Don Hewitt
Don Hewitt
Tell Me A Story: 50 years and 60 Minutes in Television
ISBN: 1586480170
Tell Me A Story: 50 years and 60 Minutes in Television
One of the towering figures of television recounts his adventures in broadcast journalism, from TV's earliest days through the controversies and challenges that face the news business today.

Don Hewitt is the most successful producer in the history of television news. In more than a half century with CBS News, he has been responsible for many of the greatest moments in television history, including the first broadcasts of political conventions in 1948; the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960; and, most spectacularly, for the past thirty-two years, 60 Minutes, the news program that has redefined television journalism, for which he has been the creator, executive producer, and driving force.

In Tell Me a Story, Hewitt presents his own remarkable life story, from his time as a reporter for Stars & Stripes during World War II, to the heady exhilaration of the early days of television, to the triumphs and controversies of 60 Minutes. Hewitt has been at the center of events, and his book is populated by the leading cultural and political figures of our century-Charles Lindbergh, Frank Sinatra, William S. Paley, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and many others-as well as the all-star roster of journalists with whom he has worked.

Hewitt also speaks bluntly, with affection and humor, about the promise and the shortcomings of television news, and offers surprising perspectives on its continued power and potential, as we move into a new media environment. "I may not know a lot," Hewitt is fond of saying, "but I think I know how to tell a story." Never has his storytelling talent been on better display than in the pages of this extraordinary book.
—from the publisher

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TRANSCRIPT
Tell Me A Story: 50 years and 60 Minutes in Television
Program Air Date: April 1, 2001

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Don Hewitt, why did you call your book "Tell Me A Story"?
MR. DON HEWITT, AUTHOR, "TELL ME A STORY" Because that's the--the guiding principle of "60 Minutes." I--I--I've always said that all you have to do is tell me a story. I--I sometimes go into a screening room, and I see spectacular footage and great characters, and then I say, `Hey, this is terrific. What's the story?' Tell me a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. And I don't know why everybody else doesn't do that, but nobody seems to.
LAMB: Now you know what's in your own book.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: And if this book was plopped down on your desk, potential "60 Minutes" show, which story is the best story for television in here?
MR. HEWITT: I don't know. You'd better ask Barbara Walters because she's done this thing. Best story for television? Sinatra.
LAMB: What about Sinatra?
MR. HEWITT: Threatened to kill me on a--he didn't l--he came to New York--first of all, I was trying to get him to sit down and do an--an hour, and they said, `No, no.' I mean, we--`He doesn't do things like that.' And then one day I get a call from a guy named Jim Mahoney, who was his press agent, and he said, `Listen, Mickey Ruden and I would like to come to New York and talk to you.' Mickey Ruden was Sinatra's lawyer. He was also the lawyer for Desilu, so he had some relationship with CBS. They came to New York, and Friend--Friendly was great. Friendly always was very low key. He said, `Well, take them to lunch in the cafeteria.'
LAMB: Fred Friendly.
MR. HEWITT: Fred Friendly. `Take them to lunch'--he was president of CBS News at the time. We had lunch in the cafeteria, and they said, `Well, Sinatra will do it, but there are three conditions.' And we said, `Well, what are those?' He said, `No questions about the Mafia, gambling or Cal-Neva Lodge,' which is the place he tried to get a gambling license and couldn't. And we said, `Forget it. I mean, we--that's ridiculous. We will not do it with ground rules.' They got up and they left.

And a week later I get a call from Mahoney, and he said, `Come out here. Sinatra wants to meet you.' So I figure, `Hey, they--they gave up their ground rules and they want to play by our rules.' And I went out to see Sinatra--never met the man; walk into this office, which is like six times as big as this studio, and he was kind of snotty. He said, `What do you want?' I said, `Well, I'd like to do a documentary about you.' `Why?' I said, `I don't know. You know, like Hubert Humphrey and Jonas Salk and Willie Mays, you're part of the times we live in, you're part of the fabric of the '40s, the '50s, the '60s.' He warmed up maybe that much.

I said--now I figured I'm really going to start selling. I said, `You know, Frank'--and I shouldn't have called him Frank. I didn't even know him. I said, `You know, Frank, people of my generation remember who they were and where they were by what Frank Sinatra song was popular at the time.' Now maybe I got another two degrees of heat. He said, `What'll you pay me?' I said, `Look, you don't have enough money to buy a documentary about yourself. CBS doesn't have enough money to pay you what you're worth. Why don't we call it a wash?' That seemed to work. He said, `How do I know I can trust you?' And I said, `I'm going to ask you to sit in a seat opposite Walter Cronkite.'

This is my shining moment. How I thought of this, I don't know. I said, `I'm going to ask you to sit in a seat opposite Walter Cronkite. That's the same seat that Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson sat in. If you don't think you're big enough to sit in that seat, I wouldn't do it, if I were you.' He grinned. He said, `I'm recording tomorrow night at United. Do you want to start then?' I said, `We'll be there.' I didn't know what he was talking about. I went out in the hall, I found a phone booth, I called a cameraman I knew and I said, `What in the hell is a United?' He said, `It's a big recording studio.' I said, `Well, light it. We're going to shoot Sinatra tomorrow night.'

He arrived. Mia Farrow was with him. This big limo pulls up, he gets out, the hat's on the back of the head, the coat's over the shoulder, and I figured, `Oh, my God, he's going to play man on the album cover,' and he did. He was delicious. He--all the quips--he was Frank Sinatra, man on the album cover. And I figured, `Boy, this is d--this is great. I mean, this couldn't be better. Everything's working out.'

