BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Reese Schonfeld, why did you write "Me and Ted Against the World"?
Mr. REESE SCHONFELD, AUTHOR, "ME AND TED AGAINST THE WORLD": I figured it was time to tell my side of the story. The--a couple of guys were going to write other books. As a matter of fact, they called me. They wanted--Peter Arnett wanted to interview me for a b--he--book he was doing with another fellow. And I thought, `Gee, if these guys are going to be writing books,' and they weren't even there at the start, `it's time for me to get out the record once and for all.' And I tell you, I hated doing it, as I say in the book. I think he who can, does, and he who can't, writes about it. And I'm still looking for some way to get back in this business, but I wrote it anyway and I'll have to take my chances.
LAMB: Why do you want back in the business?
Mr. SCHONFELD: 'Cause I don't--I don't think news is being done in the right way. It's certainly not my dream of where CNN should have wound up now, and I'd li--I'd like to have another chance in trying to make it happen different.
LAMB: Where--where did it all start?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, it started, I guess, with Gerry Levin, when he was running HBO. He called over one day and said they'd like to consider doing a 24-hour news network, and I was running the only independent news company in America. And he asked if we'd sell to him. And I said, `I'd love to,' and we talked about it for awhile. Then I took it to my board, and my board were all broadcasters. And they just said, `No way.' Broadca--`cable is the enemy. We will not help cable. We will not let them use any of our material.' And...
LAMB: What was the board you're talking about?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, it was--was a company called Independent Television News Association. All the guys in it either were or represented independent television station owners, the Metromedias of tho--those days, the Chicago Tribune Company. And it was particularly Metromedia regarded the cable industry with mortal fear. And I—the guy got up there and just said, `I am not let going to let them pee on my grave with my material.' And I--I--you know, 9-to-0 the board votes. And so I go back and tell that to--to Gerry and to the other people I'm working with, and for a little bit, they think about doing it themselves. And they talk with me and I give them consultants and this and that. And then the point man, the guy I'm working with, one day gets a call from Gerry early in the morning, and Gerry says, `I've just stepped out of the shower and I always get my best thoughts in the shower, and we're not going to do this.' Fifteen years later, the point man's wife tells me this story and says, `If I were Gerry Levin, I'd never take a shower again.'
LAMB: What year was this?
Mr. SCHONFELD: This was '77, maybe early '78.
LAMB: You were living where?
Mr. SCHONFELD: In New York. Ju--whole--the group produced out of New York, and I was commuting down here to Washington. Of course, we had all of about eight, nine people working for us, and we had two major bureaus, New York and Washington. And the rest of the world, we covered either with news agencies or individual television stations who became corresponding stations, who would take our material and give us access to theirs in return. It was kind of like The Associated Press. That's who we modeled ourself after. It was not-for-profit, and the members were the people who owned the stations. And a lot of network stations learned that we could deliver material faster than the networks. And these are network-affiliated. And so they would help us. We covered--we had some of the best stations in the US in those days, who would be our partners, just because we were willing to give them material that the networks always held back for their prime time--you know, for their 7:00 main news program.
LAMB: Throughout your book, there's--from time to time, you go off on a little tangent about the networks. First of all, what are the networks?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, in--in my standard then, the networks were just the big three--NBC, CBS and ABC. And in those days, they were the only way of getting national news or any kind of national programming. They controlled--they really controlled the eyeballs of everybody in the United States. You saw what they showed you, and if you didn't like it, there was no place else to go.
LAMB: But you show in your book from time to time a real irritation with them as people and what--the way they treated you.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, they treated me and the other independent stations, in general, as upstarts, poor relations, trying to chisel our way in on their business. They--there was no--no atmosphere of courtesy involved. We weren't even h--h--honorable competitors. We were guys that they wanted to stamp into the ground, and that's good. I mean, if you're a--if--if you believe in the little guy and you like being David against Goliath, there's no better spur than having these big guys trying to shove--shove you out of the business.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Mr. SCHONFELD: I grew up in Newark--Newark, New Jersey, which is a--then a ci--city in, you know, the shadow of New York. And you're always an underdog when you come from Newark 'cause you look over at the other side of the river, and that--those are the big guys.
LAMB: What was your family like?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, it was a typical, I guess, middle-class Jewish family. We were comfortable--comfortable enough. Could never plead poverty. Lived in a--when I was grow up--grow up--and we lived in a very, very mixed neighborhood, the kind of neighborhood you rarely see these days. And, you know, there were people on the block where I lived who--this is the '30's--who--Ger--of German descent who put on Bund uniforms and marched up to the parks and, you know, root for Hitler. And then there were also people on the block of--of British descent who would put out British flags on--on--on their days. And, you know, it was pretty conservative, though.
I can remember the kids on the block in the 1936 election, you know, chanting, you know, `Rah, rah, rah, land in the right--in the White House, rah, rah, Roosevelt's in the outhouse, ha, ha, ha.' And it was--you know, we were kids. Everybody was politically aware. Everybody knew what side you were on. There were real issues. So you grew up with politics. That was part of your life.
And--and the city itself of Newark was an old-fashioned medi—machine kind of city. And so you grew up with that knowledge of local politics, where elections were rigged and stolen and votes--you know, y--the guy who--who--who counted the votes always made sure he won. You know, this--this ward and that ward would suddenly appear with 3,000 extra votes and th--this guy would become mayor.
It--it was a wonderful way to learn what real life was about. And again, you know, for some reason, I guess Newark always made you feel like you were being kicked around by somebody or other.
LAMB: Your mom and dad did what?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, my mom, wo--you know, she was--she was--she was at home with--I had a brother and a sister and she just--always with us. And my father was a partner in a glass company in--in downtown New York, an old company been in business for--s--well, it started in 1847. And they manufactured mirrors and scientific glass, and they sold all sorts of plain glass and that kind of stuff. It was a good business. And he did reasonably well. It was tough during the Depression supporting his own family, my mother's family, everyone else, because he was the guy who had the job and the income and—but after that--after--you know, when the war came and people were doing well, it was just very comfortable. I went to good schools. All my brothers and sisters--brother and sister did, too. So it's—but everywhere you went, at least if you were my age, you remember the Depression, you remember the hard times. And I was always the anti-guy at--you know, when I went to college in a very liberal era, I was an archconservative. It, you know, just--I was--I was--I guess I'm a contrarian. I'm always going to be on the other side, if I can do it.
