BRIAN LAMB: Jonathan Karl, when everybody else in the news business has been talking about New Hampshire and Iowa, why are you going off to China?
JONATHAN KARL, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Well, completely honestly here, it’s driving me crazy not to be out on the campaign trail. I mean, I have covered every election since I was 21 or 22. And I love this stuff. I just feed off it. You know, I basically lived on the campaign trail in ’96 and in 2000 and much of 2004.
Now, of course, I’m a national security correspondent. So, it’s not exactly my beat to be up in Nashua today. So, I figure, first, I had a great opportunity to go to China, to go and, I believe, get a chance to get a look that Western journalists really have not gotten before of the Chinese military. I’ve gotten some special access.
But the other reason is, you know, it’ll get me as far away from South Carolina. I’ll be in – the South Carolina primary is my birthday – and I will traveling in China.
LAMB: How old will you be on your birthday?
KARL: I’ll actually be 40.
LAMB: Is that an important birthday?
KARL: You know, I guess so. I haven’t really given it too much thought. But it is a little strange to say.
LAMB: Well, it’s interesting though. You say you love the primary coverage and you love the politics. And here you are, a national security correspondent for ABC, off to China.
Does that mean you’ve passed your success time?
KARL: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got a really phenomenal beat now. And if you look at what I am doing, I’m basically – the people who have had my job before – John McWethy (ph), I think is one of the – a guy that I basically grew up watching, and I think one of the real great television correspondents of my time. Martha Raddatz (ph), who I think is also one of the absolute best reporters in the business.
And now I’ve got the job. And it’s – you know, for the networks, it’s one of the most important jobs. It’s fascinating. There is no better time than now to be on the national security beat.
But you don’t give up that level of politics, and I imagine at some point, I’ll be off doing that again.
LAMB: Who goes with you to China?
KARL: I am going on my own. I’m going to travel with Admiral Timothy Keating (ph), who is the head of Pacific Command. And once I get to China, I will meet up with our bureau chief over there and our cameraman in Beijing. And they will travel. We have several stops inside China.
LAMB: Have you been there before?
KARL: Yes, but very – a very quick visit. I was there with Secretary Rice a couple of years ago. But this will be quite different.
LAMB: And what’s your goal?
KARL: My goal is to get an inside look, as much as that is possible, of the Chinese military. There’s been so much talk of this, the growth in Chinese military spending. The Chinese have been doing some interesting things.
You know, they have in some ways a missile system that is unparalleled in the world – in some ways even superior to our own. They’ve been doing things like – remember, it was almost a year ago today that they conducted that anti-satellite test, where they blew up an old weather satellite.
There’s a lot of concern about Chinese cyber war capabilities. There was an attack on the Pentagon computers that there have been some reports originated in China. Pretty hard to figure out where those things actually originate.
But clearly, the Chinese are doing a lot. It’s the most rapidly developing military in the world right now. And I’m going to get a chance to get inside some of those military facilities. I think it’ll be fascinating.
LAMB: So, where will you go in the country?
KARL: We’re going to go to Beijing. We’re going to go to a military district down south. We’re going to go to Shanghai, and we’re going to go to Hong Kong.
LAMB: So, as you plan this in the middle of all this politics, what does the network tell you about when you’ll get on the air?
KARL: Well, it’ll – you know, it’s always a challenge. But I think that – my intent is to go there and basically to bring all my material back and to do a series of stories when I return.
And I’m kind of banking on by the time I get back, there’ll be some politics fatigue. You know, it’s always possible this may not go until after Super Tuesday on February 5th. By that time, I think that there’ll be some real hunger for some news that isn’t about the primaries.
LAMB: Why did you get in this business in the first place?
KARL: I’ve never done anything else. I don’t have any idea what I would do if I had to have a real job.
LAMB: Where did it start?
KARL: It started – I mean, when I was in junior high school, we didn’t have a newspaper in my junior high, so I was the editor of my yearbook. And then high school, I wrote for the newspaper, eventually.
My senior year – and I think this was actually the highlight of my career – but my senior year, I really wanted to be the editor of our school paper, and I didn’t get it. So, I basically said, OK, thank you. And I left the paper, and I started my own newspaper.
And it was just the beginning of desktop publishing. I had a Macintosh. The Mac was still a fairly new instrument.
LAMB: Where were you?
KARL: This was in Connecticut. I spent my time growing up between South Dakota and Connecticut. By the time I was in high school, I was in South Dakota.
And I had a beta version, a test version of the first desktop publishing program by Aldus (ph), called PageMaker. I don’t know if you remember it.
So, I had the – while the school newspaper was cutting out galleys and pasting them up and doing everything the old-fashioned way, I had the ability, because I had this test version of this desktop publishing program, to do an entire newspaper on the computer.
And we did it, and we had so much fun. And it was a paper that everybody read in school, because we could be more irreverent. We could take more chances than the official school paper.
And then from then, I went – I worked on the college paper. And I worked for the ”New Republic,” for ”National Journal.” It was my first job in Washington. And after I graduated college, I worked for the ”New Republic,” and been doing it ever since.
LAMB: What’s the goal of a journalist today, in your opinion?
KARL: Well, my goal – I guess the one thing I would do, if I were not a journalist, is I would be in – you know, I’d be at some university teaching American history or working on my Ph.D. program still – I’d probably try to stretch that out as long as I could – in American history.
So, my – I love history. It’s why I – you know, so much of what you have done, starting with ”Booknotes,” and just the way you’ve clearly got that same passion for history. And I think that’s what drives a lot of people in this business, is the opportunity to – I guess the cliche is to be, you know, front row seats watching history. But I really feel it.
