DATE April 10, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lou Michel and Dan
Herbeck, authors of the new book, "American Terrorist," about Timothy
and the Oklahoma City bombing. It's the book in which McVeigh publicly
confesses for the first time that he was the bomber. Michel and Herbeck are
reporters for the Buffalo News.
Dan, now you mentioned that he was in the military, and that that helped him
get deeper into the gun culture. He tried to be in the Special Forces after
he fought in the Gulf War, but he really didn't have the physical stamina or
strength for it, so he had to drop out. That seemed to be another turning
point in his life, where he got really disillusioned with the military and
with the government, and then off on his own got really deep into the
culture. Did you get the impression that not being able to cut it in the
Special Forces was a real turning point for him?
Mr. DAN HERBECK (Co-author, "American Terrorist"): Yes, Terry, I do believe
that, and even though he has told us repeatedly that that was not the reason
that he left the Army and it wasn't such a crushing blow as people might
it was, I firmly believe that if Timothy McVeigh had been successful in the
Special Forces tryout that his course of history might have been changed,
because I think he was a very--he is a very, very bright, energetic person
was looking for the right place, the right thing to belong to. And I think
that if he had made Special Forces, he may have been very, very successful
it. He may still be with the Army today, fighting battles, taking part in
missions for our government.
GROSS: Do you think he expected to survive the Oklahoma City bombing?
Mr. LOU MICHEL (Co-author, "American Terrorist"): Absolutely. He had every
intention. The last thing he wanted to do was go back to that truck and
it and perish at that moment, because this was all part of his message. In
his getaway car, Terry, he--well, first, he left the license plate off
intentionally. People have often wondered about that, because he's so
meticulous. Why would he forget the license plate? But that was all done
design. It was the wild card he dealt himself. He knew at some point
somebody in law enforcement would pull him over. He hoped that it wasn't in
the state of Oklahoma, that it happened further north in Kansas.
Also, inside his car was an...
GROSS: Wait, wait--why was he hoping that somebody would pull him over?
Mr. MICHEL: He wanted to get caught, be taken into custody and then he knew
that they would trace the truck through the confidential vehicle
identification number; they would identify it as a Ryder truck that was
up in Kansas, and they would go to the Junction City Ryder dealer, get a
composite of him, fan out through Junction City and finally wind up at the
Dreamland Motel, where you have Leah McGowan, the owner of it, saying,
no, that's not Robert Kling,' the alias he used to rent the truck, `but it
does look just like Timothy McVeigh, who spent several days here before the
bombing.' So he left all of these tidbits along the way in order to ensure
would get caught, including leaving the license plate off so he would be
stopped and taken into custody, and he did give his real name when he was
taken into custody by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger.
And inside that car, Terry, he had a white envelope stuffed with virulent
anti-government literature. In fact, one of the lines said, `Maybe now
will be justice,' he'd handwritten--or some words to that effect. So he
that people like you and I in the media would glom on to that, and he was
basically tooling us in the media to get his points across. Of course, it
dwarfed by the fact that 19 children died in the blast.
GROSS: McVeigh is now on death row in Terre Haute. He has said that if
families of the Oklahoma City bombing victims are allowed to watch his
execution on closed-circuit TV, as they've requested, then he'll try to get
CNN or "60 Minutes" to carry the execution nationally. How would he try to
arrange that? What power does he think he has here?
Mr. HERBECK: Well, I don't think he has any power to do that. I believe he
has sent letters to the major networks and told them, `If you want to
broadcast this, you people have the money for lawyers; you have the big-time
lawyers fight it out, and I won't stand in your way.' He realizes he has no
power whatsoever in this matter, but he's asking these networks to carry
fight for him. I don't think there's a chance in the world that his
is going to be broadcast. I don't think the US Bureau of Prisons is going
allow it. And we haven't heard of one network that actually is going to
that fight. You know, nobody has really stepped forward and said, `We want
broadcast the execution.' It's not going to happen.
GROSS: Is it fair to say that Timothy McVeigh still has no misgivings that
he's expressed to you about the bombing?