LAMB: Are you still an archconservative?
Mr. SCHONFELD: No. I consider myself as purely--as--as pure a newsman as--as there can be, and I'll go where the story takes me and I'd always like to put my--put some angle on the story that gives it originality, so there is a point of view, and it's just as likely to be a conservative point of view as a liberal point of view. But it's got to be different from what the other guys are saying.
LAMB: Dartmouth, Columbia, Harvard. What--what year did you get out of Dartmouth?
Mr. SCHONFELD: '53.
LAMB: What did you study?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Government, political science.
LAMB: Where did you go after that?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Went to Harvard for about--to Harvard Law School, where I managed to get kicked out in about eight, nine months. All my life I--I--I was a gambler, loved to play cards. And I--at Harvard, I--I didn't go to too many classes, which isn't unusual. People at Harvard Law School, there are some people who never go to class and do very well. They just read all the books and buy lecture notes, and they wind up doing very well. But I made the great mistake of telling a guy I thought was a friend of mine, a teaching assistant, about how I was--well, he knew because he and I were hanging out together and he felt that he had to tell the dean about it. And the dean was Dean Griswold, who later became solicitor general of the United States.
And the--the dean was a very sober--literally a prohibitionist, you couldn't get a drink at his house and very puritanical. And he despised the thought that somebody could get out of Harvard without going to class and somebody could gamble at Harvard, you know. He even sent the vice dean over to raid my--my--my dorm room to see if I was running roulette wheels and gambling there. But in--in any event, d--I didn't--I didn't even finish the first year. He sent me home over spring vacation. But, you know, I g--Ted got kicked out of Brown and I got kicked out of Harvard Law School, and we managed to find some rehabilitation at CNN.
LAMB: Ted, meaning Ted Turner.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Ted Turner.
LAMB: And this is titled "Me and Ted Against the World: CNN, The Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN." Where did you get the idea for the title?
Mr. SCHONFELD: I was talking to one of the people who used to work for me at CNN, a woman named Chris Chase, a great writer herself who writes biographies, and we were just talking and the words came tumbling out of her mouth, I think, and I said, `That's the title.' Or they came tumbling out of my mouth and she said, `That's the title.' And all of a sudden, that was the title for the book...
Mr. SCHONFELD: ...because it was that. It was us. Ted didn't like the networks in those days. I didn't like them. We were fighting with AT&T because they were, again, on the side of the big guys. We had to--we had to beat them. The White House didn't want to let us in to the--to--to cover the story. So everybody--we had--we're taking on the--President Reagan, AT&T, the--the--the networks and the pre--the--the establishment press. You know, it--this thing couldn't be done. And if it could be done, we were the wrong guys to do it. And it was going to be amateurish and it would look awful. And all—I loved it. Everybody was against us, and we had to do it together and it was me and Ted against the world. And maybe in fairness, it should have been Ted and me, but he's taken first billing so long, I thought I'd take it on the book.
LAMB: How long were you at CNN?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Three years.
LAMB: I--I want to read you a paragraph that you wrote, you'll be
very familiar with it. It comes near the end of the book, but after reading the book, this just seemed to me to be very strong and I want to ask you to explain it. This is you writing: `I am the creator of CNN as it appears on the air. I designed CNN's content, format and schedule. I recognized the promises--the promise of live news. I hired the executives who ran CNN for a generation. I hired the anchors and reporters. I originated the CNN look. I selected the technical equipment. I designed and purchased our video and transportation network.' I delivered--I'm sorry--`I developed and purchased our computerized newsroom. I selected and leased sites of the CNN bureaus. I established the video journalist system. I leased the CNN live truck. And I devised a so far union-proof employment system. In 1979, I knew where news was going. I was a news professional.' It seemed like you were really--this is an important paragraph in this book. Why did you need to say that?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, 'cause I think I was trying--because there is a paragraph there, too, where I say what Ted did, and I think I had to differentiate my role from Ted's, 'cause Ted had an enormous role, but it wasn't in the editorial part, the building of the business itself. For him, he was building the empire in which this would be one jewel. He was cable before cable was cool. He h--I--I can say it--I can say it more simply now by just saying he knew cable and I knew news and it was a perfect combination, because that was what you had to have to make it work.
Part of wh--I didn't say fr--part of the things that were against us, part of that world were the unions. For years, they had dominated the industry and there was no way you would be able to do 24-hour news if you had to pay union wages and have crews that have too many people on it and, you know, every time an anchor--a--a man appeared on camera, he got a $75 appearance fee or something and that--that kind of stuff. It was that kind of a setup that made competition impossible. So the networks never thought that system--fought the system. They could pay those rates and that was a classic bar at a competition between the high rates that you had to pay for little la--lines and to get your video around and the high rates the employer--the employees demanded by union rules. No one could have competed with them. And so we had to go in and fight with that. And we had a whole new system.
When I came down there, film was still being used to cover news. It was waning, but it was still being there. And I--I wouldn't permit a piece of film equipment in the place. We were going to be taped because that was the way tape was going. And we created, as it says there, the first computerized newsroom, probably the first computerized part of any business, a full business. And we just did it--it was--it's like Orson Welles. When he went out to Hollywood--this is what he said--it wasn't as if he was such a genius, but all the technologies that had been developed that the studios wouldn't put on 'cause they had too much money invested in the old technology, we were starting fresh. We could start with everything that was new, and that made CNN.
LAMB: How many people watch CNN?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Now? Oh, the average may be 300,000 to 350,000 people watch it an hour.
LAMB: An hour?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah. Every hour. On an average hour, an average 15 minutes. Yeah.
