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Interview with Tom Johnson, November 14, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:00 - Introductions

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Partial Transcript: Good morning, for the record, today is November the 14th of 2016. We're in Atlanta, Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer provides the date and location of the interview, introduces Tom Johnson and his accomplishments, and himself.

Keywords: Atlanta, Ga; Peachtree Street

00:01:55 - Coming to Washington in the White House Fellows Program

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Partial Transcript: Let me just begin by asking, tell us about the first time you met Lyndon B. Johnson.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson begins by describing how he came to Washington, DC as part of the White House Fellows Program in August 1965 after he got his MBA from Harvard. His mentor, Bill Moyers, Press Secretary at the time, introduced him to Lyndon B. Johnson on the first day. Johnson says Moyers picked him because of their similarities in background, both being Journalism Majors and having a history with their hometown's local newspaper. He shares how large of an impact meeting LBJ had on him at such a young age, as well as the experience itself. LBJ explained that they were intended to be treated as full-time staff, and Johnson was treated as such the entire time he was there.

Keywords: CBS; Carnegie Corporation; Charles (Charlie) McGuire; Charlie Mcguire; Elizabeth Hanford; Harvard Business School; Jack Valenti; John W. Gardner; Macon, Ga; Marshall Messenger; Marshall, Tx; Ronald B. Lee; Ronald Lee

00:08:03 - Relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson

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Partial Transcript: I've had an opportunity to observe a lot of White House Fellows...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson became closer to the President than most, if not all, White House Fellows, but although some described him as the son LBJ never had, he argues that position was held by Bill Moyers. When Moyers left, Johnson inherited all of his duties, which included being the note-taker in the most classified meetings. These meetings included those with CIA Director Helms, Secretary of Defense McNamara, Secretary of State Rusk, and National Security Advisers Bundy and Rostow. LBJ said he trusted Johnson as much as he trusted Richard Russell after building that trust over so many years.

Keywords: David Dean Rusk; Lyndon B. Johnson; McGeorge Bundy; Richard (Dick) Russell; Richard M. Helms; Robert McNamara; Walt Rustow

00:09:59 - Meeting Senator Richard Russell

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Partial Transcript: Well, tell us about the first time you met Dick Russell.

Segment Synopsis: While LBJ had Johnson occasionally deliver messages back and forth between him and Senator Russell, the first time he met Russell was during a National Security Briefing. Johnson explains that the meeting was about how to handle a situation in which the United States was attacked and the President was either dead or missing. Johnson also describes Russell as the most trusted man in Congress, as far as LBJ was concerned, as he was at the meeting to represent both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Also present was the CIA Director, every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senator Lynn Westmoreland.

Keywords: Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard B. Russell; foreign relations; nuclear power

00:14:37 - Relationship between Russell and LBJ

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, what else can you tell us about the relationship between President Johnson and Senator Russell?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson begins by saying that LBJ loved Senator Russell, and clarifies that in saying that they had a great affection, understanding, and respect for one another. Johnson was the only note-taker and sat in on several meetings between the two. He says although they were close, others never seemed to feel threatened and that no one was ever "cut out." He believes that no other President-Congressman relationship was closer than LBJ's and Russell, only making an exception for Kennedy and his brother, who became Senator after Kennedy's assassination. LBJ and Russell had what Johnson describes as exceptionally unique.

Keywords: Barefoot Sanders; Georgia Congressional Delegation; Herman Talmadge; John Connally; John F. Kennedy; Luci Baines Johnson; Lynda Bird Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson; Mike Manatos; Richard B. Russell; Robert F. Kennedy; Vernon Jordan

00:20:42 - Alexander Lawrence Case/ Supreme Court Justices

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Partial Transcript: ...and the only time it didn't happen was, as far as I know, was the Alexander Lawrence case...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson builds on the idea that Russell expected LBJ to support him on all decisions by providing details about the Alexander Lawrence case, what he remembers being the only time that LBJ did not back Senator Russell. The situation damaged Russell and LBJ's relationship even more so than their different opinions on Civil Rights. The interviewer and Johnson discuss Tom Clark's resignation from the Supreme Court and Arthur Goldberg's transfer to the UN, leading to the nominations of Thurgood Marshall, Abe Fortas, and Homer Thornberry.

Keywords: Federal Court; Lyndon B. Johnson; Ramsey Clark; Richard B. Russell; Robert McNamara; Thomas Campbell Clark; Tom C. Clark; United Nations; district court

00:26:54 - Leaving the White House with LBJ

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, let's move on. You left the White House with President Johnson. Tell us about that.

