Longtime CBS News anchor Dan Rather was the special guest speaker at the Tulsa Town Hall session Friday. Rather spoke formally to a large audience at the Performing Arts Center then answered questions in a smaller group session.
The 82-year-old broadcast journalist spoke from his long experience covering world news and interviewing top newsmakers.
A question about Rather's favorite interview subjects gave the audience insight into the incredible view on world history-makers he has enjoyed. First up was Martin Luther King Jr., remembered for his exceptional valor and the "quietness in his center."
"He lived second-by-second, on the razor edge of danger," Rather said of the civil rights leader. Covering King from 1962 to 1963, "changed me as a person, changed me as a pro," he said.
Rather said it was humbling to interview Mother Teresa, the Calcutta nun who would return to speak to him after salvaging infants thrown out in the trash. About Nelson Mandela: "You never met such a man," Rather said, who interviewed the South African leader the night he was released from prison. Instead of seeking retribution for his years of imprisonment, Rather said Mandela was "all about forgiveness," tolerance and his vision of the future.
Audience members commented that the Texas journalist had mellowed at least somewhat from his years on the front lines, but he quickly zinged politicians when asked which modern age president he would call most open with the press.
"Zero," Rather answered.
Today's media has less, not more, access to top politicians when reporting top stories, he said. Instead, today's administration grants interviews as a means of controlling the message presented by media outlets.
"Access is used to manipulate the press," he said. "They use access as a tool."
In a lighter moment, Rather spoke of his hopes that, as minorities become the majority in the U.S. over the next few decades, immigrants will continue to keep the country young and provide "tremendous drive" as they work to better themselves.
He also spoke of his onetime desire to be the first journalist in space. One audience member asked if he would ride along with Sir Richard Branson in commercial spaceflight if he could.
"I would love it, and I would go in a second," Rather aid. "I think it's highly unlikely that they'd take an 82-, 83-year-old man," he added. "But I'd gladly lie about my age."