LAMB: How many people watch it in a day on a cumulative basis?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, on a monthly cum (short for cumulative), which is the best that I could give you, they say they cum (short for cumulative) about 30 percent. So it's 30 percent of 80 million. So it means...
LAMB: Eighty million homes.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah, h--h--homes. Yeah, 24 million homes will be watching CNN for six minutes at least once a month.
LAMB: What do you think of those numbers?
Mr. SCHONFELD: I think they're a disgrace. I think that you're sh--that certainly you should have more than half the people in the country looking at you for s--for six minutes. That's something we so--you should be so important that no one should be able to spend a whole month without catching you at--at one time or another. And as for the--the size of the audience, when I left CNN, we had one rating point in the universe of about 15 million, which meant we had 150,000 people watching us back in 1982. The cable universe has multiplied now six tim--five times, and they only have twice as many people watching it. That doesn't work. Something's wrong.
LAMB: What happened?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, I think they got--I think they got self-satisfied. We--by the time I left, we were getting rave reviews. We had this rating which was higher than we'd ever had before, this one rating. And people thought, `It must be going good, let's leave it the way it is.' And that's always very dangerous. And we started news at 6 AM. We were the first people to ever do it and people didn't believe anybody would watch. When I got the first ratings in that spring and winter of '82, we were beating two of the three networks. In homes where we appeared, we were beating CBS or NBC—at that time, "Good Morning America" was the leader--because we started at 6 and the people would stay with us until 9:00 in the morning. Just as I was leaving, a month after I got fired, ABC--ABC and NBC bring their news down to 6--they start at 6. CBS did it in the--September of that year. They didn't even make the elementary move of saying, `Let's move ours to 5 if they're going to 6.' And when you stay there--if you're ahead and other people are moving to catch up, you better keep moving on. 'Cause if you stay the same, they're going to catch up and maybe pass you.
LAMB: Now since this book has been out and you've been on the book tour, what are the things that you find people bring up the most often about what's in this book?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, Ted--questions about Ted. I mean, Ted is still the star and they like to know about him. And then the--there are a lot of questions about, am I just doing this to get back, is it like sour grapes? And I try to make it clear, I don't--first, I--I think I treat Ted very well in the book. I'm not--I--I know I do that.
And for the rest, no. I--I'm disappointed in CNN. It hasn't gone where I wanted it to go and I--my reason to do the book is I didn't want to have a mythology left behind that said this is the way you've got to do 24-hour news and this is where it's going to wind up, with so much news talk, which is where you're talking about news rather than showing news. CNN was created to show news, to show it warts and all in a way--if you have--if--if you have somebody with a mop walking across the screen, I didn't care about that, because that was what washappening in the newsroom, and it could work.
The idea--the--there were two basic ideas, and they sound very highfalutin. If this was a French television station, I'd be the darling of it right now 'cause I'm going to use two--two words. One is a Frank Zappa word, which is randomonium, which is like the chaos theory. I believe the world is constantly in chaos. There are things happening in it all day long, all over. And mo--mostly, it's just happening. There aren't cause and effect to everything that happens in the world. And if we could cover that and be live with that from all over the world, all day long, and then for two hours, from 8 to 10 at night, we had "Prime News 120" and that was going to take all the news we gathered all day and put it in some kind of context and make a--give it--give some order to this disorderly world, and then follow that with a program from 10 to 11. We're going to pick the most important story which would have been developed and have one guy sitting in that studio, or woman--and it was a woman, to talk to the lead players in that story and then take calls from people. First national call-in show and--and let the people talk to the people who are part of the story.
And I--I thought that was kind of the perfect allover schedule, and it worked also for another key reason. The news is often not very interesting. But, no one knows when the most interesting thing in the world is going to happen, and if we keep moving from story to story and keep telling them--we had an issue with The New York Times, where The New York Times was--this is before we got on the air--was putting down the idea of CNN. And I said we were going to be live, and their editor said, `Well, aren't you going to cover an awful lot of one-alarm fires?' And the answer was simple, `Yeah, until the fire's over, how do you know whether it's a one-alarm fire until the fire that burns down Chicago?' And that--I wanted that feeling.
And then the second idea was what the French would now call deconstructionism, where you show the process of doing the things. News is certainly not always interesting, but the process of getting the news is very interesting and if you made the process of gathering, if you showed that, if you had this open newsroom which we created there where you could see everybody and see them working. And if you turned your assignment editors, which we did in the beginning, really into tellers of stories--`What are you going to be going after? What--what--what are your crews doing now? What's on your list?' People could stay with you all day long just to find out whether you delivered on what you promised. You were going to give them something at 8:30. Did you have it by 11 or didn't you have it at all? I was trying to give people reasons to stay with CNN, to watch it, to get involved both ways, one, in what was happening all over the world, and two, what was happening in our own shop. If I had been there long enough, I hope I would have created characters who would have become important to people that would like--you know, `Will Joe get this story? Can Samantha come up with that?' And, you know, with that kind of thing, maybe you could have had four rating points, rather than the .4's they have now.
LAMB: You were fired over a woman named Sandy Freeman. What's the story?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, it was over Sandy and over Pat Buchanan. I s--I--I'd hired Sandy. I'd hired her because Wicker wrote a terrific column written about her. I remember, he--she asked Teddy Kennedy--when Teddy Kennedy was running against Carter in the '80 primaries--he did an interview with her, she--softball interview. She's just this, you know, kind of softball soft woman on a local news station in Chicago, WLS, and it was just a soft interview. And she asked him about the Joan Factor. And the Joan Factor was that he—at that time, he hadn't been treating--people thought he might not have been treating his wife all that well. And his stock answer was, `Well, Joan's sick. She's been doing this, she's been doing that.' And she wouldn't let him off the hook. She stayed with him for eight, 10, 12 minutes, all the way and he walked off furious at her, angry, and Wicker wrote a column about it. `She had more guts than any other of these so-called news professionals.'
