thumbnail of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Hide -
JIM LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. On the NewsHour tonight, Gwen Ifill and Jan Crawford-Greenburg of the "Chicago Tribune" preview the new Supreme Court term; Terence Smith interviews Edmund Morris, author of "Dutch," the new book about Ronald Reagan; Margaret Warner then runs a discussion about the book among NewsHour regulars Doris Kearns Goodwin, Haynes Johnson and Michael Beschloss, and Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the "New York Times"; and Ray Suarez explores the legacy of Akio Morita, the man who founded Sony. It all follows our summary of the news this Monday.
JIM LEHRER: The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term today. All nine justices were present, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was released from a hospital last week after colon cancer surgery. The court immediately turned away nearly 1,800 appeals that had accumulated over the three- month summer recess. One case involved school-ordered drug testing for teachers, which the court upheld. We'll have more on the court's new term right after this News Summary. President Clinton and his national security team met today on how to win approval of the nuclear test ban treaty. The Senate is to vote on it next week; 67 votes are needed for ratification. Mr. Clinton signed the international agreement in 1996. It's to prevent countries from developing and refining weapons arsenals. The President said this.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: For decades, the United States has led the world against proliferation. And if the United States Senate votes this treaty down it would be a signal that the United States now wants to lead the world away from the cause of nonproliferation. We would be giving a green light to all these other people. We're not testing anyway. That's why Britain and France and nine other of our NATO allies have already ratified this treaty. They understand this; that's why there is such overwhelming support for it. So it would be -- in my judgment -- a grave mistake not to ratify the treaty.
JIM LEHRER: Several key Republican Senators oppose the treaty including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms. He said he was confident the Senate would reject the treaty known by the acronym CTBT.
SEN. JESSE HELMS: The facts are not on the administration's side. This is an ill conceived treaty in the first place which our own CIA acknowledges that it cannot verify. Approving the CTBT would leave the American people unsure of the safety and reliability of America's nuclear deterrent while at the same time completely unprotected from ballistic missile attack on the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Twenty-three nations have already agreed to the treaty; 44 must do so for it to have force. One in six Americans had no health insurance in 1998, the Census Bureau reported today. That amounted to about 44 million uninsured, up by nearly one million from '97. The groups most affected were 18- to 24-year-olds, Hispanics, part-time workers, the less-educated and the foreign-born. And one of the nation's largest health insurers faced a multimillion-dollar, class-action lawsuit today. It alleges Humana, Incorporated withheld conditions of coverage from patients and paid doctors to deny treatment, among other things. The Health Maintenance Organization covers six million clients. About a quarter of them are in Florida, where the suit was filed in a Miami federal court. The company offered no immediate response. A bidding war erupted today for Sprint Corporation, the nation's third-largest long-distance phone company. Bell South, the Atlanta-based regional firm, made a last- minute offer of $72 billion in cash and stock. That topped MCI-WorldCom's original merger offer of $63 billion in stock. Sprint's board of directors was meeting tonight to consider the competing offers. In Austria, a right-wing political party came in second in national elections this weekend. Spencer Michels reports.
SPENCER MICHELS: The far-right Freedom Party of Jorg Haidar won more than 27 percent of the vote in Austria's parliamentary elections Sunday. It was the best result for a neo-Fascist party in any election in Europe since World War II. And it was the best showing ever for Haidar, now a state governor, who waged a populist campaign to keep out foreign immigrants and block Austria's membership in the European Union. Haidar's party ran behind the Socialists, who won 33 percent , but slightly ahead of the conservative People's Party. Absentee ballots, to be counted later, could change the result. The Socialists and the Conservatives have dominated Austrian politics since the war, often in coalition governments. Haidar said his showing would break that monopoly.
DR. JORG HAIDER: (speaking through interpreter) The Austrian people gave us a chance to remain the second largest political party and now we enter an interesting new political spectrum for Austria. We now have three equally powerful parties.
SPENCER MICHELS: But socialist Chancellor Viktor Klima said he would try to form a government without Haidar's party.
VIKTOR LIMA: (speaking through interpreter) The social-Democrats have lost many votes. It's very serious. It's a warning from the electorate. However, the voters have kept the Social Democratic party as the strongest party in this country. I imaginewe'll be asked by the President to form a new government.
SPENCER MICHELS: Outside Austria, the reaction was strongly negative. Haidar has come under fire for his sympathetic remarks about Nazi Germany's economic policies and for calling veterans of one World War II nazi unit, the Waffen SS, men of decent character. Israel's president, Ezer Weizman, publicly voiced his concern.
PREISDENT EZER WEIZMAN, Israel: Yes, I think we should be concerned. It's not a pleasant thought that history might repeat itself, I hope not. But I hope that European civilization, that has suffered so much, has enough sense and has learned so much in the last 60 or 70 years, that it will take measures beforehand.
SPENCER MICHELS: State Department Spokesman James Rubin had this to say.
JAMES RUBIN: We have emphasized our strong opposition to any statements or policies that could be interpreted as sympathetic to the Nazi regime or as xenophobic. If the Freedom Party becomes part of the government, we call upon the party to continue the tradition of Austrian support for human rights and equal rights for minorities.
SPENCER MICHELS: Austrian President Thomas Kleistel began talks today with political leaders on forming a new government. They could go on for weeks.
