(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on December 22,
2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell, CBS News' Major Garrett, Nancy Cordes, David Martin, and Margaret Brennan, plus authors Terry McMillan, George Saunders, Michael Connelly, and Rick Atkinson.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on FACE THE NATION, has the National Security Agency’s electronic snooping gone beyond protecting us to invading our privacy? We’ll talk to the former deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell, who was part of an advisory panel that told the White House that time has come to put new controls on the spying agency. Then we’ll continue a sixty-five-year CBS News tradition.
MAN #1: We have brought in five CBS correspondents, men of great experience.
BOB SCHIEFFER: The correspondent roundtable.
MAN #2: I am not doubting you experts of this.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Today the correspondents are different. They are women for one thing. But the conversation is about many of the same things. And on this last weekend before Christmas, we'll take a look at the year’s best books and have a conversation with best-selling authors, Terry McMillan, her new one is Who Asked You. Mystery master Michael Connelly, who’s new one is The Gods of Guilt. Plus, George Saunders, author of Tenth of December and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Rick Atkinson whose latest on World War II is The Guns at Last Light. Good books and the news, good and bad, because this is FACE THE NATION.
ANNOUNCER: From CBS News in Washington, FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again on this last weekend before Christmas. Well, as the controversy over whether the National Security Agency has gone too far and invaded privacy in its efforts to protect us from terrorist attack, a panel of experts appointed by the President to study the NSA’s programs made forty-six recommendations, including some that would rein in the agency. The former number two man at the CIA, Michael Morell was on that panel. He joins us this morning. Mister Morell, I must say a lot of official Washington was surprised when, number one, that the recommendations were unanimous and that you, as a long time user of information collected by the NSA said, yes, it may be time to change a few things. Tell us about your thinking.
MICHAEL MORELL (Former Deputy CIA Director/NSA Surveillance Review Group): Well, good morning, Bob, and thank you for inviting me. I think there’s some very important context here that the American people need to understand. And there's two pieces to that context I think. One is that there has not been a successful terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. And there are a lot of reasons for that, and there are a lot of organizations and a lot of people who are responsible for that. And the National Security Agency is one of those agencies. And because of that those-- those officers who work there are patriots and we are going to continue to need them to do the work they do, because the threat continues to exist. And, quite frankly, it’s possible the threat could grow again. So that’s one very important piece of context that-- that Americans need to understand. The other is that there is this view out there that somehow the National Security Agency was out there on its own doing all of these things. Not the case. It was doing exactly what its government asked it to do. It was operating under strict rules, provided by the executive branch and-- and the judicial branch and it was overseen extensively by the intelligence committees on Congress. There was no abuse here. They were doing exactly what they were told to do. I think that's important context for people to know.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, you say there was no abuse because they were doing what they were told to do. But are there instances, Mister Morell, where they have invaded Americans' privacy or is it that they just have the capability to do that?
MICHAEL MORELL: So the-- the key program here that we’re talking about is the 215 Program, which is the ability of NSA to go in to that database and make sure that there are-- that terrorists overseas aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And you’re talking about this collection of telephone numbers basically that the NSA has assembled.
MICHAEL MORELL: So it's telephone numbers, which-- which number called whom, when that occurred and the duration of the call, that’s it. No names attached to it. No content attached to it. And so that’s the program. I think one of the misperceptions out there at the moment is that the review group did not see value in this program, and what the review group said is-- is, look, the program to date has not played a significant role in stopping terrorist attacks in the United States. But the review group also noted that going forward it is important.
BOB SCHIEFFER: But let me just interrupt you here, because they have said if I understand it, that, yes, indeed, there have been numerous instances where they have prevented terrorist attacks. Is that-- did you find evidence that that’s true or do you have questions about that?
MICHAEL MORELL: So what we found when we looked at the data is out of the couple hundred times a year that NSA queries this database, that there are a dozen, fifteen-times-a-year where they have tipped information to the FBI, where they have said, look, this is something we think you need to look at. That's important. I think the best way to describe this, Bob, is that if you have a terrorist overseas who is being monitored by a foreign government and if that terrorist says, I want to conduct an attack in the United States, or he is undertaking some sort of attack and you don’t know where-- where that attack is going to be it is very important for our government to be able to look into that database to see whether that terrorist overseas is talking to anybody in the United States.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So is what the panel recommending is that they stop collecting this data?
