BRIAN LAMB, HOST: In the book, "Meet the Press: 50 Years of History in the Making," it reads at one point, `Tim Russert credits the source of his own strength to family and his south Buffalo Irish Catholic roots. He even produced a feature segment on the "Nightly News" about his father, Big Russ, a retired truck driver and sanitation man.' Tell us more about that.
Mr. TIM RUSSERT ("Meet the Press: 50 Years in the Making"): I was born in Buffalo, Mercy Hospital, the south side of the city, which is where the steel plants are--in Lackawanna, Bethlehem, Republic Steel, the Chevy stamping plant, in a generation of men, like my dad, all of whom fought in World War II and came home with a central mission, and that was to have a family and have their sons and daughters educated. And my father worked two jobs his entire life, 37 years, to send his four kids to Catholic school.
I'm the first person in my family to go to college, much less law school, and would not be moderator of "Meet the Press" or involved in that book but for the quiet eloquence of his hard work.
LAMB: Is Big Russ still with us?
Mr. RUSSERT: Yes, he is.
LAMB: How old is he?
Mr. RUSSERT: Seventy-four, and just an extraordinary human being. He watches "Meet the Press" every Sunday and then calls me on Monday for his critique, which is scathing many times because he'll say, `I didn't know what they were talking about.' And that is such penetrating advice, because if he doesn't understand it, then I realize most of America doesn't understand it.
And so now when I ask a question about Social Security, it's not a technical question about SR-1481; it is `What would the average guy--how would this affect his premium? Would it go up? Would it go down? How would it affect his coverage?' Many times, the senators or congressmen aren't comfortable with those kinds of questions. They prefer to talk about S-1485.
LAMB: How about your mom?
Mr. RUSSERT: Mom is alive and well in Buffalo, and three sisters as well, all avid viewers of "Meet the Press." I remember growing up as a family watching the flickering black-and-white TV set. My earliest memories were watching John Kennedy and Richard Nixon and Fidel Castro. I remember him vividly from 1959, I now learn, having done research for the book. But those were the kinds of things we shared as a family. When there was only one or two networks on the air, you were--it was either watching "Meet the Press" or watching nothing.
LAMB: So what do your sisters do?
Mr. RUSSERT: My oldest sister, B.A., as we call her, Elizabeth Ann--Betty Ann, works in a medical center in a doctor's office as an administrator. My sister Kathy works in a bank as a clerk, as a teller. And my sister Trish has been a bookkeeper, and she's now expecting her second baby, so she has her feet up and waiting for the impending birth, which, God willing, will happen in December.
LAMB: Are they political at all?
Mr. RUSSERT: No, not at all. They are the quintessential swing voters. They are the focus group you dream about. They do not have any ideology or partisanship. And they will explain to me why they're going to vote for someone in such wonderfully stark terms, you know whether or not a candidate has connected.
During the last campaign with President Clinton and Senator Dole and Ross Perot, they were undecided until the last few weeks, but they began to talk about issues like smoking. My sister--oldest sister had a teen-age son; that was a big issue to her. Parental leave, day care, the so-called feminization of our politics or the soccer moms--it's real for these three women in Buffalo. And towards the end, they all began to swing back and forth between Dole and Clinton, and they were talking about these issues as I would call them up every week trying to get a sense of where they were headed.
But they don't follow politics the way we do here in Washington. But they enjoy watching "Meet the Press" or reading the front page of the paper and talking about it at work, and that's the extent of it. They're real Americans.
LAMB: More than once in your book, it comes up that Mr. Spivak, the original--not the original moderator, but...
Mr. RUSSERT: The founder.
LAMB: ...founder, 37 years, I guess, as moderator on the program--didn't like smoking.
Mr. RUSSERT: Right.
LAMB: And what was his rule?
Mr. RUSSERT: No smoking, period. Except Edward R. Murrow was on--had a nicotine fit while on the panel, and in many ways, people believed it contributed to a rather lackluster performance by Murrow as a panelist. But there are still signs in the "Meet the Press" office and--`no smoking'--left from Spivak. And the first thing I did when I was appointed moderator was went to Lawrence Spivak's apartment at the Sheraton Washington, an office building which is adjacent to his hotel suite. And there are still `no smoking' signs, no ashtrays. He just didn't tolerate it, not only because it bothered his eyes, but--and he thought it was unseemly to look at someone smoking; he understood it had some health problems associated with it early on.
LAMB: One of his last interviews was right where you're sitting, when he was 90-some years old, I believe. How long has he been dead?
Mr. RUSSERT: Two years. Yeah, he died at age 93. He was remarkable. I went to him--as I mentioned, the first call I made when I became moderator, he invited me to lunch. And I said, `What's the mission of "Meet the Press"? What do you do each and every Sunday?' He said, `That's simple. You learn everything you can about your guest and his or her positions, and take the other side. And if you do that each and every Sunday, you'll demonstrate the requisite objectivity and balance and deference of guests, and no one will ever complain, and you'll have a long and illustrious career.' He said, `You know, because when you engage people in that kind of intellectual exercise, you create a little tension and you make a little bit of news.' Wonderful advice.
LAMB: Your favorite show? Is there one where you've made the biggest news since you've been doing it? And how long have you been doing "Meet the Press"?
Mr. RUSSERT: This is my sixth year as moderator. Favorite shows would have to be--actually, three: Ross Perot, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton.
Mr. RUSSERT: Ross Perot was 1992. He had been quite successful in defining the deficit as the important issue in the '92 presidential campaign. He came on as a candidate and said that we had to balance the budget. And I said, `I--many people agree with you. How are you going to do that?'
He said, `There's $180 billion in waste, fraud and abuse.' And I said, `Well, is that a line item on the budget?' He said, `No.' I said, `Then let's go through it in great detail, find the $180 billion, because, as you would say, Mr. Perot, that's where the rubber hits the road.' And he said, `Well, if you had asked me--if you had told me you wanted to ask me questions like that, I would've brought my charts and I would've been prepared. But I don't wanna play this gotcha game.'