Now we shoot him doing the "September of My Years" album, which is pretty good stuff. I mean, it's--if you're going to have a time capsule somewhere, that may be one of the songs you put in it. And got along great with him. We--we did--we went to Lawton Penitentiary, just outside of Washington. He played for the convicts with Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. And I'm thinking, `Boy, I fell into something here. This is--this is big stuff.' Here's a kid who--I mean, I'm a--you know, I'm in the--in the journalism business, and I'm kind of impressed with Ed Murrow. But I'm--you know, I'm running around with Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

It's one great big--we leave Lawton Penitentiary to come back to get his plane, and--and on the way he says to me, `We're--we're not going to be far from Arlington Cemetery, are we?' I said, `No. I guess we go pretty close.' He said, `Do you want to film me at Jack Kennedy's grave?' I said, `Have you ever been there before?' He said, `No, this is the first time.' Why I said what I said, I don't know, but I said, `You son of a bitch. You've never been to Jack Kennedy's grave, as close as you were, and now you want a camera to film you there?' And he said, `You're right. I shouldn't do that, should I?' I was probably stupid because I--it's--been a great scene, but I figured it was a good way of getting in better with him.

Everything's going fine. Now we're doing the interview in his house in Palm Springs, and Cronkite asked him about the Mafia and Cal-Neva Lodge. And he goes ape, and he says to me, `You, come inside.' So we walk in the bedroom. He says, `You broke all the rules.' I said `What rules?' He said, `Mickey's rules.' I said, `We never agreed to Mickey's rules.' `You agreed to them. You broke them. I ought to kill you.' I said, `You know, with anyone else, that's a figure of speech. You probably mean it.' He said, `I mean it.' I said, `Well, if I have a choice, I'd rather you didn't.' And I left his house and never spoke to him again.

After the show was on the air, his daughter, Tina, called to say how great she thought it was, but I never heard from him. He was really hurting. What--and I--it's all about--and I never realized--and then we did Tina Sinatra recently on "60 Minutes," and she told Steve Kroft that her father got a call from Joe Kennedy to see if he wouldn't intercede with Sam Giancana to s--to get the mob to put the arm on somebody or other--usually, on labor--to see that Jack Kennedy won the primaries in Illinois and West Virginia.

And after--and he did--and after Kennedy was elected, as everybody knows, Bobby went after the mob. Giancana c--called Sinatra and said, You owe us. We worked for this guy's election, and now he's after us.' Sinatra said, `Tell you what I'll do. I'll play 16 club dates at your Villa Venice nightclub in Chicago as a payback, and I'll bring the Rat Pack with me': Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, the crowd. When he went before the gaming board in Las Vegas to get a license for the Cal-Neva Lodge, they faced him with the fact that he'd had this deal with the mob and that he'd played these dates for free to pay back, and he said, `It never happened.' And Tina Sinatra said to Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes," `He lied.'

Now Tina tried to get us to take that out, but there was no way we were going to do it, and she knew it. Kind of end of Sinatra story--long, but kind of fun.
LAMB: Is there a story that you were going to write about in your book that, for whatever reason, you decided not to?
MR. HEWITT: I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean, if--if there's anything in there that--that I would have written about and didn't, it's because I forgot it.
LAMB: Who invented the `tick, tick, tick' at the beginning of "60 Minutes"?
MR. HEWITT: I--I did, but--but it wasn't at the beginning of "60 Minutes." It was the--it was the closing thing over the credits. And I looked at the first show, and I said to myself, `Wait a minute. You've got to be crazy to put that at the end.' That's that arresting--that's in lieu of a theme song. And Marvin Hamlisch always accuses me of devising the `tick, tick' to screw some poor songwriter out of a royalty, but it just worked. And it was--it was--it was at the end, and I moved it up and it worked.
LAMB: Who named the program "60 Minutes," and why?
MR. HEWITT: It all came out of a memo--I had written a memo to Dick Salant, who was then president of CBS News, to ask him, `Why couldn't we find, in all the minutes of entertainment, 60 minutes of news produced with a flair, that had more than just dull information?' And when it finally got approved, I went back and looked at the memo, and that phrase, `60 minutes,' jumped out at me, and I said, `That's--that's not a bad name.' It really isn't 60 minutes, if you count all the commercials.
LAMB: First show, what date?
MR. HEWITT: 1968, but I don't remember the exact date. We were on Tuesday nights--every other Tuesday night. CBS had something called "The News Hour," and we would alternate with "CBS Reports." And they didn't sell it, on purpose, because if--most people don't know this. Sustaining shows are not rated. The rating service is for commercial shows. And they figured they owned the world. I mean, you know, every top-flight show was on CBS at that point, from "Lucy" on down. So they figured, `This--we would do better not to sell this because how much we're going to get for it anyway, and all it would do is bring down our average.' So we were sustaining, and they left us alone, and it kind of built. And it--and it--it didn't reach a lot of people, but it reached the right people, and that kind of impressed them.

And then once when--I guess it was "Twentieth Century" was on Sunday afternoon, and when that sort of died and went off, somebody said, `Let's move "60 Minutes" in the 6:00 Sunday,' which is where we began on Sundays. And it--you could begin to see the--the rating inching up. And then one day they said, `Hey, let's try 7:00 Sunday.' When we were on at 6:00 Sunday, we weren't on very often because the football games were still going on. We went to 7:00 Sunday, and it began to take off.