MICHAEL MORELL: So what we're recommending is that because this program remains important, okay, perhaps, not as important as-- as-- as some have said, but because it remains important, it's important for the government to continue to be able to query this data.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
MICHAEL MORELL: What the panel is saying is, in order to better protect privacy and civil liberties, which is an important concern here, we believe two things. We believe that the government should not hold this data any longer. We leave at an open question who should, but we say the government shouldn't hold this data, somebody else should. The second thing we say is that-- is that NSA should have to get a court order for every individual time they want to query this data. Not-- not operate under a blanket court order. We think that better protects privacy and civil liberties while at the same time allowing the government to do what it needs to do to protect the country.
BOB SCHIEFFER: But what you’re saying, and if I understand what the people at the agency have said is, that would take a lot of time if you had to do this individually go in and get these-- these court orders one at a time as it were.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. So that’s an important issue. That’s an important issue. You know in terms of what would have to happen under our recommendations, NSA would have to prepare justification to go to the FISA Court, the FISA Court would have to review that justification and say yes or no. That's probably a two- three- four-day process, right? If the government decides that the telecommunications company should hold this data, then you are probably talking about a couple of more days as the government goes to each one individually. My preference is to create some sort of private consortia that holds all of this data, and so once you have that court order you can go to that private company and get an answer very, very quickly, that's my preference. So I think you’re adding two, three, four days at most. We also said that there should be an emergency exception, so if you have to move quickly you can do so without a court order, perhaps you need the attorney general’s approval and get that court order later. So we don’t think-- we don’t think we have significantly undermined the government’s ability to protect the country. While at the same time we think we have enhanced privacy and civil liberties significantly.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you two questions. Number one, I think I asked you this before. Has the NSA violated any one’s privacy?
MICHAEL MORELL: No.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You do not believe so--
MICHAEL MORELL: I do not believe that.
BOB SCHIEFFER: --at this point?
MICHAEL MORELL: The-- the NSA is not spying on Americans. I think that is a perception that some have out there. It is not-- it is not-- it is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else’s phone calls. It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only, and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And-- and this question of-- this whole conversation is taking place because of these disclosures by Snowden, who defected to Russia. There has been some suggestion that, perhaps, he should be given some sort of amnesty in order to bring him back here and-- and maybe stop future leaks, do you think the President should give him some sort of amnesty?
MICHAEL MORELL: No, I do not. And I feel strongly about that. He violated the trust put in him by the United States government. He has committed a crime, in my view. You know a whistleblower doesn’t run. A whistleblower does not disclose information that has nothing to do with what he says his cause is which is the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. You know if I could talk to Mister Snowden myself, what I would say is, Edward, you say you’re a patriot, you say you want to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans, you say that you wanted Americans to have a debate about this and to make up their mind about what to do about this. Well, if you really believe that, if you really believe that Americans should be the judge of this program, then you should also believe that the Americans should be the judge of your behavior in this regard. So if you are the patriot that you say you are, you should come home and be judged.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mike Morell, thank you very much. Wish you the best of the season.
MICHAEL MORELL: Thank you.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL MORELL: Thanks, Bob.
BOB SCHIEFFER: We’ll be back in one minute with our annual CBS News correspondents' year-end roundup.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Joining us now as we continue our sixty-five-year tradition here at CBS News, bringing correspondents in at the end of the year to talk about the news of the year. David Martin, I think, you were at the first one.
DAVID MARTIN (CBS News National Security Correspondent): No.
MAJOR GARRETT (CBS News Chief White House Correspondent): What an easy joke.
DAVID MARTIN: You'll take the (INDISTINCT) for us, yeah.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Margaret Brennan covers the State Department, and Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes and chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett round out our group today. Let’s just start right in, Garrett, because you pressed the President pretty hard at his news conference--
MAJOR GARRETT: Mm.
BOB SCHIEFFER: --Friday about-- about this idea of somehow giving amnesty to Edward Snowden--
MAJOR GARRETT: Mm-Hm. Or plea bargain or some sort of arrangement.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you think that the President is actually considering something like that?
MAJOR GARRETT: Not presently. But those around him are, and it’s a live topic, I think it’s going to become more lively as this year goes on. It’s hard to look at the panel’s recommendation to the President or Justice Leon’s decision earlier this week with the U.S. District Court and not look at the disclosures as something that has set in motion, not only a political debate but a constitutional debate about the scope of U.S. surveillance, everything that is done in counterterrorism in the name of preventing terrorism that has touched upon average American lives in ways that may, in fact, be legitimate from a counterterrorism point of view but are not viewed entirely legitimate by Americans once they were disclosed. That’s an ongoing topic that will be part of the legislative debate on Capitol Hill. The President in mid January is going to announce his own changes that he can carry out by himself to this surveillance program. But I think, as the year goes on, Edward Snowden, his fate, whether there’s a plea deal or amnesty, he’s going to become a political topic, a lively judicial topic, and something the President is going to have to decide one way or the other.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I would say that would be the understatement of the year that it will become a political topic. I think Capitol Hill would explode if-- if the President somehow decided to give amnesty. I mean can you imagine, every single Democrat running for re-election would have to be answered the question, do you think the President is right to give amnesty to Edward Snowden? I think it would create a political situation that would simply be untenable.