So I--we called her in, I looked at that Kennedy tape, and she was terrific. She was dogging--so we--we hired her on the basis of her--what looked like the--the edge and the ur--the urge. But it turned out that she really liked soft interviews. She liked to interview stars and celebrities, and she didn't much like playing hardball with people and she didn't--I thought she was the best interviewer of ordinary human beings, just people that had stories to tell that I've ever seen, you know, in--in Oprah's league with that. But she didn't like doing that either.
So after two y--two years, and she--and she wasn't careful, you know, sometimes in picking up on what her guests said, and we had a couple of complaints from people. I just thought it was time for her to leave and I let her go. Her husband w--her husband-to-be was her agent, and he got to Ted and he was con--he convinced Ted that she should stay.
But in the meantime to replace her, I had hired Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden, who were down on WRC radio, in a--in a brand new format that we called "Crossfire" on--you know, the title came from the--our PR man, I wrote `On the left, and on the right and tonight in the middle--you know, in the center is'--and Ted didn't like that. He called them--he identified them as my turkeys and we had a pretty big battle over that. And he--he--he didn't even--if they hadn't had a contract, they would--with me, they would not have gotten the job. Ted said he was going to pay them off. They said they were going to go to court anyway because I promised them this time--prime-time hour and they settled on a compromise where Ted put them on originally at 11:30 and then he moved them o--back down to 7:30, where--where they are to this day. And the closest Ted ever came to an apology was one day I was at lunch and--a couple of years later and he walked up to me and he said, `"Crossfire" is our number one sta--our number one on the network,' and then he turned around and walked away from me. But I thought coming from Ted, that was--that was OK and really quite gracious.
He--it was just--he was conned. Ted didn't know much about the broadcasting--the way broadcasting really works. You know, for anybody who's in the business, you know that listening to agents is one of the things that is nothing you should really do, 'cause agents have their own interests always. But--so that was tough. I thought w--I thought I was just beginning to get it right. More importantly, I thought CNN was just beginning to get it right. And maybe that's why I wrote the book because if they had--if we'd progressed that way, I think CNN would be different. I think world news would be somewhat different than it is now. We were just on the way.
LAMB: In your book, you name names and you tell stories about people by name. Did you think that through and were you worried that you could go too far?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah. I was worried that I could go too far, but--and I--and I tried very much not to. I mean, this is not a tell-all book. It's a tell-something book and maybe tell only a quarter of what you know book. I mean, there are--you know, there are--there are lots of other stories. I put in stories that I thought defined character and were important to the news process. I didn't throw in gossip for gossip's sake, I don't think, anywhere in the book.
LAMB: You tell a story about Ted Turner in a room one time with all men and one woman.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Oh, yeah, that was...
LAMB: What--what is--what was the--what was the scene?
Mr. SCHONFELD: I--i--i--I--I recall this is when he was--it was even before CNN. This was when he was selling advertising for TBS. And he--Ted, despite his bravado is not the most secure person in the world. And he sometimes does outrageous things, I think, out of a sense of not being in control. This woman represented one of the largest advertising accounts in the world. She was very powerful and very important. Her father was a distinguished broadcaster himself, and when Ted was talking to her or approached her, he grabbed her by the chest and everybody stopped. And sh--the--it was very strange. Ted himself afterwards was somewhat abashed. But that--that company never bought a bit of advertising from Ted. And I think of that in connection with other stories where Ted is not in control where he has a boss in the room. He will do an outrageous thing just to prove how much power he has, no matter--you may be his boss, you may be more powerful than he is, but he will not lie down to you. He will do something far more than he would do to somebody ordinarily, just because that person has great power over him.
LAMB: You say that he promised the cable people that he would cover them favorably on the network.
Mr. SCHONFELD: This was at a meeting with the Cox people. We were talking in the assembled--Cox general manager--and Cox is a very important cable company--and he was trying to sell them. And he said--at the end of the sale, after making all the pitches he could, he said, `Remember, we're always going to be on your side. We are cable. You are cable. And when issues come up'--and I'm saying it more clear than he did--but he said, `We will always be on your side.' And I followed that. I had to get up after that and say--just to confirm our news integrity, and I j--I just said that, `Look, we will always be on your side when you're in the right. But we're going to play everything fair and square down the middle. We're not going to--we're not going to be on anybody's side permanently.'
LAMB: You tell a story that he ordered up coverage of himself testifying before Congress, and you got crosswise with him on this.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah. I--it was just a--another piece about, `Oh, too much violence on--on television. What can we do about it?' And it was not the most important hearing in the world. And he--he'd called me from Washington late at night, as I say, slurring his words a little bit, and suddenly he was--he wanted that live coverage all of a sudden. And I--I made the mistake of saying to him, `I don't think it can be done. It's too late. Let's forget it.' And I called the people in Washington who were working for me and said, `Make sure it can't be done.'
He called--but he called them, and they called special people to come in early in the morning, and they put in a special line to the con—to the hearing room so that they could have him up there. And I was flying up to New York or Washington that day, so I d--I wasn't aware of it till I landed that--that morning. And that was a morning where there was a very important moment. The Brink's robbery had occurred in Westchester the day before, and this was the last act of violence by the left--radical left in the US. And they'd killed two or three cops, they'd stolen millions of dollars. And at the time, the night before, nobody'd known whether that was John Dillinger or what it was.
By the next morning, it was clear that it was a political act; that a lot of the people who did it were relatively famous political activists, and it was a major story. And Mary Alice Williams, who was then running our New York bureau, was trying to get on the air to tell that story, and the guy and our bureau chief in Washington was just refusing to let her get on the air because he had been ordered by Ted to keep this hearing up until whenever it la--whenever it ended. And when I got off the plane, I--I called him and said, `Take--take it down.' He said, `Well, Ted said.' And I said, `I'm your boss. I'll take the heat. Take the hearing down.' And Mary Alice got up, and she wa--she was able to tell the story and run it through the rest of the day as developments occurred and wh--where it wound up.
But it was just--a lot of this was a question of who was in control of the network. Was it Ted, or was it me? And I thought and our deal was--we shook hands on it--that I would control format, content and personnel; Ted would control business and the advertising and public relations and everything else. I mean, Ted is a--he's a--he's a one-man business machine. And it was at moments like this where he decided that he could go on the air, tha--or what went on the air that I ha--that I felt I had to stand up for myself and--and for the whole business.
