five professors would because television depends on the--the f--the person. Television has a tough time doing events and movements. Television y--must attract an audience through the use of personalities, and that in itself is a distortion.
Richard White, who is the historian of the West from Stanford, in a really interesting passage says that his mother never quite understood what he did. His mother, he said, loves history and has a marvelous memory, but her memory of what happened is not exactly the way it happened. And his job, as a professional historian, is to puncture his mother's myths and, therefore, he does not--his--his--his profession is a mystery to his mother. And th--and that's probably the dichotomy that most people have with history. People--Americans, l--in many respects, love history, but they love history the way they remember it and not necessarily the way it really was.
LAMB: This is a bit off the subject, but I--it triggered my memory when I saw your reference to the Marlboro Man.
Mr. MUDD: Yeah.
LAMB: Why did you ask that question of Richard West?
Mr. MUDD: Well, we were talking about icons of the West. There was--there's--there's the log cabin, and there's Buffalo Bill, and there's the Indian scout, and--and then toward the end of the 19th century, there was the cowboy. And West makes the--Richard White, rather, makes the--makes the point that the cowboy was really the employee of a corporation; that he was a wage-earner. And while he, you know, chased cows, the whole notion of the cowboy out free and un--un--an unbounded spirit, actually he was a--a corporate employee because by the late 19th century, corporations owned huge chunks of American land and--and--and cattle herds. And so I simply asked be--be--the Marlboro question because he became the 20th century advertising--advertising version of the cowboy.
LAMB: And I--the reason I say it was off the subject, I don't know if you've seen the ads that they've taken out in the West. I saw it in Portland, Oregon--a huge billboard, and you see the Marlboro Man up there in silhouette and then the line is it--on the--on the ad is, `I miss my lung, Bob.' So they've taken the Marlboro...
Mr. MUDD: Sure.
LAMB: ...Man image and reversed it.
Mr. MUDD: Well, it--but wh--I reminded Professor White that while the Marlboro Man was the 20th century, that it--it was the--the very corporation that employed him, the tobacco companies, he was finally done in because the Mar--that model for the Marlboro Man lost his lung to cancer.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Mr. MUDD: Yes, I do.
LAMB: How big?
Mr. MUDD: Have--have four children. They're--I mean, they're three men and a woman by now, and we have 10 grandchildren and they're scattered about. The oldest boy lives in Hong Kong, works for GE Capital.
LAMB: How old are they now?
Mr. MUDD: Well, Daniel is going to be 41. He's the--he's the eldest. Then there's Maria, and she writes--she--they're all married with children. And Daniel is--is the president of GE Capital in Asia. And Maria is married to her older brother's best friend, Mike Ruth. And they live out in a little town near Leesburg, Virginia, and she writes children's stories. And Jonathan recently moved back from San Francisco, lives in Washington now, and he's director of public policy for The Gap Corporation. And Matthew, the youngest, lives in nearby Virginia, and he works for his father-in-law with a company called TNS, Transaction Network Services, which is a--is a--is a satellite transmission of--of electronic data.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
Mr. MUDD: Met her in Richmond, Virginia. She's a native of Richmond. And I had left to come back up to Washington to work, and she returned from--from Europe, where she'd been with the embassy in Rome. And we met on a--just a--on a date in Washing--in Richmond, married in 1957.
LAMB: Are you sad or glad that your anchorman days were over? I don't know how many years ago. How long ago did--did you leave network television?
Mr. MUDD: I left in '87--'87.
LAMB: So that's 12 years ago. You glad it's over? Or would you have liked to have stayed on?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I--no. I--you know, I--things have changed so much, Brian. Priorities are not the same. What you try to do is not the same. The audience you try to reach is different. The kind of stories that they use now are different. It's--and, no, I--I don't think--I don't think I w--would go back, could go back and would be happy going back. I think it's all--I mean, I've--I've had a marvelous life with the networks, ups and downs, mostly ups, and was privileged to be a part of a--of, you know, a splendid news organization, CBS. You know, when you--when you went somewhere with CBS, you felt like you were the New York Yankees arriving because you--you knew there wasn't anybody any better.
And we were awfully good; I mean, had an awful lot of good people. And w--and we knew what we were doing, and we knew what was news and what wasn't. And maybe we had too much hubris, I don't know. But, in any event, I think--I think it would be very difficult to go back. So to answer your question, no, I'm not sad about it.