JIM LEHRER: Russian soldiers pushed deeper into Chechnya today. They engaged in heavy fighting with Muslim rebels north of the Chechen capital. The Russians rained artillery fire on several towns and villages. Fighter jets added to assault. There was no official report of casualties. The combat has made refugees of nearly 100,000 Chechens. One of the founders of the Sony Corporation is dead. Akio Morita died yesterday at a Tokyo hospital of pneumonia. He had been in failing health since a stroke in 1993. Morita and his partner invented and then manufactured the transistor, which revolutionized electronics, and helped lead post-war Japan's rise into a global economic power. Morita was 78 years old. We'll have more on him at the end of the program tonight. Between now and then, the new Supreme Court term and the Reagan book controversy.
JIM LEHRER: The Supreme Court's new term and to our new senior correspondent, Gwen Ifill. Welcome, Gwen.
GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Jim.
For a preview of the Supreme Court's 1999 new term we are joined by NewsHour regular Jan Crawford-Greenburg, National Legal Affairs Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.
Hi, Jan. It's the first Monday in October. We expect a lot of activity, but there's a tremendous amount of activity -- race, politics, sex, religion, all the things you were warned not to talk about at the dinner table. Can you give us some sort of sense about how wide ranging the court's actually going to be this time?
JAN CRAWFORD-GREENBURG: Well, this is poised to be the most contentious term the court has had in quite some time. Hourly disputes could have dramatic implications in the way Americans live, work, play, even how Americans get medical treatment. The court is wading into countless disputes. They've split legislatures, HMO's in their cost cutting effort, big tobacco -- federal aid to religious schools and perhaps the implications that that could have for school vouchers. They're also taking up these emotionally charged issues that the court has sometimes shied away from -- grandparents' rights, for example -- how far the government can go to regulate -- protecting children. So it's going to be a quite interesting term with quite important implications for American citizens.
GWEN IFILL: Let's see how many we can plow through one by one. There's so many interesting things they've taken up, including the issue of tobacco, things which Congress has shied away from doing anything about. What is the court's case on tobacco?
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Many people are saying that is the big blockbuster business case. The court will decide whether or not the F.D.A. has the authority to regulate tobacco as a drug and cigarettes as drug delivery devices. Health advocates are calling this the most significant issue to reach the court in recent years. They say it could have dramatic impacts on the government's efforts to regularity nicotine and could have important implications for the sale and marketing of cigarettes.
GWEN IFILL: How about HMO's, they have become the boogieman of American consumer society. Everybody wants to be able to have the right to sue their HMO, at least that's what the polls show. Congress doesn't take action. The Supreme Court might.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: This involves a case from Illinois and asked whether or not a patient can sue her HMO for violating its duty to provide property medical care. The woman claimed that the HMO violated that duty because it offered cost saving incentives to doctors.
GWEN IFILL: Federal government and state governments, they obviously don't, rule differently on different things. We have questions like aid to parochial schools, violence against women. Give us a thumbnail sketch.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: There are I think two important themes already emerging from the 45 case that is the court has taken so far. One involves federalism, an issue that has very much fascinated this court in recent terms, involves the power, the balance of power between the federal government and the states. There are four cases on the agenda already that will get into that issue. One of them involves whether or not Congress went too far. It involved itself in areas handled by the state under the Violence Against Women Act, which authorizes victims of gender motivated violence to sue their attackers. The other area, the other important area that the court has indicated that it's going to get involved with is the first amendment. And seven or eight very important cases already involving the freedom of speech and religion and you mentioned the federal aid to religious schools, a case that many people are arguing could have important implications for legislative efforts to authorize school vouchers.
GWEN IFILL: Another important first amendment case which we expect to hear something about this week involves campaign contributions.
GWEN IFILL: Whether they constitute free speech.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: That case will be argued tomorrow and it involves a state law from Missouri that imposed restrictions on campaign contributions of $1,075. Obviously very much interest in that because the federal limits of $1,000 could come into play here. The 8th Circuit Federal Appeals Court said that the Missouri law was unconstitutional because the $1,075 limit simply was too low. So people who are watching that case say that could have important impact on federal campaign finance reform as well.
GWEN IFILL: So how does the Playboy Channel figure into all of this? That is also a case involving them?
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: That goes under I think the First Amendment theme the court is developing, and it goes to the government's efforts to restrict speech that some people find obscene or indecent. It involves a 1996 law that limited things like the Playboy Channel on cable television to hours of 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M. if the cable companies could not completely scramble the channel. About 70 percent can't do that because they get the signal bleed and you can still hear something. They have to completely limit the Playboy Channel. Now, there is another case that involves this government relation of this indecent or obscene expression and that comes from Erie, Pennsylvania. It involves nude dancing, how far can communities go in an effort to ban nude dancing?
GWEN IFILL: On the other end of the cultural spectrum is grandparents' rights, whether grandparents or other relatives have access to children in relationships where there has been divorce or death or some other kind of separation.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Right, a very emotionally charged case coming from Washington State that pits the grandparents' interest in seeing their grandchildren against the parents - as the Washington Supreme Court said -- the parents' fundamental right to raise their children without state interference.
GWEN IFILL: What kind of a court is this going to be? It's been a closely divided court -- politically. All the politicians running for various offices are keeping an eye on it. What can we expect?