NANCY CORDES (CBS News Congressional Correspondent): Not to mention the red meat that it would give to Republicans--
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, exactly.
NANCY CORDES: --as they go into this election year. And it’s been really fascinating to watch the evolution on Capitol Hill over the course of the year on this issue. The very beginning, you know, when these revelations first came out from Snowden, the overwhelming reaction was, how dare he. Bring him back. He’s a traitor. And I think a lot of people still feel that way. But as they started to hear from their constituents about what they felt was an intrusion into their privacy, you saw more and more members join the few who had been out there in the beginning, the Ron Wydens, the Rand Pauls, saying, we think that this program needs to be reined in. We’re not comfortable with it. And that’s why when these new recommendations came out this week about the NSA, they were sort of like, uh-hun, yeah, that’s about what we thought. You know, there are a lot of members who are glad that this is being tackled.
BOB SCHIEFFER: David.
DAVID MARTIN: You know the President has said this is a conversation we needed to have. Raise your hand if you think we would have this conversation without Edward Snowden.
MAJOR GARRETT: Impossible.
DAVID MARTIN: He-- it-- it’s hard to know what to think about-- about the guy. Is he a traitor or is he a whistleblower who did the American public a service? And you-- you can preach that flat around. I-- I find it inconceivable that he will be granted blanket amnesty. But a plea bargain to a lesser sentence, I could see.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I-- I think, David, the president is going to have to be very, very careful about this because after all, what would this say to the next person who thinks maybe it would be a good idea to dump a bun of-- bunch of information out there when he would say, oh, okay, well I can go ahead and do this and in the end they will forgive me or something. I just don’t think-- I just don’t think that will happen. What do you think, Margaret?
MARGARET BRENNAN (CBS News State Department Correspondent): Well, I think there are two sort of bigger takeaways from this entire incident which is, one, add to the list of things that Russia can say has helped make it a player of consequence once again on the world stage, and certainly taking in Edward Snowden was one of them. And, secondly, perhaps, more profoundly in terms of long-term implication will be the damage to alliance management. Alliance management is one of the key foreign policy tools of this administration. That means just getting everyone on board at the same time whether it's about Iran, whether it’s about any of the other challenges out there. And this really undermines trust along the lines of our European partners and others around the world.
MAJOR GARRETT: And one of the things significant that was learned this week that the American public can digest on its own. In Judge Leon’s ruling where he said it was likely unconstitutional, this blanket holding and collection of data. He said the government given many opportunities could not cite a single instance when this surveillance stopped or thwarted an emerging terrorist attack. The panel’s recommendations also said we have not found, conclusively, whether this has stopped a terrorist attack from happening. That’s not information the American public had before. And that’s going to increase the intensity of this debate, the utility of this particular kind of surveillance and what role Edward Snowden played in releasing.
DAVID MARTIN: But Mike Morell will tell you that if this metadata program had been in effect on September 10, 2001, it would have stopped or had a very good chance of stopping 9/11. So, even though, there is no case where this-- this one program was the difference between a successful and unsuccessful attack, there is evidence out there that it is useful.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let’s talk about the year in Washington. I must say I find-- I can’t think of a worse year that Washington has gone through, with the possible exception of Watergate, of course, which is kind of off by itself. What is going to happen on Obamacare now, Nancy? Is-- is this program going to finally happen? I mean is it-- is it going to-- are people going to be enrolled or there are still problems?
NANCY CORDES: Well, I think our first test will be January first when people have their new insurance programs that they go to the hospital, if they go to their doctor, are they going to be able to get reimbursed, are they going to be able to see the doctor that they want to see and it's really still an open question. And this is really a challenge I think, in particular, it’s an understatement for Democrats who are really in a bind. I mean-- they have supported this, they have taken the slings and arrows on Obamacare for four years now. So they can’t turn their backs on it, you know, it’s-- their main accomplishment, and it’s the President’s main accomplishment. On the other hand they do need to show that they think the program needs to be fixed. And going into an election year, every single one of them at some point in the past few years has said, if you like your doctor, you can keep him. If you like your plan, you can keep it. And you have to know that every Republican has found them saying that they've got the tape and they’re going to be turning that into ads come this fall.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Of course, the other big story of the year was the shutdown of the government. I guess we're not going to see another of those for a while.