LAMB: When did you enjoy it the most? What years?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I think--I think with CBS in the--in between--what was really a lot of fun for me was in the '60s getting to know the Congress, and I got to know the Congress. I was--I was--started up there in '61 or '2, and it was during the civil rights filibuster of '64 that I did around-the-clock reporting for CBS. And you got to know, really, how Senate staffs work, committee staffs. You know, the vanity of senators, how some senators would be--be fearful of giving a speech; that no one would attend. So they had their press secretaries call around and make sure that there were senators on the floor. And you know about that as well as I do, Brian. You--you were on the Hill, weren't you?
So that was the period--it was--it was the most educational, most enlightening and it--and I felt c--confident about being up there because I knew--I knew--I knew what I was doing. That's one of the shortcomings of television. You--you're moved around so much that you never really get into a subject, and y--and a lot of stuff can go by you or people can put stuff over on you. And I worked very hard to make sure that didn't happen.
LAMB: How--what role did history play then for you, as you were reporting on the Congress?
Mr. MUDD: Well, it--it--because the--the Congress itself is very much aware of precedent and stare decisis and what had gone before and rulings and the speaker this and the committee that and, `We can't do that because back in 18'--it--it's with you all the time. And I made a lot of use out of the Senate library, and they're very helpful to reporters, flattered when they come by and ask questions. And I think--I think--I think most people on the Hill are aware of history. I know--I know the ones--the--the staff people that I got to know and trust were very conscious of history.
So it--it--you f--you found yourself--y--you found yourself writing and reporting in such a way as to reflect that because most of those senators--you know, you take Russell and McClellan and--and Allender and Javits and Stiles Bridges and Burke Hickenlooper--all those guys knew history, you know, and they loved it. And they loved the--the--just the--the knowledge that they were--they were carrying on great traditions of a democratic society.
LAMB: You covered a lot of the civil rights...
Mr. MUDD: I did. I did.
Mr. MUDD: In Washington. In Washington.
LAMB: And when you think back on that, what were the turning points on the civil rights bill? What was there--'57 and '64? Did you cover both of them?
Mr. MUDD: Not '57; '64, '64. The turning point was Dirksen, Everett Dirksen, who was the minority leader. And in order to get that bill through, the civil rights bill of '64, they needed enough Republican votes. And he held out until he could put together a coalition that was, in effect, a--a tradeoff with--with the--the business elements of the Republican Party. And George Aiken of Vermont was very nervous about the--the--the tourist industry in Vermont would be somehow damaged by the--by some of the provisions of the civil rights bill that would require little tourist homes of t--of two and three beds to adhere to a new federal law and would require paperwork and bureaucracy.
So there were compromises made, and once those compromises were made, then Dirksen came around. And within--within a week or two, the bill had passed. They had to let everybody have their say. And everybody--what was s--Morris Udall's ide--everything that could have been said was said, but not everybody had said it. So that's how the filibuster took as long as it did.
LAMB: In--in the book "Great Minds of History," in--in interviewing Richard White, he talks a lot about myths.
Mr. MUDD: Yeah.
LAMB: I think it was him. I want to...
Mr. MUDD: Yeah, it was. Yeah. Right.
LAMB: ...make sure we get the one right, yeah. And this--and I wondered, are there many myths that came out of the period you were reporting on Capitol Hill? I mean, you--you mentioned Everett Dirksen. You bring his name up to people that remember him.
Mr. MUDD: Yeah.
LAMB: Was he mythical in any way?
Mr. MUDD: I--no, I wouldn't call Everett Dirksen mythical. I think probably you need some time to separate yourself from Dirksen before he becomes mythical. I mean, Daniel Webster might be mythical. John C. Calhoun might be mythical. La Follette may be--may be taking on mythical proportions.
Mr. MUDD: Y--I'd--a myth, it seems to me, is--is a positive thing. I don't think McCarthy's the--what McCarthy has left behind is particularly positive. I think it's--it's--in fact, it's--you know, it's a f--it's a black cloud that still hangs over the Senate. It took quite a while for the Senate to come around.
LAMB: Well, let me ask you this then. You talk about myths. People often say, `Eh, they don't make 'em like they used to.' And when you sit out where you do, looking back at this Congress now and this Senate, is that true, they don't make 'em like they used to?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I d--I haven't covered the Senate on any kind of regular basis in some time, but I think--I think my experience is prob--they don't. And I think one of the reasons is because of--of--of television; that prior to the arrival of television and the big media--and I don't mean to single out television, but just the big media, members of the House and Senate f--felt that their first obligation was to the business at hand, the legislation. But with the arrival of television and the big media, a senator, instead of remaining on the job and paying attention to his legislative duties, would be out on the steps of the Capitol with a two-minute soundbite, and the--the whole--the whole focus of--of public office was, it seemed to me, not so much--not so much doing what you were sent to do, but just getting re-elected and telling people that you were up here doing what you were supposed to do, just that--that--that pressure to get on the tube to report back home before the rest did.