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: The very controversial cases of recent years have been very closely divided. For example the federalism cases have been divided by a 5-4 margin so those are always going to be closely monitored. Particularly you know as you mentioned with the upcoming presidential election by a presidential candidate who might be hoping to tip the balance in some of those cases.
GWEN IFILL: Seventeen days ago today Justice Ruth Ginsburg went into a hospital and was operated on for cancer. She is back in the court today and how did she look.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: Beaming and really just as animated as ever. Right away, she in the first case that was argued today jumped right in and asked some very forceful questions and continued with questions throughout the argument today. She looked great and it was really wonderful seeing her back on the bench. The cancer was caught very early. Her colon cancer was caught very early and it looks like she is going to be able to make a complete and speedy recovery.
GWEN IFILL: We've heard about Ruth Ginsburg's ailments. It raised a lot of questions about succession on the court. It made people very nervous about that. Has this all quieted down?
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: No, I think every term you hear speculation, now with the presidential campaign going on, you are going to continue to hear speculation, perhaps even more so, about possible retirements, Justice John Paul Stevens, there are rumors a couple of years ago that he was going to step down. The Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor, rumors that they because of health problems -
GWEN IFILL: She was sick as well.
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: She had had cancer, that they might be stepping down several years a ago. That is always going to be on the table. This is a court that is very - I think despite its close divisions, very congenial. They seem to really enjoy themselves. Stevens shows no signs of slowing down nor do any of the other justices who are often rumored their retirements are imminent.
GWEN IFILL: But they have a heavy docket this year. Are they all up to it?
JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: I'm sure they are and they're going to be taking more cases through January. Over potential cases such as the validity of the Miranda rights, school vouchers are on the horizon, so I'm sure they're up for that.
GWEN IFILL: A lot to talk about, thank you very much, Jan.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, the Reagan book and remembering the founder of Sony.
JIM LEHRER: The storm over a presidential biography. Media Correspondent Terence Smith begins our coverage.
TERENCE SMITH: "Dutch," the long-awaited account of the life and presidency of President Ronald Reagan, started generating controversy even before it arrived in bookstores last Thursday. Former Reagan aides immediately challenged many points in the 874-page memoir by historian and biographer Edmund Morris.
SPOKESMAN: Mike Deaver, you know the Reagans well. Were the Bushes treated as "downstairs people"?
MIKE DEAVER: I never saw that. I was there until May of 1985. I never felt that way. I just didn't see it.
SPOKESMAN: If what is printed in "Newsweek" is all that he wrote about it, Iran-Contra, he has it wrong.
TERENCE SMITH: Morris himself has defended his work in repeated appearances on the "Today Show," "Larry King Live," and "Meet the Press." But the greatest furor erupted over Morris's literary technique. CBS news correspondent Lesley Stahl described it on the broadcast "60 Minutes."
LESLEY STAHL: What Morris decided to do, unlike other biographers, was put himself in the book as a fictional character, a fictional friend of the young Ronald Reagan. This will certainly open Morris up to criticism, and even he admits, the device is revolutionary.
TERENCE SMITH: The Kenyan-born Morris introduces the device in the opening pages when he records his own birth in the American Midwest in 1912, years before he was actually born, in order to establish himself as a fictional contemporary of the president-to-be. He gives the reader an early hint of what he is doing when he writes: "The past is delusion, the future illusion; one locates one's center where one can. Or, in cases like Reagan's, where one wishes." But the author never explicitly explains to the reader what is fact and what is fiction. At one point, for example, he depicts the fictional Morris and Reagan in college together. "I was introduced to Dutch several times. And each was the first as far as he was concerned." In addition to this fictional version of himself, the author invents a fictional son, a late wife, and a lifelong friend. Morris even footnotes some of the references made by his fictional characters. The facts in the footnotes are real, but the characters, of course, are not. To the author's supporters, the device is a creative, even inspired, literary device that improves the book; to his critics, the device blurs the line between fact and fiction and leaves the reader confused as to what to believe.
TERENCE SMITH: And with us now is Edmund Morris, author of "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan." Mr. Morris, welcome.
TERENCE SMITH: The reviews are in; some are positive, and some are scathing -- words like "disappointing," "a travesty." There's been a great deal of this all week. I wonder your reaction, what you feel about the way it's been received.
EDMUND MORRIS: Well, I knew from the start that the method was going to create violent controversy. I knew that in 1992, when I conceived of the method, and I welcome the controversy because I think the autobiography needs shaking up. The only part of the controversy I do not like is criticism of pre-judges who have not read the book, Reagan loyalists, who had not read it and had to confess they hadn't read it on national television, but that didn't stop them from assailing it, and historians, oddly enough -- for example, one Douglas Brinkley and "Newsday" - I seem to have an inimical effect on historians named Brinkley, but this guy spent three and a half columns berating the book and ends up -- his final paragraph - well, I'm really looking forward to reading "Dutch: A Memoir." That kind of criticism I can do without it.
TERENCE SMITH: You call it "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan."