And I said, `It's not a gotcha game, Mr. Perot. If you're saying that we have to balance the budget, there's a responsibility to have a plan to do just that.' It got testy, and it was very civil but testy. And the next day, he withdrew as a candidate for president for about eight weeks and then got back into the race in '92. But it was very instructive, because he went out and hired a fellow named John White, and they put together a book which actually probably was the most honest way to balance a budget produced during the entire '92 campaign. And I believe it was a direct result of his interview on "Meet the Press."
Newt Gingrich was a remarkable day. The next--the day after the interview, there were five front-page stories and five different subjects from the same interview. The Los Angeles Times talked about immigration and 209. The Washington --Post talked about the use of drugs by the White House staff. The New York Times talked about Bosnia. USA Today talked about Newt Gingrich advising the first lady to rent the movie "Boys' Town" about orphanages. It was just one of those most amazing days where he--Newt Gingrich decided that he was going to put forth the world according to Newt Gingrich. And the headline writers across America enjoyed it thoroughly.
LAMB: Bill Clinton--now as we tape this, your full show on your anniversary has not run yet, but you said that that's one of your most memorable shows. When was it?
Mr. RUSSERT: 1993, on the 46th anniversary of "Meet the Press," President Clinton was our sole guest. And it was in the middle of a mini-crisis with Korea. And I thought about my dad and my Uncle Sonny who used to baby-sit me before that program, because many people thought we were on the verge of armed conflict with Korea. They were continuing to develop nuclear weapons.
And I asked the president, `Just where do you draw the line? If the North Koreans insist on developing nuclear weapons, or if they would, God forbid, go into South Korea, what are the obligations of the United States?' And he sat back in his chair and he put his finger up, and he said, `An attack upon South Korea is an attack upon the United States.' And that was banner headline all across the world. The president of the United States had once again reaffirmed our alliance with South Korea and put the North Koreans on notice.
In the second half of the program, we talked about out-of-wedlock births and the underclass. And the president coined a new term; he said, `I sometimes believe now we have created a group called the outer class, a group of children who are so far removed from normal society that they're almost impossible to reach.' It was really breaking out of the mold of liberal Democrat and, I think, really solidifying his view as a New Democrat, looking at the problems of race and children in a whole new context. And he received enormous response from that interview on that particular issue.
LAMB: As you know, the Sunday shows have all changed over the last 10 years. Your show used to have four reporters and a moderator, a guest. And now it could be just Tim Russert for the first 45 minutes or so. Why did you change it?
Mr. RUSSERT: Well, we--first we expanded to an hour. And we have flexibility in our format, which is what I really treasure. We have--we found that trying to do a moderator and four questioners, five people questioning, gave the news maker an unfair advantage in the following way.
When the program began in 1947, people were not schooled in television. They would appear on the set of "Meet the Press" and regularly tell the truth in simple and plain language. Many of the political leaders now are seasoned and trained and coached by media advisers, some would say even manipulators. And it's very hard to get beyond the boilerplate, and it sometimes takes the fourth or fifth or sixth question--follow-up question on one particular area to find out what the news maker is really thinking or what his plans really are for the country. And if you have five people asking questions on five different subjects, you never get beyond the boilerplate.
And so we decided to step back and have some flexibility with the format, and we think it's paid off.
LAMB: What are your ratings?
Mr. RUSSERT: Well, we have six million people who watch the program in total on any Sunday--some part of the program, about 3 1/2 million who watch every--all 60 minutes from minute to minute. We have had an increase of 40 percent in our national audience over the last five years, so we're the most watched show in Washington. And on any give Sunday, it's a tie between "This Week" on ABC and "Meet the Press." We've gone from third to first, which makes us all feel pretty good.
LAMB: Are there markets in this country that don't carry "Meet the Press"?
Mr. RUSSERT: Very few now. When I took over six years ago, we were only seen in 85 percent of the country, and now it's 99 percent of the country. Out of NBC's 208 affiliates, I think there are six or seven that don't carry us.
LAMB: Where's the market that you want the most?
Mr. RUSSERT: Well, it had been Nashville, and we just got it. Ft. Smith, Arkansas, kind of grows on me because I have a few friends down there who can't see it as well, and we continue to work on that.
My other pet peeve is the early time on the West Coast that we are seen. In Los Angeles, it's 7 AM, which seems to have worked for Los Angeles because there are a lot of people there who are having second families and I always kid them--who are now much more health-conscious, and they're getting up earlier. And so our audience is considerable. But in Seattle and in Portland, it's at 6 AM, which is just too early on a Sunday morning. If, in fact, we could get the West Coast to air "Meet the Press" at 8 or 9:00 in the morning, we would have a substantially larger national audience and it wouldn't even be competitive, I think, in the ratings.
LAMB: When is it done live?
Mr. RUSSERT: Nine AM Eastern time in our Washington studio.
LAMB: And how often do the affiliates carry it live in the country?
Mr. RUSSERT: About half the affiliates take it at 9 AM Eastern or 8 AM Central. In the Washington and New York markets, they hold it till 10:30 'cause it fits better with their Sunday morning lineup or schedule, but it's live to tape; nothing is altered; nothing is changed. If we make a mistake or flub a question or cough or sneeze, whatever, the viewer sees it exactly as it occurred.
LAMB: And your guests--how much in advance do you want them in the studio?
Mr. RUSSERT: They arrive about 8:30 to have makeup and a cup of coffee. Many of them have read the Sunday papers; some have not. It's always available. We also have for them a summary of the wires from AP and Reuters which they can thumb through and make sure that they're up to date on some of the e--developments that occurred overnight.
LAMB: Do you meet with them?
Mr. RUSSERT: I go in and say hello. That's it. I say, `Welcome. Nice to have you back and, you know, enjoy your coffee,' and that's it. I don't like a lot of idle chitchat before the show, and we certainly don't talk about the topics that we're going to have the interview on in a matter of moments.
After the show is over, they sit around and have a sandwich and a glass of orange juice, and many of them will sit there for a good half-hour and talk about the program and some of the answers they gave and some they wish they had given. Many times, they'll say, `Could we talk off the record a little bit about what they're up to on Capitol Hill or at the White House?' And the reporters enjoy that because it's a very good opportunity for backgrounding.
LAMB: And do you put guests that are opposed to each other in the same room?