I mean, some of the stuff that, because of this job, that I’ve been able to do – to sit in the chamber, the House chamber, on State of the Union night. To be in Nashville on election night in 2000, and to be there when Gore is about to go out and give his concession speech. The signer was out there. The speech was loaded into the teleprompters. And he gets pulled back by one of his aides and saying, I think we have an issue in Florida.
To be in the Senate chamber when they were voting on impeachment, even though we knew exactly what the result was going to be – just to watch that, 100 senators for basically the first time, covering that institution. They were all there at one time, sitting in their desks.
To be able to see this stuff and to get that sense of history is what drives me. And I think that’s what it’s all about.
LAMB: Do you know where you got this interest?
KARL: My mom and my stepfather. When I was in fifth grade – fourth or fifth grade – no, it must have been even earlier than that.
But when I was in elementary school, we went and did a cross-country trip, loaded up the van, went from Connecticut just across country. And we went to South Dakota, and we got to Mount Rushmore.
And my mom and my stepfather were fascinated about the kind of – the mountain itself and what it took to carve that mountain. And all we saw there was a lot of – you know, all of the exhibits were about the shrine of democracy, about each of the presidents. And there was almost nothing about the artist who was behind the mountain.
So, they started to get fascinated about that. And we found out that there were 350 men who worked on the mountain – mostly miners who had expertise in explosives and blowing rock away, basically – and the artist, Gutzon Borglum (ph).
And they – somehow, we just basically, we left Connecticut and we ended up moving to South Dakota within a year, moving into a motel. We took two adjoining motel rooms, so they could work on a project for the University of South Dakota, where they got interested in this, an oral history of the men who worked on Mount Rushmore. About 100 of them had already died. The rest were old, and weren’t going to be around much longer. And they wanted to get their stories on tape.
And I went around with them. I missed a lot of school, because they weren’t all in South Dakota. They were all over the country.
And we went around and we interviewed dozens and dozens – and I don’t even know the final number – but we interviewed a lot of these guys. And then we ended up talking to the – Borglum (ph) was long since dead. His son was dead, but his daughter was still alive. We got to know her.
So, I went along, and I was just a spectator, as a little fifth grader, as my stepfather and my mom would interview these men, and hear about these experiences. And this was just – this is fascinating. This is amazing stuff.
LAMB: Now, what were they doing? What was their – you say the University of South Dakota, but …
KARL: It was an oral history project.
LAMB: But were they professors?
KARL: No, no. My – I mean, it’s just strange how this all unfolded. But my stepfather – if you really want to know what he was doing, he was running a factory in Stanford, Connecticut, called – it was International Fabric Molders, IFM. Basically to make bras.
And he was a former Brooklyn cabdriver. He had never gone to college, but one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and a real self-taught guy.
And he was looking for a change, and my mom had all the same fascinations. And we just kind of picked up, and we ended up living out there. And then my mom still – my mom and stepfather are still in Rapid City, South Dakota.
LAMB: What did they do with all the oral histories that they got?
KARL: Well, it’s now – you can still go and listen to it – it’s at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
They went on to write a book, a biography of Gutzon Borglum (ph). Then they ended up running the museum in Keystone, the town at the base of Mount Rushmore.
And, you know, on and on and on, they’ve – they’re like, now, the acknowledged experts on all things Mount Rushmore and all things Gutzon Borglum (ph), who was also the artist who started Stone Mountain in Georgia. And they have worked on a book on Stone Mountain, as well.
That’s how it all started, I guess.
LAMB: So, that was fifth grade. When you got to high school, the yearbook and all that …
LAMB: You got to Vassar. Why Vassar?
KARL: I guess the ratio is pretty good, you know.
LAMB: When did it turn co-ed?
KARL: The biggest question I get about Vassar is, isn’t that a women’s college? Or if people are a little less P.C., isn’t that a girls’ school? Which really offends people at Vassar. But that’s the question I would get constantly.
Vassar actually went co-ed in 1969. So, the year that – the same year Yale went co-ed. And the way the story is, it was a decision whether or not to merge with Yale – kind of a Harvard-Radcliffe kind of a thing – or become its own school, a co-ed school. And they went co-ed.
So, it’s been co-ed for a long time, but it’s got that history as the kind of premier women’s college. I don’t think it’ll ever lose that.
LAMB: What did you learn there that sticks with you every day?
KARL: Well, it was really – there was a professor there. His name was Walter Fairservice (ph). And the legend was that he was the guy that they based the Indiana Jones character on.
He was an anthropology professor. And he was responsible for the wing of the Asian peoples at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Just a real, legendary anthropologist.
I didn’t study anthropology, but he had this course that he studied called Comparative World Views, which was the most audacious course, because it was basically covering the whole march of ideas of human history through literature and philosophy. So, you’d start reading the Greeks and you’d go all the way through Malcolm X’s autobiography. I mean, it’s just ridiculous the sweep of it.
But he was such an incredible professor, and he just opened your eyes up to things you hadn’t thought about and made you work like hell. But he was amazing. He has since died. But he remained, after I left, one of my real – I mean, one of my heroes, really. The guy had done everything. He himself was a renaissance man.
And he was this anthropologist who had the audacity to do this course, which a lot of people in the school kind of looked down on, because it was, you know, too much of a generalist. I mean, how much can you really – how much depth can you go into when you’re doing such a broad sweep?
But, I mean, that wasn’t the point. This was a point to open you up to everything, and then you go from here. And you’ve learned – sure, you haven’t gotten the depth, but you have the interest sparked to go further.
But he wrote his own plays. He put on performances at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, which I went out to see. I mean, the guy was just fantastic.
LAMB: Now, Vassar is located where?
KARL: Poughkeepsie, in New York, on the Hudson River.
LAMB: Did you ever go to the FDR Library while you were at school?
KARL: Sure, yes. I went to Hyde Park, and it wasn’t far away. And that was definitely a benefit of being up in that area. You know, the weather was pretty bad, so you had to find other things.
