Q: A CORRESPONDENT told me what he really likes in a good cameramen is the way, when a disaster victim starts crying, the cameraman knows to zoom in until the face just really fills the screen. Isn't that a terrible invasion of privacy?
A: Oh, it hurts, it hurts.
Q: Does it really?
Q: Or do you just really love it.
A: I'll tell you a story.
Q: Do you love it?
A: You wanna hear a story?
A: I think without a doubt the most painful story I've ever done in my life was three weeks before Vietnam fell. There was a World Airways jet that Ed Daly, the president of World Airways . . . a madman. He flew it up to Danang to pull out babies and women, because the U.S. government was not doing it. He got p - - -ed off, the FAA told him he couldn't do it and he still did it. He was parked out at Tan Son Nhut airport. I walked over and said where you going? He said going to Danang. I said you can't man, the f - - -in' airport's closed. He said I am going there. I said can I come? He said sure, hop on. So, this correspondent, Bruce Dunning, and my sound man and I jumped on board this aircraft, and we flew up to Danang and did this story that just shattered America. It was the story of a 727 landing in Danang and soldiers shooting women and children to get on board the aircraft. "The Last Plane Out of Danang" was the title. We won every goddamn award that year that you could and they threw hand grenades at the aircraft and blew off the flaps and we had....
Q: Hand grenades?
A: Yeah, we're on the plane, and we were just taxiing around picking people up, soldiers storm on board the aircraft shooting the whole way, Daly's on the back steps just knocking people aside to get women and children on board, and we'd taxi to another place and pick up more soldiers 'cause guys with guns always make it on board first. . . . And we finally had 280 people on board an aircraft designed for 100.
Q: A 727.
A: 727. And I mean we couldn't even close the back steps on takeoff, we had no idea, I was on the back steps with Daly. We'd put down the (back steps) at one stage to drag on women and knock soldiers aside. (The pilot) started to taxi a bit fast. Daley looked at me and he said I think we're going to take off. And I turned to my partner and I said tie this long umbilical cable (from the television camera to the sound man's gear) . . . loop it round me. So I rolled (continued to keep the camera rolling) on the take off. We're now doing 80, 90 miles an hour. And we know from this banshee sound that we are taking off. We're not on a runway. We're on a taxiway. And we hit two trucks on takeoff, ripped up the wheels. I mean a wing caught the fence. We went through barbed fences. The f - - -in' worst. You name it. We ran over people. I mean it was just incredible.
Q: And you're hanging out the back of the 727 filming?
A: Yeah, yeah. We had no choice. The inertia.
Q: What do you mean you had no choice?
A: The inertia of a vehicle -- you can't climb back up the stairs because you're being pushed back. Right?
Q: And so you're being held on by the umbilical cord?
A: And my sound man is grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and I've got my legs around Daley because he's got nothing. So we finally cleared off the ground and we've got 200 yards of barbed wire hanging in the wheels, right? Because we cleaned up the fence and everyone else in the way. And we've got all of these Vietnamese hanging on to the steps. And there's no way in hell the human body can hold onto metal bars and so they just drifted off as we climbed and climbed.
Q: And you kept rolling. And the bodies kept on peeling off.
A: Yeah, you have to. You have to.
Q: What do you mean you have to?
A: It's news. It's news.
Q: Doesn't that overcome 10,000 years of evolution, wouldn't 10,000 years of evolution tell you that you wanted to get your finger off the (camera's) trigger and scramble back or just get the hell out of there?
A: You can't. You're on a climb like this.
Q: That fascinates me. You're in a war situation and (you) guys keep on rolling (the camera), bullets flying in all directions. Why does somebody do something like that?
A: You can't move backwards.
Q: What do you mean, why don't you split and run like any other sane guy in a situation (like that)?
A: You can't. Why run? Half the people in a war get shot in the back, running.
Q: But doesn't that ever strike you as odd, the situation of rolling (the camera) at any cost?
A: You're in that environment, you might as well live with it. Let me finish. This dear old dude, this lovely old dude, he must have been 95 years old . . . . When we tried to close the door, this lovely old Vietnamese geezer....
Q: He's hanging on to the door.