Mr. RUSSERT: Generally, yes. However, there have been moments when some of the guests have requested separate holding rooms, as we call them. And the...
LAMB: Can you give us an example?
Mr. RUSSERT: Yes. I remember one time in the height of the '96 campaign, William Safire of The New York Times had written a column critical of Pat Buchanan's views on the Middle East and on Jewish-Americans. And they have served together in the Nixon White House. And Pat Buchanan requested that he be in a different room than William Safire, who was gonna be on the roundtable.
A few Sundays ago, we had Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Attorney General Janet Reno. She was there to talk about the campaign finance investigation. He was there to talk about the second anniversary of the Million Man March. And both Janet Reno and Minister Farrakhan requested separate rooms, and we certainly honored that.
LAMB: Has there ever been a time a guest hasn't shown up?
Mr. RUSSERT: No, not in my tenure. I am told that in Mr. Spivak's tenure early on that an economics minister in Germany was intoxicated and passed out in his hotel room and they could not arouse him. But they had several other guests scheduled and the show went on.
LAMB: There's a note in the book that it used to the tradition that they would serve Bloody Marys after "Meet the Press" was over, but at some point, the alcohol went away. When was that?
Mr. RUSSERT: When I took over the program. I just thought it was too early at 9 AM in the morning and finished at 10. If someone requests one, they can still have it, but I thought that the atmosphere, the mood I was trying to create, orange juice was much more conducive.
LAMB: You went to John Carroll University, you got your law degree there.
Mr. RUSSERT: I went to John Carroll University, degree in political science, and then the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.
LAMB: Where did you go right after school?
Mr. RUSSERT: After college, I took a year off and before--I didn't have any money; I was broke, as I would say back home. And I taught school, history and English at Riverside High. And then I became the administrative assistant to the city comptroller of Buffalo, George D. O'Connell, a great man, called the best wait-goer in the city. He really knew how to charm people in all walks of life and was one of the most popular vote-getters ever.
But I saved enough money in--during that year and went to law school, finished law school, took the bar exam in July and then volunteered for the political campaign of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was running for the Senate in 1976. And he won the seat, a five-way primary and then a bruising general election.
LAMB: Why did you do that?
Mr. RUSSERT: I always had a very deep interest in public service and government. When you take a bar exam, you're in a holding period trying to find out whether or not you had passed it. I had been a law clerk in the Corporation Counsel's office in Cleveland, the county attorney's office in Erie County, which is Buffalo.
So I had done enough clerking in my mind, and I wanted to do something different. And I thought that getting involved in a campaign for the US Senate would expose me to a whole variety of national and international issues, and particularly with someone like Moynihan, who had worked for Presidents Nixon and Ford and Kennedy and Johnson. And he wasn't disappointing as a teacher or a mentor in terms of his ability to explain a public policy.
And I'll tell you a wonderful story. He was asked about his service with Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and whether working for those Republicans would hurt him in the Democratic primary. I thought it would, and I said, `You're gonna have to defend the extraordinary increases in defense spending and the enormous reductions in domestic spending under those Republican administrations.'
And Ambassador Moynihan, at that time, took out a napkin and drew a chart and said, `This is what happened to domestic spending under Nixon,' and he went up, `and this is what happened to defense spending.' And I said, `That can't possibly be right.' Then the next day on my desk arrived a memo from Mr. Moynihan, and true to form, he was exactly right. And I had learned something, that data, information, matters, and that you can have all these theses about--or the perceptions of what Republican presidents did or didn't do, but you oughta be right and you oughta be specific and you oughta be accurate. And it was a valuable lesson.
LAMB: How old were you when you worked in his campaign?
Mr. RUSSERT: I was 26 years old.
LAMB: Then what did you do once he won the Senate seat?
Mr. RUSSERT: I was the regional administrator up in Buffalo, and the Blizzard of '77 came, snowstorm, five feet of snow, paralyzed the western New York area. And Senator Jacob Javits, the late Republican, and Senator Moynihan flew to Washington--flew from Washington to Buffalo, and we flew back on USAir. I was in the middle seat and flanked by two US senators, and they dictated a letter to then President Carter declaring Buffalo a disaster area, which I wrote and put in final form based on their significant input.
And the president declared it a disaster area, and we backgrounded all the media as to why it was happening. And the senator said, `You know, you seem to enjoy it here. You oughta stay right here in Washington rather than go back home to Buffalo,' and--which was what I did.
LAMB: What was your job?
Mr. RUSSERT: I was the--because I was a lawyer, I was the special counsel. Well, I was a lot--involved mostly in legislation and dealing with the media.
LAMB: Were you political?
Mr. RUSSERT: ...in the sense of, you know, every political office has a political aspect to it, sure. But, you know, when you grow up in Buffalo, the old joke is that you're baptized a Catholic and born a Democrat. And I think that's true of certainly all the people I was involved with at that particular time.
But Moynihan was unique in that he brought a sense of bipartisanship to his role, having worked for the two Republican presidents I mentioned. His approach was one of `Let's sponsor legislation that is in the best interests of my constituents. And if it means co-sponsoring with Republicans, so be it.' In fact, I dare say hi--some of his closest friends in the Senate happened to be Republicans. And so it was an invaluable learning experience for me.
I remember John Chancellor, a great newsman for NBC who died recently--he was the White House correspondent for NBC, and President Johnson asked him to become the director of the USIA--United States Information Agency. And John Chancellor was giving an interview a few years ago, and he said, `I think it should be almost mandatory that any journalist spend some time in government because they have an opportunity to be exposed firsthand to the making of legislation and the executing of decisions, and it would really give them a much better perspective on what they were covering.' I think Chancellor's right.
LAMB: How long did you stay with Senator Moynihan?
Mr. RUSSERT: T--one term, six years.
LAMB: Six years.
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah.
LAMB: And then what?
Mr. RUSSERT: I went to Albany and was counselor to Governor Cuomo.
LAMB: What year is this?
Mr. RUSSERT: '83 and '84, 22 months, where I was exposed to the executive branch of government, which was, in itself, a learning experience. It--you're trying to deal with a state budget. The first day on the job, there was a prison riot at Sing Sing, which went on for several days. And talk about a life experience that you'll never forget; that was one of them. And then in 1984, I joined NBC as an executive, vice president and assistant to the president of NBC News, who was then Lawrence Grossman.
