Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson
"I had some incredible experiences. I handed him (LBJ) a note that said that Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis, sitting in the room with him was the former governor of Georgia, Carl Sanders and the then chairman of Coca Cola, Mr. Robert Woodruff. Mr. Woodruff went over to a phone.... and he called Ivan Allen here in Atlanta and he said," Ivan, do whatever it takes today to keep Atlanta from burning."

Transcript of Interview with Tom Johnson

Growing up in Macon

Q: Let's start at the beginning. Let's start in Macon in your early days. Tell us a bit about growing up in Macon, your family and what your early childhood years were like.

TJ: Well, I was born September 30, 1941 in Macon. It was a much delayed, but much awaited moment in my mother's life. She was in her early mid 30’s at the time, having tried unsuccessfully to have a child earlier. Actually the doctors had said to her that there was no chance that you will be able to become pregnant, but she did and I came into the world. I am the only child of Josephine Brown Johnson and Wyatt Johnson. My mother worked as a clerk in a very small grocery store 6 days of the week. My dad was a sort of a happy go lucky guy who held all types of odd jobs among them, selling watermelons out of his red International pick-up truck during the summers and selling wood out of his truck during the winters. As I recall, some of my youngest memories, were working with him on that truck. It was 25 cents for each watermelon or 5 for a dollar, or 25 cents for a number two galvanized tub of wood, or 5 trucks for a dollar. I'll never forget it. My mother had a high school education and so wanted to go to college. Her father like many fathers at the time, didn't think that girls should go to college so he wouldn't fund her education to college. My dad had a third grade education, but was a terrifically spirited person. I was influenced by those two people enormously. My mother throughout my young years was always saying to me, "Tommy, if you work hard and do right, you can accomplish anything you want in life." She must have told me that dozens of times. I actually came to a point where I believed it, that if I worked hard and did right, I regret that she did not also say to me, I should learn to play. Play was not much part of my life.  My dad also set an example for me. He was not responsible. He was a wonderful person in so many ways, but he was somewhat irresponsible. That influenced me, that I was going to be very responsible in my life and I was going to take care of my mother and take care of my family when I got to that point. It's amazing when I take a look back at the very influence in early years of those two parents on my life.

Q: Selling watermelons and selling wood off the back of a truck must have been hard work. It must have made you appreciate what it took to earn a quarter.

TJ: It did!  I didn't consider it hard work. I mean....interestingly enough, in a lifetime, I've never had a job I didn't love. Starting with the work, as I said, on that red International pick-up truck.

Q: You found a way to make some money stringing for the Macon Telegraph. Tell us about that.

TJ: That was probably the next passage I'd gone to. Alexander II, public schools in Macon, I went to Lanier Junior High for boys and Lanier Senior High, but it was really clear to me by the ninth grade that I needed to get a job. I needed to get a job so I could help to defray some of my own expenses, but so that I could also help to lighten the load that my mother was carrying. In the ninth grade at Lanier Junior High, there was an announcement by the English teacher that the Macon paper had an opening for a high school sports stringer to just bring in the high school sports scores. The first person who went down to apply for it was told about how much work went with it and decided not to do it. The second person who was recommended for the position went down to see the sports editor, Sam Glassman, and was told how much work was involved in it and didn't do it. I was the third choice and I went down and talked with Sam Glassman, then the sports editor, and I just knew this is what I wanted to do. I mean it was like I just connected with him and then with the people in that newsroom who, I think to some extent, almost treated me like one of their own. They knew that my mother would come down and pick me up in the evenings after she got off from work and after sometimes after 11 o'clock at night to get home. I couldn't drive at that point, but I just fell in love with those people in that newsroom...with covering sports. I did it, of course, during all the way through high school, all the way through twelfth grade full time in the summers. The more I did it, the more training they provided me, the more enthusiasm I developed for journalism.

Back to scenes

Newspaper Business

Q: What do you think it was about that newsroom and about those people that so inoculated you with printer’s ink that made you want to go into that business?

TJ: They loved their work. Each day was a new day.  Something new and different was happening every day. They had been and around it for a long time. Most cases, and some cases, crusty news people and after Sam Glassman came, Harley Bowers....and actually Harley inherited me from Sam. I was working on the desk there with a young guy named Ben Boswarmer, who was later named Lee Boswarmer, who went on to heights including editing the Atlanta magazine and much more. They also took a lot of time.  Sam Glassman taught me how to hunt and peck type with a real typewriter. He taught me how to do the official scorebooks for both the Macon Peaches owned by the Milwaukee Braves and in the summer to get a summer job with the little league as covering the little league teams and being the official scorekeeper. I was paid extra when I was the official score keeper. I got $7.50 extra for being the scorekeeper. It was an incredible opportunity. It also taught me something then that has been with me my whole life. Sam Glassman said, "Tommy, the most important thing I can teach you is to get it right."  Three words. Get it right. Whether I was editor of the Dallas newspaper and the publisher of the Dallas paper or the president of the L.A. Times or publisher of the L.A. Times or at CNN...I've said it to so many of my reporters and editors that our fundamental need is to get the story right.

Q: You had time somehow at Lanier High to also edit the high school paper.  How did you get into that?

TJ: Yes. After my earliest experiences at the Macon newsroom, it was a natural to want to be involved with the then Lanier High Point Leader. It was a natural.  I had been taught so much in the newsroom at the Macon Telegraph by writing headlines, about editing copy...the importance of the fundamentals that the Associated Press or the Macon paper used as their style at the time. The importance of the who, what, where, when, why and on...just straight news reporting, that in many ways I was very well prepared to edit that high school newspaper. It won all kind of awards. I also found many other students who loved doing it as well.

Q:  You became involved at the state level with the Georgia Scholastic Press Association as an officer there?

TJ: Yes.  

Q: You had such a crowd around you there at the Macon Telegraph, I wonder if you met other people around the state of Georgia at that time?

TJ: I did. Frequently I was able to go out covering other sports teams either riding the bus with the Lanier players and football, basketball and baseball, and coming back, or in the summers they had me start working more for the news desk originally writing obituaries, but eventually doing general assignments.  There was a state news editor named George Landry. I frequently went with George on assignments to cover different events as his gofer. I met politicians around, I met different people.  That was the other part of journalism, to me. The fascinating people you meet, that you interview, the access that it gives you. I thought a lot about that, whether I was interviewing some judge in Macon or the mayor in Macon like Ronnie Thompson, but also later, when I had a chance to sit down with Mikhail Gorbachev or Boris Yeltsin or the then head of the Peoples Republic of China. You know, it's the ability to pull information out and get to know people. I've found that no matter where you travel, the best question that you can ask another person, particularly if you've never met them, and this is even true when I've sat down by people at the White House. I took it a long time to figure it out, but the best question that you can ask, that I learned very early at Macon: Tom, tell me about yourself.  

Q: Uh-huh. Everybody's able to talk about themselves, that is for sure.

TJ: But not, “what do you do?” Tom, tell me about yourself. I can assure in 99% of the cases you can get people to start talking.

Q: That's great. So a lot of those early people were influential on you.

TJ:  They were THE most influential on me.

Q: I guess none more so than Mr. Peyton Anderson.

TJ: None more than Peyton Anderson.

Q: Tell me about your acquaintance with him. How you came to know him and what role he grew to in your life.

