Q: From where you sit, how have recent events changed the culture?
A: I think all sorts of people are having the same reaction: What is permissible now? What's not permissible? What's in good taste? What isn't? Do you go out? I find myself eating more in coffee shops than in restaurants. It makes me feel better. I think we're searching for ways to be . . . I hate to say "ordinary," but I think we're all looking to value the ordinary things in our lives. In many ways the country has lost its virginity.
Q: In reporting the facts, doesn't the news have just as much power to frighten as it does to inform?
A: I don't think we ever just deal with the facts. I think the most important thing we can do is to put the facts in context. With anthrax, especially inhalation anthrax, we know we'll frighten people. So you ask yourself-very quickly-whether reporting it will make it less scary. I'm very self-conscious about the way I'm "placed," as we say in the trades. I hate hype. I hate bells and whistles-it drives me crazy.
Q: How frightening it must've been when the anthrax letters began showing up at the networks.
A: It must have been scary in Tom's [Brokaw] office, and Dan's [Rather], too, but I was adamant-and this is no reflection on NBC or CBS-that we are not the subject of the story.
Q: How do you feel about the criticism you've gotten over the years for being a bit of a stuffed shirt?
A: I can't speak to how people look at me over the years, but I think it's a bit of a cliche. Since I'm a high-school dropout, my family gets an enormous laugh whenever people cite me as erudite. However I may be judged, I have my own view of how I am in person. And I think my friends and colleagues do, too. I think they'd describe me as hysterical, but I'm not sure that belongs on television. The audience's emotional experience in a time of crisis is so personal that the notion of imposing mine on them is really offensive. It's very hard to see the real person on an evening newscast.
Q: In what are defining moments of this crisis, both you and Dan Rather broke down on the air.
A: Not quite "breaking down"-that's overstated. I'd been on the air for hours and gotten a message that my kids called. So I turned around and said, "You know, we should all call our kids. We should all call our kids." People noticed that it clearly had an effect on me when I said it. But I don't lose it on television. I try to keep my emotions to myself. I think we all feel this very deeply and it manifests itself in different ways.