A: He's caught in the door. The back steps were bent, when they were fighting to get on board. We wanted to climb because we're losing gas from the grenade that had exploded under the wing. The higher you get the less gas you use, and besides, maybe you can glide into Saigon. But when you start to climb above 10,000 feet you want those doors closed, you want to pressurize the aircraft. Well, the door comes up and we suddenly see this dude. He's jammed in it. It's crushing his ribs.
Q: Oh, my God.
A: So Daley and I look and say oh f - - -. I mean really. F - - -. He's the only one who didn't fall off. God knows why.
Q: When there are dozens of others who have fallen.
A: Yeah, who have just drifted off into space.
Q: All of which you filmed.
A: Yeah. So we said all right, hang on. Daley said, "Look, Mike, you're going to have to help me." And I said, "I know." We're going to have to save the silly old. . . . If he didn't drift off he's meant to live another year or two. All of us took our belts off, we looped them together, Daley and I crawled out on the steps. There's a gap of about two yards of just sheer open space, we didn't want to get sucked out, we wanted to drag the old f - - - in. They had to release the steps to take the pressure off his crushed chest. There's a very arty thing to lowering the steps enough so we didn't go ourselves. We had the pilot put the aircraft in a nose down attitude so that we wouldn't get sucked out. They lowered the steps and we dragged the old f - - - in by the scruff of the neck and the hair. Anyway you asked me the question, don't I ever feel like a vulture. Yeah. So we got back to Saigon and I just got on a plane straight to Hong Kong and got up into the hotel. A courier met me and I gave him the footage. I went to the hotel and got into a bottle of scotch and got pretty well (drunk). I wanted to go in and see the footage and see them cut it, and then satellite it back to the States. I wanted to sober a bit and not stagger around too much. You don't want people to think you're a raghead. So I got in the shower and I suddenly broke down. I suddenly broke down and just sat in a cold tub and had water pouring all over me. I cried my eyes out. I cried my eyes out.
A: Why? Because, one, I knew what it was going to cost Vietnam. I mean, no one could ignore that footage. It (showed) the worst acts of cowardice. These soldiers did not stay in Danang and fight the oncoming Communists. They choose to shoot women and children and flee. And I know the power of television, I know the power of pictures, and I knew what this piece, that I'd just shot, would do.
Q: That it was over for Vietnam.
A: Yes, and that night Jerry Ford -- and I'm told this by a very close personal friend who was with Jerry Ford -- looked at that piece of tape and said it's all over, let's pull the plug. That's my albatross. That's my albatross.
Q: Have you ever cried into the viewfinder?
A: No, never. Never. No, you can't afford that. You do it in private. I mean you must turn out the product. Tears blur the image. You can't focus.
Q: Any ethics to this? I mean, is there anything that you won't shoot?
A: No, if it's good film it's gotta be done. If it's good film it must be done.
A: It's history. It's history.
Q: Talk to me about stake-outs. How do you feel about them?
A: I can answer that by talking about Dick Allen (former National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen) and the monumental stake- out outside his house. It's got to be done. It's news. (But) I do think sometimes we go overboard.
Q: Like what?
A: The way some of the press corps just dumped food all over Dick Allen's lawn. You know, the McDonald food wrappings all over the place.
Q: Do you think he deserved that? Do you think he deserved to have a troupe of people camped outside his house looking out for his every move? What did he do to deserve that?
A: He was an a--hole.
3 Q:10 Do you ever think about things like that?
A: Yes, I do very much. He took some money, right. Stuck it in a safe. Now there is no way whatsoever that I consider that he took that money for his own personal use. He screwed up. He simply screwed up. He just forgot about it. You know, I'm not sure that Allen really should have been shafted and basically forced into resignation.
Q: But let's get back. . . . You figure this guy has a wife and kids. Do you think that's moral to camp out on these kinds of stake- outs the way you do?
A: Moral? I'm not in that position to answer that.
Q: You don't even think about that?
A: I think about it, yeah.
Q: What do you think about when you think about that?
A: I'm not going to tell you.
Q: Just trying to ask....
A: You can ask anything you want. It's a hell of a good question. Shove it.
Q: Tell me about the difference between what you're used to and the Washington experience. For example, does your arrival change the event? Can you see that when the lights go on -- bam -- everything's different?