TJ: Well, another University of Georgia graduate who wore his Phi Beta Kappa key with pride was Bill Ott. Bill was the managing editor and then he became the editor of the Macon paper. Bill took a lot of interest in sort of watching me. I didn't report directly to him. I was reporting to Sam Glassman, to Harley Bower then, to the news desk and then to Jim Chapman, the managing editor, but at some point, Bill just noticed that I had promise, that I had potential. He also knew that, I don’t want to say I had less than zero money, but that I needed to work, to have an income in high school and in college. I particularly needed to work. He introduced me to Peyton. Peyton was the person...he reported to Peyton. The editor to the paper reported to the publisher. I am convinced that it was Bill Ott that really influenced Peyton to take the type of interest in me that he did. There came a time they asked me what my plans were about college. As I recall, I said, "I hope to go to college." I wanted to go to college. I really needed, most of all, to continue to work. At some point I was called over into Peyton Anderson's publisher's office on Cherry Street then in downtown Macon. He said to me that if I could be admitted in to the University of Georgia, that they would pay my way, provided that I continue to work, and I needed to work. That led to a lot of commuting between Athens and Macon during my college years.  Not everyday, but I tried to get enough hours so I could get a 40 hour week in.  Most weekends...I didn't always make them, but the weekend was when they needed me the most. That was also the time I had the ability to get away from campus. Sometimes I would go down on Thursdays. Peyton Anderson became a devoted champion of mine. I really tried to in every way that I can, remember what it was like for a person of means, a person of resources to be able to reach out to a person who has no resources.

Q:  He followed you all the way through, did he not?

TJ: He did.

Back to scenes

UGA in 1959

Q: You left Lanier High and you went off to Athens. I guess that was the fall of '59?

TJ: Yes.

Q: Do you remember coming into campus? Your early impressions of arriving at the University of Georgia?

TJ: Fortunately I had been on campus a few times for the Georgia Scholastic Press Association. I had been to Athens for one of two conventions where I went for the Georgia Press Association, I believe. Sure, I remember it really well. I remember my roommate at Reed Hall. It was a guy named John Talbird who my influence on him was so great, that he went on to become a priest. He was an Argonaut, and my roommate and was a terrific person. Also, I just remember, enjoying the Grady School of Journalism....Grady College now. I enjoyed the classes, I especially enjoyed the interest of the professors of that era took in me from Dan Kitchens to Charlie Kopp to Dean Drewry. And because I was there on scholarship and because there had been a wonderful letter written by Bill Ott on behalf of the newspaper, I think I may have gotten a little more attention from some of the faculty members than some of the others. As soon as I could, I got on staff of The Red& Black.

Q: What were college students like in ’59 and ’60?

TJ: The girls wore Bass weejuns. The guys were much more neatly dressed than today in almost every case. ROTC--had become a cadet captain at Lanier High for boys, but I also joined the ROTC program, because the ROTC program also paid  you something like $15 a month. I became involved in that, so often I was in an Army ROTC uniform. I didn't pledge fraternity my freshman year, which was probably a good thing, because I really focused a great deal on my classes at the Grady College and outside of the Grady College with English, history and political science. The University was an all white...all white.  It was a great mixture of people from mostly from the state. Seems like it was overwhelmingly in-state students at the time.

Back to scenes


Q: The all-white pant thing changed while you were there?

TJ: Yes.

Q: Tell me a little bit about the desegregation of the University. I guess you were on The Red & Black paper.

TJ: I was on The Red & Black. I was covering the desegregation of the University. I was covering both for The Red &Black and for the Macon paper. As a result of the way the Macon paper had a relationship with the Associated Press, some of my copy made it on to that. The very fact the Macon paper entrusted me to report that important story rather than sending in more senior reporters was I thought pretty powerful. They played my stories out front. On The Red &Black, I was looking at copies that I have here. I was out front with my coverage as the lead reporter almost throughout that. It was definitely some memories I will never forget. I was part of the press pack, I guess, that was near the Arch as Charlayne Hunter, now Charlayne Hunter Gault and Hamilton Holmes walked through the Arch on their very first entrance. That's where I got to know my friend, Vernon Jordan. He was one of those who accompanied her.

Q: What was your view of the campus mood at that time and the way and the state and the University approached that?

TJ: It is like I will never forget, I would hear the shouts from the white students and look over and see friends of mine. People I knew well, who were shouting, "Two, four, six, eight! We ain't gonna intergrate!" Far more serious words of hate as we were walking along and I was about as close to Charlayne as I am to you, a young white student...I guess he was a student, assuming he was a student...tried to spit on her, and the spittle did not hit her, but it hit the arm of one of the security people right in front of me. I am, I am really...I never experienced that in Macon, I never experienced it anywhere. Either that evening or the following evening, I was in front of her dormitory, Myers Hall, covering it. Angry group of students out front...out of the crowd comes a guy with either a brick or whatever...and threw it at her dorm. I guess trying to throw it at her window maybe. I knew him! I named him. I can say that he was an acquaintance of mine. I spoke to some of the girls in the dormitory, who were in the dormitory area where Charlayne was to live, and I will never forget that they told several of us reporters. Again, because I'm a student, I was probably like, and many people knew me by then, I was able to get access that many of the New York reporters and Atlanta reporters weren’t able to get, I will never forget that one had said that "Charlayne, we are so glad to have you here. Honey, we are so glad to have you
here," seems like he said. "We have needed a maid to clean up this place, these halls
for a long time." I just thought about--what a hurtful, hurtful thing. That led me to invite Charlayne to come down to work, because I knew that she had an interest in journalism, to work on The Red & Black. I'm not sure if I've ever told this before, maybe I have, but with the exception of maybe three or four of the staffers, she was mistreated by The Red & Black staffers. Young journalists...let me just tell you they were just not friendly...there were a couple of big exceptions. I'll never forget. Marcia Powell, that name just popped up now, was a great friend of her on the staff. There were a few others, but I thought of all things, here we are, a young group of journalists, and here is a young woman who wants to be a journalist and we weren't nice to her. That's one of my great regrets. Great regrets.

Q: She went on to become a fine journalist.

TJ: She did, including one point, working with me at CNN.

Back to scenes

College Life

Q: Those years did pass and you were at UGA until '63. Let's talk about other parts of your life there. You said you pledged a fraternity. You went to Sigma Nu.

TJ: I pledged Sigma Nu. Sigma Nu became, since I had no brothers, no sisters. Sigma Nu became my family. I loved Sigma Nu. Loved the Sigma Nu house. We were made mostly of south Georgians, they were my kind of guys. I was fortunate enough to be elected president, called commander of Sigma Nu, and then National Man of the Year of Sigma Nu, and then got many, many other honors. I’m telling you they were like my family--good and bad. I had the same wonderful roommate all the way through, Don Rountree, who was a journalism student. I tried my best---they owned a newspaper business down in Dawson-- to make a career out of journalism. He worked for the paper in Macon a couple of summers with me, but getting the extra $25 from the Chamber of Commerce and then later from an executive search firm, took him to another world, so I was not able to keep him in it. After my junior year, more and more people had been saying to me including my faculty advisors--Dan Kitchens and others--that you really need a graduate degree in these days. So I started applying for scholarships. I applied for the Grantland Rice Scholarship at Vanderbilt. Grantland Rice, said to me the ultimate sport writer of the era and earlier. I applied for a wonderful scholarship and won it to the University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill. I was so proud. I went down to Macon and asked for an appointment with Peyton Anderson. This was the spring of my senior year. I said, "Mr. Anderson, I've won this scholarship to the University of North Carolina, to get my masters in Journalism. Everybody tells me that a masters degree is a good thing." He looked back at me, I'll never forget these words, “Tommy, you do not need another journalism degree. You have a journalism degree. Tell me, what is it you hope to do with your life?" I said, “Mr. Anderson, one day, I would really like a job like yours." I think back, that took a lot of brashness to say to the publisher of the paper, but I had seen him drive in in his Cadillac, his private elevator up to his office. I had seen him get on his helicopter to go over to his place at Lake Sinclair. I had seen some of the other side of the track in a way, and I just thought, just settling for being the editor of the paper…He looked back at me and said, "If that is your goal to become publisher one day..." to a college senior, "...if you can get into Harvard Business School, I will pay your way." He didn't say Stanford Business School, he didn't say University of Georgia, he said, "I've always dreamed..." I mean Peyton...."of going to Harvard Business School." I said, "I never even thought about it." He described briefly why he thought that you need both the business side experience, as well as the news side of experience, if you really want to rise in the profession. So I applied late to Harvard Business School, with fabulous letters from Bill Ott and Jim Chapman and Peyton Anderson and others, and I was accepted after the deadline at Harvard Business School for the class beginning in 1963, finishing in '65.