LAMB: Why did you take that job, and how did you get it?
Mr. RUSSERT: I was at a point in my life where I had spent eight years in government and politics. I had thought about practicing law. I went to see a fellow named Leonard Garment, former counsel to President Nixon, and an author and recent guest on this program, and Leonard said, `You know, a friend of mine has just been appointed president of NBC News and he is looking for people to help him build--or rebuild a news organization, and it might be an interesting position for you.'
David Burke, another friend of mine who had worked in Washington, served as vice president and assistant to the president of ABC News, Roone Arledge. And I called David and asked him, did he find the work rewarding, fulfilling, and how was the transition from Washington, government and politics to network news? And he said, `It's--it's such a natural path. It's was hard to even notice any difference in his life in that you're dealing with the same issues, and many times, the same personalities, the media, and the only question, obviously, would be: Would you bring the requisite objectivity to your position? And that can only be measured by your performance.
LAMB: What year did you come to Washington, then, as the bureau chief?
Mr. RUSSERT: 1989. Michael Gartner became the president of NBC News in 1988, replacing Larry Grossman. I served with him a few months in New York and then he asked if I would come to Washington as the bureau chief and promoted me to senior vice president, and it's the best decision I ever made in my life.
LAMB: When was the first time you ever did air work for NBC?
Mr. RUSSERT: Not until 1990. We do phone calls--conference calls--every morning on NBC about what will be on "Nightly News," what will be on the "Today" show, what issues should we be covering at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department. And Michael Gartner, the president of NBC News said, `I'm learning a lot from these phone calls and the context that you're putting these issues in. You should put this on the air.' And I said, `I don't look like someone who should be on the air, or I've never had any television training or lessons or or experience.'
He said, `Well, try it.' And I went on as a questioner on "Meet the Press" in 1990. In fact, my first question was to Senator Bob Dole, who was then the--or senator from Kansas--senior senator from Kansas. And people seemed to--at NBC seemed to like it, and I continued to do it with some regularity, perhaps, once a month or so, until 1991, when the Sunday "Today" show which had --originated from Washington was moved to New York, because they--NBC expanded the "Today" show to all seven days, Saturday, Sunday, as well as Monday to Friday, and they wanted the program to originate from a central place, New York. Garrick Utley, who had been doing Sunday "Today" and "Meet the Press" couldn't do Sunday "Today" in New York and "Meet the Press" in Washington--physically impossible--so NBC sought a new moderator.
I put together a list of people--candidates--from NBC and outside of NBC, went and met with Michael Gartner, the president, and he looked at the list. He said, `You should do it.' And I said, `Michael, I--you know, it's one thing to be a panelist, but to be the host, the moderator, takes a whole level of TV skills that I just don't have.' He said, `Just be yourself. Go do it.' And that was six years ago.
LAMB: Let me ask you if you changed any way you think about yourself. I'm going to go back to your book, on page 12, --the book says, `"The American Mercury" drama critic and co-founder, George Jean Nathan, strongly advised Spivak'--meaning Lawrence Spivak, one of the founders--`against a move into television, warning him that, quote, "They'll all change the way you dress, the way you part your hair, and you'll end up looking at your reflection as you pass store windows." Spivak did, indeed, begin parting his hair on the left side rather than in the middle.'
Mr. RUSSERT: I have--I've stayed the same, you know, still have this pretty face. Still got my Lands' End suits.
LAMB: Did you ever...
Mr. RUSSERT: Not much has changed.
LAMB: Do you ever worry about the way you look?
Mr. RUSSERT: Not as much as other people do, and that drives me crazy. I mean, I'll sit down and people will be coming up, trying to--you know, `You have a loose strand of hair' or powdering your nose. And I happen to believe that "Meet the Press" is a different species where people look to it not for TV skills or posturing or baritone voices, but for honest-to-goodness, real questions. And my sense is if you're not too smooth and not too slick, you'll probably bring more credibility to the subject than you would be if you were more polished, at least that's my out.
LAMB: Why did you do this book?
Mr. RUSSERT: We were thinking of ways to celebrate our 50th anniversary. Television is a particular medium where most shows last 13 weeks, and for 50 years, "Meet the Press" has been on the air, the longest-running television program in the history of the world. We thought about different mementos, and I said, `You know, we really ought to have a book, put into a couple hundred pages, the best photographs, the best transcripts and the best annotations we can possibly research so that people have something that they can put on their coffee table and pick up at night and read and page through, something to give their parents, something to give their children. And it was a dream that I wasn't sure would be fulfilled because it's a big enterprise.
And we started sifting through the archives and the photographs and realized it was an enormous production. We brought in several people from the outside, Rick Ball and other researchers, but also the "Meet the Press" staff, but particularly Betty Dukert, who has been with the show for 44 years and a wonderful institutional memory. And we spent hundreds of hours going through the old transcripts and kinescopes and archives and compiled what we think is the--is the best summary possible of 50 years of "Meet the Press." There's Betty Dukert right there.
LAMB: I wanted to show this picture because anybody that's lived in this town knows Betty Cole Dukert.
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah.
LAMB: Tell us about her and why did you feature her so much in the book?
Mr. RUSSERT: Oh, she started off on "Meet the Press" as an assistant to Mr. Spivak 44 years ago--44 years in the same location, the same job. She's now the executive producer of "Meet the Press." She has been there for more than 2,000 of the programs. She is often the first line of contact between the guest who you're trying to encourage to come on to "Meet the Press" and the program. She is there to great the guest. She is there to help in the research. She is there for me to bounce questions off before a program. She is the most thorough, professional, wonderful human being that I've been associated with in my professional life.
LAMB: Let's look at some photographs and I wanna look at them in kind of--in rapid succession so that we can get a flavor of the--some of the people that we've kind of pulled out and put on our--our machine back there.
Mr. RUSSERT: OK.
LAMB: So if we can have the first photo of--I'm not sure which one we've got up here. We can look at one of them. I guess we're not--there we are. What's this?