Mr. MICHEL: I think you're right on target with that; no remorse. Dan and
went at Timothy McVeigh 20 or 30 times, rephrasing, reframing the question,
`Are you sorry?,' right up until just days before the galleys were final for
the book, because we knew some people in Oklahoma City would really get
something out of an apology. Not all the people want an apology, either.
They just want to see him rot. But McVeigh had absolutely no interest in
apologizing or saying anything was a mistake. He has said that the fact
a day-care center was there is `tragic,' but he's just framed it as
`collateral damage.' And, you know, it would have given him pause if he'd
known there was a day-care center there and he would have switched targets,
says. But he can live with what he did there.
GROSS: Lou Michel, your interviews with Timothy McVeigh actually started
your interviews with his father, Bill McVeigh, who lives 20 minutes away
you in Niagara County, New York. Does Bill McVeigh feel at all responsible
his son's pathology? In other words, does Bill McVeigh ever ask himself if
and his ex-wife did anything wrong in their parenting or missed any cues
something was wrong with their son? Is he tormented by guilt?
Mr. MICHEL: Bill is tormented, but he does not feel that he or his wife are
to blame for what happened, he said. I've asked him, `If you could have
anything differently, would you?' And he says, `No.' He believes he and
wife were very caring and nurturing parents, as best they could. They had a
rocky marriage. But he says that Timothy, his son Tim, was not raised to do
something like that. And he's just heartbroken. A couple of days before
book came out I sat down with him and I let him ask me any questions he
wanted, because his son has never told him that he was the bomber until
recently. And Bill was heartbroken when I explained to him that Tim
considered the family collateral damage as well. And he said, `He said
You know, he just felt so bad about that. He still loves his son, but he
feels the act itself was evil and an atrocity.
GROSS: So McVeigh confessed to you before confessing to his father?
Mr. MICHEL: Oh, yes. He confessed to a number of people on his defense
as well, but because they were bound by attorney-client privilege, they
never say anything. I was the first person outside of that loop that he
confessed to. You know, his family really didn't want to know. Jennifer
McVeigh once told me, `Maybe it's better not to know.'
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. HERBECK: Thank you, Terry.
Mr. MICHEL: Pleasure to be here, Terry.
GROSS: Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck are the authors of "American Terrorist:
Timothy McVeigh & The Oklahoma City Bombing."
Coming up, Don Hewitt, the creator and executive producer of "60 Minutes."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Don Hewitt discusses his career in the news
TERRY GROSS, host:
As the creator and executive producer of "60 Minutes," my guest, Don Hewitt,
is one of the most successful producers in the history of TV news. And he's
one of the people who's been at it the longest. He joined CBS TV News in
1948, when few people owned TVs. Now he's written a memoir called "Tell Me
Story." Hewitt has been the producer of "Douglas Edwards With the News" and
the "CBS Evening News" with Walter Cronkite. He worked on the first
political convention in 1948 and he produced and directed the televised
Nixon-Kennedy debate, a turning point in American politics and TV. The
wisdom is that Nixon lost the debate because he looked so bad that night. I
asked Hewitt about how Nixon ended up looking the way he did.
Mr. DON HEWITT (Creator-Executive Producer, "60 Minutes"): Well, first of
all, Kennedy took it very seriously. Jack Kennedy and I had a meeting in a
hangar in Chicago a week before the debate. He stopped there on the
trip. And I briefed him on all the things that we expected of him and what
were going to do and what we wanted him to do. I never saw Nixon until he
walked in the studio that night. And he did not take it as seriously as
Kennedy did. He spent that afternoon speaking to the plumbers union.
rested up for the debate. Nixon thought it was just another campaign
appearance, had no idea what a splash it was going to make in America. He
ill; he'd had a staphylococcus infection. He arrived at the studio at WBBM
Chicago, smacked his knee on the door of the car as he was getting out, was
But what I remember most about that night was, over and above the
first of all, I brought a makeup person from New York. He needed it.
didn't. I said to the both of them, `Do you want to be made up?' Kennedy
said, `No.' Nixon heard him say, `No,' and figured, `If I get made up,
everybody the next day will say, "Well, Nixon was wearing makeup and Kennedy
wasn't,"' so he refused it but had some of his own guys smear him with
something called shavestick, and he looked like the wrath of God. He really
GROSS: What was shavestick?