Q: So all this time you were commuting back and forth from Macon, you were involved at the University of Georgia in everything, I think. I have a list...Gridiron, Biftad, Greek Horseman, Blue Key, ODK, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma, Sigma Delta Chi, Sphinx...Where did you find the time?

TJ: I loved what I was doing. I never even thought about not getting up in the morning
and getting out on the ROTC drill field at 7 AM. I knew I was missing some real fun, getting in my car driving down to Macon, but I was excited about getting into that newsroom by 3 o'clock. I needed to be there by 3, so I had to build my classes around, so I could get there by 3, and then working the weekends. Sometimes I took my then girlfriend, Edwina Chastain with me a few times, to Macon. Unfortunately, she never liked Macon. Maybe, the only city in the world we’ve lived in she didn't like. Mostly…there was effluent coming off the paper mill there that was not great. Macon could really be hot in the summer, particularly if you don't have an air conditioned house, which we didn't. I guess, as I look back on those activities, many of them don't apply for any of those, I have one regret. I think it was a botany class that kept me from being Phi Beta Kappa. I think I made Phi Kappa Phi...I think all the tests were true or false or fill in the blanks, so I should have done really well on it. That's the only goal that I set for myself, I also learned later that you can't do it all. I also learned, I was rapidly becoming something that I do not recommend for anybody. I was rapidly becoming a workaholic. I had somehow...this fire had ignited in me in the ninth grade and the flame grew stronger and stronger and stronger as I went to the University of Georgia, to Harvard Business School and beyond. It was like, I was becoming something that today I urge everybody to avoid. I think you must have a balanced life, and I was putting so much of my time and effort into work. I was ignoring play and play was almost a word that would bring me a since of guilt. I don't have time to play. Play is not productive. Play...I must tell you...I give almost lectures today, to students, because I burned out twice. I am convinced myself, I drove myself by keeping the petal to the metal...I drove myself to two burnouts. I loved Georgia. I loved the activities there. I loved the way which... getting elected secretary-treasurer to the class, getting elected to head of my fraternity, Sigma Nu. Getting a chance to become a battalion commander in the ROTC unit, and there is also a story of how I was getting ready to go to Vietnam, but got injured at Fort Benning. I was a distinguished military graduate. I was a cadet lieutenant colonel, and I had all the best awards that you can get from ROTC. I had this feeling of patriotic duty to go and serve as a lot of southern boys did at the time.

Back to scenes

The Red & Black

Q The Red & Black at that time was a different paper from what it is today. What were some of the other things The Red & Black did that we don't see in student papers anymore?

TJ: Even though it was under the supervision of the college of journalism and Dan Kitchens was at the side to us, we had unbelievable freedom. I reported on the state of married housing. Married housing had rats and bug infestations. Married housing was unbelievable and that created a firestorm administrative office. I reported on the absolute number of potholes that were around the campus--huge potholes that had not been filled. We were digging in all kind of investigative pieces and nobody as far as I know out of the President's Office or Dean Drewry's office said, "You can't do that!" We had tremendous...I think Dan Kitchens took a lot of flack for us as the advisor, but not once...I served as reporter, managing editor, editor and business manager. Never was I told...and also we were also selling a lot of advertising at that point and we were covering our expenses. Nobody was having to subsidize us. I was the business manager, so I knew how fact, I was accused of putting too many ads in the paper, because we could sell to Foster's Jewelry and every single...Uly Gunn, all of the advertisers...the drive-ins, the motion picture theatres all around...we were, in my opinion, better than the Athens Banner Herald, I hate to say that, but at the time in terms of campus news, as we should have been.

Q: Were you weekly at the time or bi-weekly?

TJ: Weekly and went to bi-weekly. I actually believe we could have gotten to daily, but it would have strained the printing presses. It would have strained all of us. I actually was going to bed at night....Don Rountree and I were together and I would go to bed at night some nights at 2. We saw the sun come up several times and then go to class.

Back to scenes

Graduation and harvard

Q: Do you remember your graduation day?

TJ: Not as well. All I remember is that my...

Q: They say you never remember the speaker.

TJ: What I do remember, though, is my dad and my mother, my aunt, who was the only college educated person in our family--Annie Ruth Johnson, Annie Ruth Brown Johnson, that hauled me to Alexander II rather than going to Union in Macon. All through seven years of picking me up and taking me home, she thought I got a better education. She was a teacher, anyway, my grandfather, my aunt, my mother and father were there. You talk about real pride, except for Annie Ruth, nobody else had ever gone on to college and it was really a major thing for them, and for me. It's funny, I still regret...I didn't make Phi Beta Kappa. It's the only regret! I forget how much...they told me if I went and talked to the teacher that he would probably have adjusted the grade if he knew that it might make the difference I look back I am a Phi Beta Kappa kind of guy.

Q: That's that drive coming through again. You wanted all of that. I guess, though, you had the same drive through Harvard because you had other opportunities coming on the tail of that.

TJ: I've had some intense periods of my life. There was no period of my life that was more intense than the two years at Harvard Business School. It’s the case method and in any given day, you could be asked to start a single case or a single class in front of 90 classmates led by a highly skilled professor or no class for start. You could go for weeks without ever being asked to start a case. Some days you might find youself being asked to start two cases and so you must be prepared. It was like you couldn't go to bed at night without being prepared to start those cases. I only had a liberal arts background---journalism, English, political science, history. I had virtualy no math...some math, I took some French. There were a lot of quantitative cases at Harvard Business School and I was sitting there with guys who were graduates of MIT and Cal Tech and Georgia Tech. Several from Georgia Tech...anyway, this professor in this class called MERC---M-E-R-C...Management Economics Reporting Control-- said, "Mr. Johnson, you really need to get caught up on this." He gave me two basic accounting and finance books and he said, "You really need to study these and know of what is in these books to be able to do well in this class." So, I was trying to catch up, I was not prepared on the financial side for Harvard Business School, but I could write! My roommate, who was not Edwina for the first four months... My roommate was a guy from the University of Michigan, Merv Roberts. He knew everything quantitatively and he could barely write his name. I knew nothing quantitatively, so the two of us worked together. I would help him write his cases that required to be ready by Saturday called WAC, Written Analysis Cases, and he would help me on all these complicated financial issues. I survived, I think I would never would have made it had it not been for Merv helping me in those first four months. It just changed my way of thinking so dramatically in terms of doing the analysis of a situation, what's in a company...some of the courses were in human relations, really do your analysis, before you decide what course of action to take. That sounds fairly simple, but a lot of us make our decisions on our gut, sort of spontaneous decisions. Snap, whatever. Well, that was very helpful as a life lesson.