LAMB: Jump from '82 to some point in the '90s when you either tried to get back into CNN or they invited you back. What were the circumstances there?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well--well, there--there are two different--in '92, just when I was beginning work on the Food Network, Ted sought me out at a Kate's dinner, big cable event, and offered me the job back. And I told him...
LAMB: In '92.
Mr. SCHONFELD: '92, this is September.
LAMB: Ten years after he fired you.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah. And I told him that I had just shaken hands with a couple of people at the jour--at the Providence Journal, who were partners in the Food Network. They had known that Ted was looking for me--I didn't know that--and they rushed over to my table and said, `Let's do the deal right now.' And we--and we shook hands on the deal, and half an hour later, Ted caught up to me. And I told him I couldn't; that I'd given my word to these guys. And it was an easy way out. I would have had to think about it.
And then, oh, several years later, like '96, '97, I--I'd become comfortable and--financially and in my life. I'd done most of the things I'd wanted to do and was desperate to get back in the news business. I've loved--loved news and I wanted to come back at a low-level job, medium-level job in news. And I called Ted--I didn't want to report to Ted. There had to be somebody, maybe three or four somebodies, between me and Ted, you know, so then I could be like all the rest of the grunts; just laugh at the jerks for--for what they did and what they had to do. It's a great--you know, when you don't have responsibility, I mean, you're just one of the grunts, it's wonderful to be able to laugh at the people who have to go up there and talk to the big bosses and try to explain what--what they're doing and why it works.
And I went down to Atlanta and tried to do that. The--the people who were running--oh, I talked to Ted, and he--he said, oh, he was satisfied now with the people; he'd remembered '92. And I said, `I'm not looking for a big job. I just want a--a middling ordinary job.' And he said talk to Tom Johnson, who was running the company. And I went down, I talked with Tom for a while. And, you know, I--it was my--I couldn't keep my mouth shut. Tom asked for advice about what to do here and what to do there, and I should have said, `I'm not going to answer any of those policy questions. Do you want to ask me what story we should cover tomorrow or how to produce a piece? That's--'cause that's what I want to do.'
But we got in--to be talking about big and important things, and Tom--we--the discussion went on probably too long. And Tom said—you know, he said, `Ted says he could never control you. Will I be able to control you?' And I said, `Sure, I want to--I want to be controlled. I--I'm--I'm coming down here to do ordinary work.' But I don't--I don't think they ever bought it, and we--he offered me doing--doing some consulting work on a project that I--I later did with The New York Times, and I--I didn't think I wanted to bring that--as a consultant, I didn't want to bring that to anyone.
LAMB: Then in--tell me the year--2000, they had the 20th anniversary?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah.
LAMB: And you find yourself with your wife, Pat O'Gorman, who is also featured in the book--we can talk about her in a minute--back at the 20th anniversary celebration in Atlanta, and what you write about in the book is--it's kind of sad. I mean, did it feel sad for you at that...
Mr. SCHONFELD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was--I--I--I hadn't even been invited back to the 10th anniversary, and I've kind of been written out of the history of--of CNN. My friends would go down there and say, `They've got these pictures up and down the hall and everything, and, you know, your picture's nowhere there.' And I f—you know, felt like th--this forgotten man, but I was there--there for the 20th anniversary. And, you know, you go down there, and I discover they can't even spell my name right. And they--you know, and when Tom Johnson, nicely enough--when I'm sitting down there at the back of the room with their breakfast--announces that I'm there, and he doesn't quite pronounce it right either. And the--the nicest thing about it was Ted, at that time, was very aware of the book, and he kept asking me about it: When it was coming out? Could he read it? And that kind of stuff, so that was--that was pleasant.
But, for the most part, it--it--well, I don't--I'm not going to kid you or myself. For the most part, it was very, very sa--sad for me; partially ego, but also to see the way that they were carrying on. It--it--it was awful for CNN, too. By the time we got there, the 20th anniversary, the whole--the press was discovering that the emperor had no ratings; that there was noth--that CNN's ratings were way down. It wasn't this phenomenal machine that--that people had thought it was. And they were--you know what the press is. They pile on. For--for--you know, in the beginning, you're no good; everybody says you're no good. Then you become pretty good, and everybody says you're great; and you can be great for years. And then, all of a sudden, somebody discovers the first chink in your armor, and then you're--ne--next thing you know, you're wearing rags. And that was happening to CNN while I was there, and that--that was not pleasant for me. The--you know, I--I took no glee. There was no joy in me, and there still is not, to see what's happened to CNN.
The book was written not to tell CNN--look and laugh, see how bad they're doing. The book is written to, `They could have been doing better. They're not doing well now, and they should be changing, they should be moving.' But I hope either they'll change or that whoever starts the next news network starts it with an idea that you could do it in a different way.
LAMB: You write, `He says--Ted left. He called out to me, "Reese, am I going to like your book?" I said, "You will--you will if you read it yourself, Ted. If you let your friends tell you about it, you'll hate it." "Are you going to be mean to me?" he said. And I said, "Just read all of it, Ted." Ted said, "If you write a mean book about me, I'm going to write a mean book about you."' Now has he read your book?
Mr. SCHONFELD: I don't know. He--he made a very nice statement saying he appreciated my contributions to the beginnings of CNN, and--and I say now when people ask me about him, I appreciate his contributions to the beginning of CNN, too. But he--there--there have been no other comments. And I g--I got a note from Tom Johnson with his reaction. I don't--I don't think I'll--I'll--I think that was too personal. I don't think I'll--I want to really--if he--if he ever wants to talk about it, that will be fine, but I'm just going to let that go.
LAMB: But you're c--you're very critical of him in the book.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Very critical, yeah. And the--a good friend of mine, a man whose opinions I really respect, was ar--around CNN in the beginning of it, said that I was too tough on Tom, too easy on Burt Reinhardt and right on on Ed Turner. And...