The big problem in the beginning was that we always had three versions of the show--a long, a short and a medium--to accommodate the football run-overs. And then one day, unheard of in television, they said, `Run over. Whatever time you get on, you run till the end, and then the next'--in other words, "Murder, She Wrote" or I guess it was Archie Bunker at one point, "All in the Family"--so they'll start at 8:12, 8:14, 8:17, who knew? A--and nobody knew--and I realized and nobody knew anything about a clock and a--and time. All they knew is the football game was over, you went to "60 Minutes." When "60 Minutes" was over, you went to "All in the Family." There was no, `What time is it on the click.'

I--I've always wondered about that. I've always wondered why networks run on the hour and the half hour. I mean, why don't they overlap and--and--and knock off the other guy? And I always think it's kind of an artificial way of doing things, to--to work within these--I--I mean, when I first did "The Doug Edwards Show," which was the first of the newscasts, in 1948, we ran over all the time. I mean, I w--I got hell every morning for running over. And today if you run over, a computer will take you off the air. In 1948, nobody knew what a computer was. There was--nobody knew what videotape was. Nobody knew what satellites were. I always thought those were, you know, in the minds of some of those technicians that wandered around with all these ideas, you know.

And in--when I came to television, you know, space--you know, that was something you never had enough of. Who--who knew there was something called space up there? I--you know--you know, I looked up, there were clouds, and I didn't know what--what was above the clouds. And, all of a sudden, this stuff exploded.

The first big explosion was the TelePrompTer, where you could look at the audience and read a script at the same time. And it arrived just about the moment I was trying to convince Douglas Edwards to learn Braille. I said, `That's the only way to do it. If you learn Braille, you put your script on a Braille thing and you run your hand like this, and you can look at the audience,' and I'm convinced to this day that---Brian, I'm sure that if the TelePrompTer had never been invented, Brokaw, Jennings and Rather would be doing their evening news reading the script in Braille.
LAMB: I want to ask you about another "60 Minutes" technique.
MR. HEWITT: Yes.
LAMB: We're going to turn on this monitor over here...
MR. HEWITT: OK.
LAMB: ...and show you the way you look at this stage on this camera. If you look over there, you can see yourself.
MR. HEWITT: OK.
LAMB: Now we're going to go the "60 Minutes" style.
MR. HEWITT: All right.
LAMB: Keep watching.
MR. HEWITT: OK. In big.
LAMB: Bingo.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. Ooh. That's terrible.
LAMB: Now...
MR. HEWITT: Why would we do that to anybody?
LAMB: ...right away...
MR. HEWITT: I wouldn't want it done to me.
LAMB: ...we have--what do you like better?
MR. HEWITT: Well, I don't have the kind of face that can take that kind of close-up. So--and...
LAMB: Where did you start this idea, though? I mean, most of your shots are like this--or a lot of them.
MR. HEWITT: A lot of it came out of Mike Wallace's "Night Beat" that zeroed in on people. I--if you look recently, it isn't that big. And I've said to producers around there, just recently, `I think we're shooting things too big.' And it's--it's difficult sometimes to follow what people are saying if you're involved with every pore, every eyebrow, every nuance of a--of a facial expression. I think it's distracting. And I think the big closeup--you know, if you don't learn as you go along, there's something wrong with you. I mean, I learned a lot of things. I learned that--that the hidden camera got to be a cliche. As I told Mike one day, `That trenchcoat's getting to be a cliche.' So y--you grow up. I mean, you--how can you do a show like this for all those years and not grow up?
LAMB: You say in the book that "60 Minutes" may have made $2 billion for CBS over 33 years.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah.
LAMB: $2 billion.
MR. HEWITT: Well, we were making a profit of about $100,000 a show for--for a long period of time. Well, if you take that by 26 weeks, before you go into a repeat season, that's a lot of money.
LAMB: That's $2.6 million. It's got to be more than that.
MR. HEWITT: That's $260 million when you're on the air for...
LAMB: Oh, you mean--you mean you were making $1 million a show?
MR. HEWITT: We're making about $1 million a show.
LAMB: Oh, you said $100,000.
MR. HEWITT: I'm sorry. You're making about $1 million a show profit, and so that's $260 million a year. Well, it--in 10 years, that's $2,600,000,000. Am I doing the ri--I--I'm not doing the....
LAMB: Yeah. No, it's only $2.6 million--I mean, it's only $26 million.
MR. HEWITT: Million. Well, it--it--whatever it was, it--it--I'm not very good at math--I'm not--I don't do that very well.
LAMB: Well, if you grossed out $30-some million a year over 30 years, you're talking close to $1 billion. It's not...
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. Yeah. But it wasn't gross; it was profit.
LAMB: Profit.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. It was the most profitable broadcast in the history of television. I don't know if it still is, but it was. And so the luxury--what you get from that is they leave you alone, and nobody messes with you. And you become a 900-pound gorilla because you make a lot of money. And I must say, they do leave us alone. I think the people I work for now give us the same kid-glove, hands-off treatment that Paley and Stanton gave to Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite. And it's a--it's a pleasant place to work. You know, we--we--if--we report without fear of favor. That also applies to the people we work for. They don't expect anything of us, except to be good.
LAMB: What's the worst thing that somebody would say about you, who's worked for you over the years?
MR. HEWITT: I would think maybe I have a tendency to be dogmatic. I have a very, very clear idea of what I think a story is. I think some of the screenings are not easy on some of the producers. I have a tendency to say that, `This is a great story, but the beginning is at the end and the middle is in the wrong place and the'--but by and large, I--I think the people who work there are quite happy.
LAMB: How many people work there?
MR. HEWITT: Well, there are 22 producers, and there are six correspondents, if you count Andy Rooney, and there's a slew of associate producers. That's about 100 people.
LAMB: What would it cost to run it a year?
MR. HEWITT: I don't know. I really don't know. You know, when--when I did the evening news, back in--you know, in the Stone Age, I once asked Sig Mickelson, who was president of CBS News at the time--I said, `You know, I don't know what the budget is on this show.' He said, `Why do you care? If you begin to run over budget, I'll tell you. Meanwhile, don't think about it. There's--there's nothing ev--just keep doing what you're doing. And if I think you are spending too much money, I'll tell you.' That's a pretty nice way to work. Do you know what the budget is for your show?
LAMB: This show?
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: About $1.95.
MR. HEWITT: No. But--but--but--but I don't--I really don't--I don't know. I th--there are guys who work for me know what the budget is, but I--I'm not very good at detail work. I--I--I--I need a lot of people around me who know details. I--I kind of don't concern myself with budgets and--and--and new editing equipment, and I--I just like to see the results of it. So I--I look at--that's a great luxury. I look at the big picture. I sit back and I--I let somebody else do that, and I have guys who are pretty good at that.
LAMB: I want to read you a quote from your book. It's when you were talking about space.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: You say, `If we continued to help the space agency get its appropriations from Congress, they would, in turn, give us free of charge the most spectacular television shows anyone had ever seen.' Ever worry about that being too close to a government...
LAMB: No, Cronkite did. I don't--Walter, who, as you can see, has a--a great blurb on the book, and I thought the world of it. I--I think Walter was a little unhappy with that because there's an implication there was a deal. There was no deal. It just was. Without ever--I don't think it was ever said. I don't think it was even hinted at. But I knew and they knew if they give us these incredible pictures, which there was no way they couldn't give them to us because they--because the world demanded them, they were going to get appropriations from Congress because television was--was making the country very space-conscious.