Q: Mr. Anderson knew what he was talking about, sending you there.

TJ: He did. It was intensely competitive and the good news is, Edwina and I married at Christmas of 1963 and I say I saved her from a career at Delta because she had become very interested in becoming a flight attendant and seeing the world and I was convinced that I would lose her. I had proposed in the business office of The Red & Black during my senior year with what she said was one of the most romantic proposals that anyone could ever get. “Don't you think that it's time to go get the ring?” That was my proposal.

Q: It was practical!

TJ: It startled her! Anyway, we did get the ring at Mr. Foster’s, it was the beginning like strapping on an added propulsion devise. I had one of them which was my University of Georgia education and the education I had received really in Macon and those classes at Georgia. But strapping on a second propulsion device which was the Harvard Business School degree and experience there, it was like having news and journalism over here (hands on his shoulders, left tapping his left shoulder) and having business over here (tapping his right shoulder) and that prepared me so well for the future because when Otis Chandler started looking for who could be the publisher for the Dallas paper or who would become the publisher for the Los Angeles Times or Ted Turner, who was going to be the chief executive officer of CNN, having those two sets of experiences (taps both shoulders with hands) news, journalism on one side and business on the other, not many people had that frankly. You had people who had all news background who become editors or some unfortunately who had all accounting backgrounds and did not respect the newsroom.

Back to scenes

The White House with LBJ

Q: So where did your White House Fellowship come in here? Was it right here at the conclusion of your Harvard time?

TJ: I mentioned earlier Edwina didn't like Macon. A woman friend of hers brought to her attention this, White House Fellows program...her husband...her name was Carol Wyman and her husband, Bill Wyman, was going to apply for the White House Fellows program, just showed it to her. It was just a short three paragraph program on how President Johnson, who announced the creation of a fellowship program that would bring to Washington for one year outstanding young men and women, who could come there, learn about government and then go back to their professions. Edwina said, "You should apply for this." I looked at it, I talked with Bill. She was really pushing me without saying one of her motivations was not going back to Macon, truthfully. I applied, came through a regional panel in Atlanta with people on that like Mills B. Lane and Ivan Allen and Richard Rich and Boisfeuillet Jones, just a tremendous group. Once again, I was recommended, there were several thousand people who had applied, several hundred went to regional panels--Boston, Washington, New York, Atlanta, L.A., San Francisco--I was not their first choice. It's a regional panel. I was not their second choice. On their list, I learned this from Peyton, I was the third person out of their group to be recommended to the national panel. The national panel then headed by David Rockefeller and had John Oakes, the editor for the New York Times on it. I thought about it. Here, I was not first or second choice in the ninth grade for the Macon paper, and I was not the first or second choice, but I was the only one to win the White House Fellowship of all the candidates of the southeastern United States including Texas. So I say to people, don't worry about being the third nominee for something. Just give it your best! Just give it your best, so I applied for the White House Fellows program, walked into the White House in late August of 1965, was taken in to meet Bill Moyers who had picked me of the fifteen to work with him. Bill, age 31, White House Press Secretary, he said, "Tom, delighted to have you here. I want to you to meet some people here..." now again, I am right off the streets of Macon, Georgia. I'd just finished the summer at The Telegraph and so we walked down the hall and we walk into this room and there is this large imposing President of the United States. I'm serious. I parked my car on the west executive avenue. I was cleared through Secret Service. Met by Bill's secretary, Carol Welch, taken up to Bill's office where we met. Hadn't met him before. Had no political background. No power. No whatever...he said, "I'd like you to meet some of the people around here." He walked me in to meet the President of the United States. I'm 23 years old. I’ll also will never forget what President Johnson said to me. He said, "Tom, we don't have much experience with interns here in the White House, so we are just going to treat you like a full-time member of the staff." From that moment on, I was treated like a full-time member of the staff, to such a point that I sometimes had to miss some of the educational programs that the White House Fellows had. I should also tell you that during my fellowship year, they just gave me opportunities to travel with the President on Air Force One to work with the White House Press Corps, to write press releases, to work with the photographers..White House photographers...out of that, I'll never forget, what Helen Thomas told me. She said, "I've got one suggestion. Tell the truth. If you tell the truth, you'll do just right." It was almost like Sam Glassman telling me, "Get it right." Those little nuggets you never forget. I'll also never forget that I wanted to take my class of White House Fellows to my home state of Georgia. We had a tour arranged where the Fellows would have a chance to go to the space center in Alabama. We visited several other places, but I was so proud that my group was going to go with me and I'd have a chance to introduce them to some of my friends in Atlanta. There was this secretary who worked with me and I said, "Find a place for us to meet." Again, 1965. So she made some calls. You can imagine, when they say, "The White House is calling. You can get through to anybody. She came in and she said, "Tom, this is a really interesting situation about Atlanta. I can only find one place that will permit you to have your meeting." I said, "That's really odd." She said, "Yes, I told them that the group included Army Major Ronald B. Lee, combat veteran of Vietnam"...Black. The only club in Atlanta in 1965 that would permit me to have a luncheon with a Black White House Fellow was the Commerce Club. It is the only club to which I belong today. I will never forget that. The Commerce Club had also been a pioneering club in the admission of Jews, the admission of Blacks. They are doing a 50th anniversary of the Commerce Club, and I've just told that story. I even have a memo about that...1965 and how the world has changed. The White House Fellows program opened up the world for me like nothing else. It enabled me to meet people all over the world, to travel the world, to become friends with people at all kind of levels and among my best friends were the Secret Service agents. I got to be really close to the Secret Service agents, because we were all out advancing trips. We always said that President Johnson was an equal opportunity abuser...he would give us all hell. If he needed a rock picked up in front on the ramp in front of the car, you had either the Secret Service guys or me to go pick up the rock and get it out of the path. One of the Secret Service agents was from Macon, Georgia. Rufus Youngblood. He was the agent who threw himself on top of President Johnson in Dallas after the shots were heard a few cars ahead. He threw this large Vice President of the United States to the floor of the car and jumped on top of him. Not knowing what was happening to act, but in any case, I developed this lifetime respect for these guys. Why? First of all, almost all of them college educated, in great health, men of integrity and honesty, but everyone of them is prepared to step in front of the bullet--to take the bullet. If you think about that, how many people have jobs where every morning they walk out the door and their wives or their families know that their husbands or fathers have been trained to take the bullet just like that agent did who tried to protect President Reagan out front of the hotel in Washington a few years ago. I am one of the few honorary members, really few honorary members of the Association of Retired Secret Service. That's the kind of friendships you make. They say, well, you become friends with Mrs. Johnson and President Johnson and Dean Rusk. You get to know Dick Helms of the CIA and all. But the real people were people like that.

Q: Some say that press secretaries figuratively have to be prepared to step in front for their president.

TJ: Yes, but those bullets are not real.

Q: But the Secret Service does it for real!

TJ: No, no. I had to step in front and take a lot of bullets but the nice thing about when I did the briefing…it was Bill Moyers would do the briefing at 10 and later George Christian, the morning briefing and the afternoon briefing, particularly for the AM cycle papers. Morning was for the whole day and the networks and everything, be prepared. When they shoved me out, I said, "I don't know," the Press Corps believed me. [Laughter]

Q: Comparable to deniability!