Mr. RUSSERT: I'm looking there--oh, it's the--Lawrence Spivak in his first interview with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This was a very important interview in Senator Moynihan's life and probably the history of discussion of race relations. He had written The Negro Family report, and it talked about how three out of every 10 of births in the black community were born to a single parent. And he said, `This could be an impending crisis unless we deal with it.' It's now seven out of 10, and many people who were critical of Senator Moynihan have now praised him for being prescient on that particular issue.
LAMB: Senator Joseph McCarthy's next.
Mr. RUSSERT: Joseph McCarthy. That was the one thing I did not know about the history of "Meet the Press," the role that Joseph McCarthy played in the early days of the program. Lawrence Spivak had him on as a guest numerous times, as well as Elizabeth Bentley. He was on the radio version of "Meet the Press" in 1945...
LAMB: This--that's them--MBS is there.
Mr. RUSSERT: ...that Whittaker Chambers called Alger Hiss a spy. Whittaker Chambers had said Alger Hiss was a spy in Congress but had immunity from prosecution. Hiss said to Chambers, `You do that in open forum and I'll sue you.' Chambers went on "Meet the Press" and did it and Hiss sued. Joseph McCarthy came on "Meet the Press" several times--in fact, my--one time he brought a gun to the studio and put it on his thigh. And Mr. Spivak said, `What is that for?' And Joseph McCarthy said, `Who knows?'
LAMB: In this photo, on the left is former Chief Justice Earl Warren. Was he chief justice then or was he...
Mr. RUSSERT: Governor...
LAMB: ...governor or...
Mr. RUSSERT: ...of California. Yeah.
LAMB: You recognize anybody else in that photo?
Mr. RUSSERT: No, I don't. I don't.
LAMB: Is that Lawrence Spivak on the right there with the glasses seated at the table?
Mr. RUSSERT: Yes, it is. The--the--in the--the middle person on the right-hand side, exactly right.
LAMB: Now you point out that--in the book, that David Broder, more than anybody else--non-NBC employee--has appeared on the show. But the number two in that category is May Craig.
Mr. RUSSERT: Oh, May Craig.
LAMB: And we have a photo of May Craig here with Nelson Frank and Martha Roundtree. Who was May Craig?
Mr. RUSSERT: May Craig was...
LAMB: She's off to the left there.
Mr. RUSSERT: There she is. You can see her and she'll have her hat on and her gloves. She was a reporter from Portland, Maine, and she became such a fixture on "Meet the Press"--I think 264-some appearances. She wore a hat and she said, `So people will remember me.' She wore white gloves and used to--a wonderful--wave her finger. When Fidel Castro came on the program in 1959, he said, `Where is May Craig? I've had a crush on her for all these years.'
LAMB: Second from the right there is Martha Roundtree. Who was she?
Mr. RUSSERT: Martha Roundtree was the co-founder of "Meet the Press" with Lawrence Spivak. She came to Lawrence Spivak in early 1940s and said, `There ought to be a television program where each week the nation's journalists sit down with a national or international newsmaker. And we can interview people like Joseph Stalin,' was her first suggestion. And Spivak said, `Well, you'll never get Stalin and people won't watch that kind of news setting.' She said, `Let's try it.'
The first guest was James Farley, the post master general to Ro--Franklin Roosevelt but his real political conscience in many ways. And the show was an instant success. Martha Roundtree stayed with the program for a few years and then Lawrence Spivak bought her out. She went to ABC and tried to start a similar program of--ABC version of "Meet the Press" and launched that for a few programs as well.
LAMB: Today, we often see a man named Roger Wilkins on this network, who is a professor at George Mason. His uncle is Roy Wilkins off to the right there. His--and Ned Brooks is in the middle. Who is Ned Brooks?
Mr. RUSSERT: That's a wonderful story. Ned Brooks was the moderator of "Meet the Press" for 12 years. Lawrence Spivak became much more comfortable being the principal questioner and wanted a moderator or facilitator to do some of the intros and outros and brought in Ned Brooks to do it. Mr. Wilkins--this is a wonderful story. About a year ago, a year and a half ago, we started something called the "Meet the Press" Minute. At the end of each program, we will take video highlights of a previous interview from decades ago and run them, trying to show some continuity in the news.
And we were talking about race relations in America and we had Reverend Jesse Jackson and some other guests, and an the end, we used a clip of Mr. Wilkins. Roger Wilkins, the gentleman you mentioned, his nephew, saw it and asked if we could send the full interview to him for his family to watch. Just the other day I got a note from him saying his 14-year-old daughter watched it and just couldn't believe that she--her great-uncle had been such an important figure in the American civil rights movement.
LAMB: In the center of this picture is an 85-year-old man, who was president of the United States, in a photograph with a birthday cake, Herbert Hoover.
Mr. RUSSERT: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Is that Chet Huntley in the back? I can't...
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah, it sure is. And that's Lawrence Spivak with the dark horn-rimmed glasses. Hoover was appointed chairman of a commission on efficiency and he also made recommendations about the position of the role of vice president. And he appeared on "Meet the Press" to unveil the commission report.
LAMB: The next photograph we have is of former President Richard Nixon with Lawrence A. Spivak.
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm. Mr. Nixon had several--I think eight--appearances on "Meet the Press." He was deeply involved in the whole Whittaker Chambers-Alger Hiss investigations, as you know, appeared as a--on "Meet the Press" as a congressman, as a senator, as presidential candidate and as a former president. His last appearance was in 1988. Richard Nixon had agreed to appear again on "Meet the Press" and then died the following week. He never appeared.
LAMB: Next photograph is of Edward R. Murrow, on the right, Mr. Spivak and Ned Brooks. And was this the smoking day?
Mr. RUSSERT: Yes, it was, where Mr. Murrow was--is--and we write about it in the book. His foot was twitching and kicking the desk because he was desperate for a cigarette. And Spivak's rule prevailed: No smoking.
LAMB: Attorney General Robert Kennedy was--appeared on there and that's this photo.