Mr. HEWITT: It's some dopey thing that guys used to cover their beard. If
you're going out for the night, you know, before there were electric razors,
mean, what you did is you smeared some of this stuff on and it covered the
beard. He looked awful.
Now the day after Kennedy was assassinated, we did a special broadcast in
York, and Nixon was on it. And the same makeup person whose services he had
refused in Chicago was making him up. And I said to him, `You know, Mr.
Nixon, if Franny here had made you up at the first debate, you'd have been
president now.' Without a beat, I mean, it happened so fast it stunned me,
whirled around and he said to me, `Yeah, I would have been dead now, too.'
mean, it was eerie. It was strange. He really believed that whoever killed
Jack Kennedy--and I'm not going to say it was Lee Harvey Oswald because I'm
not even sure it was--he wanted to convince me was out to get a president,
that president. And it was a strange, strange conversation.
GROSS: Let me get to the Kennedy assassination. In your book you say that
after Kennedy was assassinated and you found out about the Zapruder film...
Mr. HEWITT: Yes.
GROSS: ...you told Dan Rather to go to Zapruder's house, punch him in the
nose, get the film, bring it to CBS, make a copy, then return it to
What were you thinking?
Mr. HEWITT: I was one of these, you know, Hildy Johnson
was stupid. I did things in the early days that if someone who worked for
did them today, I'd fire them. I said, `We've got to get a hold of the
Zapruder film. Maybe it's public domain, but we'll never find out unless we
get it. I would like to see it.' So I said, `Dan, hit him, grab the film,
take it in the studio. We'll copy it, then let the CBS lawyers decide what
do with it. Meanwhile, return the film. All they can get you for is an
assault. You've returned his stolen property.' And he said, `Great, I'll
it.' And then, all of the sudden I thought to myself, `Are you crazy? Why
did you do that?' And I thank God when I called him back he hadn't left
And I said, `Dan, don't do that. That's stupid.' I think the whole day got
to me and, you know, we were all kind of limp at the end of that day.
GROSS: I think this says something about you, which is that you really have
that competitive thing, real strong.
Mr. HEWITT: Yeah, really. You know, I guess I am a strong competitor. But
sometimes this competitive zeal causes you to do things that, when you look
back on them, you're kind of ashamed that you even thought of them.
GROSS: Great. How about another example?
Mr. HEWITT: Oh, my God. You know, once an airplane went down in the East
River off La Guardia Airport in New York and there was one tugboat out on
river that you could go out on and go to the wreck because there was a
strike. But this boat had come from New Haven. And I went down with
everybody else. And all the television crews were there. And the captain
telling the story of what it was like out on the river and the floating
wreckage and the bodies. And he was going on and on and on. And I don't
why, but I kind of said, `Well, who owns this boat?' And he said, `New
Tugboat Company.' And all the reporters turned to me like, `What, are you
crazy? Who cares who owns the boat? This guy's telling us a great story
you ask a stupid question.'
And they said, `Captain, please go on with your story, and Hewitt, will you
shut up with your dumb questions.' And as they said that, I sneaked out the
door, went out on the dock, called the CBS newsroom and said, `Call the New
Haven Tugboat Company and charter their boat.' So I get back. All the guys
saw me come back and they were all kind of going, `Don't ask any dumb
questions.' And at this point, the phone rings. The captain goes to the
phone. He says, `Yes, sir.' And then he looks around and he says, `Who's
Hewitt?' And I said, `I am.' He said, `Well, the boat's now under charter
you. What do you want to do?' I said, `Well, the first thing I'm going to
is throw all these guys off my boat.'
