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Mort Rosenblum
Mort Rosenblum
Back Home:  A Foreign Correspondent Rediscovers America
ISBN: 0688077803
Back Home: A Foreign Correspondent Rediscovers America
An experienced Associated Press (AP) foreign correspondent, Mort Rosenblum shares his views of the U.S. in "Back Home: A Foreign Correspondent Rediscovers America." Having started his career over twenty years ago in the Congo, and then covering events in over 140 countries, Rosenblum takes a look at America and its people from a different angle. In the interview he describes his career as an AP reporter, as well as the resistance to internationalization that exists in the U.S. He states that the U.S. fails to recognize its influence as a world leader. "I think we terribly overestimate our own ability to actually change a specific situation, like, `Why can't we get the hostages out?'" At the same time he says Americans underestimate how much the rest of the world looks to the U.S. for leadership in solving large problems such as ozone-layer deterioration.
Back Home: A Foreign Correspondent Rediscovers America
Program Air Date: October 1, 1989

BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Mort Rosenblum, author of "Back Home: A Foreign Correspondent Rediscovers America," Why did you write this book?
MORT ROSENBLUM, AUTHOR,"BACK HOME: A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT REDISCOVERS AMERICA": I went overseas in actually 1967 and during '68 -- that everybody talks about -- I was off in the jungle somewhere in the Congo. Then during Woodstock I was in Biafra, and during everything that happened important back home, I was somewhere else. And I'd travel a lot with foreign correspondents from other countries and all of them got to go to the United States to come cover this place, and this is the shotgun rider of the free world. This is the big place to cover if you're a foreign correspondent. And for me it was only back home. And so then one day I was sort of sitting around talking to a French friend of mine, and he was talking about this place in the far West, at the edge of the desert, where people sort of wear blue rocks and they have scorpions and plastic around their necks and they eat grease and stuff. And he's talking about Tucson, Arizona where I grew up. And I thought, well, maybe, I am sort of partly a foreigner now, and maybe I can go back home and write about this country as though it were a foreign country -- as though it were Burundi or Belgium and take an objective but also personal view.
LAMB: Are you an expatriate?
ROSENBLUM: Well that's an interesting word, expatriate, because the Brits have it right, but for some reason Americans always in their mind they hear the word expatriate and they they read ex-patriot ...
ROSENBLUM: O-T. Like it's all an expatriate means is a person who's removed physically from his patriae and which is me. I left it, but I love it. I'm an American. I've never stopped being an American. I'll come back. I come back, and this is my country. An ex-patriot means someone who's somehow rejected his country. But this says a lot about -- and I found this out in writing back home; I found this doesn't really mean anything perjorative.
LAMB: You live on a boat in Paris.
LAMB: How long have you lived in Paris?
ROSENBLUM: I've been in Paris about 12 years. I went over as Bureau Chief for the Associated Press and then while I was there, I was Editor in Chief of the International Herald Tribune for a couple years then I came back to the AP, where I was based in Paris and travel on stories all over the world.
LAMB: How do you personally living in Paris on that boat keep up with what's going on in the United States?
ROSENBLUM: Well it's easy. In the morning at 7:45 there's CBS Evening News warmed over in English. I've got the AP wire. Same wire one gets here. French TV's pretty good. I listen to BBC all day long. I'm often contributing to the news report myself. These days the world is so small. That's another thing I've learned back home is that we Americans tend to sort of think that ... we keep talking about these oceans that protect us or separate us. I mean, these oceans are a fraction of a second in a land of satellites and a land of instant communications and what not, and it takes less time to fly -- it takes less time to wake up and walk off my boat in Paris and drive out to Aussie Airport and fly to New York than it does to get through traffic and drive from New York to Bristol, Vermont. It costs a little more but not that much more, if you can find the right kind of ticket. So the distance isn't -- I mean, they're more a state of mind now than anything physical.
LAMB: When was the last time you lived permanently in the United States?
ROSENBLUM: Oh, permanently back in 1967, before I went overseas.