TJ: What was also interesting was President Johnson had me in his most secret meetings as the note taker of Tuesday lunch meetings later. I literally had the clearances as the same clearances as the President of the United States and had there been a nuclear threat where we had to go off to one of the destinations, the shelters, I was one of those, who would be going with him. I had some incredible experiences. I handed him the note that said that Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis, sitting in the room with him was the former Georgia governor, Carl Sanders and the then chairman of Coca-Cola, Mr. Robert Woodruff. Mr. Woodruff went over to a phone, I took the notes after President Johnson was calling the FBI and he called Ivan Allen here in Atlanta and he said, "Ivan, do what ever it takes today to keep Atlanta from burning." Added police, added fire, because that night as you remember, Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Los Angeles, many cities burned that night. Atlanta did not.

Q: I don't want to skip one part. I know that at the conclusion of your Fellowship when Mr. Moyers and the President decided that they needed for you to stay. You had a moment of conscience, a moment of duty.

TJ: I told them I could not stay. President Johnson and Bill asked me to stay and I said, "I have a moral obligation to return. Peyton Anderson sent me through the University and Georgia, sent me through Harvard Business School, has hopes for me to really develop as an executive for the paper. That was when to my astonishment, President Johnson wrote a two page letter to Peyton Anderson...his last sentence was, "I need Tom Johnson. Can you spare him?" Peyton wrote back to me and President Johnson and said, "I don't know how you can turn down a President of the United States!" He also said, "And by the way. What's the status of that judge..." he had a judge he was recommending. Somebody was being appointed to a judgeship and Payton was having the possibility of a little horse trading there, maybe to get President Johnson to appoint this guy as a judge in return in my being permitted to stay.

Q: There is a picture that you talk about, and we could go for an hour just simply on your experiences on the White House, and we don't have that time, but there is a picture you shared that shows you in front of Mr. Kosygin, Secretary Rusk, the leaders of the world and Mr. Johnson has you by the coat collar and he's...

TJ: Picking me up!

Q: He's reading you the riot act of some kind.

TJ: Well, that is a photo of all of the hundreds of photos I have that I keep and I show to people occasionally. I say there is a great difference in life between perception and reality. This photo has me being held by, pulled close to President Johnson by his right arm on my lapel. Some of the reporters and even some of the cut lines of the photo said, “President Johnson Interrupts Glassboro Summit with Premier Kosygin to Confer with key aid Tom Johnson. That is what my mother read, that's what my friends at University of Georgia read, that's what went know, here I am giving President Johnson advice on how to deal with the problems between the United States and the Soviet Union. Well, in fact President Johnson had brought Kosygin out, there were all the leaders of the United States foreign policy, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara...there were the leaders of the Soviet Union from Kosygin and Gromyko and others. Out front of this news conference, there were at least a hundred photographers and reporters, many of whom were setting off their flashes, hitting their shutters, and in those days, if you know 16 millimeter film, those cameras also put off a little bit of a roar, unlike this one (pointing to video camera) anyway, he pulled me over and he said, "Tom, if you don't get the goddamn photographers to stop shooting, I'm going to take him back inside." So I get out there and all the photographers and I said, "Guys, if you don't stop shooting, there's gonna be no news conference!" So, almost everybody stopped there. You know, we used the word "shooting", there probably should be a better word than that, because it implies something differently, but they did. It finally got quiet, and he went back to his news conference and the rest is history.

Back to scenes

With LBJ in Texas

Q: In the spring of '68, President Johnson announced, "I shall not seek nor shall I accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President." I believe those were his words. May have been your words, I don't know. What did that do to your future at that point, when he decided that he was not running for another term?

TJ: March 31, 1968: To the shock of the Democratic Party, to the nation, to most of his staff, he announced he would not seek another term. I had worked on a concluding set of paragraphs for him to deliver at the State of the Union Address earlier that year with the same announcement. He had it in his inside pocket as he drove up to Capitol Hill that night as the ending for his State of the Union. Between the time he left the White House and the time he got to the Capitol, he decided that he couldn't do it then, because he was asking the Congress to approve several new pieces of legislation and he would not be effective as a lame duck, so he held off. He had consulted with very few people and he did not consult with me, I knew of it because I was asked to type it. I try to tell people, some of my roles, I had helped to write the one in January, but on this one I helped type it before it went to the teleprompter operator. No more than a dozen people in the White House knew that he was going to do that. Mrs. Johnson knew and George Christian knew and a few others. Anyway, in any case, to answer your question, it meant that I had to get ready to go back to Macon. I was then finally going to be free to be able to get back to Macon, and then maybe one day, if I was lucky, become the editor or publisher of the Macon paper.

Q: Instead the President asked you to go with him.

TJ: That was an even tougher decision.

Q: Tell me about that.

TJ: Many of his most loyal aids were taking these mega buck jobs. Jack Valenti to the Motion Picture Association of America, Marvin Watson to Occidental Petroleum, Jim Jones to a major law firm, George Christian...Bill Moyers had already left to become publisher of News Day...and I must tell you, he just worked a piece of me, that I probably have the ultimate vulnerability on...and that is loyalty. I had two intense mentors. He said, "If you will just do it during the transition, to get back to Texas for this office of the former president. He had this secretary named Marie Fammer (?) who came to me and said, "Tom, you just must do this! All of the rest of 'them' are leaving him!" “Them” being the other aids. Edwina and I talked, and let me tell you, the hardest call I ever had to make was to call Peyton Anderson and tell him that I was going with President Johnson for an interim period of time. He was really disappointed and it wasn't long after that that he sold the papers to Knight Ridder.

Q: You went to Austin with the President, you had some years, I don't know the exact

TJ: I worked for him for four years in Texas, until I announced his death.

Q: And you arranged his funeral.

TJ: I arranged his funeral. I literally dressed him.

Q: You were close to Mrs. Johnson?

TJ: Very close to Mrs. Johnson. And I had become like a brother to Linda and Lucy. They had no brother. Mrs. Johnson said I was the son that Lyndon never had and she also had said that about Bill Moyers, but Bill had left. I was really close.

Q: You went then to their family business?

TJ: Yes, went on to become the executive vice president of all of their family businesses. Muzak Photo Processing, KCTB Television, AM, FM, ranching...I was even president of Comanche Cattle Company. I knew nothing about cattle, but I learned...learned? I mean, I was told with him standing there, that I needed to learn to pregnancy test a cow! I know that he did that, so he could tell the world that I taught Tom to pregnancy test a cow, but if you've never reached in to find something that feels almost like an egg shell, to pregnancy test a cow, then you haven't lived! I mean, I've looked back, and am amazed at the various things he taught me to do during that period of time. He was a worker! I've never known a man to work like that. He would get up early, work until about 1 o'clock, take lunch, take a nap, go back to work and then maybe work maybe 2:30 - 3 o'clock until 11 that night. He put in two days everyday. That was true when I was in the White House. He didn't stop. The ranch became just like another White House in a way. He was out there helping to lay aluminum pipes for irrigation, he was commanding the ranch foreman like he was commanding the Pentagon, he would buy these $25,000 bulls to mate with cattle that we had down in ranch in Mexico. He'd say, "Tom, look at this as a lesson. Those cows...", whatever you call a woman cow..."those cows, they look pretty pathetic, they haven't been fed, they haven't been treated properly, but you mate them with a great bull and they turn out these beautiful, beautiful calves!" And they did, and I don't know what the lesson was, but it was unbelievable, some of the things I learned. It was just hard work. You may disagree with him, but I tell you, he tried his best with his Great Society programs to make this world a better place with the Medicare, with Public Broadcasting, with Job Corps, Head Start, with those civil rights bills where he had to overpower his old friend, Richard Russell to pass those, but he...Vietnam, so over shadowed it. Even there, he felt like the people of South Vietnam had a right to live free from Communist aggression and free from oppression. He went to his grave believing we had signed a treaty with South Vietnam. I talked a lot more with him when we got back into Texas about these things, than I probably would have been able to in the White House.