LAMB: Well, explain who those people are.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, they're--they're--I--Burt is not a villain in the book, which probably made this guy think he--I was too easy on him, but Burt was my mentor. Burt had worked--I had worked for Burt Reinhardt from the first day I came into the news business. He was at Movietone News and then United Press Movietone News, and he--when that company closed, he went to Paramount Pictures, and I brought him back into the news business to be my number two. And then he took CNN over after I left. And I had great respect for him as a news professional. And he was tough on people because he had to save money. And he—but he had a great sense of news; may not have been an original—an original, but he was a great matcher. If you--if somebody else had the news, he wanted to match it, and he would--he would work on that very hard. And he could save money. But he was very conservative, not talking politically, in the way he covered news. He didn't get CNN into any trouble. There were no big libel suits, no disgraces while he was there.
He was succeeded by Tom Johnson, who is now still the chairman of CNN. And Johnson is a man who w--had worked in--in the press office, assistant press secretary, under Lyndon Johnson; had been a—a publisher of the LA Times under Mr. Chandler. But he was never a newsman himself, and he is an amateur. He's a very, very nice guy; everybody loves him. But he knows-- `Forgive him, he knows not what he does,' does not work for me. He was running this company, and he was supposed to knew what he did, and he left CNN in, I think, two journalistically disgraceful things in--in a Noriega case, when Man--Manuel Noriega was being tried as a drug dealer in the US. He played some tapes of conversations between Noriega and a lawyer, which wound up--he--he lost a couple of lawsuits about it, and it was—it was disgraceful that he did it. There's no reason to do it. That's a lawyer-client privilege. It's going to raise major issues. And there was nothing in the news--in--in--in that tape that was worth playing. But e--even the judge afterwards said there was nothing harmful to the--to anybody in it, and they were just doing it to prove—trying to--trying to be big boy; trying to show whose is bigger.
And then Tailwind was absolutely a disgrace, where they--they covered a story they should never have covered. The reporters do their best and a decent job. And I think Peter Arnett did his best. And whether or not that was good enough to go on the air was a decision that Tom Johnson had to make, and he decided it was good enough to go on the air. And then when it's done and the world comes down on him, the Pentagon comes down on him, he fires all the people who--who actually worked on it, and, you know, he walks away scot-free.
And I was talking to Ollie North yesterday, and it's like a Mar—in the--in the Marines; if you've got a lieutenant and you send him into battle and it doesn't work out, and then, you know, the colonel and the major and everybody's approved the plan, and he walks away with casualties, you fire him and the colonel and the major go on to be generals.
In any event, I just thought that Tom, as nice as he is, was the wrong man for that job, and it reflected an attitude, something I don't say in the book, which is especially true in print companies, like Time magazine and others, who now run so much television--it's an attitude, `Oh, it's good enough for television. It doesn't matter, it's only--it's only television.' This is their word. They would not—Time magazine would not have tolerated either Noriega or Tailwind if it had been done by an editor of Time, somebody who worked in print.
LAMB: Why are you so tough on Ed Turner, and who is he?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, E--Ed Turner was a guy that I've known for a—a long, long time. He used to be a--first, as a client, and then I got him a job at UPITN when he--when Metromedia and he came to disagree. And after that, he did some--did a lit--did some work first with CBS, then with some local stations. And when we were starting CNN, he had again fallen on hard times, and I hired him again and brought him over. And I--I never--he was not the hardest-working man in the world, and I never thought he was great for CNN, but h--he had many--there were people that I liked who talked about giving him another chance; said it was time for a mitzvah--that I would earn a mitzvah, a blessing, if I had brought him in.
And he's a nice--you know, he's--he's a witty, funny man, Ed Turner, and he--he did the two-hour--he did the two-minute news for us, and it was a wonderful little program that he did. He's--best thing he should have done: He should have stayed on the air and stayed doing that little insert. It was--people still talk to me about that and how good it was. But as a boss, he's--he's not always around when he has to be, and he has--well, I don't--I--I don't want to knock him here. Let's just say I would--I would not have made him the number two at CNN.
When I left, after Ted fired me, he--he kept the job open for six months. He wanted me to come back. So he was very careful about who was going to replace me. And there were three or four candidates, and he asked who should get it, and I said, `Burt Reinhardt.' And he said--well, he asked me if I would mind if he named Ed Turner Burt's number two. He said he didn't know Burt too well, but he and Ed got along. And I said, no, I wouldn't mind that--and I think I say in the book--because I felt that with Burt around, CNN would never get too bad, and with Ed Turner, it would never get too good. And then in—in his time there, Ed--I mean, that--that's really the way it worked out. It turned--they lost about 30 percent of their ratings i—immediately after I left, and--but then they stayed there. They stayed at a .7 rating for a long time.
LAMB: You say that Bernard Shaw is one the heroes of your book. Why?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, you know, I--I guess the whole world knows—or at least our world knows who Bernie is. But Bernie has tremendous credibility, tremendous sincerity, tremendous integrity. He's very smart. But--you know, a lot of guys who are smart--but he won't compromise his smarts. He--on the day that--I think this is the day that made us an--for American television viewers was on the day that Reagan was shot. And Bernie was sitting there in the anchor seat, and he's acting as managing editor as well as anchor, because when you're live, the man who's doing the talking is the managing editor.
And where--he--he's sitting there in the chair, and all of a sudden, he gets a call from a reporter, and we're the first one with this news: Ronald Reagan had, in fact, been shot. At first, people thought they missed him. He was in the hospital. And Bernie says to the reporter, `Are you sure?' And the reporter says, `Well, I'm--I'm very sure, but I'm not totally sure.' And Bernie says, `Well, you become totally sure, and you call and I'm going to keep this line op'--guy said, `Before we go on the air?' And Bern--`with it'—Bernie says, `We are on the air with it. You go back now, and you tell me you're sure.' And Bernie sits there, with the phone in his hand, just sitting there on screen waiting for the callback and--for the guy to come back on the line.