Mr. RUSSERT: Rose Kennedy wrote Lawrence Spivak a letter saying that her three sons all made their first national television interview debuts on "Meet the Press," and she pointed out they were all roughly the same age. It's--the full circle of American political life--I had John Kennedy Jr. on the political roundtable a few months ago with his magazine, George magazine, talking about what--his role as a editor and publisher and some of the interviews he had conducted. And the "Meet the Press" Minute was his father, Congressman John Kennedy. Young John Kennedy had never seen the footage, and as he watched it, he said, `My God, he's the same age as I was.'
LAMB: Now here in the book you actually have a letter from Joe Kennedy, the father, I believe.
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And you have pictures of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and below that Teddy Kennedy--or is --that's actually Rose Kennedy's letter that I was talking about.Yeah.
Mr. RUSSERT: That's the Rose Kennedy letter I was talking about.
LAMB: This is Joseph Kennedy.
Mr. RUSSERT: Exactly right.
LAMB: Where did--where do--where was all this material kept?
Mr. RUSSERT: In drawers, file cabinets. Much of it was in Mr. Spivak's apartment. It was a shrine.
LAMB: Still here? Is he--the...
Mr. RUSSERT: It--we t--we ra--he--when he died, we were able to take much of the material out and bring it to the "Meet the Press" office in Washington. His children took some of it and wanted some of it. You know, NBC provided him an office next to his apartment and he kept mention of a--personal correspondence, the letters from Rose Kennedy and from Martin Luther King and from Lyndon Johnson and so forth, and they were gracious enough to turn it over to "Meet the Press." Betty Cole Dukert kept meticulous files and notations and photographs. And the video--the actual video of the programs is--can be found at the Library of Congress, where it will be kept for generations of people in the future. Only NBC can have access to broadcast it, but you can go to the Library of Congress and gain access, in terms of research, to the "Meet the Press" kinescopes and old videos.
LAMB: In the book you this chart: Most Guest Appearances on "Meet the Press." That number of 56 for Bob Dole's already been changed to 57.
Mr. RUSSERT: Right.
LAMB: And the next man in line in Sam Nunn; George Mitchell at 27; Dick Gephardt, 25, it's now 26; Hubert Humphrey, 25; Richard Lugar, 24; Mr. Moynihan, 24; Henry Jackson, James Baker, George Schultz, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and we could go on. But go back to the top there, where it was Bob Dole at 57.
Mr. RUSSERT: Right.
LAMB: If I remember correctly, he hardly appeared at all during the campaign.
Mr. RUSSERT: That's exactly right.
LAMB: I mean, what do you say to folks that--you know, here he's available every Sunday until the big moment in the campaign and he never shows up.
Mr. RUSSERT: It was kind of ironic. Bob Dole was on "Meet the Press" 57 times during his political career, which spanned--he came to Washington in 1961.
LAMB: And if I counted right, 25 after 1990.
Mr. RUSSERT: Exactly right, when he became a president candidate and leader of the Senate. And what he would do is go on the other Sunday programs as well. So --if he went on each of the Sunday programs four times a year, he was on --television practically every other Sunday on one of the channels or networks. It was a format that was made for Bob Dole. He was comfortable sitting at the table, bantering back and forth, showing occasional humor, engage with the legislative process, talking about -political tidbits and strategy.
When he ran for president in 1996, his handlers --his advisers told him, `Stay off the Sunday shows. They're too dangerous.' He appeared on "Meet the Press" in January of 1996 and he talked openly about wanting Colin Powell to be his vice president and he talked openly about wanting to achieve a compromise on the issue of abortion in the party platform. And his handlers said, `That's it. No more, because he's gonna make news. Those darned Washington journalists are gonna get him in a corner and he's gonna say something he regrets saying.'
I thought it was a terrible mistake. It was the one format, the one area where he shined. And the American people were comfortable watching Bob Dole on Sunday morning TV. He's not comfortable behind a podium. He's not comfortable in some of the more relaxed interview settings or the prime-time aspects of them. That's not who he is. He is from Russell, Kansas. He is the former majority leader of the United States Senate. And he--if you asked anyone involved in any of the Sunday shows, they will tell you he was their favorite guest. And the American people grew to like and respect him in that format. For them not to have enough confidence in their candidate to continue that during the campaign, I believe was a blunder.
LAMB: When did he come back on, then, after he appeared in January?
Mr. RUSSERT: I wrote him a note and said, `If you win the presidency, will you do the 50th anniversary program from the Oval Office?' and he said, `Yes, I will.' Well, he lost the election, so I wrote him another note. I said, `Well, you lost the election and President Clinton is going to--has agreed to do the 50th anniversary program. Will you come on the week before, November 2nd, the first anniversary of your defeat, in effect, and talk about politics, past and future?' and he did. And it was very reflective. He talked about the campaign and why he thinks he lost, largely because of the economy.
But he talked, also, rather aggressively about his wife, Elizabeth, as a candidate for the presidency in the year 2000. He joked that if she won, he would be the first husband and his only demands were a car, driver and beeper. He'd be in charge of movies and entertainment. But he was quite serious when he began to evaluate her chances in the year 2000 as a Republican candidate for president. Bob Dole believes that she may be his best hope of finally getting to the White House.
LAMB: Let me ask you, this i--this doesn't sound like an important issue, but you didn't ask him about that on this program, but in this town they kept reporting, The Washington Post, that he'd had a face lift.
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm.
LAMB: Did you ever think about asking a question like that of a Bob Dole?
Mr. RUSSERT: Sure. I read about it in the paper and I looked at him carefully, made some observations, but I had never done that with any other guest and I just didn't feel it was appropriate. He's gonna be on Jay Leno, I'm told, in the coming days and weeks, and my guess is they may get into something along those lines. But I've--I just don't feel comfortable about that.
LAMB: Now the reverse of Bob Dole appearing 57 times on your show and being the leader is Robert McNamara, who did not go on "Meet the Press" ever during his time as secretary of defense until he announced his retirement. What do you think of that? I mean, do y--and I guess what I'm leading to is if these-- do politicians control you or do you control the politicians when it comes to this show?
Mr. RUSSERT: Very good question. Probably a little bit of both. We try very hard to have the most topical issue and the best guests. Some people are reluctant, although the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, Dean Rusk and Robert McNamara, did appear together once to try to sell the Vietnam War to the American people.