MAJOR GARRETT: No, we have two years of budget peace and that really is a reflection of the politics of exhaustion. The White House was exhausted by the Obamacare rollout fiasco. Republicans were exhausted by the shutdown and getting nothing out of it. And the speaker, John Boehner, told his members we're not going to get anything out of this. They said, Mister Speaker, run into the buzz saw yet again. He did one last time and then, as we saw to create this two years of budget peace, said, never again. And not only am I going to say never again I'm going to call out critics who want me to run into that buzz saw again. Those politics are over. So I would say this was a down year for as far as production, but it ended in a way that offers some degree of optimism for the White House and Capitol Hill that some things can get done. The National Defense Authorization Act was passed. It's a huge piece of legislation that would give the Pentagon some certainty for a while. Two years of budget peace also allows a shutdown scenario to be completely wiped off the boards. The one last remaining element is do we have a default crisis, every political indicator at the White House and the Hill suggests we won’t. So, though, it was a dreadful year, productively, it ended in a way that gives both sides some sense that a midterm year will be a problem.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask David Martin. David, both of you, what will be the big stories on your beats this year, defense and the state?
DAVID MARTIN: Well, I think Syria is-- is going to be a huge story, particularly, if these chemical weapons--Syria's chemical weapons--are destroyed as-- as planned because all along the absolute worst-case scenario in Syria has been those chemical weapons falling into the hands of radical Islamists. If you take those chemical weapons off the table, then that opens up a lot of actions that the U.S. could take to change the balance of power without having the dire consequence of those weapons falling into-- into the wrong hands because right now they just are afraid of Syria imploding, but you get those chemical weapons out of there and the consequences just aren’t as dire. However, I don’t think they’re going to do anything, the administration, until all of the chemical weapons are out, until the peace conference scheduled for January in Geneva has run its course.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Margaret?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I would agree with David, Syria is going to be a story. And I think it’s going to be the story for the next decade or more to come because of the consequences for the region. I think David’s prediction there in terms of lack of action may be right. There is opportunity. There have been numerous opportunities over almost three years of conflict now. But we do know January twenty-second, something will happen in Switzerland with these peace talks. But the question is still, who is going to show up to the table. Assad has not shown himself to be the statesman that people have thought he might be able to be with the Russians pushing him towards the table. The U.S. still doesn't want Iran at the negotiating table, yet, arguably their influence has increased in Syria and the U.S. has decided instead of picking a side and let’s make sure they win, let’s pick a side, give them moderate support, and see how they do. And the consequence of that, has been the rebels fracturing. So we don’t know as of yet.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right, couple of sentences what is your prediction for the New Year starting with Major?
MAJOR GARRETT: The administration will approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. John Podesta will use his power within the White House to create executive orders for the President both on environmental regulation and economics that will please the left, displeased by the Keystone decision.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Nancy.
NANCY CORDES: If Congressman (INDISTINCT) to do something big this year and it’s a big if, it will be immigration. It has already passed in the Senate. It will look very different in the House. But members want to be able to show their constituents they have accomplished something going into the midterm elections and they’re not going to be able to tackle something, like tax reform. The trust isn’t there.
BOB SCHIEFFER: David.
DAVID MARTIN: U.S. will sign a security agreement with Afghanistan and decide to keep about five thousand troops there past 2014.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN John Kerry has to become a closer. He’s got to be Hamid Karzai's therapist, get him to sign that deal. He’s got to get something done by April with the Israelis and the Palestinians. He has to get the Syria peace conference going January twenty-second and we got six months to go with Iran here.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. And I predict that the President will not give amnesty to Edward Snowden. Back in a minute with some personal thoughts.
MAN: Good night and good luck.