LAMB: But did you have an image at Vassar of what you wanted to be? Was there a correspondent out there that you liked, and wanted to follow in his or her footsteps, that kind of thing?
KARL: I don’t know. I mean, first of all, I never thought about television, although it’s interesting. At Vassar, while I was there they started something called VCTV, Vassar College Television – which now, of course, all of the schools have this stuff. But this was still a new concept. It was just a – and it was just getting started.
And the person who was starting it was Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s daughter. And she had me on – I mean, they basically did a couple of shows while I was there, because it was really just getting started. And I was one of the – I was a guest. I was one of the – you know, a show kind of like this.
So, that was my only experience with television, so I really didn’t think of television. I don’t know if I had a specific role model out there. I mean, obviously, you know, you think of – I mean, I grew up with ”All The President’s Men,” Woodward and Bernstein. And you wanted to be that kind of aggressive, investigative reporter.
I loved the ”New Republic,” and it was such a thrill when I had a chance to actually work there after I graduated. I won that one-year reporter researcher job they had. And all these people who I had been reading, I got a chance to sit around the table.
At that time it was – Mike Kinsley (ph) was there and Rick Hertzberg (ph) and Fred Barnes (ph) and Morton Kondracke (ph) and Sid Blumenthal (ph). It was this – Andrew Sullivan (ph). It was liberals and conservatives – just really interesting writers.
And it was kind of a schizoid magazine, because it didn’t have any real ideological bent at that point. You had everybody from Barnes (ph) to Blumenthal (ph). I mean, it was really an exciting time to be there. And a lot of those people I looked up to.
LAMB: Did they let you write something?
KARL: Oh, yes. I was able to write for the magazine, which was fantastic.
And I wrote – I even wrote on an occasion the unsigned editorials for the magazine, which was like, wow, I’m writing – you know.
LAMB: At what age?
KARL: So, this was right – I guess 22. I was right out of school.
LAMB: For one year.
KARL: Yes, it’s a one-year job, and they kick you out. Somebody else gets to do it.
LAMB: Any of those writers, just specifically, have an impact on you? Their writing ability, the way they wrote?
KARL: You know, Kinsley (ph), I think, was just a great essayist. And I can still – I can still remember specific essays that I read of his, either before I was there or while I was there. And then he went off and did this television stuff.
LAMB: Was that a surprise when he went off to do ”Crossfire?”
KARL: Yes, I mean, he had already started some of that. And they had this thing. They were – you know, this was the beginning of the ”buckrakers” – as opposed to the muckrakers, right – these journalists, these print journalists who had become somewhat celebrities through television. And the ”New Republic” was filled with them, because of the ”McLaughlin Group,” because of ”Crossfire.”
And Barnes (ph) used to say that, you know, he’d work on these long articles in the ”New Republic,” and anguish over them and, you know, report heavily, write these pieces. And the only thing he would – if people saw him, the only thing people would talk about – never anything he wrote – but it was some silly thing he said to John McLaughlin on the ”McLaughlin Group.”
LAMB: You worked for the ”New York Post” for how long? And why?
KARL: I went there for two years, because I had an opportunity to be a beat reporter, which was a very hard way – which is a very hard thing to get into. The ”New Republic” is very different.
And I had a chance to go in there. And there was like no promises of what I would cover. I just walked in.
And I remember my first assignment was, they sent me out to east New York, which was the murder capital of New York – I mean, it was the most, you know, it was the most violent section of New York at the time.
KARL: New York City, yes. New York City. And I went out to cover some Al Sharpton press conference. I forget the details now. I was like, wow. So, this is a little bit different than at the ”New Republic,” sitting around and covering Washington. And I ended up covering – pretty quickly ended up getting assigned to city hall. And it was Giuliani’s – I started at the ”New York Post” the day before Giuliani was sworn in as mayor. And it was a great time.
I mean, talk about a dream job. You’re running around for the ”New York Post.” So, you get a scoop, you get a big story, your headline’s going to be this big, you know.
LAMB: Who owned it then?
KARL: Murdoch had just come back in, which …
LAMB: And what year was that?
KARL: This was ’94. And I remember, you know, Giuliani, of course, endorsed Mario Cuomo that year for governor. And which, by the way, the whole idea of Giuliani as a Republican presidential candidate, if you’d asked me back then, you know, the thought was just absurd, because Republicans were so angry at him for this.
But I was covering the Cuomo campaign, primarily. I spent some time covering Pataki, but I was primarily covering the Cuomo campaign, traveling with him all over the state.
And Murdoch, after some anguish back and forth, ended up endorsing – the ”Post” ended up endorsing – Pataki, which was a real affront. Because although you might expect Murdoch to endorse the Republican, Cuomo had saved the ”Post,” because he had argued and helped convince Congress to lift the exemption for one person owning a television station and a major newspaper in a city. And Murdoch owned Channel 5, the Fox affiliate, in New York.
So, Cuomo had basically come to Murdoch’s and the ”New York Post’s” rescue. And here – some thanks – he was endorsing Pataki.
But the ”Post” doesn’t just endorse somebody. It was day after day, front-page endorsements. The editorials were not on the editorial page. They were on the front page in screaming headlines about why George Pataki was the guy to vote for.
And here I am covering Cuomo for the ”Post.” You know, like, excuse me, governor, I’ve got a question. ”You’re the guy with the ’Post’? You’re the guy who …”
LAMB: And you were 23?
KARL: Yes, yes. Like …
LAMB: How did he treat you?
KARL: He actually – he actually treated me great. I mean, it was – he was a pretty incredible guy to cover, because he would talk. He talked too much. But he was – you know, I mean, I spent some time covering Pataki.