Back to scenes

Back to the Newspaper

Q: As part of your duties with the Johnson family business, you had to divest some broadcast stations. You kept in touch with your future employer. Tell us about that.

TJ: The Federal Communications Commission said that the LBJ family could not continue to own both the cable television system in Austin, Texas and the CBS television affiliate. They considered that cross ownership. Even though in several markets, newspapers had been able to continue to hold television stations, they had been grandfathered in. They just felt that was too much of a concentration. The decision was to sell the CBS television station. I would have thought they would have sold the cable system, but they didn't. Then, Times Mirror Company of Los Angeles was one of those company owners of the Los Angeles Times and by then the Dallas Times Herald showed great interest in acquiring this property. It was the dominant station on Austin, Texas, the state capitol of Texas, owned by the Johnson family, but this strikingly handsome, Otis Chandler came in with a team of his very, very top executives to evaluate the property. I was asked basically as the gofer, although my title was Executive Vice President, to show them around the station, to show them around Austin and eventually they made the best offer to buy the TV station and the announcement was made. President and Mrs. Johnson invited all the community leaders from Austin they could get, political leaders, business leaders and others, too, to a reception for Otis Chandler in order to welcome him to Austin. M job was to stand behind President and Mrs. Johnson and Otis Chandler. There were three people in the receiving line, and I don't really say this to brag, I say it, I think, because it is a lost quality of mine. Everytime I try to answer this question it seems to come out wrong...there were probably 200 people in that receiving line, couples, and I introduced each one of them by name and with something about each of them. I always had this great capacity for names and identification. I have a technique that I have used that has helped me with that. In that case, I was flawless. I introduced, "Mr. Chandler, this is Roy Butler. Roy is the former mayor of Austin. He owns the largest car dealership here in Austin. He also own the Coors distributorship, both his automotive dealership, which is Lincoln Mercury and his Coors dealership are major advertisers of our station”...I just did that all the way through. Apparently on the plane that night, Otis said to all the guys, "Have you ever seen anything like that in your life?" They said, no, they had never seen anything like that in their life. They had never seen anybody not just able to introduce by name, usually husband and wife, because I had gotten to know them by all kind of connections there, but something about each one of them. Later I learned, they had later looked, the car that I was driving was the car that President Johnson had given to Edwina, but I had one of the tapes in that 8-Track and I can't remember if it was Tchaikovsky or one of the classical...Edwina loves classical music. This house just reeks with classical sounds of music almost, you know. She loves it. Anyway, gosh, they said, “He has great interest in classical music.” Well, the Chandlers had been the leaders in Los Angeles, Mrs. Chandler had built the music center and everything else. In any case, Otis, within two weeks said, "We want you to be the President of this television station for us until the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of the license, license transfer on our behalf. Then, we want to talk with you about your career.” I said, "Mr. Chandler, I want to get back to my profession. As much as I love television, I really want to get back to my career eventually, and I am planning to go back to Macon to Knight Ridder, seriously. I want to think about that." So he came back, and said, "We would like for you to stay here for the license transfer period to get us acclimated in Austin, and then we would like for you to go to Dallas as the editor of the Dallas paper. I'm thinking, I'm going back to Macon maybe as some junior assistant to the publisher maybe or maybe...I'm serious, I'm thinking, but I'm being offered the job of editor of the Dallas Times Herald, which was the tenth largest paper in America at that time. Very successful paper...the afternoon paper was successful at that time. Anyway, I didn't take long to decided, particular since Peyton had sold the Macon paper to Knight Ridder, and I was going back to a different environment. I accepted that offer.

Q: And things went well at the Dallas Times Herald.

TJ: It was a boom time in Dallas. The market was booming, the paper was booming, Time magazine named us one of the five best papers in the south. For a short period of time, went ahead of the Dallas Morning News. First of all, Otis promoted me in two years from editor to publisher. In two years, we are really booming. I am liking it. He flies in to have dinner. Edwina has gone out to pick up a choice steak and cooked it and I can tell you Otis Chandler was like an Olympic shot puter. You talk about athlete in Olympic proportions, he could not cut the steak. It became like a joke! Edwin had already had overcooked what had already must have been a tough steak. It was just the three of us, here's the chairman of the board, this legendary man who's there to talk this is not an exaggeration, Edwina will tell you...he was trying to cut this steak and it would not cut! It was tough as leather. It was like that leather couch almost! It didn't seem to affect Otis. He said, "I want you to come to Los Angeles as president of the L.A. Times." He said, "If you do as well as I think you will do, I don't ever want this known to anybody else, if you do as well as I think you'll do, you will be considered to succeed me as publisher!

Q: So off to Los Angeles!

TJ: 1977. We went to Dallas in '73, left in '77. Meanwhile we've got these children by now, we've got a son, Wyatt, and a daughter, Christa. Wyatt didn't want to leave, he had all his life there, he was twelve years old, soccer team and science club and all the things he liked. It was traumatic in a way, but I should tell you, every move we made, Edwina just loved it and made it. For Edwina, life is an adventure!

Q: She married you because she wanted to live in Georgia.

TJ: She did not want to date anybody who lived outside of Georgia. She said, "I won't date anybody who lives outside of Georgia." She won't even say to you now, as she looks back, she's wondered if she could have just stayed there and I could have commuted back to Athens. She loved every place we went. I tell you, for a girl who at one point was in a house up near Ellijay that had no inside plumbing. She said the only time she saw her mother really, really cry was when they got into this had no indoor plumbing. It had outdoor plumbing. Now her father, Hoyt Chastain, who became a county district agent for the University of Georgia, he, of course, built them eventually on it. I remind her occasionally, as you look at the collection around this house or whatever I remind her occasionally, not to forget those early days. And she hasn't. I think she has enjoyed the ride and certainly she has made the ride work for me with both our son and our daughter. She has made all part of lives an adventure! She doesn't meet a stranger! We've had people stay in our homes that she has met, picked up somewhere, people that needed to come and stay temporarily with us. It's really been a fascinating relationship for 46 years.

Q: In Los Angeles, your climb continued. through the '80s.

TJ: Yes, I was named president of The Times in 1977. I was named publisher and the first non-Chandler in 1980 and served in that position until 1990. The winds of change had begun to blow though within the family. Otis and I were considered liberals by the family. The non-Otis branch of the family contained members of the John Birch Society. They were that far over. They did not like the very independent, and some would say, liberal editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times. They did not like it when Otis commissioned a major series on the John Birch Society. One of his first assignments was the impacts the John Birch Society. Remember they had the billboards "Impeach Earl Warren" and all this other stuff. That was his family members. Over time, the political forces of the non-Otis branches of the family eventually pushed Otis and me out.

Q: Thinking over those years in both Dallas and Los Angeles and what it was like to run a newspaper then. When you look at the newspaper business today, did you see any of that coming? The changes in the newspaper business?