Segment Synopsis: When LBJ left the White House and moved back to Texas, he asked Johnson to come with him in order to help him through the transition. Johnson explains the situation this put him in with Peyton Anderson, publisher of the Macon Telegraph, who supported him throughout his educational career and decision to stay in Washington, but did expect him to return to Georgia and work for him. Regardless, he felt he had a loyalty to LBJ and moved with him, and Anderson sold the Macon Telegraph. On the flight to Texas, LBJ made his plans to complete his book, help Mrs. Johnson complete hers, build and staff a LBJ Library and LBJ School of Public Affairs, as well as fix their business system. He completed all of this before his death on January 23, 1973.

Keywords: A White House Diary; Air Force One; Barbara Bush; Barry Goldwater; Bill Jordan; Bill Moyers; Claudia Alta (Lady Bird) Johnson; Edwina Johnson; George H. W. Bush; Grady School of Journalism; Harry J. Middleton; Harvard Business School; Jack Valenti; Knight Ridder; Luci Baines Johnson; Lynda Bird Johnson; Macon, Ga; Motion Picture Association of America; National Security Council; Newsday; Occidental Petroleum; Robert (Bob) Hardesty; The Vantage Point; Times Mirror Company; University of Georgia; W. Marvin Watson; White House Fellows

00:34:26 - LBJ Library and School

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Partial Transcript: Tell us about the establishment of the library.

Segment Synopsis: LBJ flew Johnson, Colonel Juanita Roberts, Harry Middleton, among others, to look at other Presidential libraries and to find out what he needed to put in his own. This is how they decided he had to have an Oval Office, like the Truman Library. LBJ also wanted a school that had teachers teaching from their own practical experience in politics rather than just textbooks, such as Barbara Jordan. This became the guiding spirit of the school. Johnson advises all presidents to attach their library to a school, as the support of the university is important. This has worked with everyone except Nixon and Reagan. The LBJ Presidential Library was built mostly with private funds and the support of the university.

Keywords: Barack Obama; Emory University; George H. W. Bush; George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum; George R. Brown; George W. Bush; George W. Bush Presidential Center; Jimmy Carter; Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum; John Gronouski; Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum; Perry Bass; Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan; Southern Methodist University (SMU); Stanford University; Texas A&M University (TAMU)

00:38:21 - Russell's Funeral

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Partial Transcript: So, is there anything you can tell us about the relationship between Senator Russell and President Johnson after President Johnson went back to Texas..?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson remembers that when Richard Russell died, President Nixon wanted LBJ to have whatever he wanted and did whatever he could to get him to the funeral. Despite the accommodations provided by Nixon to transport LBJ, the weather would not allow them to fly into Georgia for the funeral, and the closest they could get was South Carolina. Johnson insists that LBJ did not intentionally miss the funeral out of disrespect or anger, and that he took his affection and admiration for Russell to his grave.

Keywords: Air Force One; Athens, Ga; Austin, Texas; Austin-Bergstrom International Airport; Charles Campbell; Harry Robbins (Bob) Haldeman; Jim Cross; John Daniel Ehrlichman; John Wesley Dean III; Lyndon B. Johnson; Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch; Marietta, Ga; Ramsey Clark; Richard Milhous Nixon; Warren (Bill) Gulley; Winder, Ga

00:43:33 - Working for the Dallas Times Herald

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Partial Transcript: Anyway, from there you went to the Dallas Times Herald, right?

Segment Synopsis: After LBJ's health began to decline, Johnson asked for his blessing to return to his profession in journalism. Shortly before his death, LBJ admitted that he had Bob Woodruff and Bill Hearst offer Johnson a job, and made them promise to keep him in return for his loyalty to their companies and brands. It was Otis Chandler, though, that offered him the job as President of the L.A. Times. After Johnson deciding it was better to take the time to be eased back in, Chandler instead sent him to Dallas Times Herald as editor. He became publisher after two years and transferred to L.A. Times two years later as president.

Subjects: Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Dr. Denton Arthur Cooley; Dr. Michael DeBakey; Earl Leonard; Edwina Johnson; Hearst Corporation; Jack Valenti; Jim Lehrer; Lady Bird Johnson; Los Angeles, California; Lyndon B. Johnson; Margaret Mayer; Motion Picture Association; Nitroglycerin; Paul Austin; Robert Winship Woodruff; The Coca-Cola Company; Walter Cronkite

00:49:16 - Being President of the LA Times

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Partial Transcript: So tell us about being in L.A.