Pataki was very disciplined. He had like three messages, you know. I’m going to abolish the death penalty, I’m going to cut your taxes, and I’m going to – I forget what his third one was. But it was basically repeat those points over and over and over again. And then he’d say goodbye, and he’d get out.
With Cuomo, you’d have this colloquy back and forth. He would talk about anything. He was always so – you know, it was never the message of the day that his advisors wanted. It was something, you know, some off-hand comment that he made. You know, I remember talking about E.B. White and Joseph Stalin. He would just – he would just – you know, the guy would be quite – it was really, really an amazing experience at such a young age to be covering that campaign.
And I went – that was my first appearance on CNN, because I was – it was the day that Giuliani endorsed Cuomo. I got a call from CNN. They wanted me to be a guest on ”Inside Politics.”
And I went on, and it was just nuts. It was crazy. You can imagine how busy that day was, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to go on. I watched ”Inside Politics.” I loved the show – Judy Woodruff (ph), Bernie Shaw (ph). I mean, this was a great opportunity.
So, between like running around writing, I darted my – you know, ran up to their bureau by Penn Station, and I got there. I’m like dripping with sweat. I didn’t have time to get makeup on. You know, I’m just looking – I run in. You know, I’m running a little bit late.
And I remember Judy Woodruff (ph) asking me, so, you know, for a prediction. And I hadn’t done this stuff before, so I didn’t know the real thing you do is, you kind of avoid the question, right.
But I said, well, with this Giuliani endorsement, things look really bad for the Republicans here in New York. And, of course, Pataki wins in a, you know, not quite a landslide, but decisively. I was dead wrong. They spelt my name wrong on the Kiron (ph).
LAMB: They spelled it with a ”C”?
KARL: I think it was John (ph). It might have had the – they might have spelled the first and second – I haven’t gone back, but I remember getting – you know, the only comments I got from people was, hey, you know, couldn’t you have combed your hair? And why did they spell your name wrong?
And then I made the false prediction. I thought my career was – any future I had with CNN was finished right there.
LAMB: So, what year did you go to work for CNN?
LAMB: At what age?
KARL: I was, I believe, 27, 28 – something like that.
LAMB: I remember – this is all vague – but I remember when you were on there. And we’ve never met before. But I remember people saying, ”He’s the kid on CNN to get to the youth audience.”
Was that why you were hired?
KARL: Yes. I was a gimmick, basically. I was the Generation X reporter. And they had this Generation X team. So they had me, and then they had two commentators on the left and on the right – Feragia Day (ph) and Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (ph) were the – I never actually saw them hardly ever, expect at big events like the convention. But we were packaged together in the kind of promotional material. This is our new youth team.
And they sent me out to cover the youth vote, which was – I mean, I really wanted to cover the campaign. And I thought there were great issues to cover in terms of the youth vote, but I – there’s only so many rock-the-vote stories you could do.
I wanted to cover the campaign. I wanted to cover Clinton. I wanted to cover Dole.
And as – and it was a one-year contract. They just hired me for one year. And as it moved on, they eventually started using me to cover the candidates. I covered some of the Senate races in ’96. And they hired me for a longer contract …
LAMB: How many years total with CNN?
KARL: I was with CNN for eight years.
LAMB: Got some video tape. You got an award, the Everett Dirksen Award (ph). What year?
KARL: I got that, I think it was ’02, 2002.
LAMB: For what?
KARL: That’s the award they give for congressional reporting.
LAMB: And you were a congressional reporter for CNN for how long?
KARL: You know, I kind of bounced back and forth between covering the Hill and covering the campaigns.
But I started – I mean, I basically – it was probably about five or six years, you know, where I was primarily covering the Hill when I wasn’t out on the campaign trail.
LAMB: Well, let’s watch this. It’s about 2.5 minutes, and it just shows you in various positions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
JUDY WOODRUFF, BROADCAST JOURNALIST: When I first met Jonathan Karl, he was just a cub reporter trying to learn the business. But after a few months on ”Inside Politics,” look what he turned out to be.
KARL: As a practical matter, though, if you want to reach out and build bridges, don’t you need to reach out to those who have been deeply offended?
LOUIS FARRAKHAN, ACTING HEAD, THE NATION OF ISLAM: Nobody has been more deeply offended than we, who have suffered at the hands of your people. And you want us to apologize? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
KARL: A big story, obviously, yesterday on this arrest of Governor Bush back in 1976. Do you think it’s unfortunate that, so close to an election, stuff out of a guy’s personal life going back 24 years is brought up?
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no comment on this. I want to talk about the issues.
KARL: Are you going to be George W. Bush’s best friend – best Democratic friend – here in the Senate?
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, D-WEST VIRGINIA: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say that.
KARL: Now, we’re told that the Congress has never been evacuated before – not during the War of 1812, not during the Civil War. This was an extraordinary day. Of course, you are coming back. We had the display of unity on the steps of the Capitol. But is any business really going to be able to be done here? I mean, we’ve really – we’ve entered a new phase here, haven’t we?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-NEW YORK: I don’t think so, Jon.
KARL: So, you’re up for re-election. And there’s been some speculation, now that the Democrats are in control, maybe you won’t run again. Are you going to retire? Are you going to run again, another six years here, or retire?
SEN. PHIL GRAMM, R-TEXAS: Well, someday I’m going to retire. The alternative is to eventually retire or die in office. I don’t think I want to be around here when I can’t do the job. But it’s my plan right now to run again.
GRAMM: I have decided to announce today that I will not seek re-election to the United States Senate.
WOODRUFF: OK, Jon. We couldn’t resist. The truth is that you’ve been one of our best, our most conscientious reporters for so many years. And tonight, your CNN family could not be more proud of you.
KARL: Senator Jeffords has simply not made up his mind …
KARL: Talk about CO2.