BOB SCHIEFFER: If you are gathering news Friday, you wouldn’t have needed very large sack to take away what you found at the President’s get-out-of-town news conference. You knew he wasn’t in for an easy ride when the first question was was this your worst year? He side-stepped a direct answer. He said this was a time of year to reflect and thought he would have some better ideas after some sleep and sun. Congress had an even worse year than the President, but ended on an appropriate note, a long and loud debate over the rules. Democratic Leader Harry Reid was hospitalized for exhaustion. He’s fine now. But as the brief bipartisanship generated by the budget bill evaporated, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham said, “If this is Kumbaya, I'd hate to see truly dysfunctional.” Maybe they will have some better ideas, too, after some sleep and sun. Surveying the mess that Washington left behind, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan said the word of the year was botched. I thought it was selfie, which reminds me the news wasn’t all bad. Anthony Wiener’s political comeback went nowhere. And at last report, the social media seemed to be trending against using cell phones to talk on airplanes. Now that is news to make us feel downright warm and fuzzy. Back in a minute.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Some of our stations are leaving us now but we’ll be right back with Page Two.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know one of the things we all agree on here at FACE THE NATION is that we all love the news, but the other thing is, we all really love a good book. And sometimes when the news is so bad, we don’t even like to talk about it. I advise people just go read a good book. So we thought we’d gather some of our favorite authors today, all of whom have new books out this year, to talk about books and writing. Michael Connelly has written eighteen Harry Bosch mysteries and The Gods of Guilt is his new one, about the Lincoln Lawyer. Terry McMillan who wrote How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale has a new one out called Who Asked You? George Saunders writes short stories. His new collection is The Tenth of December. And it’s on the New York Times book reviews top ten list for 2013. And finally our old friend Rick Atkinson, who I knew when he used to be just a reporter, and now he is a Pulitzer Prize winner. He has finished his liberation trilogy, The Guns at Last Light which focuses on Western Europe and-- and the end of World War II. His series An Army at Dawn, as I say, his book, the Army at Dawn won the Pulitzer. And we’re honored to have all of you here today. You know I was just sitting here, and I want to talk to each of you about your books but I was just sitting here thinking about the year that President Obama has had. It’s-- it’s been just an awful book for everybody concerned in Washington. So he’s gone off on vacation, Terry, you have a book he ought to read while he's resting? He says he’s going to think and sleep and try to get some good ideas.
TERRY MCMILLAN (Who Asked You): I would say All Over but the Shoutin by Rick Bragg-- it’s a memoir but I think the title sort of says it all.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I know Rick and I have read that book.
TERRY MCMILLAN: It’s a wonderful book.
BOB SCHIEFFER: That’s a pretty good one. Michael.
MICHAEL CONNELLY (The Gods of Guilt): Well, it is vacation, so I was going to give him some light reading. There’s new author out in L.A. named P. G. Sturges and he writes these books called The Shortcut Man. And it’s just about a guy who doesn’t really have a job, he’s not a cop or a detective but he somehow finds a way to get things done and maybe that could be inspiring.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, I am having to say I’ve read that book, too. It is-- it’s a terrific-- it’s a terrific book. I didn’t know about him till-- till that book came along.
GEORGE SAUNDERS (Tenth of December): I would have the President read a book called High Rise Stories, edited by Audrey Petty. And it’s a beautiful kind of (INDISTINCT) book about Chicago housing projects through the sixties, through the eighties. And maybe just as a way of-- of reminding ourselves that progress happens but sometimes, you got to-- there’s a slog first. And, yeah, it’s a great book.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Rick?
RICK ATKINSON (The Guns at Last Light): I would have him read book by my former colleague at the Washington Post David Finkel called Thank You for Your Service. It's about soldiers coming back from Iraq. It’s pretty bleak but it is a beautiful narration of what we've asked these soldiers to do. And it's a counterpoint to David’s earlier book The Good Soldiers, which is about the same battalion in Iraq in 2008. And I think that every lawmaker, including the President, should-- should read both those books.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know I-- and I always ask authors this, because I wondered about it myself, and that is, why did you decide to write a book. And I’ll be very honest, when-- when I sat down to try to do it the first time I just did it to see if I could. And I guess I did. But whatever the case, Terry, why-- why did you turn to writing books?
TERRY MCMILLAN: Well, because there are a lot of things that I saw happening to people around me. And not just people that I knew, but people that-- I’ll put it this way. I think that I was tired of watching people suffer. And I wanted to try to see if I could fix it. And so I found out that I could re-invent their lives, including my own and-- and find some kind of salvation for them.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Michael? I've gotten so much pleasure out of your books, and I must say I-- I think I’ve read all the Harry Bosch books--
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Thanks.
BOB SCHIEFFER: --not all of the Lincoln Lawyer books. But being an old police reporter myself, why did you turn to books? Because I know you used to be a police reporter.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Yeah, I think it was-- I was always a voracious reader, I was covering crime but I was reading fictional crime. And I got-- I-- I think the inspi-- inspirational moment for me was chapter thirteen of The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler and it's a chapter that has nothing to do with plot, it’s all about character and this guy driving around Los Angeles written in-- in 1940s and still speaks to the city. And I thought to write something that can last that long is that’s hard. And-- and it would just inspire me to say, I want to some-- some day try to do that.