And it had a--it had an even--what we got out of it was--remember, at this point, we've just come through the McCarthy era. We're all a bunch of pinkos. We're reds. We're the guys who bring them the race riots. We're the guys who bring them an unpopular war in Vietnam that we can't win. All of a sudden, we're now bringing them these new American heroes. These guys are all Charles Lindbergh.

So the residual to us--and at the time--I wrote that now, but I don't think at the time I was conscious of all this. I look back on it that way and I realized all of a sudden America is beginning to say, `Hey, you know, those--those limousine liberals, those pinkos in television, they ain't bad guys. They're the ones that bring us our American heroes.' That's--that's in hindsight, looking back on it. But there never was--nobody ever spelled out, `You do this, and we'll do that.' But it just was. There was no way you couldn't cover space, and there was no way that they couldn't use it to impress their constituents that money should be appropriated for a space program.

Personally, I think we may have appropriated too much money for a space program. I'm not sure--Walter and I--if Walter hears this, he'll hit me in the head. I'm not sure that we didn't go overboard on space, and there were things down here on Earth that could have used the money better. Don't tell that to John Glenn, and don't tell thatto Walter Cronkite, but I always thought that it was a luxury that maybe we really couldn't afford. And they keep telling me all the great benefits that have come from going out into space, and I always say, `Yeah? Well, name one.' I don't know what they are. They haven't made life on this Earth any better, as far as I can figure.
LAMB: You tell us in the book you voted for Eisenhower, you voted for Humphrey, then you voted for Nixon over McGovern.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: You tell us that you voted for Ronald Reagan twice, Clinton first...
MR. HEWITT: No. Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: The fi--first time around.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah, the first...
LAMB: You voted for Bush...
MR. HEWITT: No, no. No. I voted--I voted for Bush...
LAMB: And--and...
MR. HEWITT: ...and then I voted for--I voted for Clinton over, I guess, Dole.
LAMB: And you voted for Bush over Dukakis?
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. Sure.
LAMB: But then, in the end, you--you voted for Gore.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah, but I wasn't too sure.
LAMB: But my question to you: Why do you want us to know that?
MR. HEWITT: I don't know. I g--I figure it's kind of--it's a--yeah, it's a secret ballot, and you don't have to do that. It's--it's kind of like painting a portrait of yourself. It's like looking in the--you know, you're--you're--you're painting your own portrait, and it--it kind of tells you something about somebody. But I also then--you know, I--I also said that I--I find--well, the line I like that I wrote--I kind of like the line more than anything else in the book is that I don't hold in disdain the people I disagree with. I just disagree with them. And I like to play both sides of the street. It happened at--at one of those Ronald Reagan library luncheons. And sitting there with Nancy, in that California crowd--you know, the Justin Dart, you know, that--the California Republicans...
LAMB: Ki--kitchen cabinet.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. And they said--and somebody said to me, `You did the first Nixon-Kennedy debate. Was that important in getting Jack Kennedy elected?' I said, `Well, it wasn't as important as his father buying him Cook County.' Now I've got the table with me. They love me, right? I figure, `I don't want to be with these guys when--you know, I've got to get back on the other side.' So the next question was, `Did you dislike Richard Nixon?' And I said, `Well, not as much as Barry Goldwater did.' So now it's an even playing field.