LAMB: And when did you set out to write this book? When was the first time you set foot in the country, and you went on your tour around the country?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I started out by the bicentennial for the Statue of Liberty in New York a couple of years back. I thought that would be a good time to start. And so I went and covered that as though I were a foreign correspondent. It was a fascinating experience because I'm watching all this stuff. I'm sitting on a roof top in Brooklyn Heights and watching the the statue and I'm watching Ellis Island and I've got a little TV set by my feet and I'm with a bunch of friends and it was a very moving experience because back in 1923 my grandfather and my grandmother brought my father and his sisters and brothers to the same little island, and there's a health problem, and they almost put them back on the boat and had my grandmother not been a little more persuasive -- less persuasive -- I would have ended up being a task correspondent in Paris instead of the AP correspondent, and so that's how we came to the States. And I'm watching a bunch of new citizens being sworn in and about to take their swan dive into the melting pot and my friends are here and there's about to be fireworks, and I'm getting almost weepy here. This is really strong experience coming back home. And all of a sudden they cut to a commercial and some idiot is selling trash bags or something. And I'm thinking, well, it was just a very jarring experience. It didn't cut the emotion of coming back but it gives you a whole other picture of the symbolism and the commercialism. There's that kind of sort of mixed impression.
LAMB: How much time did you spend physically traveling around the United States?
ROSENBLUM: I didn't add it up, but it was over three years -- at least six months.
LAMB: How could you do that and be the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the AP?
ROSENBLUM: Well, you get some vacation time and I used every scrap of vacation time and time off I had to use, and at the same time I was writing stories for the AP that had a U.S. connection. I mean I was working on a lot of subjects that have either foreign policy things here, or if you're writing about drugs in the United States and stuff you -- so it worked out together.
LAMB: You'll see how parochial I am. I went to the last chapter.
LAMB: Because it affects me. And the last chapter is called "Below the Beltway." First of all, why did you call the last chapter "Below the Beltway?" And why did you put it last?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I put the Washington chapter last for the same reason I put the New York chapter first. If you look at the country as a tourist or a travel writer you can do it any way you want. But if you look at it as a reporter ... and above all, this is a reporter's book. It's kind of a personal reminiscence in ways. I had a lot of fun with it in ways. But it's a reporters book about the States. And so where do you start? You start with the entry-point. And try as I might to find some little quaint El Progresso, Texas or border post on the Columbia River or something like that, you have to start with a chapter I called "The Big Fruit." You have to start in New York because that's Middle America on speed. That's the sum of every trait and characteristic that we have. And by logical progression if you start with the 4th of July at the Statue of Liberty, you've got to start with the 4th of July here in Washington, summing up all the little threads and pieces into national policy and this is the motor. This is the control cabin here. And plus, to me, it's the most thrilling city in the world. You fly into National on a good day and you look down if you're on the right side of the aircraft -- there's nothing like it. There is nothing like this city, coming into it. Especially if you've got the cherry blossoms out and stuff -- it's beyond thrilling. And there's a lot of things to say about Washington. A lot of things just sort of raise the hackles of Washingtonians and there's a lot of silliness here and it's really never-never land in a lot of ways and the Beltway does encompass a lot of very provincial thinking I think as well as some pretty serious ...
LAMB: Was it your idea to call it "Below the Beltway?" And if it was, why?
ROSENBLUM: There's a lot of serious stuff in the book, but I tried to have fun with it. I wanted people to sort of laugh a lot reading it. And I did my best to try do that. There's a lot of lightness in the titles and in the approach and everybody talks about the Beltway and below the Beltway is sort of an idea. It's kind of an irreverent look at Washington, in fact. And more an irreverent look at -- respectful, I might say -- but at how politics are done and how American foreign policy looks.
LAMB: How do you think people who live in this town who take the town seriously, make a living off of it, will react to this chapter?
ROSENBLUM: Well, if they're fair minded, they'll be provoked to thought. They will disagree with some things and agree with others. They'll say, oh my goodness, did he notice that? I never noticed that. Or they'll say, yeah, I guess I did notice that. Or what a jerk. Or ...
LAMB: Let me read a line just so we can share with our viewers what I'm talking about. These are your words, "If these loonballs running the country manage to get us into the next century, it would be a miracle."
ROSENBLUM: That's about right. That's about right. But you have to sort of read the pages ahead of it. But essentially that's where we come to.
LAMB: Well, maybe, I add to this -- "In Washington you got to be an expert on the world by talking about, not by understanding it."
