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Interview with Tom Johnson, March 22, 2010

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:27 - Early life in Macon

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Partial Transcript: Let's start in Macon in your early days, and, uh, tell us a bit about, uh, growing up in Macon, your family, and-and what your early childhood years were like.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls growing up poor in Macon, and and his parents' education and their work. He discusses the roles his parents played in teaching him the value of hard work and responsibility.

Keywords: Macon, Ga.

00:04:26 - Work with Macon Telegraph and high school newspaper

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Partial Transcript: Soon you found a way to make some money, uh, stringing for the Macon Telegraph .

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls reporting high school sport news for the Macon Telegraph throughout high school and the influence that job had on his career aspirations. He discusses editing his high school newspaper, becoming an officer in the Georgia Scholastic Press Association, and interviewing public figures.

Keywords: Georgia Scholastic Press Association (GSPA); Lanier High School (Macon, Ga.); Macon Telegraph; Sam Glassman; print journalism; sports journalism

00:12:09 - Peyton Anderson / Life at UGA

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Partial Transcript: A lot of those people -- early people -- were influential on you, uh, but I guess none more so than Mr. Peyton Anderson.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls receiving a scholarship from Peyton Anderson, publisher of the Macon Telegraph, to attend UGA as long as he continued working for the Telegraph while enrolled. He discusses his involvement with UGA's student newspaper, The Red and Black and with ROTC.

Keywords: Macon Telegraph; Peyton Anderson; ROTC; Reserve Officers' Training Corps; The Red and Black; UGA; University of Georgia; William A. Ott; print journalism

00:18:41 - Desegregation of UGA

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a bit about your memories of the desegregation of the University...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls covering the desegregation of UGA while writing for The Red and Black and the Macon Telegraph. He remembers witnessing friends and acquaintances protest the integration of UGA, and reflects on the hostility with which staff members of The Red and Black treated Charlayne Hunter while she worked there.

Keywords: Charlayne Hunter-Gault; Macon Telegraph; The Red and Black; UGA; University of Georgia; segregation

00:24:33 - Sigma Nu / Applying to Harvard Business School

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about other parts of your life there -- you said you pledged a fraternity, you went to Sigma Nu.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls his involvement with the Sigma Nu fraternity at UGA. He remembers Peyton Anderson convincing him to apply to Harvard Business School in 1963 rather than pursue a graduate degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina.

Keywords: Harvard Business School; Harvard University; Peyton Anderson; Sigma Nu fraternity; UGA; University of Georgia; University of North Carolina

00:30:37 - Work-life balance / The Red and Black / Graduation

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Partial Transcript: But I also learned later you can't do it all -- I also learned I was rapidly becoming something that I do not recommend for anybody.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls the guilt he felt when not working while in college and his struggle to find a balance of work and leisure in his life. He remembers his leadership positions in his fraternity, in the ROTC, and at The Red and Black newspaper. He also recalls his graduation from UGA in 1963.

Keywords: Fort Benning; The Red and Black; UGA; University of Georgia; Vietnam War; print journalism

00:36:26 - Harvard Business School / Marriage

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Partial Transcript: I guess, though, you had the same drive through Harvard...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls the intensity of the Harvard Business School program, his struggle with quantitative analysis, and the value of his business education in his work with the Los Angeles Times newspaper and CNN. He remembers marrying in December 1963.

Keywords: Harvard Business School; Harvard University

00:42:02 - White House Fellowship

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Partial Transcript: So where did your White House Fellowship come in here?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls applying for the White House Fellowship in 1965, meeting President Lyndon B. Johnson, and working in the White House with White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers. He remembers struggling to find a club in Atlanta willing to host a luncheon for the White House Fellows because one Fellow was African American.