A: No, I try and have the lights on before anything ever happens. That way no one's playing to the cameras.
Q: You really think that's true?
A: No. Makes me feel better.
Q: Do you see senators doing a Jekyll and Hyde thing as soon as they see the cameras in front of 'em?
A: Oh sure. Of course. I mean they're f - - -ing hypocrites. That's politics.
Q: All right, you've finished your day's work and you're sitting back with your gin and tonic and you....
A: Vodka, please.
Q: Vodka tonics, right. Stolichnaya?
A: Please. With a twist.
Q: So it's 7 o'clock. Do you feel that what you see up there on the tube reflects what you experienced that day?
A: No, no, because that's not my job.
Q: Why isn't it your job?
A: Because once the tape leaves the crew, what New York and the show decide to do with it is their bag.
Q: And you don't let it get to you if it's completely different from what you experienced?
A: I can't. I don't have that right. I don't have that privilege. If that was the case I'd go bonkers every night.
Q: But if you experience a reality one way and it comes out totally different to a zillion Americans across the country, and you're here in Washington, doesn't that make you crazy?
A: No, I don't think it ever comes out totally different.
Q: You think it has some reflection on reality?
A: Yes, very much so. I think CBS is too good for them. They don't distort.
Q: No, I wasn't suggesting editorial distortion, I was talking about the medium. Can you guys catch Washington? Can you show Washington with the camera? Don't you get sucked into media events all the time?
A: Sure. Sure. (But) just because all of these media events take place, it's not necessarily run on the air, it really isn't. It still has to be covered.
A: Reagan has to be covered whenever he moves. He was shot at once.
Q: When you're out there in Santa Barbara with nothing to do, you're just waiting for him to get shot, basically?
A: Oh, he can't be shot in Santa Barbara.
Q: Well, why the hell are you guys all out there?
A: I was out in Santa Barbara last trip he made out. What happens if -- God forbid -- the U.S. goes nuclear? You have to be there. I'd rather not, because you'll get sucked in with him and you'll go to some underground hole. You know if I'm going to get wasted I want to be with my family.
Q: You want to be back in Washington?
Q: But you might be the pool cameraman....
A: What a way to go, though. Huh? Pool with the president and you have to live for the next 30 years in a hole in the ground while the planet above cools down. Jesus, what a way to go.
Q: What do you learn by watching your stuff on the show?
A: Well, for example, you think you've just gone through sheer unmitigated hell in Lebanon or Vietnam and you've got the Watergate busting out here.
Q: Right. And does that bother you?
A: No, no. I've always realized that a thing like Watergate really does replace a firefight.
Q: It does? Even though it's not visual?
A: Ain't visual! Jesus Christ, some of those hearings up on the Hill. Wheeeeew. That's visual. It ain't lumps of metal flying in the sky, but by God it's visual. I was talking to some friends during the AWAC issue. I mean that was television, that AWAC issue, the way the White House swung round that vote in the final days of the AWAC.
Q: How was that television? I would think that'd be tough for you to cover.
A: We spent days with certain senators that we knew would have a swing vote, went out jogging with them, had coffee with them.
Q: You went jogging with them? With a camera?
A: Yes. With great difficulty!
Q: You and your sound man?
A: Yes, jogging backwards. Oh, no, I mean that's television. When you have a Hill history that is talking heads, part of your ability is let's make this piece sing, and how are we going to do it? So you start thinking. What does that congressman do in the morning? Does he make coffee for his wife? Or does she make it for him?
Q: You're going to film this guy at breakfast where he's talking to his wife and the kids in their pajamas? Isn't that terribly artificial? Do you think he acts like he normally does?
A: What you do is you get to know them. And I, as an Australian . . . I just come out and say what I like and get away with it. If I offend people and I know it, I come out and say, look, I'm sorry, I am Australian, you know.
Q: Does doing what you do change your life?
A: You get very hard.
Q: What do you mean?
A: I was going home on the parkway the other day. There was an accident. So I stopped. I looked at this guy who was screaming blue murder. He'd broken his leg. So I pulled up his pants very gingerly. There was no shin bone through the flesh. I mean, it was a straight simple fracture. It wasn't compound or nothin'. And I looked at him and said, a - -hole, shut up. It's not that bad.