I--I kind of like even playing fields. I--I--I--I--I--I realized that I don't have any very definite, ideological likes, dislikes. I said in the book I don't think gay marriage is a way of life whose time has come, but I could be mistaken. I mean, straight marriages don't work that well either. So--and I--and I--I--I think I kind of amuse myself by keeping everybody wondering, `Where does he stand in all this?' I said of course I think racial profiling by the police is a terrible thing, and I see racial profiling in employment offices, and I wonder, `Should some white guy lose his job because of the color of his skin?' Even though a great black leader once said, `It behooves white America to make the same concerted effort to include us as they once made to exclude us,' I--I find nothing to argue about. I mean, I--that makes perfect sense to me. And yet I got to think about some white fireman who didn't get a job, not because he was black; because he was white. And those--those are things that nobody seems to want to wrestle with.
LAMB: You tell us in the book that your wife, Marilyn Berger, helped Ross Perot with some foreign policy stuff?
MR. HEWITT: Oh, my God. Yeah. Lloyd Cutler got involved in that Lloyd'll kill me for even reminding him of this, but when Lloyd Cutler was...
LAMB: Now tell us who Lloyd Cutler is.
MR. HEWITT: Lloyd Cutler was counsel to Jimmy Carter and then became counsel to Clinton, and he sort of was taken with Ross Perot, actually, through a friend of his named Tom Barr, who was a lawyer in New York. And then he kind of got Marilyn involved. And one day, Marilyn said, `I'm his foreign policy expert.' I mean, come on. And then one day, she figured, `Listen, you know, if this guy weren't a billionaire, he might be in a straitjacket.'

So--but Ross Perot said a lot of things that were very appealing. And then he--he got in, he got out, and--and nobody knew--I know why Marilyn and--and Lloyd Cutler dropped out; they kind of got fed up with him. Marilyn went--Marilyn was taken by Ross when he went for his first ballots. She and the family went. I said, `How'd you get mixed up in this thing?' She said, `I don't know. I kind of like him.' And then one day she said, `Ooh, this is a bad scene.'

And I said I know why Marilyn dropped out, I know why Lloyd Cutler dropped out. I never knew why Perot dropped out, until he told Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" that the Bush people were making pictures--what it showed, I don't know--to embarrass his daughter. I would assume they were pornographic--or he claimed they were. They were wiretapping his office, none of which was happening. And he began to believe that the Bush people saw him as a terrible threat, `And we're going to smear him and ruin his chance of becoming president.' They didn't have to. He did it himself.

Not a bad guy, he's an amusing guy. The only thing--I used to have a lot of talks with Ross. Ross used to call me all the time, not about the presidency. He was convinced there were missing in action, MIAs, in Cambodia, and he wanted to send a mission there, and he wanted "60 Minutes" to go with him. And he used to have these Cambodian generals call me, and they used to--and they had this all laid out: `And we leave next week. We go to jungle. And we'--and I said `Whoa, whoa, hold it, pal. I ain't going anywhere.' But they were all--they would--Ro--they said, `Mr. Perot told us to call you.' So my contact with Ross was more about MIAs in--in Southeast Asia than about the presidency.
LAMB: Let me ask you about presidents you've known, and just give us a snapshot of--of w--something that you remember about them when th--when you met--when I mention the name. Dwight Eisenhower.
MR. HEWITT: That was like being in the presence of God. I mean, he was--you know, it was a name. I--I--you've got to realize I came from a time of life when the name Dwight David Eisenhower, George Catlett Marshall, Franklin Delano Roosevelt were--they were demigods, and I sort of looked on Eisenhower that way. And...
LAMB: Where do you remember seeing him last in person?
MR. HEWITT: At his house outside of Palm Springs; went out there with Cronkite, and we did one of those one-on-one Cronkite-Eisenhower conversations.
LAMB: What was he like then?
MR. HEWITT: He was like your grandfather. It was nice. He was a nice man. He really was a nice man.
LAMB: John F. Kennedy.
MR. HEWITT: Oh, John F. Kennedy was the first matinee idol president. I mean, Jack Kennedy was--he was Cary Grant. You know, he was well tailored, and he was tan and handsome and urbane. And he--he looked--you know, he looked every bit Harvard; he was Ivy League. And he kind of knocked my socks off because I'd never seen a president who looked like that.

Incidentally, when you talk about you--you gotta look the part, that's not true. I never saw a guy who looked more like a president than Barry Goldwater, and he never made it. So it's not true. He--he looked more like a president than Lyndon Johnson did, and Lyndon Johnson buried him.

Lyndon was scary. You'd go down to the ranch, and Lyndon would holler at Lady Bird, `Bird!' And--you know, and Lyndon Johnson was big, and you always felt small in his presence, and--and you always felt like he--he kind of struck me as being a bully. There's a great Lyndon Johnson story. He went out to Pendleton, to the Marine outpost on the West Coast, to inspect some Marines. And on his way back to his helicopter, being escorted by a young Marine lieutenant, he headed for the wrong helicopter. And the lieutenant, a nice young kid, said, `Excuse me, Mr. President, but I think that's your helicopter over there.' And Lyndon said, `Son, they're all my helicopters.' Now that--that says everything you've got to say about Lyndon Johnson.
LAMB: September 1963, the interview that you were there for with John F. Kennedy and he talked about Vietnam.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: The interview's over, and Pierre Salinger insists on something being kept in the interview and you did it.
MR. HEWITT: Right, mm-hmm.
LAMB: Did you cave?
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: Why?
MR. HEWITT: You know why? Because he was--he was going to put it out--he was going to do something that you don't do; that he was going to take one of our outtakes and put it out as a statement because that was something Kennedy said that he and Kennedy thought were im--was important. And Walter and I thought he had said it differently, in a different place. And--and they liked the way they said it there, and we liked the way he said it somewhere else. And he said, `If you don't include it, we're going to--we're going to put it out as a separate statement.' And I said, `Hey, that's--you know, that stinks.'