TJ: I never saw the changes coming that exist today. I also believe that newpaper publishers and television station owners were so successful, highly profitable, barons in their own communities. Television stations, we had a TV station, KDFW in Dallas that had 70% profit margins. That meant that 70 cents out of every dollar went to operating profits. We weren't investing enough in new technology, although at the L.A. Times we had several experiments...we weren’t investing. At one point, the Times Mirror Company had the opportunity to buy for $300 million, 50% of Ted Turner's company, which at one point sold for over $12 billion. They thought Ted was crazy, including Otis and a man named Dall Carpenter. We had an opportunity, Ted was in deep trouble, he had over extended with a purchase of a film studio. I think the very success of those years, blinded the publishers and owners to the future. There were very few. Don Graham at the Washington Post, Don came to Atlanta and bought Kaplan, this very successful education training program. Some of the others invested in television and cable, but they weren't making the investment. They were investing in these huge printing presses and buying hundreds and thousands of news print and turning out print.

Q: Today you can't get the Atlanta paper in Athens.

TJ: Yeah. You get a very thin AJC even in Atlanta.

Back to scenes

CNN & Ted Turner

Q:  So you were a Vice Chairman of the company after that last transition, and the opportunity came to come back to Atlanta.  Tell us about that.

TJ: I had always wanted to come home.  When I tell people that, they associate me with…Edwina wanted to come home at some point.  Jack Tarver at one point had offered me the job at one point to succeed Reg Murphy as the editor--editor, you had to be over editorial pages--but he offered me a tremendous salary that was half of what I was making at the Dallas paper.  I always kidded Jack about that.  J.B. Fuqua had asked me to come back twice in very important positions, I don’t think he would object to me saying, as president of Fuqua Industries.  With the exception of some televisions stations, I honestly didn't know anything about all the properties that J.B. had.  In any case, a good friend of mine, Jerry Lindauer of Austin, Texas, he had been head of the National Cable Television Association, was also a very, very good friend of Ted's, he knew that Ted was looking for a new chief executive, a new president of CNN.  He also knew that I had to get out of California...get out of that job.  The right wing elements of the paper wanted to change direction.  They had already elevated me out of, I tell people, one day I am responsible for 12,000 people, I am charge of overseeing properties in Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles, and after this, I am Vice Chairman, and I have a driver, a car and a secretary and a beautiful office and a huge compensation package.  I wasn't happy.  I never worked for the money!  But, Ted offered me the job as president of CNN.  I called several people.  I called J.B. Fuqua, I called Roberto Goizueta, I called President Carter.  I went and talked with Jane Fonda.  I'll never forget, Jane and Ted were dating and I said, "Tell me about Ted Turner."  She said, "Tom, he is the most remarkable man I have ever known in my life."  Others thought I probably wouldn't last.  I am a conventional, probably old media type, many would describe as traditional media type, and I am joining this guy who is absolutely the total frontier.  He is out in orbit in new technology and global television and it is amazing how well it worked.

Ted is the only genius, I've ever met, and I've only used that word to describe one person in my lifetime and that is Ted Turner.  It's just so...Ted has this extra lobe out of which comes these original thoughts.  I think of a genius as someone who is an original thinker, like we all study, you know, the great original thinkers, in ancient history.  Ted is just has unbelievably original thoughts, you just can't figure out where they originated.  Not all of them made sense, but many of them were just way out of creation.  Not just CNN and the airport channel and the creation of all these things, but to see the future, and then willing to put his entire stack.  At one point, he had, of course, he had gotten his debt up to $2 billion, because he was able to get the Japanese and Mike Millikan with junk bonds to sort of believe in him.  The Atlanta bankers didn't believe in him, wouldn't loan him a penny.  The, you know, the New York bankers.  His vision, he also...I never knew a president who wanted to leave the world a better place as much as he did.  Billion dollars to the United Nations, all of his environmental programs, his buying up, he owns more land than any American except the United States government.  He's putting those into the most incredibly environmentally friendly...taking off the developments of those properties and things that weren’t indigenous and putting back the indigenous animals like the bison and the wolves and taking down the fences.  He is going to leave the world in stretches like it was when the Native Americans occupied it.  Vast amounts, hopefully for the enjoyment and the recreation and realized--going to people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and saying, "Come on, guys!  Let's give them the money now.  Why wait until after you are gone...have some foundation like Ford or Rockefeller, let's do it now!"  Almost shaming them and they are giving.  Many of them are now giving.  Of course, Gates is doing fantastically around the world.  The guy will literally cry when he see something that is wrong…somebody who is hurt or who needs help.  He has a new solar project that he is now doing with Southern Company, so he is staying out there...way out there.

I have a lot of favorite stories, but one of them is, OK...Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait.  We have to prepare for potential of war.  Although Jim Baker and the Iraqi foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, were negotiating.  I went up to Ted and said, "You know, Ted, we have got to plan for a war."  "Oh, pal, why?" I said, "There is either going to be a peace or war but we've got to plan for a war."  I said, "If we want to own this told me you wanted to be the best network on the planet...”  I ask him only one questions when he interviewed me.  I said, "Ted, tell what it is you want in the next president at CNN."  He said, "I want it to be the best news network on the planet."  I said, "What else?"  He said, "That's it!"  I said, "You told me that.  This is the chance," I said, "for us to do that, we either have to spend $5 million over budget more or maybe as much as $30 million over budget to put in the ground stations to lease the transponders to put people into Bagdad and Oman and Tel Aviv and Cairo and out in the Saudi desert."  I said, "Tell me what I am authorized to spend at a new ceiling?"  He looked back at me and said, "You spend whatever you think it takes, pal!"  That was it!  I walked down the hall, I had Ed Turner with me then editor of CNN.  I said, "I thought,   Otis Chandler might have been the best news guy I had ever worked for in my life.  I just met the most extraordinary owner or leader."  Not only did we spend, I think it was $22 million to get prepared, we owned the story.  We built customers in every...I cannot tell you how many thousands of new customers. We had cable operators, we had broadcasters, hotels all over the world, and they stayed with us after the war was over.  That investment paid off multiple, multiple times.  Again the point is, Ted said, "You spend whatever it takes, pal!"

Q; The day after you arrived, Iraq invaded Kuwait.

TJ: The day after I arrived, Saddam invaded Kuwait.  I must tell you, there were two personalities who helped make my career at CNN.  Saddam Hussein and the tremendous global coverage, the exclusive coverage with John Holliman from the University of Georgia, Peter Arnett and Bernie Shaw are there in an exclusive and the bombs are falling within a hundred yards of their hotel. proved that I knew what I was doing.  I knew news values.  I knew how to contact people.  I knew how to get Colin Powell on the phone, the CIA director on the phone and others.  I had a niche that really worked, but I also had a new television.  I told people on the first day, "Guys, I know journalism, but primarily print journalism.  You know journalism, primarily television journalism.  I am going to rely on what you to do best, and I am going to try to support you with what I do best. Don't even think I know what you know about technology..." I mean, I don't even know what an uplink is.  They looked at me like I was from a different planet!  Anyway, the other person who made my career is O.J. Simpson.  Our audience levels had been going down, I was in trouble.  I didn't know what to do.  This is before Fox News, anyway, O.J. gets on that freeway, and after that our audience levels just go through the roof!  Our coverage of the O.J. Simpson story was so profound, we would try to shift out of the trial over to some other news and we would have a meltdown on our phones.  The people were so engrossed, locked to that story.  Anyway, I loved working for Ted for eleven years!  I loved working for him for eleven years.  I can't tell you how much I enjoyed working with him.

Back to scenes

Mental Health

Q: What has followed that?  How are you spending your time now?