And so the whole system now is geared for soundbites, for quick analysis. And it seems to me that the whole tradition of great oratory and speeches and--and minds actually being changed on the Senate floor, I think that's past because everybody who has anything to say has already said it before they come to the Senate. They've said it--they've said it in the--in the TV gallery. They've--they've told their local reporter from Atlanta. Then they go into the Senate and say it, and--and it--it--it loses its effect.
LAMB: You cite--or David McCullough cites Samuel Eliot Morrison in his book as saying that, `The decline of oratory came when we stopped studying Latin.' Would you agree with that?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I...
LAMB: What's the relationship?
Mr. MUDD: Well, the relationship is if you--if you study Latin, you know--you have a--you--inevitably, you will have a reverence and a knowledge of words and the use of words and where they come from, and you have a respect for words and you love to use words because once you know Latin, I mean, it unlocks everything for you. He also goes on--McCullough also goes on to quote E.M. Forster, "Aspects of the Novel," talk about narrative history. And Forster says, `If you say the king died and then the queen died, that's a sequence of events. But if you say the king died and the queen then died of grief, that's a story.'
LAMB: Other little things I wanted to ask you about. Gordon Wood--where is he based, by the way?
Mr. MUDD: He's at Brown University.
LAMB: `General Eisenhower comes closest to general--or to George Washington as our greatest either person or figure in history.' You agree with that?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I think what--what Gordon Woods said was that--that neither--neither Washington nor Eisenhower was a great tactical or strategic general; that they--their--their great attributes were political. They were--they shared this m--this marvelous ability to make disparate elements work together. In the case of Washington, it was--it was getting the North and the South to work together against a common--common enemy. In the case of Eisenhower, it was getting the British and the Americans to work together against a common enemy. But their--their attributes, I think, were political rather than military.
LAMB: And then the draft dodgers. And can you call Grover Cleveland and John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan great when they dodged the draft?
Mr. MUDD: Well, I--maybe the--maybe I was guilty of--of--of something that--that I think all of us are guilty of, and that's using contemporary standards to judge the actions of people in the past. I mean, that's what's happening to Jefferson now. We're--we're applying our racial views of--of the late 20th century to slaveholders in the 18th century. In the case of--it was the Roosevelts, Teddy Roosevelt's father and grandfather, who bought a substitute and sent the substitute to the Union Army. You could do that, and that was acceptable--socially acceptable if you had the money to buy a substitute.
And I used in the--I said, `So they were draft dodgers,' and that's a contemporary term. They were not called draft dodgers then. It was--it was quite a--a legal way to avoid serving. So I think it--it was a--a misuse of a contemporary term against something that had happened in another--in another era.
LAMB: What do you think makes a good historian?
Mr. MUDD: Somebody who can--who can tell a good story; I think that more than anything else. There are other attributes: accuracy, open-mindedness, a willingness to accept criticism, a willingness to revise what you thought had happened when new documents come available. But I think, basically--I think, basically, great historians revel in good stories. And, I mean, I--history's just loaded with good stories, marvelous stories.
LAMB: Do you have a favorite historian?
Mr. MUDD: Shelby Foote.
Mr. MUDD: Well, because he--he tells such terrific stories. He--and he's--he is a--he--he b--he began as a novelist, and he's written marvelous novels. And his novel called "Shiloh" is just--just a superlative piece of writing. But then his life's work was just a magnificent three-volume history of the Civil War. And I think probably he would be--be my favorite. He's also a--a--a--a tough, funny, interesting fellow.
LAMB: After, whatever it is, five, six years of The History Channel, what grade would you give them? I know they pay you some money these days, but how would you grade the job they're able to do on television with history?
Mr. MUDD: Well, one of--for a young company starting off, which has no--has yet to--to get any in-house production, most of The History Channel programs we do are from outside production companies. So there is--there is not the--the--you don't have the close supervision that you would if the--if the shows were being produced in your company. Mo--many of them are, particularly on A&E. But because of that, I think--I think the grade could be higher and will get higher as we begin to produce our own. I--I think it would be a good strong B right now.
LAMB: And what do you get the most response out of when you do a program?
Mr. MUDD: Oh, I think the most response comes from World War II because the audience--the audience for The History Channel, mostly men--or a lot of men between the ages of 45 and 70, and the--the great experience of their life was World War II.
LAMB: Our guest has been Roger Mudd, and this is what the book looks like. It's a series of five interviews with Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough, James McPherson, Richard White and Gordon Wood put out by American Heritage called "Great Minds of History." Thank you very much.
Mr. MUDD: It's a pleasure, Brian.
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