And everybody's got to wait with him, and you know this man—the integrity of the man. You know he's--he's heard the story. He isn't going to rush to be first. He's demanding absolutely confirmation. And Bernie sits there, and he--and--and it's there. And when the guy comes back and says it, you know, that's Bernie Shaw. And all through that afternoon, `Jim Brady was shot,' and all three other networks had, `Jim Brady'd been dead.' Bernie never killed Brady because the story came--came from a great source, a--a US senator. But the US--Bernie said--this--the guy, this young writer-producer, kept saying, `This network has said he's dead. This--Bernie, you've got to say he's dead.' And Bernie says, `No, no.' When the guy asked him why, he says, `Because Senator So-and-So was not in the room with him, and I'm not going to say he's dead until somebody who in the room--was in the room with him says he's dead.' And then, of course, half an hour later, they all start backtracking, `Well, and--and thank God, Jim Brady is still around and--and with us all.'
LAMB: What do you think of CNN at night: Wolf Blitzer, Greta Van Susteren, Larry King, Bill Hemmer, "Spin Room," Bill Press, Tucker Carlson?
Mr. SCHONFELD: It's news talk. They've--they've given up on news, and all they want to do is talk about news. And it's--it's the worst kind of imi--imitation. We're imitating something that isn't even really working. Fox has done a terrific job with news talk. I think Roger Ailes is a genius of news talk, and they've turned out some very good shows in that prime time talking about news. They have attitude. They--their--their anchors are good. They're--I think they're better than the people you just mentioned, with the possible exception of Larry King, who's got a style of his own.
And when CNN sees that--that their numbers are getting so good, CNN thinks, `Oh, gee, we've got to be doing just what they're doing, so we're going to im--imitate them. We're going to put on different varieties of talk,' when if--there's now only that one hour of hard news there. Brian Williams on MSNBC does the only hour of hard news on all of prime time on all the three supposedly all-news networks.
CNN has better--more bureaus, more reporters, more information all over the world than either of the other two networks. I would be taking advantage of that, and I would be doing hard news; I'd be doing it from all over the world during--during prime time. And I'd take my lumps in the ratings until I got it established, until I made people aware of what we were doing and created the new stars, the new Christiane Amanpour and others, people who report from the battlefield, not from--not sitting around and arguing behind a desk.
LAMB: Page one fif...
Mr. SCHONFELD: Oh, and I've got to say I'd be hiring Bill Clinton right now. I mean, if this was--if--if I was there, I'd be offering Bill Clinton any amount of money to have him do that show that I described, "The Sandy Freeman Show." That--if he was in that seat now, and we were--we were picking up the main news story of the way--of the day, Bill could get anybody. When we say the most important player, we'd get it, and people would watch. Every newspaper would have to report on it the next morning, and we would be moving up news half a cycle. It's the easy answer for that.
LAMB: When was the last world written for this book? What day? What date?
Mr. SCHONFELD: November 24th, I think, was the--was the final day.
LAMB: Why meandted.com, and what is it?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, meandted.com is a--a Web site that's attempting to make the book like CNN: flowing, constantly going news, flons--constantly working with the--with what's happening. The book is dead on November 24th. As we sit here now, it's late in February; it's months later. All sorts of things have happened. President Bush has become president. CNN A--Time Warner has merged with AOL. Ted has moved--since I wrote that book, Ted has moved his office out of ti--out of Tur--Turner Broadcasting. He's now--a company now called Turner Enterprises, where he sits upstairs in the same building. And, you know, it--it's sad; it's final.
Both Ted and I now are standing there pressing our noses against the window watching our baby from outside. I--it's--you know, it's gotta--I know it's got to be hard for Ted. It's--you know, it's hard for me. Four hundred people were fired. Ted would never have fired those people. I don't think Ted understand--understood CNN, but he loved it. And he--and he would--you know, he would have found some other way to handle this than firing 400 people just because the new owners said, `We've got to save $1 billion. We've got to cut costsall across the board.'
It's--I tell those stories on the Internet. I report day by day the--I--I've got the latest ratings in my pocket now for last week, and CNN caught up on Fox just a little bit, which sounds good. And then I discover that--of course, last week included Iraq da—on Friday. And on Friday, CNN beat both the other networks combined. So the rest of the week, they're still lagging. But it--it's like—I call television the great democracy, where people vote with their eyeballs. And by getting the ratings every week or every month, I can tell you the tallies; it's like I'm tallying election seats, and you know what people are voting for, which one of the networks.
LAMB: On page 140, `The Washington bureau, of course, was the same story, but with an older cast. Again, the long workday, the close collaboration, the constant pressure. Sissy Baker says, quote, "There was no time for anything else in the beginning, so the people we worked with became our family. We worked together, we ate together, we partied together and sometimes paired off together. Every feeling was intense, whether it was a relationship or partying or working."' Now th--that's just the way of introducing your wife, Pat O'Gorman, and wh--you--you call her kind of the den mother of CNN in here, but also you go in--talk about drugs and problems that were existing in those early days. Why did you tell us about that?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, because all the people we talked to, everybody we interviewed, talked about it. It was an integral part of the young people at CNN, even some of the older guys, I learned. But I didn't know it at the time. I--th--the most I knew about drugs was once some guys in Atlanta were arrested at, you know, 3, 4 in the morning, and we had to bail them out and get them out of jail. And ev—everybody called Pat with every problem. But...
LAMB: What's--what was Pat's job there?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Pat ran the--the back room for the network. All the--she--she taught all these people that came in on a program or they were called video journalists fresh out of school. We gave them 90 days revolving jo--each--each job they handled for 90 days, and they'd discover whether they were a writer or a camera operator or a field cameraman or an editor, whatever it was. Pat ran that. And Pat also ran the editing department, where the b--work came through and put--was put on the air, these are editing tapes because--and--but she was there for all these young people.