ROSENBLUM: Well, the point that we make in this book -- I'm trying to talk in the royal reporter "we" -- but the point I'm trying to make in the book is that this town is absolutely jammed with people that understand the world better than anybody. The cliche is that the French are the best diplomats. They're not. The Americans are the best -- not all Americans and not all French. And that's the problem. This town is littered with very good people who've come back from places and run afoul of the system, whatever particular party's in power. It's not the Republican that's in power now, but it's not necessarily a Republican problem. Expertise that's wasted. Very, very good people -- technicians, foreign policy technicians, academicians who get side tracked. In a larger sense, we don't solve our problems. In a larger sense, I'm talking about what that really relates to is we have this wonderful American energy. We have this wonderful wherewithal to solve problems. And yet all the serious problems that we face -- the drugs, education, and particularly toxic waste, our place in the world, trade, competitiveness -- all things are problems that you've got to spend enormously now, and you won't see any real results before eight or 10 years. Well, we all understand what that means in our kind of political system. So therefore, a lot of these problems don't get solved. The things don't get done in a long term way. And that's what I'm really talking about. That's what I mean by the loonballs running the country. I don't necessarily mean this particular President or the President before. I just mean the system. The way the system is structured.
LAMB: One of the things that I wanted to ask you about as I was reading it, this is a very opinionated book, would you say?
ROSENBLUM: Yes, it is. Well, I'll tell you it's not. It's like a newspaper where you've got news columns and then you've got the editorial page. What I've done is I've melded them together -- to let the reader decide which is which -- because it's not supposed to be only just the facts. There's also some opinion on the facts, but I haven't distorted any facts. There is a lot of opinion in the book.There's no question. Yes.
LAMB: In other words, you state how you feel about it?
ROSENBLUM: Oh yes. I observe things. I say what I see. And then, because it's back home then I interpret it.
LAMB: I just want to ask a question based on what we know of the Associated Press. Doesn't the Associated Press say to its reporters you've got to be totally uninvolved and can't state your opinions?
ROSENBLUM: Oh, this is not a AP dispatch.
LAMB: I understand but ...
ROSENBLUM: Well, yes, of course. But they don't say -- they're way too wise to say and they can't say, don't be a human being, or don't feel things, or don't observe things. And so I mean this is ...
LAMB: I guess what I really wanted to ask you is: They don't care that you write a very opinionated book and then go back and continue to be the chief foreign correspondent? That does not interfere with your ability?
ROSENBLUM: Oh, I don't think in any way it interferes. Not at all -- which is why an occasionally a reporter for a newspaper will on occasion write a piece for the opinion page. If it's on the opinion page or even news analysis -- if it's on the opinion page -- and it's clearly labeled as such, it doesn't affect his credibility at all.
LAMB: You are editor in chief of the International Herald Tribune?
LAMB: What's that like?
ROSENBLUM: It's a great paper. It's sort of a compendium of of the best of the New York Times and Washington Post and the L.A. Times and the news agencies.
LAMB: Owned by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
ROSENBLUM: And the Whitney Organization. It's a third each. The people who used to publish the Herald Tribune.
LAMB: Does it make money?
LAMB: What influence does it have on the world?
ROSENBLUM: Well it's sort of the local paper for just about every expatriate we were talking about before. It's in western Europe, which is its base. No other newspaper really crosses a bunch of borders. And so it's really it's the hometown paper for the European community to begin with.
LAMB: Based in Paris?
ROSENBLUM: Based in Paris. But printed in a dozen places. And I've seen people have fistfights over the last copy down in Momacomolly or something like that. It's something ... it's your touch with reality. I mean you get Doonesbury. You get you get the stock quotes. You get the front page. You get some pretty good editorial page stuff.
LAMB: And your editorials as I remember could be either from the Post or the New York Times, or you can write them yourself?
ROSENBLUM: Yes, or written by the staff.
LAMB: When were you there?
ROSENBLUM: I left in '81.
LAMB: How long were you there?
ROSENBLUM: Two years.
LAMB: Why did you leave?
ROSENBLUM: I left because we had a difference in philosophy with the publisher over how to do special supplements. It was kind of a long complicated story but I left after two years because I just didn't think I was going to be able to solve that conflict.