We were able to imitate that last year, when Secretary of State Albright and Secretary of Defense William Cohen came on to try to sell the chemical weapons treaty to the American people. And the "Meet the Press" Minute when Albright and Cohen appeared was the appearance of Rusk and McNamara.
Many politicians will come on because they have a set agenda. They have an idea they want to sell--Steve Forbes on his flat tax or Dick Armey on breaking up the IRS or Newt Gingrich trying to establish his leadership base. Other politicians will come on because they're in the middle of a political campaign and wanted to get known and recognized and court voters.
Others will come on because they have a deep and abiding belief that it--they should contribute to the public dialogue and that being invited on "Meet the Press" is an honor and part of their constitutional duty, in effect, to deal with the fourth estate. The fact is the press in this country is protected by the First Amendment. No one has an obligation to talk to us, but some political figures still believe that it is part of their job as a political leader to answer questions from the media.
Others, as you mention, want no part of it. Senator Jesse Helms has not gone on a Sunday program, I don't believe, in the last 10 years. He just doesn't want to. And we have talked to him and have written him notes and I've gone to see him myself. I think he had a lot to say--has a lot to say about the foreign policy of this nation, but he's decided it's not a format that he's comfortable in doing.
LAMB: How involved are you personally in trying to get people to come on the show?
Mr. RUSSERT: Quite a bit. I have worked very hard developing sources and contacts in Washington. It's a very competitive environment. When Madeleine Albright became secretary of state, she had to have her first Sunday interview somewhere. It proved--turned out to be "Meet the Press." When Erskine Bowles became the new White House chief of staff, he came on "Meet the Press" first. It's the kind of thing where if you know people before they become famous and you talk to them before they become famous, when they become famous, they're willing and anxious to talk to you on "Meet the Press." We don't always win, but --we won--have won more than our fair share.
LAMB: How often do people call you directly and say, `I wanna go on the show'?
Mr. RUSSERT: A lot, particularly people who are new to Washington and want to become engaged in the process and in the public policy debate. But on the other hand, when the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, 70 new freshman members, I went and spent some time on the Hill talking to them, getting to know them, did a program with four freshman members called The Four Freshmen, Here They Are and tried to introduce the country to a whole new group of political leadership that had taken place. The first time in many people's lifetimes the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress.
LAMB: What about sponsorship? How involved are you in getting sponsors for the show?
Mr. RUSSERT: We're very lucky in that we have a back now--a back load of people who wanna sponsor the program. Most people don't--don't know that it's the only program in network television that doesn't sell by its ratings. We are actually sponsored. And we are sponsored to a point where we are sold out through 1998 already. Many people will come and say, `I'd like to sponsor the show.' And we'll say, `I'm sorry. There are others that have been there before you.' I am occasionally asked to go talk to the sponsors or employees or things along those lines, but other than that, my involvement isn't all that considerable.
LAMB: Sponsors ask for special favors?
Mr. RUSSERT: Never. Never. We couldn't do that. They cannot be involved in the editorial aspect of the program at all. And if anyone ever tried, they'd be dropped as a sponsor.
LAMB: So one of the ironies in your book is that even though Mr. Spivak was against smoking...
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah.
LAMB: ...King S--King Sano used to sponsor--what the world was King Sano?
Mr. RUSSERT: A cigarette, right?
Mr. RUSSERT: I mean, it's --baffling. And I remember the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze. Cigalette advertising back then was front and center.
LAMB: There's a story in here about Tom Brokaw when he appeared on--for the first time...
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah.
LAMB: ...on "Meet the Press" and the--the quote here from Mr. Brokaw is--talking about Lawrence Spivak, "He grabbed ahold of me and dragged me into the room and he said, `Listen, this is going to be the most important program all year and tradition has it that the NBC correspondent gets to ask the first question, so it better damn well be a good question. You've got to get to the heart of the news right away because the whole program will depend on it.' And I am quavering at this point, so I said my opening question to Mel Laird, `Mr. Laird, you've--given the events of last night in Washington, is there any reason whatsoever that the House of Representatives shouldn't begin impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States?'"
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm.
LAMB: The reason I bring that up is to ask you how a--conscious are you when you ask questions that you've got to--a ratings game going on or you got people out there with their notepads and are taking quotes down?
Mr. RUSSERT: I'm most conscious of what the response is going to be. When I prepare for "Meet the Press," I really do follow Lawrence Spivak's advice and try to learn everything about my guest, what they've said in the past and take away their stock answer in the question. `Senator, I know you've said, but,' and go in that way.
I realize, for example, when Madeleine Albright is on the program, the secretary of state, the day before Jiang Zemin, the president of China, is coming to Washington, whatever she said is going to control the public airwaves all that day and probably the next day and largely determine what questions will be asked at the White House briefing the following day, which was exactly the case. Or if Janet Reno, the attorney general, is on the program, and I say the perception was that she had exonerated President Clinton of any wrongdoing in campaign fund-raising violations, when she responds to that question and when she says that the Justice Department would be willing to sit down with the president, you know then you've generated headlines. In fact, many times during a break in the show, the producers will bring in wire copy to me, a story already had been broken on--on--on "Meet the Press" from the very first question.
I think the mission is twofold, however. Yes, we enjoy breaking news. Yes, we enjoy people watching. But third and most important to me, I enjoy the conversation and the dialogue and the discussion. There are many times we have had programs--one that comes to mind was with Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and Grant Hill, three basketball players with the National Basketball Association, and we talked a little bit about basketball, but by and large, the discussion focused on the responsibility of young men in our society, particularly young black men. And when Michael Jordan looks into the camera and says that if you're there for the creation of a baby, you have to be there for the education of a child, and that young people have to be responsible for their actions, it resonates. It resonates probably much stronger than if a politician said it or, certainly, if a moderator of "Meet the Press" said it.
So I'm willing to sacrifice headlines on any given Sunday to have a serious, substantive discussion about an issue involving particularly kids or race or drugs or issues that are important to the fabric of our society.
LAMB: Who's this?
Mr. RUSSERT: That's Ross Perot and the moderator of "Meet the Press" and--oh, there. That...
LAMB: I know. I know. I know.