If, you know, they couldn't make the rent, Pat helped them make their rent. If they couldn't find a roommate, Pat would find their roommate. If they ran into some kind of trouble, whether it was drinking or anything else, Pat would do what she had to. She'd call parents. She--and everybody loved her. When I was at the--when we came back for that 20th anniversary, she was the star, not me; every--all her kids crowding around her, telling her--you know, it's like a mother coming back: `How many kids I have,' how they—what they've done, what their successes were. You know, it was wonderful for her and wonderful to be around.
And I didn't know much myself about the drugging. I learned about that afterwards. Just in the process of writing this book, I learned that the drug suppliers to the news industry, in both Washington and New York, were people who worked at CNN 20 years ago, the guys who managed to get the stuff and had other--the other networks would send people over, motorcycle curriers over, to pick up their--their stash from--from CNN. It was--you know, if you know that, if I'd known that, it wouldn't have--it wouldn't have happened, but it was—you couldn't know everything, and I think that was something I wouldn't have wanted to know.
LAMB: What's been the reaction to revealing that kind of stuff in your book?
Mr. SCHONFELD: There hasn't been any. I mean, I'm--at least I haven't heard any complaints from anyone. I don't think anyone is--about that kind of stuff. The only reaction has been to when I report the bad ratings. Then CNN gets a little--goes a little nutso, but otherwise--the--most of the stories that are revealed were told to me by the people I'm talking about, and none of them said, `Don't--don't write that about me. Don't--this is off the record.' Everything here was said into tape machines on the record.
LAMB: In your life, you--you told us earlier, you--you were there at the beginning of the Food Network.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yes.
LAMB: And you own 5 percent of it.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yes.
LAMB: What was your involvement in trying to bring BBC America to the States?
Mr. SCHONFELD: It w--wasn't BBC America then. It was a--my contract with the Food Network gave me 50 days a year to devote to other projects, and I was trying to bring BBC in a different form to the United States. I thought--this was before Fox and before MSNBC. I thought America could use another network and a news network with another point of view and perhaps a more serious network than CNN had become. And a couple of cable-owner brothers had come to me for years and had been trying to do this. And finally, we had convinced the BBC that now was the time and that they should--they should back us. And so we joined with them.
And then, just as I announced it, just as we're going to do it, the two cable-owner brothers decide that it was perhaps not the thing for them. And they declined to put forward the financing that we had needed, which--the stuff they had said they were prepared to put in and even signed contracts to do.
LAMB: You started News 12?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yes.
LAMB: On Long Island.
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yes.
LAMB: What is it, for those that don't know?
Mr. SCHONFELD: News 12 was the first 24-hour, local-news network, where you show things that are happening all over your—whatever region it was. Long Island was a terrific place because it had no television stations of it own, and we owned that island as far as news came.
LAMB: What kind of ratings--I didn't mean--we're running out of time.
Mr. SCHONFELD: No, go ahead. That's all right.
LAMB: What kind of ratings does that have compared to, say, CNN on Long Island?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, it--oh, when--when I left there, I mean, it was--I only was there a couple of years--it running like 5:1 ahead of them. It beats them now. It's--in New York City, where Time Warner owns News One, News One has--in--within the city itself, has more ratings than all the five national networks combined. CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox and Headline News c--are still about 2/10ths of a rating point less than Fox--than local news has.
LAMB: How much does it cost to run CNN on a yearly basis?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Now?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, I'm only guessing, but would I assume it's somewhere between, oh, f--about $400 million roughly, I'd guess, per--per year to run all the various radio stuff and the online stuff and all their various foreign networks.
LAMB: How much do they take in?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, I--I--I think they take in somewhere, I think, between $700 million and $800 million a year, and they probably spend about $500 million because I think they show a profit--or they used to show a profit of between $200 million and $300 million a year.
LAMB: You write in your book, `There's been a lot of talk about a "CNN effect"'--that's in quotes--`upon governmental policymaking. I think CNN's major impact has been on television, and sometimes I think it's all bad. Local's gone tabloid. Network's gone soft. And nobody watches CNN. That's a hell of a legacy.'
Mr. SCHONFELD: Yeah. And that's--that's--that's--that's true. See, in--what--what's happened is the networks, to compete--one of them--this is a CNN effect on television. The networks have been forced to release national and international stories to their local stations because Ted created a great thing called CNN News Source, which sold our news to local television stations all around the country. And that meant that the networks--the networks wanted to protect their own ratings by saying, `Nobody will show n--na—news or--national or international news until s--until we do.' And so they wouldn't give the local stations those stories as part of their deal.
We gave them to them. The networks then had to give them to them. So most people can get the two or three top national or international stories a day, which is all they care about, in 25- to 15-second bites as part of their local news. That's really killed the hard-news portion of the network news because they're--they're not revealing anything anymore. All they're telling is stories you've already heard in your--on your local news. So they go--to fill that gap, they go tabloid, they go soft.
In the meantime, of course, we all--you know, the great cry in the US is they--lo--local news--you know, they--you have all sorts of consultants who come in and say, `You've got to have 74 stories or 82 in any single-hour program. Nothing should run more than 22 seconds. Your anchors should look like this; they should w--talk like this.' None of them say your anchors have got to be so smart or your anchors should have this many years of experience as a correspondent. It's what they look like and how many stories they tell. And it's pure formulaic. So without that, you've got CNN, and somehow CNN hasn't ma--doesn't make news exciting anymore.
LAMB: If we found you at home watching television and news, what would you be watching more often than not today?
Mr. SCHONFELD: Well, I do watch one half-hour of network news every night, and it could--can be any one of these. It could be Jennings or Brokaw and occasionally even Rather. But when it comes to this kind of tw--the 24-hour newses, I started out during the post-election period watching CNN, and then I w--found myself switching over to MSNBC and--and sampling Fox every once in a while to the--as I say in the book, over that 37-day period, CNN lost about 25 percent of its viewers, and the other two networks picked them up. And I reacted just like the other viewers; I found myself disappointed and not—not needing CNN. I got good, hard, factual news from MSNBC and great opinions from Fox.
LAMB: This is the book, "Me and Ted Against the World: CNN, The Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN," by one of its founders, Reese Schonfeld. Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. 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.