KARL: And that’s a power plant that has no smokestacks.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: One company was almost wiped out.
KARL: Senator Kennedy, we’re honored to have you on this Saturday.
SEN. TED KENNEDY, D-MASSACHUSETTS: Quite an introduction.
KARL: But right over here on the Senate side …
KARL: When he sits down for a private meeting …
KARL: Jonathan Karl, CNN, Capitol Hill.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
LAMB: When you see that, what are some of the moments remind you of?
KARL: Well, just what a great time I had at CNN. I mean, I had a – it was just such a – it was such a great opportunity I had. And it was just crazy, because it’s such a – it’s in some ways an insane place to work, because you have this 24-hour beast that is just constantly demands – you know, demands your time.
But a couple of things. One is that interview with Farrakhan, which I did in ’96, shortly after I got – I mean, almost immediately after coming to CNN, I put that as a goal. I wanted to interview Louis Farrakhan, because he had done the Million Man March the previous year, and he had talked to nobody.
And then he went on this tour. I don’t know if you remember. He visited Gaddafi. He visited Saddam Hussein. Gaddafi promised him $1 billion for the Nation of Islam.
And, you know, he was – what he going to do? What was Farrakhan going to do with this new-found fame and power? I mean, he had – whether he had a million people or 400,000, but he had a huge rally in Washington. And what was he going to do with all of this?
So, I worked very hard, constantly hammering the Nation of Islam. And by the way, this is not a Generation X kind of story, but I wanted to do it. And I figured, if I could land the interview, you know, CNN would be more than happy to do it, because it would be a big get.
And to my surprise, eventually we got the interview. And it was done in Chicago, and so, I flew to Chicago for the interview. And it was very strange at this point. I mean, since then, Farrakhan went out and he’s done a lot of – you know, he’s now been in studios doing interviews and stuff. But this was still a highly unusual event for him to do an interview with an organization like CNN.
So, they wouldn’t tell us where the interview would be. They just said, show up. Farrakhan’s giving a speech. And he’s going to register to vote – which is very interesting, because Elijah Muhammad said, you know, don’t vote. So it was kind of the, you know, don’t – basically, don’t encourage them. It’s not our system.
But he was going to register to vote. And what was he going to do with this political influence he could potentially have?
But they said, show up. Here’s the place where the rally is going to be. At the rally, we’ll tell you where the interview is going to be.
We wanted to go to his house. We wanted to do it there. But we didn’t know. We didn’t know.
We get there. And I’ve got this producer, who was at the time – she’s very aggressive. She’s from Australia. She was a blond and about – you know, almost six feet tall, and she’s very aggressive, very – and she would – she was very frustrated. She didn’t know. She had two camera crews. We’ve got to get set up. What’s going on?
And we still weren’t getting an answer. The rally went on. The rally ended, and we still didn’t have an answer from his people. And she got up on the stage – Vivian Foley (ph) was her name – she got up on the stage, and walked over to Farrakhan. Keep in mind, she’s one of two white people in the entire auditorium at this point. And she gets up on the stage – and one of the only women in the entire audience, as well. I mean, very, very few. And Farrakhan’s still up there with a bunch of people, kind of mingling.
And she actually walks over and taps him on the shoulder to ask him where are we going to do this interview. And he turned around, and he just had this look of horror. Who is this blonde woman who’s – you know. And she just – and he just turned away without answering her.
But so, eventually, they just told us to follow him. So I walked out with him. We had our cameras kind of backpedaling. And I walked with him in the streets of Chicago for several blocks to a hotel that they had booked a suite in. And his security, the Nation of Islam security, was, you know, on every – as we started walking, there would be like two or three per block. And as we got closer, it would be five or six. And as we got to the hotel, it was like almost shoulder to shoulder.
And we went up into the room, and his security people were all around in that room. It was a pretty small room, too. So the camera guys quickly set up. And he had a third camera crew. He wanted to tape it, as well.
So, it was this packed room. It was hot. As you could see, I looked terrible, because – it just – here we are with Farrakhan. And as he was talking, you know, I was pressing him on some of the stuff he had said in the past about Judaism, about the Korean merchants in the city, who he had called bloodsuckers.
I said, you know, ”Why don’t you apologize for some – you want influence now. You’re registering to vote. You have an opportunity. Some people refuse to deal with you at all, if you don’t apologize for the things you said.”
And I went through this line of questioning. At first he said, ”I’ve got nothing to apologize for.” And as you see, it culminates with him asking me to apologize. ”Why don’t you apologize for hundreds of years of oppression?”
And while he’s doing that, his people are kind of going – you know, cheering him on. And my producer is trying to quiet them down so it doesn’t ruin our interview. But it was an unbelievable interview.
LAMB: You also have written a bunch of book reviews for the ”Wall Street Journal.” Why?
KARL: Probably because my mom thinks this TV stuff isn’t serious, so …
LAMB: Does she really?
KARL: You know, in a way. She’s kind of half serious about it. But she’s like ”Don’t stop writing.”
And I enjoy writing, and you can do so much more in-depth in print than you can in a short, relatively short spot on television. And …
LAMB: How did you get into it in the first place?
KARL: I just was looking for opportunities to write. I started doing those, actually – I think I was still at the ”New York Post” when I wrote my first one. And I’ve been doing it for a long time.
And somebody – it was probably at some event I met somebody at the ”Wall Street Journal” who was the book editor. And I said, hey, can I submit something. And I probably submitted – I think I remember getting a few rejected before I started – they started publishing them.
And it also, it forces me to read new books, which it’s too easy not to read. You know, there’s so much else to read, so it’s easy not to get the latest. And you kind of need to be up on what’s out there. So it forces me to really dive into these books. And it also gives me a toe – to dip my toe into history.
The books I like to review are, you know, are history – books on – you know, biographies or slices of history.