Keywords: Bill Moyers; Commerce Club (Atlanta, Ga.); Lyndon B. Johnson; White House Fellowship; segregation

00:49:00 - Friendship with Secret Service / Press work in White House

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Partial Transcript: The White House Fellows Program opened up the world for me like nothing else.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls his respect and sense of friendship with members of the Secret Service. He remembers giving press briefings at the White House and taking notes in Lyndon B. Johnson's meetings, including handing the President the note notifying him that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in 1968. Johnson discusses his acceptance of the President's request that he remain working in the White House after the Fellowship ended and explains the events surrounding a photograph of him and President Johnson taken in 1967.

Keywords: Glassboro Summit Conference; Lyndon B. Johnson; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Peyton Anderson; Rufus Youngblood, Jr.; United States Secret Service; White House Fellowship

00:56:51 - Working in Texas with Lyndon B. Johnson

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Partial Transcript: Now in the spring of '68, President Johnson announced "I shall not seek nor shall I accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

Segment Synopsis: Johnson remembers writing President Johnson's 1968 announcement that he would not seek re-election. He recounts working for four years in Austin, Texas as executive vice president of Lyndon B. Johnson's family businesses and shares his perspective on Johnson's work ethic.

Keywords: Comanche Cattle Company; KTBC Television; Lyndon B. Johnson; Muzak; Peyton Anderson

01:04:34 - Otis Chandler / Dallas Times-Herald

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Partial Transcript: Well as part of your duties with the Johnson family businesses, you had to divest I believe some broadcast stations...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls meeting Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, while working for Lyndon B. Johnson. He talks about receiving an offer from Chandler to serve as the editor of the Dallas Times-Herald newspaper and details the success of the newspaper and his promotion to publisher.

Keywords: CBS; Dallas Times-Herald; Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Los Angeles Times; Lyndon B. Johnson; Otis Chandler; Times Mirror Company

01:11:05 - Los Angeles Times / Technological changes in journalism

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Partial Transcript: He comes down to, um -- flies in to see me and Edwina at dinner.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls Otis Chandler offering him the position as editor of the Los Angeles Times newspaper in 1977. He discusses his relationship with his wife, Edwina. He details his career at the Times newspaper and the way in which conservative members of the Chandler family pushed him and Otis Chandler out of the paper. He reflects on the technological changes that have occurred in the journalism industry since the 1980s.

Keywords: John Birch Society; Los Angeles Times; Otis Chandler; Ted Turner

01:18:28 - Becoming president of CNN / Ted Turner

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Partial Transcript: So you were a Vice Chairman of the Times Mirror company after that last transition, and the opportunity came to come back to Atlanta.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson recalls accepting, among various offers, the offer to become president of CNN in 1990. He reflects on Ted Turner's sense of innovation and philanthropy.

Keywords: CNN; Jack Tarver; John Brooks "J.B." Fuqua; Ted Turner

01:24:26 - Gulf War and O.J. Simpson trial coverage

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Partial Transcript: Well my -- I have a lot of favorite stories, but one of them is, uh, -- okay, Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson remembers convincing Ted Turner to invest in communications infrastructure in the Middle East so CNN could be on the forefront of Gulf War coverage. He discusses the importance of the Gulf War and the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 to establishing CNN as a leading news network.

Keywords: CNN; Gulf War; Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson; Saddam Hussein; Ted Turner

01:29:00 - Depression / Retirement / Mental health advocacy

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Partial Transcript: Well, I -- now we have ignored a huge piece of my life.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson discusses his struggle with depression and his retirement from CNN in 2001. He talks about his work advocating for mental health awareness and his work with the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Keywords: CNN; Los Angeles Times; MD Anderson Cancer Center; Mayo Clinic; depression; mental health

01:35:25 - Family life / UGA Alumni Association

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Partial Transcript: You also take a great joy in your family these days.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson reflects on his relationship with his granddaughters and his regret that he missed so much of his children's lives while working. He discusses his service as president of the UGA Alumni Association.

Keywords: UGA; UGA Alumni Association; University of Georgia