TERENCE SMITH: Not a biography
EDMUND MORRIS: It's a biography in the form of a memoir; it's a study in the phenomenon of memory -- not only my own memory of him, as the President that I followed around and interviewed at length, but the memory that we all have now of this man who on the jacket of the book is receding from us. He lingers fondly in the American memory and is getting larger and larger the more we remember him.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it a memoir of Ronald Reagan or of Edmund Morris or of the fictional Edmund Morris or of the relationship between those people?
EDMUND MORRIS: It is a memoir of Ronald Reagan. It's a story of Ronald Reagan told by myself but in an intensely nostalgic and memoiristic form and woven into it is the fabric of his own memories of himself and his life. And I should say one thing, if I may, about the quality of this narrator. He is not, as Lesley Stahl said, a friend of the young Dutch; they're never friends. Reagan, in fact, is never aware of this narrator. I think of the narrator in terms of a projector. All I ask of the reader at the beginning of the book is to accept a projector, as we all did as when we were children, we went to the movies, and we were aware of this projector behind us sending out these magic fingers of light, projecting a movie. The rest of our lives we've been going to movies unconscious of the projector. I am the projector of a documentary movie about Ronald Reagan, which is absolutely authentic and thoroughly documented.
TERENCE SMITH: Why the technique? Why did you find it either necessary or desirable to do?
EDMUND MORRIS: It was the only technique. I started off writing an orthodox political biography about Reagan and found within the space of two years that it was dying on the page. He resisted orthodox analysis because Reagan was a performer. He was a performer as a boy. He was a performer as an old man, and a performer is not comprehensible unless he is witnessed, unless there's a spectator there, unless there's an audience. I became his biographical audience.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you have any second thoughts about it, given all the criticism?
EDMUND MORRIS: No. No. I rejoice in the method because I know the movie I project, the story I tell is true and good; I know that my intentions as a biographer are honorable; everything's documented. It's a true story.
TERENCE SMITH: Could you have written the book without it, without the technique?
EDMUND MORRIS: No, I could not. I'm not Lou Canon. I'm not an orthodox political reporter, and Lou has, in fact, written several splendid biographies of Reagan from that reportorial point of view, but they don't capture his mystery; they don't capture the nature of Ronald Reagan and that's what fascinated me.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, some critics have described it as a distraction; in other words, they're forever sorting out -- is this the fictional Edmund Morris or today's Edmund Morris, or exactly who is what -- does that concern you?
EDMUND MORRIS: I expected that. The world is divided into those who can accept the machinations of leaps and those who cannot. But as we all acceptedas children the personality of our mother reading to us as storytellers or the projector in the movie, that's all I ask of the reader. The story explains -- its action and character. Ronald Reagan is a narrative phenomenon.
TERENCE SMITH: There have also been comments and criticisms, as you mentioned yourself, from former Reagan aides who have sprung to his defense, and taken great issue, umbrage even with some of your descriptions of him. Any surprise in that?
EDMUND MORRIS: Well, not one of those aides to my knowledge at the time they made these criticisms had yet written the book -- read the book -- although I'm sure some of them would have loved to have written it. Mike Deaver is to me the most patient. He keeps saying, I have to read the book. And I'm waiting to hear what Mike things. But Ed Meese, for example, said it is not true that the President made any decisions with regard to Iran-Contra in hospital. It's not only true, it's in Reagan's own diary, which I quote. He talks about Bud McFarland coming in and authorizing the first contact with the Iranians.
TERENCE SMITH: I wonder if these criticisms of what you have said about Ronald Reagan have backed you into any sort of corner in which you are making more positive statements these days about Ronald Reagan than you would have perhaps otherwise offered.
EDMUND MORRIS: The book is overwhelmingly positive. It's a very critical of him in private; you know, I recognized the fact on the page that Reagan could frequently be alarmingly boring, and banal in conversation. He came up with the most astonishing displays of ignorance. I once remember him telling me that even the most polluted river in the world could be purified by flowing across two miles of gravel. Statements like that took your breath away. But the book is very meticulous in its description of how this surpassingly ordinary person in private became somehow magical when he went out on to the public stage. He was indeed a potent and hugely effective President.
TERENCE SMITH: You haven't felt on the defensive, any need to say more about him than you otherwise might because of all the criticism?
EDMUND MORRIS: I'm not defensive because I admit frankly to the -- I own up to the fact that I have written many pages that are going to distress his wife and distress his acolytes. We must always remember that these Reaganauts have him on their resume, and their golden years with him are all they look for; they talk about it all the time, and if the great man is in any way criticized or represented to be fallible at moments, it calls into question their whole career. So I understand why they feel that way.
TERENCE SMITH: Have you heard, directly or indirectly, from Nancy Reagan about the book?
EDMUND MORRIS: Not directly. Indirectly through George Will, who I gather is her mouthpiece in this case - and not at all from anybody -- other than -- well, I've heard from three of the children, Michael, Patty, and Ron.
TERENCE SMITH: And their reaction?
EDMUND MORRIS: They're all very supportive. Mind you, this is back in the time of "60 Minutes." I know they're all reading the book and I'm waiting to hear what they think about the book, but they all told me in private that this is the father they remember.
TERENCE SMITH: A final thought. This is such an age of public cynicism about what's true and what's not true, about the age of the docudrama and Oliver Stone's conspiracy movies? Any concern about contributing to that in any way?