BOB SCHIEFFER: George, I know you did a couple of things before you got to writing books.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: I did. I did.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Including working on an oil rig in Sumatra.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Yeah. I was kind of-- I came to it a little slowly. But I got-- the first bug was when I was in third grade, a nun gave me a copy of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. And it was the most explosively beautiful experience to read that book. And that’s when I-- I never felt as alive as I did when I was reading. So then through all these engineering years I kept thinking, you know, I-- I really like reading and writing, I wonder if there’s-- if that’s a job, you know. And finally, I-- I realized it was the only one I was fit to do. So I kind of came to that. But I think it’s the-- for me, it’s-- it’s the feeling of being able to communicate at that beautifully high level you can in prose where you actually make a connection with another person that you've never met that assumes the best of them. And for that little zone you’re kind of your best self. I feel like that anyway. So it’s a very sweet kind of wonderful experience.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And, Rick, you and I knew each other back to the Pentagon days when you were a reporter here in Washington. How did you finally decide this is what you wanted to do.
RICK ATKINSON: Well, I came out of the newspaper business as-- as you yourself came out of the news business as a print reporter a long time ago. I was looking for an opportunity to do long-form narrative. And I write about war and I find that the incredible stress of combat is a great revealer of character. It flays open the inner self in the same way a prison flays open a beam of light. You see the inner spectrum. And I found that writing books and having that opportunity to have a deeper, longer voice in book writing was really the only way to fully express the extraordinary stress that combat brings to-- to men and now men and women. And-- and the book form allows me to do things that no other form permit.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Terry, I am so envious of people who write fiction. I’ve tried. I just don’t get it. And my editor said to me one time, well, some people remember things and write them down and some people make things up. When you are writing your books, do you make them up, are they about you, tell me about this new book and what is your personal connection to the characters in this book.
TERRY MCMILLAN: Well, you know, to write fiction you have to be a good liar. And I lie on-- on paper. I’m not a very good liar in person. My new book is primarily about a grandmother who is forced to raise her grandchildren. And also about people who are always sticking their nose in someone else's business and offering unsolicited advice, which most of us know people like that. And what to do? How to process that? And who to listen to and who to ignore. So, that’s pretty much it. And you know I deal with racial issues, love, taking care of a spouse that’s ill. But mostly for me it’s about struggling and how to survive when things are working against you.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I think your work cuts through and I think so many people identify with it. Is that what you’re doing? Are you trying to reach people and, say, look, I know things are tough there but here is something that might help you understand where you are and?
TERRY MCMILLAN: Well, I think that that's one of the reasons why I read fiction in general. Or specifically, I should say because I don’t read books that are just about black people. I think that a lot of our stories sort of transcend that.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: Because we’re all struggling for the same thing which is-- is to be happy and to find joy and peace and all that. But I think that there are stories out here that I tell that happen to be about African Americans--
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: --and I think a lot of people-- I mean I read books by everybody.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: And I think that there is a commonality that all of us share. And that is we suffer the same, we love the same.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: And some of us do and don’t see beauty the same. But for the most part we’re all striving for the same thing.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Michael, is Harry Bosch you?
MICHAEL CONNELLY: No, not at all. But also I’ve been able to write about him over twenty years so and starting out he wasn’t like me at all. He was almost writing exercise what it would be like to spend time with a character completely different. But I got lucky. That book got published and they asked for another one. And now over twenty years it’s hard to keep that separation. So we share a lot now. We have sixteen-year-old daughters. And so, you know, used to be an arm’s length, now I am slowly putting my arm around them and so there’s a lot of commonalities.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And you just finished a TV series. Well, actually it’s going to be streamed--is it--by Amazon about Harry.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Yeah. We just finished filming a couple of days ago.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And are you excited about that? How much of a part did you play in the screenwriting?
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Well, I did a lot because in the screenwriting and in the whole production because, like I said, I’ve been-- my whole fiction writing career has been wrapped around this character. So I said like if you want my books I come with them. And you know I’m going to have a say and they were receptive to that. So, if it’s good, it’s my fault. If it’s bad, it’s my fault. But I think it’s going to be good.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know, George, I must say, and I think somebody said the nicest thing that anybody could say about a writer, is I was reading about you, it said about you, he seems to be in touch with some better being. He writes like a saint. Nobody has said that about me. How does that make you feel to be described in that way?
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Well, it means-- it means I have to stop shoplifting now. That's one of the bad things. Now I guess that’s what writing let’s reader and the writer be in touch with some better being because from the writer’s point of view, as you’re working through your drafts your first draft might be a bit of a cartoon and you’re dissatisfied. So you come back and you say, you know, I’m not being fair to this character, you try again and again and again. And over those many drafts the person becomes more multi-faceted and in the process you’re doing sort of scale model empathy practice, you know. And I think the same thing with a reader. A reader gets into someone else’s head, essentially, and is re-assured that that distant person also has love and hope and fear. And that the things that matter to the reader also matter to the writer. So it’s that process that puts us all in touch with something better.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’m going to say that one of the things, the best things I think you’ve ever written and I just came to it last night as I was reading through some of the things about you. It is a graduation speech that you wrote and when you talked about a failure of kindness--
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Mm.
