Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Dan Rather with the CBS evening news. Today, Sept. 1, 1939, is a date that will go down in history. Today, the armed forces of Adolf Hitler's Germany invaded Poland, sowing a harvest of destruction and death across a country that has seen more than its share of war and pillage in its long history. Once again, it appears that Poland has come under the iron fist of a foreign master.
"Here with us, live by satellite from Germany, with an exclusive CBS interview, is Adolf Hitler, who has agreed to join us for the duration of the crisis to help explain Germany's side of this dramatic story.
"Good evening, Mr. Fuehrer."
"Good evening, Dan."
"Mr. Fuehrer, could you tell the American people on this exclusive CBS interview, just what your armies are doing?"
"Certainly, Dan. It's very simple. We've taken Poland, but I want to assure the American people that Poland is all we want. I want to tell the world right now we have no intention of antagonizing the international community by further military actions. Poland is it."
"Thank you, Mr. Fuehrer, for being so candid with the American people and we look forward to further interviews with you exclusively on CBS as this crisis unfolds."
The CBS exclusive caused great consternation at NBC, ABC and CNN. Peter Jennings of ABC, with vast reportorial experience in Britain, suggested to his bosses that he might be able to get Winston Churchill.
At first, they were skeptical. "Anyone can get Churchill," said Roone Arledge, president of ABC news. "He'll kill us in the ratings. We need somebody fresh, who's at the center of the action, like Hitler. How about de Gaulle?"
De Gaulle, it was pointed out, was a little stiff for good television. Hitler was out, since he had an exclusive agreement with CBS -- the rumor being that CBS had got Hitler by agreeing to put him up at the Pierre during his next visit to New York.
Arledge finally agreed to Churchill and ABC promptly locked him up for the morning and evening news shows and "Nightline," by guaranteeing him a year's supply of Courvoisier Napoleon brandy and appearances on all three shows during his next book promotion tour.
In the days that followed, CBS established a solid lead in the ratings and a poll that it conducted showed that Hitler's name recognition had soared to 70 percent in American households.
His approval rating, however, took an abrupt dive after he refused to be interviewed on the same evening newscast with Bernard Baruch and caused a scene by hollering into the microphone that he would not be interviewed on the same show with a Jew.
The next night, however, Hitler made a good recovery by thanking American viewers for their letters and promising each one a personally autographed picture. Polling experts predicted a speedy upswing in his approval rating because most of the time he seemed to be in a good mood.
The incident, however, provoked an outcry from Ted Turner, who said it demonstrated once again that CBS's news coverage was biased.
He said CNN was bending over backward to be fair and giving all parties to the conflict six minutes of airtime every evening. CNN had even cut de Gaulle off in midsentence the previous evening as, once again, he exceeded his airtime. Turner also pointed out that CNN had not paid any of its news sources, a fact de Gaulle also had complained about -- on the air.
By this time, NBC was trailing badly in the ratings. ABC had lined up Stalin and was rapidly catching up to CBS.
Tom Brokaw was hastily summoned back from his vacation on Coney Island. He conferred briefly with NBC's vice president for news, who denounced all the news makers whom Brokaw wanted to line up as "has beens." Finally, a light bulb went off in his head: "Tojo!" he shouted. "We want Tojo!"
Brokaw left that day for Tokyo to get Tojo for NBC, but negotiations fell through when Tojo refused to sign an exclusive agreement, claiming he did not believe in trade restraints. Brokaw did get a couple of sessions with him, however, but Tojo did not turn out to be a good on-the-air personality, and NBC aired a live interview of Eleanor Roosevelt by Jane Pauley, instead.
Brokaw, hurt, called NBC from Tokyo and made a pitch to get Mussolini. "You're just trying to get to Rome," the vice president for news retorted.
"Not true!" said Brokaw.
"Look, Tom, you interrupted your vacation for us and it was great. Things just didn't work out. Maybe you should take a few months off and get a rest. Why don't you visit Hiroshima? Nothing ever happens there."