EDMUND MORRIS: No, because the dividing line in my book is very clear. The narrator is fictional, yes; you just have to accept that. You can agree with what he thinks and how he feels, if you want, but the story he tells is a documentary story.
TERENCE SMITH: Edmund Morris, thank you very much.
EDMUND MORRIS: Thank you, Terry.
JIM LEHRER: More on this now, and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Now to debate Edmund Morris's biographical technique, we turn to three NewsHour regulars who have chronicled the lives and times of American presidents: Historian Michael Beschloss, who has written about Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of books on Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; and author/journalist Haynes Johnson, whose "Sleepwalking through History" chronicled the Reagan years. Joining them this evening is Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a book reviewer for the weekday editions of the "New York Times." And a note to our viewers, I'm assured that all of our panelists completed their homework assignment -- have read the book. Haynes, to you, what do you make of Edmund Morris's explanation of and defense of his technique?
HAYNES JOHNSON: I just fascinated. I was sitting her listening to him watching him tell about the magic fingers and the leap and you can believe it because I wrote this narrative. If you look in the index of the book, there are nine people named Morris. Every one of them, with the exception of his wife, there are ten actually, is a fictional character. It isn't just him. It's his wife, I mean, his mother, his grandmother -- son, friends and so forth. There are many others. He asks you to accept that this device is well understood. He can use any device he wants to. We all have a right to apply anything you want to the world of writing, but I think he didn't square and play straight with the reader. You do not know that this is a fictional version of a story, a romantic story, a mystical, as he says a magical story. That is one thing. The second thing is I think he doesn't really deal well with the Reagan presidency. I think this is where we can get in arguments. There are literary criticisms. I think that in the case of this book, you have to say that he, fictional author, narrator, memoirist, gets in the way of a very important press. I think that is the sad part. The other thing hasn't been said on this program. Let me just say one thing quickly. He is the only biographer in American history who is authorized by a sitting president to have the access over 14 years. I would like to have known a lot more that he learned in that period and I don't think I did in the book.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Doris, let's go on, lets address the technique issue first. Did you find it as Haynes did, basically confusing, that Morris didn't play it straight with the reader, that you didn't really know which was fact and which was fiction?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think if he had included a prologue at the beginning that described the technique and secondly if he hadn't put fictional footnotes in for the fictional characters, I think the technique would have worked. I understand that everything he did that talks about Reagan was sourced. He has evidence, he has footnotes but footnotes are the building block for anybody reading a book. And because he went all the way to make fictional footnotes. I just don't understand that. But I do understand the dilemma he found himself in. He said he was back at Eureka College wishing that he had been back there in the 1920's when Reagan was there. The documents hadn't revealed the inner springs of his character. The interviews hadn't revealed it. So he needed to come up with some way that he as a biographer could go back in time and reenact experience. I remember being at Rose Kennedy's house at the Hyannis port compound when she was 90 years old, and it was eerily quiet. And I kept saying, suppose that the devil in "Damn Yankees" came to me and said, I will take all your research, all your documents, all your letters, all your diaries that you've worked on for five years but I'll let you see them once the way they were when Joe and Jack were alive, when Joe and Rose Kennedy were mother and father, I had this horrible feeling I would give them all up. Every biographer has to find the technique. Had he made it clear at the beginning what he was doing, had he not made fictional footnotes, it was his technique to make an impressionistic version of Reagan, which is quite dazzling the way it comes out.
MARGARET WARNER: Michael, how did you see it?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think it is dazzling at points. I think his description of the assassination attempt in 1981, of the summits with Gorbachev and especially the crisis that Ronald Reagan had in his life in the late 1940's -- you see, Morris, this great writer that we saw very much on display in his biography of Theodore Roosevelt -- but I'm upset by what Haynes and Doris was saying which is the why idea of representing something as nonfiction as biography and to some extent straining the bond of trust between the writer and the reader. A lot of people are going to read this who perhaps have not been exposed to the news coverage of the last week and also in the future. Kids will get this out of the library. They'll pull it off the shelves. They won't see the jacket necessarily which says this is somewhat fictionalized. They're going to assume that Edmund Morris is someone who was Ronald Reagan's contemporary and viewed him throughout his life. They're going to assume that the gossip columnist whom Edmund Morris invented and who is in that book existed, and that is something I think it's hard for a nonfiction writer to be in favor of. If there had been something in the text explaining this device, I think if you had taken out the fictional footnotes and also I think perhaps it is a little bit too much even to refer to this as biography. Edmund said in his interview, which I thought was terrific, the interview that Terry did with him, he said the art of biography needs shaking up. He said elsewhere that he has created a new biographical style. I'm really worried about that because that suggests is, in the future Edmund is someone people are going to emulate and I think we can very well expect five years from now, 30 other biographies being published by people who wanted to get inside their subjects. And so therefore they fictionalized as well. We're in an era in which fact and fiction are blurring. And I'm a huge admirer of Edmund. I just wish that he had not hurried that process along.
MARGARET WARNER: Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, your review which was a good review of the book, you seem to find the device useful.
CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN HAUPT: Well, it was a good review, thank you, but it was also positive.
MARGARET WARNER: Positive is what I meant to say as well as good.
CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN HAUPT: Thanks, well, I was initially shocked. I very much disapprove of the technique in theory, but I was instantly alerted when I learned that had Mr. Morris was born in I think it was 1912. I knew that couldn't be. And so I began to look as I read for that, for what was real and what was made up, and I think while the book is difficult and good books often are, I think it deconstructs itself as you go along and I think, I haven't thought it through, I think Mr. Beschloss's point -- what is a reader in the future going to think -- but I suspect that you can figure it out if you read it carefully enough. I also think by that time it will be known for its fictionalizations just as highly experimental fictional works are known for their breakthroughs in form. So, once I knew, I even found the distraction almost helpful in the sense in trying to pick your way through what is real and what is false, what is presented actually and what is kind of allotted between reality and finks fiction. I found myself thinking in the way I used to think about President Reagan anyway. So while that may be what they call the fallacy of imitative form I found it helpful and useful in getting inside of Reagan. The other big criticism which has not necessarily been put forth by the three distinguished people on this program is that Mr. Morris wasted all this time when he could have been giving us the real history of the presidency. I really dispute that. I think that his assignment was not to look at the presidency but to look at the president, to inhabit the center of power, not necessarily to inhabit the tentacles of power -- and I think as the portrait of the president who was also in many cases seemed almost out of touch with the tentacles of power is tremendously useful. It puts a human face on it. There is nothing in some of the very good books on Reagan that have been written like the portrait of Bud McFarland in the Shoreham Hotel where Morris is standing there and he says this devastated man and he sees everyone avoiding him and he says I think it's because political people try to avoid raw human emotion where writers seek it out. I think that is the positive magic thing about this book where it works so often.
MARGARET WARNER: Haynes, address that point because Morris did also namely that wasn't trying to do a conventional heavily report reported book. He was trying to plumb the depths of character of this man and sort of expose the mystery of him. Does he have a point that is more a character study than it is a conventional biography?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Sure, he can make that point and I must say my friend Christopher has a good point there. There are scenes in the book memorable. Brilliant. McFarland is one. The assassination that Michael mentioned is another. There are a number of these things, but they kept moving in and out of the phase and the focus and you don't know where it stops and where it ends. I disagree with Christopher on another point. You don't have to give the litany of the record of the presidency, but I think you have to come to terms with what kind of president was he and here for example, nowhere in this book is the name the Wall Street Journal mentioned -- the editorial page which is so central in his thinking.-- nowhere -- not one mention of supply side economics. It's not defined. You don't talk about the deficit. There is a whole range of things really significant if we could put Ronald Reagan as a president, as a leader and not just as a mythic figure out of the soil of the Middle West and this magical guy who goes off to Hollywood. He is a very central and important figure and I would like to have seen more analysis of this, how did he come to this thought and how did he come to these impressions? I disagree on that.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, where do you come down on this balance between trying to get at the character and maybe a less of the facts of the political history versus the critique Haynes is making?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I think each biographer has certain strengths. Some are more journalists and had they chosen a biographer who was more of a journalist they might have gotten a fuller report of what went on in Reagan's presidency. And it's true that Morris was there but he has to spring bring his strengths and talents to the job. If you look at the Teddy Roosevelt book its incredible strength is portraiture. It is not a history of the era, it is portraiture. If they knew what they were doing, they were getting a portrait. There are times when you wish that the evaluations have be sharper. The one part that really gets to me is he talks about the fact that Reagan had absolutely no compassion for other people; he thought poor people were weak people. It was their problem they were poor; but then a couple of sentences later he will say he is a great man, he was a great President. I don't think you can be a great president without compassion. I think that's a critical quality. So the impressions leave you with a bunch of jarring understanding and you do hope that in a story -- an historian will bring to bear their judgment. They've lived with this guy for 14 years. That understanding doesn't come through. You have to make your own impressions after you finish reading it.
MARGARET WARNER: Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, that is another criticism which is -- he points out the paradoxes but he never tries to resolve them.
CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN HAUPT: True enough, and he says the more you try to figure them out, the less you are going to be able to. He doesn't, he says that Reagan lacks compassion for the people. But he has the most extraordinary scenes in which he thought that Reagan was not aware of his presence when he was worried about something - I've forgotten the particular example. Then what he saw Reagan the next day, he knew when he was thinking about but he said you shouldn't be worried about that. I'm being general, but that kind of example of Reagan's extraordinarily -- his total unpredictability and knowing what he was sensing and what he wasn't. I think he gets that across and I think he gets across the implicit judgment that he thought he was a great president even though he doesn't spell it out in exact words. He doesn't mention supply side economics but he gives this portrait of Reagan's relationship with Stockman. If you know the framework, which has been given so well by people like Haynes Johnson, then you can read into it exactly what is going on.
MARGARET WARNER: I want to get back to Michael here. Do you think this that this technique does add something what all is said and done to our understanding of Reagan the man?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think it does, and my big quibble is with the way it was labeled because I think it shouldn't be called nonfiction or biography. There is an honorable history of fiction that's written on political leaders - Gore Vidal on Lincoln -- Robert Penn Warren on Huey Long - they felt that they had to resort to fiction in order to explain pretty complex and rather indecipherable figures but in the end they called them novelists.
MARGARET WARNER: They labeled them as such. All right. Well, thank you all four very much.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the legacy of Japanese businessman Akio Morita. Ray Suarez, making his debut as a senior correspondent on the NewsHour, has that story. Welcome, Ray.
