Originally created 02/26/03

CBS' Dan Rather lands an exclusive interview with Saddam



NEW YORK -- CBS News' Dan Rather said hard work and luck helped him land his interview with Saddam Hussein on Monday - the Iraqi leader's first interview with a foreign television journalist in 12 years.

CBS posted a report about the interview on its Web site Monday afternoon, saying Saddam has challenged President Bush to a live debate on their nations' differences.

It's the biggest interview "get" of the year in television news, one all the national news organizations had been seeking. Reached by telephone in Baghdad, Rather credited his executive producer, Jim Murphy, and foreign desk staffer Ana Real for their work in securing it.

"It was a lot of hard work, some team play and, yes, some luck," he said.

Rather reported on the interview Monday on the "CBS Evening News." But the first taped excerpts won't be seen until Tuesday morning. The full interview is to air in prime time Wednesday, on "60 Minutes II."

Rather has interviewed Saddam once before, in 1990. CBS News also ran excerpts earlier this month from Saddam's interview with Tony Benn, a retired British lawmaker who has become a peace activist.

The anchorman was in Iraq on Monday, hoping to secure the interview, and was told at 8 a.m. EST that Saddam was ready. After two hours spent going through security, Rather and Murphy met Saddam.

Rather said the fact of his previous Saddam interview probably helped him secure this one. Competitor Peter Jennings of ABC News also interviewed Saddam in 1990, while NBC's Tom Brokaw has not.

"We made a point of saying to him that we keep our word," Rather said. "We do what we say we will do and won't do what we say we won't do. They came out of that with the experience that we are who we say we are."

CBS acknowledged that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is prominent in the global anti-war movement and met with Saddam on Sunday, put in a good word for Rather in helping secure the interview.

Clark has known Rather for a long time, said CBS News spokeswoman Sandra Genelius. In a competitive situation seeking an interview, journalists call on many different resources, she said.

Rather did not anticipate any criticism from supporters of a potential war with Iraq who might be upset that he's talking with the nation's potential enemy.

"I'm a reporter," he said. "What reporters do is try to talk to everybody on all sides of the story. I don't know any journalist who wouldn't take this interview. If you do, have them call me, collect."