You're playing with the White House. I mean, don't--if--if you ain't got two six guns, don't--don't--don't mess with the White House. I--I met--you know, that happened once with the Clintons. Yeah, we caved, right? But small cave. I mean, it certainly didn't change the course of history.
LAMB: A famous interview, though.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah. And it--so we said it a little different than we liked the way he said it somewhere else, but...
LAMB: But the whole issue of whether or not--the whole Vietnam issue, whether they were going to stay in there after the election, and, you know, he dies in November, and they go back to those interviews that were conducted...
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: ...between you, and then NBC had one, and he says one thing on one show and one thing on another.
MR. HEWITT: Well, w--yeah, but what he--what he--he said, more or less, the same thing in what we wanted to use and what he wanted to use. What he was doing was putting them on notice, `Shape up or ship out. You know--I mean, I ain't going to hang around here unless you guys clean up this government.'
LAMB: Richard M. Nixon.
MR. HEWITT: Strange man; never realized how important that first Nixon-Kennedy debate was. I met Kennedy at an--at a hangar in Midway Airport about three weeks before the--no, maybe less than that, maybe a week before the debate. He wanted to know everything: `Where do I stand? Where do I sit? What do I say? Who--who asks the questions? How much time do I have to answer?' Boy, he was sopping it up. I never saw Richard Nixon until he arrived in the studio that night. He had s--he had a staphylococcus infection. He spent the afternoon speaking to the plumbers' union, and to him, that night was just another campaign appearance.

He arrived at the studio. I told him a little bit about what was expected. Kennedy sort of sneaked in surreptitiously and was standing there, I noticed, listening to us, and I felt like--I felt like the referee was giving the last-minute instructions before the fight to the two fighters. And then I said, `Do you want any makeup?' And Kennedy said, `No, I don't think I want any makeup. No.' Now Nixon needed makeup, but he heard Kennedy say `no makeup,' so he said to himself, obviously, `If I get made up, that will be in tomorrow morning's story, that I was wearing makeup and Kennedy wasn't.'

So he went off into an office with some of his staff, and they made him up with something called a shave stick. He looked like the wrath of God. He came out, he was--and I looked at him on camera, and I figured, `Uh-oh, this is trouble.' So I called Frank Stanton, who was then president of CBS, into the control room, and I said, `Frank, you'd better take a look at this.' And he looked at it, and he went to a guy named Ted Rogers, who was Nixon's campaign adviser, and said, `Are you s--satisfied with the way your candidate looks?' And he said, `Yeah, looks fine to us.' So Stanton called me aside and said, `If they like it, there's nothing we can do about it. Don't--don't mess with it.' It became a cause celebre.

Now I'll tell you three great makeup stories after that. A year later, Nixon--oh, there was a gal in Washin--in Chicago named Frances Arvold, best makeup person I knew, but neither one of them wanted to use her. Two things: One, I found out later that Kennedy did get some makeup. Ted Sorenson said, `We put a little makeup on him. You never knew it'--small sidebar.

These are two great sidebars. It's right after the Kennedy assassination, we're doing the Kennedy memorial broadcast. Nixon is on it. I'm sitting in a makeup room--Richard Nixon and Frances Arvold, the woman whose services he wouldn't use in Chicago. And I said, `You know, Mr. Nixon, if you had let Frannie make you up the night of the first debate, you would have been president.' And without thinking--I mean, there wasn't a beat, he said, `Yeah? And I'd be dead now, too.' I thought, `Wow, what a line.'

I mean, o--now whether he thought that whoever did it--and I'm not su--I'm not saying it was Lee Harvey Oswald because I'm not even sure it was. But whoever did it, he assumed, was after a president, not that president. Or at least he wanted me to think that.

Now it's four years later. We're in Chi--San Francisco, Cow Palace. He's being made up, again, by Frannie Arvold to go out on the rostrum and introduce the nominee, Barry Goldwater. And, again, I said, `You know, Mr. Nixon, if you'd let Frannie make you up four years ago, Barry Goldwater would be going out there now to introduce you.' And he stopped, and he looked in the mirror at himself for maybe 10 seconds, he turned around, and he said to me, `You know, you're probably right.' One of the makeup story.

I can't prove this. I think I'm responsible for the Nixon houses in key Biscayne, Florida, and Orange County, California, because I once told him if he had a good tan, he wouldn't need makeup, and I think that's why he moved to the sun.
LAMB: The Clintons and James Carville.
MR. HEWITT: James Carville--listen, I--to show you how down-the-middle I am, I have never heard James Carville, on this side, or Robert Novak, on that side, say anything I agreed with. So you know where I am. Neither one of them has ever said one word that I agreed with.