RAY SUAREZ: Thanks, Jim. The Morita legacy is tied up in post-war Japanese history, U.S.- Japan relations, and one very prominent company. In America and around the world it's one of the best-known brand names: Sony. The company was born in 1946 amidst the ruins of a Japan shattered by World War II. 25-Year-old Akio Morita started the company, along with colleague Masaru Ibuka and a $500 loan. The company was first called Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering; the first headquarters, a bombed-out department store. Morita was the oldest son of a wealthy family of sake brewers. He was a physics students and an electronics buff. In 1950, the company made its first consumer product, a reel- to-reel tape recorder. In 1953, Morita gambled, buying a license to make transistors, the building block of electronic miniaturization. In 1955, Morita and Ibuka changed the company name. Sony comes from sonus, the Latin word for sound, and Sonny, slang for a small boy. The partners liked its simplicity and the fact that it was the same in all languages. Sony's Betamax debuted in 1975 as the world's first videocassette system, though it eventually lost out to the VHS format, which could record longer. 1979 Was the year the Walkman came out, and by 1986 it became so ubiquitous that it made it into the Oxford Dictionary. Twenty years later, more than 185 Walkmans have been sold around the world. The encore to the Walkman was the C.D. Player in 1982. It was a joint project between Sony and Philips, the Dutch electronics firm. Morita always had an eye out for the American market. He established Sony of America and set up U.S. factories. In the 1980's, sales of Sony and other Japanese products in the United States helped drive record trade deficits for the U.S.
AKIO MORITA, Chairman, Sony Corp.: ("NewsHour," 1985) From the beginning of our business, we started... we have been working to make our product to suit American people. We keep our engineers and we keep our designer and now we move our factory in the United States. 85 percent of our TV's sold here with the Sony name are made in the United States.
RAY SUAREZ: Morita once spoke of the key to the success of Japanese companies while touring a plant with the NewsHour's Paul Solman.
AKIO MORITA: Many people say the Japanese machine moves slow, but we feel steadiness is more important.
RAY SUAREZ: Sony's influence in the U.S. Extended into the entertainment industry as well. Sony bought CBS Records in 1988 and Columbia Pictures in 1989. Today, Sony has more than 21,000 employees and is worth about $68 billion. Yesterday, Akio Morita died of pneumonia at 77.
RAY SUAREZ: For more we're joined by John Nathan, whose history of the company, "Sony: The Private Life," came out last week. He is a professor of Japanese cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And Carla Hills, Chairman and CEO of Hills and Company, an international consulting firm advising U.S. businesses on investment and trade issues abroad. She was the U.S. Trade Representative in the Bush Administration.
John Nathan, let me start with you. The list is impressive. The home individual Joe cassette machine, the Walkman, the Trinitron, the C.D. Player, the popularization of home video cameras. He has really -- well the company let's say because he was not an engineer but really a marketing genius changed the way that people think of electronics at home.
JOHN NATHAN: Yes, that is certainly true. Perhaps the best example of his genius at pioneering now markets is probably the Walkman which maybe a well known story at this point. As you remember, in 1979 Sony was in need of a cash cow havinglost the beta max wars to Matsushita and others in the VHS department, and Morita's partner, Mr. Ibuka, requested his audio department to create for him a sort of stereo system which would allow him to enjoy music on the long planes flights he took abroad. So they rigged something up and gave it to him, and he took it along with some tapes and came back and enjoyed it a lot and handed it to Morita. Morita of course all his life took inordinate pride and pleasure in playing with Sony's toys, which he loved better than anything in the world. So, he took this gadget home, tried it out at dinner, took it to golf, and reappeared at the company on Monday morning following the weekend declaring that this would be a Sony product. The company was aghast basically. They said, Mr. Morita, first of all it doesn't have a record capability and no one is going to be interested in buying a tape recorder that don't record. Secondly and perhaps more importantly it relies on head phones -- ear phones. In Japan, of course, where deafness and hearing impairment was sort of a taboo subject -- head phones were associated with bad hearing. And everybody was certain that no one would buy a product that used them, whereupon Morita said with his customary autocratic certainty, and he certainly had the gift of certainty and vision insurance that case we shall create a head phone culture around the world. That's exactly what he proceeded to do. He engineered and single-mindedly drove the original campaigns that made Walkmans sort of the icon for a part of the youth culture.
RAY SUAREZ: Sometimes that autocratic certainly led him down. They hung on to beta max long after it was years that VHS was going to become the home standard. The purchase of Colombia Pictures caused Sony to hemorrhage red ink and the mini disc has not found its audience as a user friendly music format. What does this tell us about Morita, just as much as his successes do?
JOHN NATHAN: Well, Sony has had a reputation over time for a certainly arrogance. I think that is undeniable. The beta max may be a good one. It was clear that although it was in fact a superior technology, with regard to image and so on, that the number of the assets and customer benefits delivered by VHS including the longer record capacity and so on were good ones. Sony pretty much refused to build these into their beta system which ultimately cost Morita of course and Sony a lot of money and a big loss. So it's been true overtime, Morita has been unbending, I should say Sony has, when we speak about Morita we're speaking about something different. Certainly as a company there has been an arrogance about their approach to the market.