BOB SCHIEFFER: --and I thought you know someone who has written graduation speech or two himself over the years, and listened to a bunch of them, I thought what a wonderful message. What did you really mean by that?
GEORGE SAUNDERS: Well, I first wrote that speech for my daughter’s middle school class. And I in that urgency of talking to people that you know and care about, I thought what’s really true. What-- after all these years what I really think, what I regret--not much, actually. But a handful of times for whatever selfish reason I didn't rise to the occasion and be as gentle or as kind as I could have been. And I thought, well, that’s kind of a strange thing, maybe a little frothy, you know, but it was really true. And I think the response to that speech indicates that a lot of people feel that way that the best self is over here. And every so often in real life we don’t quite come up to that level. And as the years go by those moments can be a little bit bitter, actually, you know, in retrospect. So--
BOB SCHIEFFER: It made me reflect back on my own life. And I must say I had some of the same feelings. Rick, what do you do now? You’ve written these three enormous books. And they are page turners and, yet, they are-- they are big books, a three-volume history of the war in Europe. What do you do next?
RICK ATKINSON: Well, I’m moving back in time. I’m moving into the eighteenth century and I am doing another trilogy but this on the American Revolution. For me the opportunity to write about World War II, first of all, it’s the greatest catastrophe in human history, sixty million dead. Yet, the liberation of Europe is the greatest story of the twentieth century with characters that are so rich and deep beyond the abilities of even these extraordinary fiction writers to invent. And not just Eisenhower and Patton and Omar Bradley and Churchill and Montgomery, but others who have been lost to history and so trying to resuscitate them. You know I believe that the narrative nonfiction writers' true calling is to bring back the dead. And so I'm going to try and do that with the eighteenth century and particularly looking at the British, whom I think are absolutely fascinating. We tend to caricature them as Americans and they are extraordinary characters, they are extraordinarily accomplished and the Germans who were here in force beginning in 1776 as well as the Americans who fought the rebellion and so that’s what I’m going to do now, Bob.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, we are going to take a break and come back and talk a lot more about all of this in just a minute.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, we’re back with our authors. Let me just ask all of you, what is-- what’s the best book you read this year, Rick?
RICK ATKINSON: Well, I go back to Finkel’s book Thank You for Your Service. I think that that is an extraordinary book. It sat with me. I finished it, reading it in a restaurant in New York several weeks ago. The waitress was French and she asked me whether there was something wrong with my dinner because I was in tears. And books that can do that and sticks with you, I think, you know, I-- I read lots of books about war. But this is a book that transcends the genre.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You read much non-fiction?
GEORGE SAUNDERS: I do. Actually as-- as I’m getting older, somehow it’s more urgent I think somehow. I read a-- I’m reading Arthur Miller’s autobiography right now which is really an incredible sort of mini seminar in the twentieth century. The progress in the arts and a really wonderful reminder of the McCarthy Years and how real that was and how-- how it hasn’t really gone away. So that-- that’s been a lot of pleasure that book.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Michael, what do you-- do you have time to read? As sometimes--
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Oh, sure.
BOB SCHIEFFER: --authors tell me, I-- I get so engrossed in my book, I don’t have time to read and-- and that’s the thing, the-- the real drawback to writing a book.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: There-- well, there’re times in the process from my writing that I don’t want to read anything, but-- but you have to read. This, you know--
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: --it puts gas in your tank. I would say I’m reading more narrative non-fiction than-- than fiction and probably my favorite book was a book called Act of War by Jack Chivers and it just came out a couple of weeks ago and it's about the Pueblo incident in 1968. And, you know, through his FOI reports he got, he’s really kind of recreated two great stories, the story on the high seas of the spy ship being taken by the North Koreans and what was going on in Washington with Lyndon Johnson and brought them together for very a-- what seems like a riveting read, a page turner. But it’s-- but it’s history.
BOB SCHIEFFER: What about you, Terry?
TERRY MCMILLAN: Well, so far -- well, I guess there are not very many days left in the year but Louise Erdrich’s book-- novel, The Round House--
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: --moved me to no end because of how far-- it’s about familial love and how far someone is willing to go to correct an injustice. And I write about, most of us I think write about injustices and hers happens to deal with Native Americans which doesn’t matter to me. But I found it riveting and I was so-- I was in tears also at the end and I actually threw the book across the room just because I was-- I was so excited about how it ended--
BOB SCHIEFFER: Aha.