Mr. RUSSERT: I'm sorry. There's two pictures on the page, I'm sorry.
Mr. RUSSERT: That is Maureen Orth, an acclaimed writer for Vanity Fair magazine and my wife, and my son Luke Russert, age 12, who wears size nine football cleats and plays center for the Bulldogs of St. Auburn.
LAMB: Does he watch the program?
Mr. RUSSERT: Occasionally. He goes to Mass and CCD, religious instruction, on Sunday mornings, but what--by the time he gets home, I'm watching a reply riding my exercise bike and he's playing his video game looking up and down at it. He came with me--and there's a wonderful picture in the front of our book with Ross Perot. He came to Dallas--I went to the Reform Party Convention and Luke wanted to meet Ross Perot. And there you'll see two Ross Perots. One of them is the real Ross Perot and on the right is Luke Russert with a Ross Perot mask on.
And Luke came out and greeted Mr. Perot, they were eye to eye, and Ross Perot was a great sport about it, still says, `Give Luke a hug for me,' whenever I see him. And Luke took the mask off and said, `Mr. Perot, would you sign my mask?' And Ross Perot obliged and scribbled his signature on the mask.
LAMB: Now you were involved in Democratic politics working for both Governor Cuomo and Senator Moynihan. How have you tried to take your politics out of your questioning and your relationships with all these people?
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah. Simply by being the most objective moderator I can possibly be. It's now a--kind of interesting. Rush Limbaugh, who--I don't think many people question his conservative credentials, has gone on the radio and said that I am the most objective person on network television. And there's a whole litany of people from Newt Gingrich on down who say that the questionings I--questions I have for Democrats and Republicans are equal in their persistence and aggressiveness and objectivity.
My view is simple. When I sit in the moderator's chair of "Meet the Press," I am there as a surrogate for the American people, for American journalists, and I must ask the best questions of my guest, and my own p--personal political views are secondary and really don't come into play. One of the difficulties I've had, frankly, in studying up on both sides of an issue, I don't know what I believe anymore. I've become --so well-versed, I believe, on so many different subjects and understand each argument so well, I'm very confused and undecided on a whole variety of issues.
LAMB: You say in the introduction, `The only time I believe I became too emotional in my questioning was with former Ku Klux Klan leader and Nazi sympathizer David Duke.'
Mr. RUSSERT: Yeah.
Mr. RUSSERT: I remember that show very well. I was a panelist and David Duke was running against Edwin Edwards for governor of Louisiana. And I said to Governor Edwards, `There are--two issues have been placed against you, that you're a womanizer and a gambler.' He said, `Mr. Russert, I have never gambled illegally. And secondly, I'm a 65 years old with white hair. For you to call me a womanizer is a compliment.'
I then turned to David Duke and said, `Mr. Duke, the charge against you is that you are a Nazi sympathizer. What was it about the United States of America that made you wanna be a Nazi?' And he froze and he couldn't answer. He said, `It's unfair for you to keep focusing on my past. I wanna be governor of Louisiana on a program of economic development. Why can't we talk about that?'
And I took a chance. I had not prepared this question and I said, `Fine. Can you tell me that if you wanna be the governor of Louisiana on a platform of economic development, what you will do and who are the three largest employers of the state of Louisiana?' He couldn't answer, and you could feel a hush come over the audience.
And rather than leave it at that, I leaned in and I said, `You mean to tell me you wanna be governor of Louisiana and you can't name the three largest employers?' He said, `Well, there are lots of 'em.' `Go ahead, Mr. Duke, name one. Just give me one.' And I watched the tape the next day and I said, `My God, I wasn't a moderator, I was a prosecutor.'
And I talked to Big Russ, my dad, and I said--he said, `Ah, that was great.' I said, `Ah, Dad,' I said, `I went to far. I crossed the line. You can't be jabbing your guest with your finger and demanding answers and I made the point. He didn't know who the three biggest employers are. I made a mistake and I feel awful.'
He said, `Oh, don't feel awful. If you're gonna make a mistake, make a mistake with a Nazi.' And so my dad tried to make me feel better. But I learned a valuable lesson. Even though David Duke was a Nazi sympathizer and not someone that people have very much patience with, I shouldn't have done that. I crossed the line. I went too far. And I have never made the same mistake again.
LAMB: In 2,500 programs, only 82 women have appeared...
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm.
LAMB: ...according to your book. Why so few women?
Mr. RUSSERT: Mm. It's largely the reflection of the role they play in the leadership levels of our government. We have had on, you know, a whole variety of women from Eleanor Roosevelt to, certainly, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman ever to...
LAMB: This is Clare Boothe Luce.
Mr. RUSSERT: And Clare Boothe Luce. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to be nominated for vice president. I'll tell you a wonderful story. I have a photograph on my desk from 1949. The woman of "Meet the Press"--the moderator of "Meet the Press" was a woman, the guest was a woman and all the panelists were women. And I found that some years ago and I put it as a reminder that "Meet the Press" had been in the forefront of having women on the program in all capacities. Researching the book, I realized the reason that program had all the women was because all the men went to the grid iron dinner and the women were not invited, and there was no one left to do the program but women.
We try very hard, particularly with our panelists, with Lisa Myers, Andrea Mitchell, Gwen Ifill, all of NBC News, to have women present in the questioning, and we try very hard to have women as our guest. But society is still at a position where there are very few women--United States senators or congressmen or Cabinet members. We've asked the first lady, Hillary Clinton, repeatedly to come on the program. She had declined thus far.
Mr. RUSSERT: I don't know. I believe probably it's because of the kinds of questions she would be asked. She has appeared on "Oprah Winfrey" and some other talk shows, but she--if she comes on "Meet the Press," she would be treated as a public figure and would have to talk about her role in health care and her role in campaign financing and some other more controversial issues. And at this point, I don't think her advisers believe it would be in --to her political advantage to have to deal with some of those questions. I hope she'll come on.
LAMB: Thirty-nine ninety-five is the cost of this book. You see it on your screen, "Meet the Press: 50 Years of History in the Making," its moderator, Tim Russert, our guest. Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. RUSSERT: A real pleasure to be with you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1997. 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.