RAY SUAREZ: Carla Hills, I think in modern lingo we might call Akio Morita an economic nationalist. He was Japanese to the core and worried about the poor economy of his home islands. The relationship with the United States was at times that of a rival, an adversary but always a necessary partner.
CARLA HILLS: I think of him more as an internationalist -- more as a most cosmopolitan man who traveled around the world and sopped up good ideas wherever he found them. He was relentless in joining organizations and trying to learn from others and giving lessons back. That is very unJapanese.
RAY SUAREZ: But we saw in the short taped piece the opening of the factories this the United States. Was that more about fear of trade retaliation, more about fear of fluctuations in the currency or just an insistence that Sony be every where because it's also spread throughout Asia during the same years?
CARLA HILLS: Well, it perhaps was a strategy of success. I think Sony was the first company to go on the U.S. stock market, and it was one of the first, probably the first as you say to have a factory in the United States to take advantage of our large market. Whether that was driven by the fear that we might turn a protectionist bloc toward him and that he better jump that bloc or whether that is just good marketing being close to your customer, in any event it worked. Sony, we've mentioned some of the poor judgments that Sony as a company has made. But when you think of where is started and where it is today, you have to say it's a success story.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of attention was garnered by the book that he co-authored, "A Japan That Can Say No," and there was a certain backlash to American insist attention that Japan limit its exports; that Japan play ball with the United States on certain imports many Japanese felt they didn't need.
CARLA HILLS: It was a book that cost him some embarrassment that he co-authored with Ishara. And really the strident comments mostly come from those pages that his co-author wrote. But I know he didn't anticipate that it would be translated into English and I think he backed off considerably from his co-author's stridency because he did spend a lot of time in the United States. I do think he got some very good ideas from the United States, and he did lecture us a bit upon excellence. When you think of Mr. Morita, you think of excellence and quality of what he brought to his products. And I can recall American companies, very large companies, saying, I cannot believe the Japanese have only one defect per million. We can't drive our figures down to 20 defects per million. And yet we did. We did because we were in competition with the Japanese, and today we're much more effective as manufacturers than we were two decades ago.
RAY SUAREZ: So, John Nathan, when people talk about Morita, his understanding of the United States better than a lot of his counterparts in Japan, a fair bit of praise for him?
JOHN NATHAN: Well, I think this is a very complex issue and one that takes us into the heart of what Morita was, the man behind the dazzling mask, Ray. Carla spoke of Mr. Morita as internationalist -- and certainly the legion of powerful business and leaders in the United States who knew him and experienced him all the time would fell you that Akio was the only Japanese they had never who can really have a dialogue, who was accessible, familiar and whom they understood on the personal level. I think in fact there is abundant evidence to suggest that in fact Morita was lumbered if you like with a very, very traditional Japanese background that much of what went on in American western society was an affront to him and presented many problems to him in terms of sensibility and approach that he was in fact at pains to simulate a kind of easy familiarity and accessibility which he need and which he used very well but which cost him very considerably. You mentioned this book, "The Japan That Can Say No." I mean, his inordinate reaction, the chagrin he felt and his rage upon learning that that book had been released in a pirated edition and was being used on Capitol Hill as an example of Japanese perfidy, is one little example. I mean, really there was nothing in that book, particularly on his part, that he hadn't said many times before but it was as though a mask had slipped momentarily allowing Americans to see that Morita was someone who so often was appraising them from a distance often critically rather than being one of them. And this kind of disclosure was something that he was very, very upset about emotionally as a human being.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Carla Hills, we were discussing earlier that you think the end of the Morita era sees Japanese American industrial and political relations in much better shape than they had be earlier?
CARLA HILLS: I think today there is much less contention and if Mr. Morita had a mask, and I would defer to someone who has written a book about him, I would say that in at least the 80's, we gave ample opportunity for a front to not only a Japanese but to a foreigner. I can recall the cover of "Fortune" Magazine saying the fear and loathing of the Japanese. That has a certain jarring effect if you are Japanese. I think that Mr. Morita tried very hard to communicate with the Americans as to what manufacturing was all about in Japan, that much of it came from excellence and quality and that while he was in America, he tried to deliver that message and while he was home, an active member of an organization, he tried to tell his colleagues how important it was to open their markets.
RAY SUAREZ: Carla Hills, thanks for being with us, a former U.S. Trade Representative and John Nathan thanks for joining us, recent Morita biographer, author of "Sony: The Private Life".
JIM LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term, turning down nearly 1,800 appeals that had accumulated over the three-month summer recess. The Census Bureau reported one in six Americans had no health insurance in 1998. And Bell South and MCI-WorldCom got into a bidding war for Sprint Corporation, the nation's third-largest long-distance phone company. We'll see you online and again here tomorrow evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Producing Organization
NewsHour Productions
Contributing Organization
NewsHour Productions (Washington, District of Columbia)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/507-zg6g15v76h).
Episode Description
Asset type
Global Affairs
Military Forces and Armaments
Politics and Government
Copyright NewsHour Productions, LLC. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
NewsHour Productions
Identifier: NH-6568 (NH Show Code)
Format: Betacam
Generation: Preservation
Duration: 01:00:00;00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 1999-10-04, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023,
MLA: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” 1999-10-04. NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <>.
APA: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Boston, MA: NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from