LAMB: Is this your choice or the ”Wall Street Journal’s” choice? Do they bring the book to you, or do you bring the book to them?
KARL: At this point, it can go either way. They’ve got an absolutely wonderful book editor now, who will on occasion send me something he thinks might be interesting for me. Or if I see something coming out, I’ll give him a call. And if he hasn’t assigned it, he’ll give it to me to review. But it still kind of goes either way.
LAMB: I want to ask you about a book and a country in a moment. But first, define what Generation X is?
KARL: Well, Generation X would be that generation after the baby boom. And it depends on how you define it. Traditionally, it would be born in 1965 to ’85. Bill Strauss (ph) and Neil Howe (ph) wrote a book called ”Generations” a while back, and they defined it as from ’61 to ’81. So, however you define it, but it’s that post baby boom generation.
LAMB: So, how does Generation X think about journalism versus maybe people my age?
KARL: Well, first of all, it’s hard to make generalizations on everybody. But if you were to do that, I think it’s a much more skeptical approach.
And obviously, we’ve grown up with so many more sources of news. I mean, we’re not all watching – you know, there was a time when these network newscasts – you know, at 6:30 people were – you know, everybody was tuned in. And there was no CNN. There was no MSNBC, Fox News. There certainly wasn’t an Internet.
So, there are many more sources of news, and much more access to primary sources. People can watch C-SPAN and actually see what’s going on in Congress and the committee rooms. You don’t have to wait for it to be interpreted and written for you, you know, reading the ”New York Times.”
So, many more sources of news.
We’ve grown up as kind of a – now, obviously, the baby boom has seen this evolve, as well, but they didn’t grow up under these circumstances.
LAMB: You wrote a review of Bob Woodward’s book.
KARL: Yes. Oh, boy. OK.
LAMB: Did you get a reaction from him?
KARL: I have not. I’ve run into him a few times since then, and he hasn’t mentioned it and I haven’t either.
LAMB: You wrote it on 11 October 2006. One of the things you write about Mr. Woodward is, you said he ”attempts to write like a novelist, not a journalist. His books are scenic and dramatic, and dialogue-driven, more sensationalism than history.”
KARL: Yes, and I should say, as I said earlier, you know, Woodward is one of those people who inspired me to get into this business in the first place. And he is an unbelievable reporter.
What I was taking issue with was – and you’ve read countless of his books – they do – you know, he describes these scenes, these meetings. And he’s telling you what one person said to another person and what was going on. He’s giving you – he’s painting the whole picture for you, but he’s not telling you, giving you any clue as to what the source is for this information.
It’s not that he has to name sources. Obviously, we all use confidential sources. But he’s describing as fact what is really somebody’s version of events, and we don’t know who that somebody is. We don’t know where he comes from, what his bias is or reasons, you know.
And so, if you’re describing a scene like this, you kind of want to have a sense of, OK, where is this information coming from? You know, Bob Woodward wasn’t at the meeting. He didn’t watch all this happen.
He’s a great reporter. You can – you know, in some cases he’ll get access to – as he did with his first book on Bush – he’ll get access to the minutes of the National Security – you know, notes. He will talk to the participants there.
But I just think that, if you’re really going to write this as journalism, you want to have a little bit more of a sense of who’s giving you this version of events.
LAMB: I want to combine what you write in here with a trip that you took to Saudi Arabia. When did you go to Saudi Arabia?
KARL: I’ve been there a couple of times. I think the trip you’re referring to is with Karen Hughes (ph) …
KARL: … which was – I guess it was in 2005, late 2005.
LAMB: You wrote here, ”As more than a few people have noted over the course of Mr. Woodward’s long career, his narratives are propelled in part by who talks to him …” – you just basically said that – ”and just as important, who gives him the best, most detailed and colorful descriptions of what went on in all those secret meetings. And that brings us back to Prince Bandar.”
LAMB: He opens his book with Prince Bandar. And later on you say, ”Consider this typical anecdote: ’The elder …” – this is from Bob Woodward – ”The elder George Bush was concerned about his son after 9/11 and he called Prince Bandar. ’He’s having a bad time,’ Bush told Bandar. ’Help him out.’”
When you read that, obviously, it moved your needle.
KARL: Right, right, right.
KARL: Well, all the – it just puts Bandar in the center of all this and makes him this grand, historic figure, who really, you know, played this central role.
The opening – the thing I opened with, the pieces, the EP-3 spy incident. Remember when our spy plane was forced down in China, and we had that great confrontation with the Chinese.
And in Woodward’s telling of it, it’s kind of Bandar that brokered the final deal by, you know, being an intermediary. And I just had never heard that, and maybe it’s completely true.
But the people that I’ve talked about that think that that probably a little bit overstates Bandar’s role in all of that. I think Colin Powell, for instance, might wonder whether or not Bandar was really the key player there.
But, you know, it’s just, if you’re talking – you know, Bandar’s obviously a very important figure. He was the ambassador here for Saudi Arabia for a lot of years and the voice of the kingdom. He obviously has very close relations with the Bush family.
And he’s an important guy, and he doesn’t talk to the media much. And he’s got a relationship with Woodward, and that’s probably, I would imagine, you know, colors this a little bit.
If you look in the index of that book, you’ll see, like, the Bandar section is huge. Is Bandar really that central a player over all these events that we’ve seen unfold in the Bush years? Or was it somebody who was talking to Woodward a lot?
LAMB: Is that good or bad journalism? Of course, you just said it’s not really journalism.
KARL: Yes, I mean, you know, that’s probably a little harsh, right. I mean, Bob Woodward is a journalist. He’s a great journalist.
But the books and the style of writing them, like I said, like a novel is not what we would traditionally think of journalism, which is very meticulous about sourcing and about describing sources. And if you can’t name sources, give me an idea of what their biases and motivations might be for giving you the information.