Carville. Carville come--we're doing an obscure governor named Bill Clinton from Arkansas, and his wife, Hillary, who nobody had ever heard of, at the Ritz Hotel in Boston because he wants time to explain Gennifer Flowers, which he came there to set the record straight, and he set the record crooked. And we were in that room about an hour, and I knew he was lying, and she knew he was lying, and Steve Kroft knew they were lying. And in the middle of it, this Carville, this funny-looking duck, arrives, and he plunks himself down in the control room, like a groupie following a couple of rock stars, and he starts to nattering to himself and actually sobbing, `Oh, I love them. I love those people. I love them so much. I love them.' And I--I said, `Will somebody shut this guy up or get him the hell out of here?' But I tried to get a cop to throw him out. I think he reported me to Hillary. I think I've been on report ever since. I am persona non grata with Hillary Clinton and--as--as all of "60 Minutes" is, and quasi-persona non grata with Bill Clinton.

We went down to do a thing with Clinton once, all the "60 Minutes" guys, to talk about Bosnia, how we were going to get out of Bosnia, and I said to Mike McCurry, who was then press secretary and a good guy--I said, `Well, I know why we're here.' And he said, `What do you mean, you know why you're here?' I said `Because she's out of town.' He said, `You happen to be right.'

We were locked out of that White House. That--as Tim Russert used to say to me, `Are they out of their minds? That's the night they got the nomination.' That afternoon, he was Gary Hart; he was dead meat. I mean, he couldn't have gotten two votes. And after that night was over, not that I was trying to make him president, but by allowing him to sit there and lie about Gennifer Flowers, he was the nominee by the night--the time that was over. And his crowd was furious: `That's all you talked about, and you never gave him a chance to talk about his vision of America.' And I said, `Hey, he was one of five guys looking for the Democratic nomination.' There were five of them. `What do you mean, his vision of America? There are four other guys who would like to get on and talk about their vision of America.' And besides, if we didn't edit that piece to be all about Gennifer Flowers, do you know where he'd be today? He'd be up in the snow in New Hampshire still looking for votes in the 1990 New Hampshire primary.

What a strange cat. I don't understand Bill Clinton. I mean, I--I also wrote in the book that, you know, we did Kathleen Willey, who claimed--went to the White House, claimed she was groped when she went to see about a job and stuff. Kathleen Willey--I believe every word Kathleen Willey said because she only told us exactly what she told the grand jury. We were preparing the Kathleen Willey thing, and I called Bob Bennett, his attorney, and I said, `Bob, I don't want to do this story without you.' `Not me, kid,' he says. `I'm not crazy. I'm not going anywhere near this.' And I called him maybe four times, and the same thing: `I'm not crazy. I'm not doing it.'

It's the Saturday afternoon before we do Kathleen Willey. I'm in the office,, and the phone rings and it's Mike McCurry, Lindsey and Ruff, the--the--the legal team: `We would like you to put Bennett on this show.' I said, `Wait a minute. I've been trying for two weeks to get Bennett.' `Well, he's changed his mind. We'll put him on. We'd like to give you--give him 12 minutes unedited.' How they got to 12 minutes, I have no idea, but the 12 minutes--I said, `No, no. Don't be ridiculous.'

And then McCurry gave me the opening I was looking for. He said to me, `Don, do you mean to say there were two people in that room, and you only want one person's version of what happened?' I said, `No, Mike. No, Mike. Bennett was not in that room. There were two people in that room. I won't give Bennett 12 minutes. I'll give Bill Clinton 60 minutes if he wants to talk about what happened in that room. And, remember, it was your idea there were two people in the room. I would rather have the other person who was in the room.'

When it was all over, the next day, to get even with her, they released love letters that he had sent to her, and I said, `As Samuel Johnson said...'
LAMB: That she had sent to him.
MR. HEWITT: She sent to him. And I said, `As--as Samuel Johnson said, if the last refuge of a scoundrel is patriotism, the last refuge of a male chauvinist is, "She was asking for it."' I--I found that--you know, I al--I almost understand the Monica Lewinsky stuff. I can--I can almost understand it, e--everything except playing phone sex through the White House switchboard. But--but everything else, you know, it happens. Jack Kennedy was doing it, but he wasn't doing it in the Oval Office.

But to do that to this Kathleen Willey, whose husband had just died, it was--I don't know, between that and Marc Rich and the four Hasidic rabbis, I--I--I don't understand how you come into office with a cloud over your head, you're president of the United States for eight years, and you leave with a bigger cloud over your head than the one you came in with. Now--and then don't give me this bit about, `Well, he had a tough upbringing, and he was a deprived child.' By the time you get to Yale and Oxford and the governor's mansion in Louis--in--in Little Rock and the White House, you divest yourself of that. I mean, you know, what--what is this? Is this some kid on Ritalin?
LAMB: If he called you today and said, `I'd like to do "60 Minutes," how much time would you give him?
MR. HEWITT: 60 minutes.
LAMB: Why?
MR. HEWITT: Because I think wh--whatever he has to say--I tried. We got nowhere. I--he's going to do something with somebody. My guess is he may do it with Dan Rather. He--he--he likes Dan, and Dan likes him, I think. I think the name "60 Minutes"--I think if he did "60 Minutes," it would be remembered: `Oh, that's how he came in, talking about Gennifer Flowers, and now he's going to go out on "60 Minutes" talking about Marc Rich and that brackets his whole thing.' I'd do it like that, you know, in a heartbeat.
LAMB: Seventy-eight years old?
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: Why do you still do this?
MR. HEWITT: I dread retiring. I would--I would rather die at my desk. I wouldn't mind--I--this is going to sound bizarre and--and wiggy and you're going to think I'm cra--I wouldn't mind dying here. You want to die--look, life is finite. We all know that. It ends. All you want to do is end at a good place. If it ended on BOOKNOTES with you, that's pretty good. But I don't want it to end in a canoe; on a--on a golf course; on a tennis court. You know, I've had too much. I--I'll do it right here. But--but I won't--but I won't do it. I feel good.
LAMB: Inside politics at CBS, Fred Friendly.
MR. HEWITT: Yeah.
LAMB: When did he die? How many years ago?
MR. HEWITT: A couple of years ago. I don't remember. Maybe two, three years ago.
LAMB: When was he president of CBS News?
MR. HEWITT: Oh, God, he had two--was he president twice?
LAMB: Was it '63 and '64?
MR. HEWITT: No, that was--Salant was--yeah, when he fired me, he was--he was president of CBS News. Fred was one of these guys--I've got to tell you something. I learned more from Fred Friendly than anybody in this business. But Fred--Fred was one of these guys who thought that he was the starting pitcher, the manager and the clean-up hitter and nobody else was needed on the ball club. But talented? This guy wrote like a dream. I--I--you know what I learned from Fred? I learned more about television from Friendly, but I actually learned it from--from two things that Murrow did.