TJ: We have ignored a huge piece of my life, which is that I was hit by depression in my mid 40's at the L.A. Times.  I attributed a great deal of that not simply to keeping this workaholic schedule and working myself into it, but also the struggle against the other members of the family.  Otis and I were striving to keep that newspaper and that company independent.  We were striving to continue with the qualities that we had established and we were on our way to making the Los Angeles Times as good as the New York Times.  Everybody was already saying it's one of the three best papers in America.  New York Times, Washington Post, L.A.Times...but my having that job removed from me, removed my self worth.  It took away my, as I now look back, as I say to people, you are more than a title, you are more than a position, you are many other things.  You are a father, you are a husband, you are a member of your community, you are a good guy in a whole variety of ways.  I had to learn that lesson the hard way.  I had wrapped so much of my self worth into that position.  Maybe it went all the way back to my childhood, wanting to make it, and I had made it to the ultimate in many ways when I had risen to that job at the Los Angeles Times.  Anyway, Edwina forced me to go and get therapy and I started a series of, beginning with Lithium and going through other medications.  I really only started to come out of it in a huge way when I got here to Atlanta.  CNN was a great new opportunity.  I had a spectacular new physician.  Dr. Charles Nemeroff at Emory, he put me on a new medication that worked.  I don't know how much of it was the new medication and how much of it was the new opportunity, but the combination of the two enabled me to get back in a significant way.  I retired in 2001, even though I had an opportunity for a new three year contract.  I saw another burnout coming.  Twenty-four hour news, 7 days a week, traveling the world, some days going in and leaving that day for Moscow or Beijing or some place…You can love things too much, too.  Basketball players might love basketball, but they can't play it 24 hours, 7 days a week without burning out.  I was doing what am I doing now?  I work a great deal in the field of mental health.  I meet regularly with people who come to me and want to talk with me about their depression.  I am doing all I know how to do to eliminate the stigma--the terrible, terrible stigma--that is attached to mental health.  People say, well what do you mean by that?  If it is known that if you have a mental health problem it can be used against you in the work place, it can be used against you in government.  For example, you, Tom, are coming up in the hierarchy at the University of Georgia, but somebody learns that you have depression and they say to Mike Adams, "Well, you do know that Tom Jackson has a mental health problem."  It can clobber a career.  That’s wrong.  We should think of it like a broken arm, a broken leg, it's treatable.  You can deal successfully with depression.  Art Buchwald did, Mike Wallace did, William Styron did, J.B. Fuqua did, I have.  With the right diagnosis of treatment, you can deal successfully with depression.  I spent a lot of my time and a lot of my money helping people who have it.  I do say, though, if it is going to cost you your progression in the company or in the government, or whatever, keep it private.  They would say, "Oh, Mr. Johnson, I am in a highly classified job in the government, and each year I have to fill in this form that says,do you now or have you ever taken a mood altering drug?"  I say, "You have two choices.  You can put NA, which is I am not answering, or you can write down, Yes, I take Effexor or Paxil or Prozac or whatever...but frankly, that is really risky until we really get people educated about this particular illness better than they are today.  I would like the pilot of my plane to be taking an antidepressant if he is depressed.  I would like the people in the CIA or at the Pentagon who are leading us on major decisions not to be hiding or not to be seeing psychiatrists or to a doctor to be treated.  Why should we treat mental illness any different than physical illness?  After all, the brain is the most important of our physiology.  So, I work a great deal on that.  I serve on the board or have served on the board of the Mayo Clinic, I'm now on the board of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, because I care a great deal about trying to help other people.  Edwina and I have been blessed with resources.  We are giving back those resources, as much of it privately and secretly as we can to help people to have opportunities like I had.

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Q: You also take great joy in your family these days, it is quite apparent from the photographs around your house.  Do you have grandchildren?

TJ: There is nothing that brings me more laughter than the two little girls that are our granddaughters, now ages eight and nine.  They are totally loaded with mischief, but they are also loaded with a lot of interesting thoughts.  I am talking with the eight year old, and I said, “Julene, I plan to live at least until you are 20.  I want to see you go through grammar school and high school.  I am planning to buy your first car.”  I told that to her sister.  “You know, who knows?  By 20, you might have met the right guy!” Our daughter, who is sort of standing outside of the room, looks back at me and says, "Grandy, you won't!"  I said, "What do you mean I won't?"  She said, "Because you will be dead."  I said, "Gosh!" and then she looked back at me and said, "But, Grandy, I will really miss you!"  I just had tears in...the things that these little girls say or do, but they are just always into mischief.  Among the great regrets of my life, is that I did not take the time with young Wyatt Johnson and young Krista Johnson that I have taken with Bren and Julene and again, among my life's lessons is not to give the time and attention and love to your children.  You, to some extent, were a part of this generation of ours that was go out the door early in the morning, you come home sometime late at night, you are so focused on your life trying to make it that you don't realize that the most important work that you do is not in the White House, but in your own house.  I don't have many regrets but that, boy, is a big one.  At about eight or nine, our daughter, Krista, who was a wonderful soccer player.  I had missed, I don't know, six or seven consecutive soccer games of hers...I remember she came off the field, they had won and I made it just in time to see the game end.  She put her little hand on her side like this (hand on his hip), no more than eight or nine.  She looked back at me and said, "Don't forget that you're a daddy, too."  So, I say to people who are the ages--and I really do say to this new era of parenting--it is so much better.  I think the fathers now are putting more emphasis on their role as parents than we did.  None of us has ever tried to portray ourselves as perfect, but that was a giant imperfection.

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UGA Alumni

Q:  One thing that we've saved as last because we can use it as a device to wrap it up is during that time that you moved from Dallas to Los Angeles, I believe that very year, you were the president of the Georgia Alumni Society, and I think, the youngest president.  I think you were early 30’s at the time.  Talk about that year and why it was important for you to be involved with that.

TJ: First, I was genuinely honored to be the president of the University of Georgia Alumni Society.  I love the University.  The University meant so much to me.  Those four years were years where I had people who believed in me, faculty members, fraternity brothers, other students who were electing me to all of these positions, so I felt like this was something I needed to do to give back to the University.  I should tell you there could have been a better year than that because I had to commute.  I can't remember how many times I had to fly back and forth between Dallas and--I was trying to think the other day, was it Dallas or Los Angeles--it was Dallas and Atlanta, and get a car and drive over.

Q: You were working with folks like President Fred Davison at the time, I believe Bob Argo was involved.

TJ: Yes, yes, very much so I guess I have always felt that a great University has a really strong alumni.  You can't have one without the other.  You have to support it financially but support with our participation, with our giving back to it.  I enjoyed the year, I enjoyed the opportunity, I enjoyed being consulted about policy matters I had though.  I know I was involved to get Coca-Cola to take the Peabody’s to an entire new level with their financial support in New York, which was a tangential thing.  I stayed much, much closer to the Grady College, served on their Advisory Board, served on the Peabody Board and served on other things there. I think we all have a responsibility to the University and I see that in totally genuine ways.  I don't know that I've ever accepted the opportunity to come and sit in the President's Box, like so many people, see these as opportunities to get things for themselves.  I want to see, a chance to give back to the University and I've just been delighted to see it continued, the trajectory.  Mike Adams and I may have had our differences on things, but we haven't differed on the quality of the University of Georgia.  The ambitions to make it one of the absolute best universities in the country, it makes my degree of greater value, and I am also convinced that I could never get admitted in today with the new standards.

Q: Oh, I am sure you would have met the standards whatever they were.

TJ: (nods)

Q: We want to thank you for your time today.  It's been a great pleasure to have you tell your story.

TJ: Thank you both for all you are doing, all three of you for this project and for the graduates of the University. I've enjoyed it.

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