LAMB: When you went to Saudi Arabia, what did you see?
KARL: I had a particular experience in Saudi Arabia that was – that was absolutely amazing.
LAMB: Who were you working for?
KARL: I was working for ABC, and I was traveling with Karen Hughes, who had just been named the public diplomacy czar, or whatever you want to call it. And she went over there.
And the experience, the particular event that I’m referring to was she spoke at a women’s college in Jeddah. And so, it was an audience of 500 Saudi women who were college students.
And when we got there, they said that the – you know, there was a handful of reporters traveling with Hughes. And they told us that the men were going to have to wait in this holding room, because we weren’t going to be allowed to go in there, and obviously, the strict segregation of the sexes in a public venue like that. So, but they were trying to arrange a feed to come in.
But to her credit, Hughes made an effort to get all of us, said she would like to have all the reporters to be able to come in to actually see the event. And to the amazement of, I think, everybody, the Saudis actually said yes, and they let us into that room with these 500 women, covered head to toe, listening to this speech by Hughes.
There’s a – I don’t know if you Gamal (ph), the – he’s a translator who’s translated – he’s an Arabic translator for the State Department. He’s done all the major White House Mideast summits going back. And he’s been doing this stuff, I believe, since – at least since Bush One, and I believe going back to Reagan. He’s just – he’s the guy in the Foreign Service who has more experience dealing with the Arab regimes than anybody.
And he could not believe this happened, that he was allowed in. He said, this is a Rosa Parks moment.
So, there we were. There were three men plus Gamal (ph). And we were in this audience.
And when it was over, they wanted us to kind of quickly get out. But I took the opportunity of everybody getting up to just go right into the middle of the crowd. And here I was surrounded by these Saudi women, fully covered, and interviewing them, and asking them some of the obvious questions that we ask – you know, women in Saudi Arabia, women’s rights and the right to drive. You know, obviously, women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia.
And the (INAUDIBLE), as they were talking to me, they were defending right in total in the Saudi policy. Of course, you wondered how much it was because somebody was listening, obviously, or what it was. But who wants to drive? You know, we’ve got it great here.
But then I asked one of them, what do you want to be? What are your goals? What are your – you know. And she said, I want to be an ambassador.
Well, how many ambassadors out there does the government of Saudi Arabia have around the world? The answer is none – women ambassadors. How many women are in the Foreign Ministry? And there’s a handful.
So, you know, it was like, obviously, something – these women are smart, educated. And even though they might want to toe the party line with me, they want us to have changes.
But then I asked them all to – I asked several of them to give me their e-mail addresses so I could keep in touch. And they gave me their e-mail addresses, and it was hilarious. You might have it in one of – but, you know, it was like, their e-mail addresses were things like cutieeyes44 at whatever, dot-com, or, you know – it was just, it was hilarious. I mean, it was just like any teenager today in America, the same kind of.
So, I communicated with them for a while, several of them. And then suddenly, all of the e-mail addresses were invalid and cut off.
LAMB: What did you think of the Karen Hughes job?
KARL: A really important one, but one that just doesn’t – it’s not going to show results in the course of any – the tenure of any public servant. I mean, you’re really talking about a – her job is to improve the image of America around the world.
And there’s a million fundamental things to do that aren’t going to show up in public opinion polls tomorrow in terms of more educational exchanges, increasing the number of visas for foreign students coming into the country, so that the best and the brightest around the world can get exposure to the United States – you know, doing kind of long-term projects.
So, it’s very different from being the spinmeister at the White House. This is a long-term role, and I think she recognized that, but probably won’t get much credit for what she did, if ever, for a long time.
LAMB: You wrote the article on Karen Hughes – or I assume you reported it for ABC. But you also wrote an article in the ”Weekly Standard.”
LAMB: And you’ve been doing a number of articles in the ”Weekly Standard,” also on the Sudan.
LAMB: Is there a risk as a reporter that that has an ideological profile? Or do you do that on purpose?
KARL: Yes, you know, I guess there is. And what I’ve done in the past to try to balance that is I’ve also written pieces for the ”New Republic.” So this way, when I write something for the ”New Republic” people can say, oh, you’re a, you know, left-wing bias. When I write for the ”Weekly Standard,” they can say right-wing bias. But I hope when they look at the pieces, they will see neither.
But the bottom line is, I want to continue to write. And there are limited venues to do that in the kind of print, magazine world.
And ”Weekly Standard” is just, you know, it gives me a good opportunity. They take my pieces. They don’t mess with them. There isn’t an ideological bent in my pieces, and it just gives me a forum. And they pay like 10 cents a word, or something, so I can buy a sandwich after I’ve written a piece.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
KARL: Yes. Yes, I’ve got two daughters.
LAMB: How old are they?
KARL: They’re eight and 11.
LAMB: And what do they think of you running around the world like this?
KARL: Well, my oldest, Emily, was especially excited, because she saw my itinerary for China. And I cross the international dateline on my birthday, so I get to have my birthday twice. So she thought that was kind of a kick. But she wants to go with me. She wants to go. And so …
LAMB: Is your wife in this business?
KARL: No, no. She’s not. She edits every piece I’ve ever done. She edits, so, you know, she’s a big part of my writing. But she is not political in any way.
LAMB: Where did you meet her?
LAMB: Been married for how long?
KARL: It’s been a while, 16 years.
LAMB: The trip to Sudan.
LAMB: Why and when?
KARL: I’ve gone four times over the past three years. And it’s because I really – I thought that it was the most under-covered story. It’s obviously, since my first trip, which was in 2004, I believe, it’s gotten a lot of coverage. People know about the situation in Darfur. Whether or not they’re doing anything about it, whether or not they really understand is another question.