I--I was on "See It Now," which was the class part of the--I was the director. And then Ed Murrow decide he wasn't making enough money, so he was going to do a show called "Person To Person," which is strange because if you look at today, he had to go to the entertainment division to make maybe less than 1/10th of what Rather, Brokaw, Jennings or I make in news today. It was a different time. So that--he went and did a show called "Person To Person." A marvelous guy named John Horn wrote a column for the New York Herald-Tribune, and he called the two Murrow shows, "See It Now" and "Person To Person" `High Murrow and Low Murrow.' I said, `That's the answer.'

You put `high Murrow' and `low Murrow' in the same broadcast, you can't miss. You can look in Marilyn Monroe's closet if you're also willing to look in Robert Oppenheimer's laboratory. For the first time, you can do something for a network's pocketbook and its soul, and that's what "60 Minutes" is. It's high Murrow and low Murrow in one thing. The low Murrows have been pretty good things. Low Murrow and "Person To Person"-type Murrow is Harry Reasoner going back out to Hollywood, where they've got the complete set of "Casablanca" still there--the piano that Dooley Wilson sat at--and take Ingrid Bergman back and talk about it, that's low Murrow at its highest. It's Diane Sawyer when she worked for us taking Michener back to Bali Hai, to the house where he wrote a lot of "Tales of the South Pacific" and found it had burned down and sat in front of the house and cried. That's low Murrow at its highest.

High Murrow are the investigative things you do. If you mix them up in one broadcast, which is what--exactly what Life magazine did--this is a carbon copy of Life. This is the--the television version of the old Life magazine.
LAMB: Biggest mistake you've ever made, you'd take it back if you could, with "60 Minutes."
MR. HEWITT: This is egomaniacal, but I don't know if we made any big mistakes.
LAMB: Would you do the Audi thing again?
MR. HEWITT: Au--Audi--one of my closest friends was the biggest importer of Audis in America, and we were very close. And I went to him one day, and I said, `Listen, I feel terrible about this story.' And he said, `Don't worry about it,' which was a signal to me that there were--they--they did put a brake lock on there afterwards. They did a lot of things to that car.

We went--no, there is one. We once took on the National Council of Churches for being sort of left wing. And the next morning, when every right-wing bishop in New York--in America called me to tell me how great it was, I said, `I think we made a mistake. I don't think we should have done that story.' There haven't been many.
LAMB: Who's going to retire first, who's going to leave first: you or Mike Wallace?
MR. HEWITT: Well, somebody at NBC or ABC, I don't know which, once said, `Wallace and Hewitt can't live forever.' And I said, `You want to bet?'
LAMB: What makes a good interviewer?
MR. HEWITT: A good interviewer is somebody--well, if you don't know, then--then you do--you've never looked in the mirror. What you do is what makes good interviewers. You let other people talk, and you bring out in people--I--the secret of "60 Minutes"--first of all, when you write for a magazine, you--you can make a dull person interesting by good writing. Television can't do that. Dull is dull. So what the "60 Minutes'" guys do is find interesting people who can tell their own story better than a writer could tell it. And that's what makes "60 Minutes," people telling their own stories.
LAMB: Got a minute left. Why did you write the book?
MR. HEWITT: Because Peter Osnos banged the bejesus out of me and said, `There's a book in you.' I said `I did a book.' He said, `No, there's a good book in you.' And I said, `I've got too much to do. I can't even think about it.' And Peter stayed on me and on me. And I--one day, I said, `You know, Peter maybe you're right, there may be a book lurking in there somewhere. I'm going to try it.' And I took a summer off, and I wrote. And I--and I kind of liked it, and--and other people who've read it seemed to like it.

And it ain't--look, it's not going to be--there are l--there are authors who are going to live or die by the books they wrote. I ain't going to live or die by the book I wrote. So I kept think--`Why do I want to take the chance? If it's great, ain't going to do me that much good, and if it's lousy, it could kill me.' So I think it falls somewhere in between. I think it's a pretty good book.
LAMB: Our guest has been Don Hewitt. Here's what the cover looks like. It's Jack Kennedy and Don Hewitt in 1960 on the cover; "Tell Me A Story." Thank you very much, sir.
MR. HEWITT: Brian, thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1994. 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.