Segment Synopsis: Johnson explains that Dallas had prepared him for L.A., and refers to the L.A. Times as the largest newspaper in America at the time. When Chandler first introduced Johnson as the new president, there were some who did not agree with the decision, particularly Bill Thomas, but with determination to prove that he could run the paper efficiently, Johnson turned it around. Johnson says he was expected to perform, to compete with other papers and become the best, or at least as good as the New York Times. His work did become highly controversial at times, but he loved being there regardless. Johnson was accused of being biased, among other things, but he declared that he always tried his best to report the truth. He recalls the story he ran when the Israeli Army stepped back and allowed the Lebanese to murder civilians, now known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Keywords: Athens, Ga; Austin, Texas; Dallas Times Herald; Dallas, Texas; Ellijay, Ga; Haley Reeves Barbour; Harvard Business School; Jack Nelson; John Reginald (Reg) Murphy; Karl Christian Rove; Lewis (Lew) Robert Wasserman; Los Angeles (L.A.), California; Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times); Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ); Macon, Ga; Motion Picture Industry; North Georgia; Otis Chandler; Performing Arts Center Of Los Angeles County; Robert (Bob) Shogan; Robert (Ted) Edward Turner III; The Los Angeles Dodgers; The Wall Street Journal; Washington Post; White House

00:57:02 - Working for CNN

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Partial Transcript: So then, what? What happened after that?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson dives into what he describes as an "explosion among Chandler family members." Between the two Chandler family members that were also a part of the John Birch Society, he describes Otis Chandler as more enlightened and liberal, which caused the more conservative members to worry about his liberal views. Eventually, Otis Chandler was "overthrown," and Johnson was under the impression that he was next. Ted Turner, who swore to never hire someone from the newspaper until he was told about Johnson, hired him as president of CNN. Johnson took the time to get to know Turner better, and later accepted the offer.

Keywords: Billy Don Moyers; Cable News Network (CNN); Carl Edward Sanders; Jane Fonda; Jerry Lindauer; John Brooks (J.B.) Fuqua; National Cable Television Association (NCTA); National Herald Tribune; New York Times; Paris, France; Robert Edward Turner III; Roberto Críspulo Goizueta Cantera; Southern California Edison; Walter Leland Cronkite Jr; Washington Post

01:01:41 - Invasion of Kuwait

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Partial Transcript: And just two quick stories. One, shortly, the day after I got there, Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait.

Segment Synopsis: Just days after Johnson arrived at CNN, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. When President Bush appointed James Baker III to negotiate with Tariq Aziz, Johnson says he predicted there would only be two possible outcomes, either withdrawal or war. For CNN to have the most coverage of the story, Johnson was given permission to spend as much as needed and place portable ground stations in several countries. Being in the middle of all the action, Johnson received calls from the White House Press Secretary, Chief of Staff, and President Bush telling him and his crew to leave Baghdad. Ted Turner made the decision that whoever wanted to stay could stay, and whoever wanted to leave could leave. Johnson explains how he had previously lost two correspondents, and this time he felt he knew that his people would die.

Keywords: Al Rasheed Hotel; Baghdad, Iraq; Colin Powell; George H.W. Bush; Marlin Fitzwater

01:07:17 - 2016 Presidential Election

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, what do you think the impact of all news television has been on the election this time?

Segment Synopsis: Johnson shares his opinion about how news television has impacted the 2016 Presidential Election. He describes some elements of the campaign as "reprehensible," such as the confusing mixture of the tasks of reporters and analysts. In his opinion, CNN does the best job and remains unbiased, unlike MSNBC and Fox, and provides airtime for every situation. Johnson believes something went wrong along the way with the results of the 2016 Presidential Election and the polls.

Keywords: Ben Barnes; Cable News Network (CNN); Corey R. Lewandowski; Donald Trump; Hilary Clinton; John Ellis (Jeb) Bush; John Richard Kasich Jr.; LA Times; Microsoft/National Broadcasting Company (MSNBC); Paul Edward Begala

01:11:06 - Closing Remarks

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Partial Transcript: But I just want to say, you know, in closing, if this is where we are, uh, the University of Georgia has meant a great deal to me over all the years...

Segment Synopsis: Johnson says how important to him the University of Georgia and members of the Richard B. Russell Library are to him. He thinks he and they were fortunate to get to share their lives and times with Senator Russell and President Johnson. Both of them wanted a better, stronger America. He opines on how America has built several different alliances and rebuilt countries, and has bettered itself as a country.

Keywords: China; Civil Rights; Coal War; Dwight David (Ike) Eisenhower; Germany; Japan; Lyndon B. Johnson; North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Russia; The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways; US Interstate highway system; University of Georgia (UGA); World War Two (WWII)