But this was what was being described by the United Nations as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. And yet, there was almost no coverage of it in the major newspapers are on the networks, or anywhere.
So, I wanted to get out there. I wanted to see it for myself, and I wanted to report on it. And then you get invested in a story. And it’s why I kept on wanting to go back.
And I’m not into advocacy journalism, but it gets pretty close, frankly, when you’re doing something like this, because you see the extent of the suffering, you meet these people who have had unspeakable things done to them. And you want to tell their story, and not simply in a way as a journalist, but you want to tell their story in a way that hopefully will make people stand up and say something’s got to be done about this.
LAMB: Did you go with ABC also with this?
KARL: Yes, all four times.
LAMB: So, how did you get there, and who got you in? And what did you see?
KARL: Well, it’s pretty tough to get into Darfur. It’s hard to get a Sudanese visa. You can do it. But the first time I went with Robert Zoellick (ph), who was deputy secretary of state. I found out he was going over, and I asked if I could go along. And he ended up taking me and a handful of other reporters.
And that cleared the way. You got your visa – the State Department got the visa, and you get permission to go to Darfur, because that’s where he was going.
LAMB: Do you pay for your trip?
KARL: Yes. Oh, yes. You pay the equivalent of business class airfare to the State Department kind of thing.
But that’s how I got in. And then once we got there, we broke off from Zoellick’s (ph) entourage as much as we could and had some just surreal experiences, especially in Khartoum.
We ended up interviewing the person who has been labeled by many in the human rights community as war criminal number one in Darfur. And we found him in Khartoum. His name is Musa Hillal (ph), allegedly a Janjaweed leader – these, you know, groups that are going out there and burning the villages and doing all these horrible things in Darfur.
So, we worked and got through to him. And it was late at night. We got work like at 10 o’clock at night. OK, he’ll talk to you now.
LAMB: Just you, or other reporters?
KARL: It was just me, my producer, Richard Coolidge (ph), and Wayne Boyd (ph), my camera guy. And we were all a little bit freaked out, because we were just given an address to go to about half an hour from the hotel we were staying at. We didn’t know where we were getting sent to, so we just went out and kind of took our chances.
And we ended up – we showed up at the address, and it had a big sign that said police on it. And it basically this place. It was like a club for police officers. And there was a big feast going on in the back, and there was – and here, the most wanted man in the world, you know, for Darfur was kind of hanging out with Sudanese police officers. Bizarre.
And we interviewed the interior minister in Khartoum, another guy that’s been labeled by the human rights groups as a war criminal, or an alleged war criminal.
And it was just – it was just a very strange, strange place to be, going around talking to those people, and then going into the refugee camps.
LAMB: How many people have been killed?
KARL: Well, the estimates – nobody knows exactly. The estimates go from 9,000, if you believe the Sudanese government, to 240,000 on the low end for the humanitarian groups, up to 400,000. Some people would say that number understates it.
But I went most recently this June. I went on a trip that was actually put on by the Sudanese government – another totally strange experience. But they gave us their tour of Darfur. ”Ah, this is really not that bad” kind of a thing. You know?
And we had a chance to confront the Wali, the governor of North Darfur. And I said, you know, there are estimates that 400,000 people have been killed here. And what do you – and he just cut me off. ”No, it’s 9,000 – 9,000!”
LAMB: Small point. ”Dar-four” is spelled ”Darfur.”
LAMB: What’s the accurate way to say it?
KARL: I’ve been saying ”Dar-four,” because that’s the way it’s just referred to. But the more accurate would be ”Dar-fur,” because it refers to the Fur tribe, which is one of the largest tribes. And they took ”dar,” which means a region. It’s the ”dar Fur.” It’s the region for the Fur tribe, because there are many other tribes there.
LAMB: And how many people live in that region?
KARL: It’s about four million, I believe, four or five million. And I may be slightly wrong on that. I don’t have my – but it’s about four million. And when you consider that 2.5 million, by the U.N.’s estimate, have been displaced and are now in refugee camps, you get a sense of the magnitude of that crisis.
Basically, that region has been transferred – has been transformed – from one that had been a collection of small villages and nomadic tribes. You have the small, you know, African tribes that have their villages that are based on agriculture. And you have the nomadic tribes, mostly Arab, that are based on herding.
And that region has been transformed from these little places – these little tiny villages, some of them with no more than 40 people – into one of vast slums, vast cities. I mean, these refugee camps are – I visited Abu Shouk (ph) near El Fasher (ph). I’ve been there a few times now. And that one at times has – the population has been estimated that it’s been over 100,000 people, in a refugee camp.
And they’re – you know, this is not a region of cities. It’s a region of little tiny – so, it’s completely transformed the landscape, obviously, in a terrible way, and a way that may not be undoable.
LAMB: You’re going to go back?
KARL: Absolutely. I’ll tell you, it’s not easy to convince a news organization to spend the resources to cover a story like that. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had people at ABC that have been willing to take the chance, who’ve said we’re willing to spend – you know, the networks don’t have the money they used to have, and travel budgets are really tight.
And you have to make a case for, you know, are our viewers going to want to know. Is that really a story that our viewers might want to hear about right now? And haven’t we already told the story? You know, we know – humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Yes, we know. So, you have to convince them that, no, this is an ongoing crisis and it’s worth covering.
LAMB: Jonathan Karl, soon to celebrate his 40th birthday. What’s the exact day?
KARL: January 19th.
LAMB: On his way to China for how long?
KARL: It’ll be like a 10-day trip.
LAMB: Expect to see something on ABC News in …
KARL: Sometime. Yes, well, you know, it’ll be sometime after I get back. It could be – like I said, I don’t know if it’ll be immediately, or if it’ll go after February 5th.
LAMB: Thanks for joining us.
KARL: Thank you for having me on the show.