So I was very competitive. And, you know, in fact, the only way the "Today"
show could get any pictures of the wreck was to come out on a rowboat with
outboard motor in the morning. And, by mistake, we rammed them. I mean, we
really didn't mean to hit them, but we did. And next thing I know I come
and I get hell because there was a formal complaint from NBC to CBS that I
tried to sink their boat in East River. And I could think to say was,
GROSS: Now you say when you started "60 Minutes," you also wanted to create
more personal form of journalism. You write, `The documentaries on TV all
seemed to be the voice of the corporation.' What do you mean by that? And
what do you mean by a `more personal form'?
Mr. HEWITT: OK, you're talking...
Mr. HEWITT: OK. Editorials were the voice of the newspaper, which nobody
really cared about. They cared about columnists. And documentaries were
of the voice of the corporation. You know, "NBC Whitepaper," "CBS Reports,"
"ABC Close-up." And I said, `There's nothing personal.' And I wanted
personal journalism. I don't mean advocacy journalism. I don't think I
wanted to advocate anything. I wanted to take people along on the story.
And a lot of it came out of a broadcast that was very popular on CBS in the
early days--actually, it wasn't on CBS, I think it was on NBC--called
"Four-Star Theater" in which Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and
Niven had a repertory company which each week they played different parts
there was no star. It was just four great actors playing parts. And I
`Wow, I'd like to do a repertory company of reporters. I don't want any
stars. I don't want an Ed Sullivan out front introducing the acts. I want
them to be my version of a repertory company, only these are reporters, not
actors.' And it caught on. You know, people essentially bought that
television set to be entertained. They didn't buy the set to be informed.
And I said, `If you can entertain them while you're informing them, you're
ahead of the game.' And it was a concept that caught on.
GROSS: My guest is Don Hewitt, the creator and executive producer of "60
Minutes. His new memoir is called "Tell Me a Story." We'll talk more after
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Don Hewitt is my guest, and he has a new memoir about his years in
broadcasting called "Tell Me a Story."
Let me ask you about one of the many "60 Minutes" stories that became very
controversial, and this one particularly controversial because a movie was
made about it, "The Insider." You know, this is the case of Jeffrey Wigand,
the former vice president for research and development at Brown & Williamson
Mr. HEWITT: Right.
GROSS: ...who blew the whistle on how the company had...
Mr. HEWITT: Right.
GROSS: ...adjusted the levels of nicotine, keeping smokers addicted. And
story was killed at "60 Minutes" because of corporate fear of a lawsuit.
kind of lawsuit?
Mr. HEWITT: No, it was not killed at "60 Minutes" because of corporate fear
of a lawsuit. It was killed by the corporation before we ever got a chance
put it on the air. But we did go on the air and tell everything we learned
from Wigand without using his name. So it's not true that we ran away from
GROSS: And the way...
Mr. HEWITT: The company didn't want us to use his name because they feared
lawsuit. And we actually went on the air and Mike Wallace actually did
something that no news organization has ever done before. He told the
audience that we were prohibited from using Wigand's name because CBS had
turned chicken and was afraid of a lawsuit, which wasn't even threatened.
was just a perception that it might be.
First of all, do you remember the name of the reporter at "60 Minutes" who
quit over a principle?
GROSS: In the movie, yeah.
Mr. HEWITT: Yeah.
GROSS: Well, yeah. It's the Al Pacino character.
Mr. HEWITT: Lowell Bergman, huh?
Mr. HEWITT: Yeah. Right.
Mr. HEWITT: Well, the guy he played never quit. Al Pacino quit. Remember
the great last scene when he walks out, quits and that big applause?
Mr. HEWITT: OK? He didn't quit. He worked at CBS News for almost three
years. It's the phoniest movie ever. This guy never quit. He worked
He stayed at "60 Minutes" for another seven months and then he went to work
for CBS News for another two years.
GROSS: I guess in some ways I'm not surprised since I really expect that
movies aren't going to be faithful to what's really happened. Was this a
frustrating experience for you, watching the movie, because it was...
Mr. HEWITT: No. Let me tell you...
Mr. HEWITT: Let me tell you the God's honest truth.