TERRY MCMILLAN: --and she’s a brilliant writer.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know do you all read on Kindles or you like to read in books?
RICK ATKINSON: I read real books.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Me, too.
TERRY MCMILLAN: I-- I like to turn the page.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know, I do, too. And but the one book this year, there was a book called The Last Lion which was William Manchester’s last book in the trilogy, he died before he was able to finish it. It was finished by a guy named Paul Reid. And I finally had to switch to a Kindle because the book was so heavy. I had to balance it on my stomach when I was-- when I was sleeping at nights so-- and I do take-- I do take my Kindle when I go on vacation. You can take a lot of books that you couldn't otherwise. But I’m like you, I like to hold the book, I like to smell the book, I like to just --
RICK ATKINSON: Mark it up.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Yeah.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a book-book. And for me, nothing will ever take the place of that. What do you all think the future of books is? It seems to me that e-books kind of leveled off the sale of e-books this year and--
TERRY MCMILLAN: I think it’s unfortunate. I mean we have so much technology now in our lives, the one thing we do have left is a book that we -- it’s tactile. You can touch it.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Yeah.
TERRY MCMILLAN: And, you know, to put your Kindle on the floor in the bathroom or by the tub, what are you risking?
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mm-Hm.
TERRY MCMILLAN: I love leaning back and falling asleep with a book. And plus, on book tour when people have handed me their Nooks and their Kindles, I just say, you know, I can’t sign that and I’m not going to. Oh, please Miss, no, and I’m like no.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You do a selfie though.
TERRY MCMILLAN: Pardon?
BOB SCHIEFFER: You do a selfie.
TERRY MCMILLAN: No, I’m not signing a Kindle.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: Well, I think it’s a-- it is a-- it’s an interesting thing of-- of, you know, evolution. I mean I-- I think and I have no scientific data for this, I think the readers, there’s more readers now because of the convenience of these devices. It’s not my personal taste. I actually have a Kindle and I have all my books on this because it’s easy to find stuff that you got to go back and find if you are writing a continuing character, so it’s a tool for me. I think you’re right. I think it’s-- it’s slowly hitting an equilibrium and, hopefully, the book business, the bookstores will not go away because I think everybody here kind of like I would not be here if it wasn’t for bookstores and people doing--
TERRY MCMILLAN: Mm-Hm.
MICHAEL CONNELLY: --the age old practice of saying, you got to read this book and handing a book to someone. And that-- that is getting lost and, hopefully, we’re reaching a point that what we have now is going to stay.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I think a book forces you to kind of slow down. And I mean in this age of Twitter and-- and all this instant communication, I think it’s good every once in a while to just kind of step back and I think-- I think books do kind of help us.
GEORGE SAUNDERS: You know it’s fine because the book is actually not just the words, it’s-- it’s a really efficient data delivery system. And if you have a good designer, they actually are bringing another level of meaning with even things like the-- the layout, the font, the color, the feel. I remember reading when I was first writing, getting a 1910 copy of de Maupassant short stories and going down to a river in Colorado and reading it. And I can still remember what certain passages were in the layout. And the physicality of the book made it an even more beautiful experience. I don't think we want to give up that element of it.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Rick.
RICK ATKINSON: I-- I think the future of the book depends in large measure on the future of authors and, you know, if authors can turn out things people want to read regardless of whether it’s in the dead tree edition of a process that’s been around for five hundred years or whether it’s delivered electronically somehow. As long as there’s good storytelling going on, fiction, non-fiction otherwise, I’m very optimistic about it. And I do think that there is physical experience in holding a book in your hands and for me I read a lot of non-fiction and I mark it up and I make notes in the-- in the margins and so on. And that’s a kind of interaction that is hard to do electronically. But if someone is having an emotional experience with the-- the-- the essence of that book I don’t care how they're reading it.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You know I think-- I think all of you are right. But I think-- I think Rick it is still about content whether it’s a television broadcast, whether it’s a movie, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a high-school graduation speech. It’s the content not-- not how you dress it up. And I try to remember that around here. I want to thank all of you. It’s most-- it’s lot of fun to get to talk to you.
TERRY MCMILLAN: Thank you.
RICK ATKINSON: Thank you so much.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Thanks for coming. We’ll be right back.
BOB SCHIEFFER: We note today the passing and we note it with sadness of seventeen-year-old Claire Davis who died last night after spending eight days in a coma after the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Colorado. There have been twenty-eight school shootings over the last twelve months. We were told she loved horses, loved her life, and was loved by her parents and friends. Our heart goes out to them.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Happy holiday
for more features.