Mr. HEWITT: If they'd gotten Paul Newman or Robert Redford to play me, I'd
have forgiven them anything.
GROSS: Yeah, but who did play you?
Mr. HEWITT: Some guy named...
GROSS: Philip Baker Hall.
Mr. HEWITT: ...Phil Baker Hall. I said...
GROSS: He's a...
Mr. HEWITT: ...`That's not a guy. That's a dormitory.'
GROSS: Yeah, but you ought to retract that statement. He's a great actor.
He's fantastic. Did you ever see...
Mr. HEWITT: To you, he may be.
GROSS: Yeah, I know. Did you ever see...
Mr. HEWITT: To me, he's a dormitory.
GROSS: ..."Magnolia" or "Hard Eight" or...
Mr. HEWITT: Yeah, I saw. But I saw "The Insider" and I just--OK, I said if
Paul Newman or Robert Redford had played me, I'd have forgiven them
GROSS: Well, Philip Baker Hall can play me anytime.
Mr. HEWITT: Good. Good. I hope he doesn't, for your sake.
GROSS: Yeah. You always hear rumors about shows. The rumor that I've
about "60 Minutes"--and you can tell me if this is true--is that sometimes
producer of a segment actually does the interview and then the reporter
in and is filmed asking those questions, even though they didn't really ask
those questions to the person being interviewed.
Mr. HEWITT: Never. Never. Never. Never, ever happened.
GROSS: Have you ever heard that one?
Mr. HEWITT: Oh, you hear everything. Listen, Hillary Clinton, for Christ's
sake, after we did the famous Gennifer Flowers thing, she told the
Press that we changed all the questions between the time they did it and the
time we put it on the air. And I called her up and I said--you've got to
realize she was just another wife of a candidate--and I said, `That's
libelous. That's defamatory.' And she just said, `It appeared to me to be
that way.' And I figured sure, it appeared to be that way. She was
shell-shocked. I mean, she couldn't believe what, you know, they had to sit
there and defend that night.
So that has never, ever happened. Nobody has ever changed a question or had
producer ask a question and then later filmed a correspondent asking it.
GROSS: Well, I'm glad you brought up that Clintons interview.
Mr. HEWITT: Never.
GROSS: How did the Clintons end up on "60 Minutes" that night? And what
Mr. HEWITT: Oh.
GROSS: What did they think was in it for them?
Mr. HEWITT: What did they think? Oh, my God. They were in trouble. He
about to disappear into the snow in New Hampshire. And they called up and
they said they wanted to go on the air and set the record straight about
Gennifer Flowers. And for all the time we taped, all they did was set the
record crooked. They never set the record straight. And do you know that
right wing--the so-called right wing, because I don't belive in right
wing-left wing, but the so-called right wing calls me responsible for his
getting the nomination, which he did after that show.
Do you know that I'm persona non grata in the--I was in the Clinton White
House. I've been invited to every White House going back to Harry Truman.
was persona non grata to the Clintons. What there was about that, I guess
they didn't want to think about that night. But we didn't do anything but
give them a chance to answer the questions. And they sat there and fudged
GROSS: Well, what do you consider the lies that they told, that you're
Mr. HEWITT: The lies? I mean, that there never was a Gennifer Flowers,
it never happened. Later on he admitted it.
GROSS: So if the Clintons came on because they wanted to talk about
Flowers and deny that there was any truth to that story, what so upset them
about the interview?
Mr. HEWITT: I don't know. I don't know. They claim that I said we would
also `give you a chance to talk about your vision of America.' And I said,
`No, no, no, no. We thought we were going to do a long piece,' and they
me nine minutes that night for the whole show because it was after the Super
Bowl. And I said, `There's no time to do anything but this one story. And
you want to give your vision of America, I'm sure they'll sell you
time to do it.' But after all, he--you got to realize at the time, Terry,
was one of five guys trying to get the nomination. He wasn't even the
front-runner. He was just another candidate trying to get the Democratic
GROSS: Don Hewitt. His new memoir is called "Tell Me a Story."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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