LAMB: Do you think -- how much influence does it have around the world? I kind of asked that earlier. In your opinion, is it the single most influential English-language international newspaper?
ROSENBLUM: I'm not sure. I'm not sure influential in the sense that the newspaper's opinion is taken as ... got now the Independent coming up now in London. You got the Times, you have the New York Times itself. You have the Wall Street Journal. You've got a lot of English papers in the world that have different forms of important influence. You can't characterize that. But it's certainly a very important ingredient and certainly something that people reach for in the morning.
LAMB: How influential do you think the Associated Press is on foreign news?
ROSENBLUM: Well, once again, influential. I mean, we're the news supermarket. I mean that people rely on us for the basic facts. People rely on us to interpret things. When there's an earthquake in Armenia, people stand in front of their AP tickers to sort of see what's going to happen next. They know they'll get it from us.
LAMB: What is a chief foreign correspondent?
ROSENBLUM: Well I'm actually not the chief foreign correspondent. My title is special correspondent. I'm the only AP special correspondent overseas and I've probably been overseas about as long as any of us. I don't report to a particular bureau. I report directly to New York, so in that way I've got a different status. But I do what everybody else does. I cover stories. And if it's it's a breaking news story, I'll do that. What I usually do is go in and try to write the context of the story while the bureau is actually writing what is actually happening. Sometimes I'll take a theme like like the Soviets acquiring high military technology, for example, and I'll do an investigation. One of the last things I just did was a long profile on Rene du Mon -- this incredible agronomist who's been saying "I told you so" for 50 years about all these terrible environmental changes. I just did a big interpretive on the Cambodian Peace Talks. I might do anything.
LAMB: Are you going to go back to Paris when your tour's over?
ROSENBLUM: Yes. Well ..
LAMB: When will you be back over in ...
ROSENBLUM: I'll be there in September.
LAMB: And you resume your job and continue as special correspondent, foreign affairs.
LAMB: Do you ever intend to come back to the United States to live?
ROSENBLUM: That's a good question I haven't really addressed yet. I mean, I'd hate to think I couldn't come back. Got a little piece of land in Arizona. But right now, I'm having a pretty time. I like my work. And ...
LAMB: If you came back here based on -- by the way how many states did you go to when you wrote the book?
ROSENBLUM: I didn't count, but I went through every region, and I don't know, maybe 20 or 30 states.
LAMB: Did you see something that was new to you?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I liked the way Santa Fe's been able to keep its character. I learned a lot about the Pacific Northwest. I really like Montana. I'd never been there. I really liked Montana. I don't like at all what's become of my hometown in Tucson -- has been terribly overdeveloped by people that don't understand the desert and the way of life. So I'm not sure where I'd go. I'm not sure where I'd live. I really don't. I doubt if I'd live in a big city because there are just too many urban problems we haven't settled -- we haven't solved. But just depends on what I did. I mean, obviously, it depends on when one comes home and what one what one plans to do. But if we're just talking about coming home to live in a place perhaps to retire or to write, it would be the southwest or the northwest.
LAMB: You've traveled to 145 countries?
ROSENBLUM: More or less, yeah.
LAMB: Can you remember all of those. If we went through all those -- which we won't -- could you remember something about each one of those countries, do you think?
ROSENBLUM: There's a few I'd be a little fuzzy about, I think.
LAMB: Your favorite countries?
ROSENBLUM: Favorite for different reasons. I was in Argentina three years during all that Peron nonsense, and I left after the coup against Isabele Peron, and that's a wonderful country. I mean, there are some real troglodytes politically down there, but it's a beautiful country, and there are some very good people there. South Africa certainly isn't my favorite country, but it's a very powerful country to visit. I mean, the positive forces that are sort of moving down there are for a reporter -- for just an observer for human life ... I mean taking and setting aside all the politics, South Africa may be the most beautiful country in the world. It's breathtakingly beautiful down by the Cape. Although obviously it all depends on what you like. The South Pacific ... some amazing places. Tonga -- you go to International Dateline Hotel in Tonga, and you can be dancing with somebody on Thursday when you're in Wednesday. It's dateline runs right across the dance floor. Botswana, I mean, some of the northern Botswana just driving through the Savannah and looking at lions. Probably the strongest impression I have of any time spent overseas is getting up real early in the morning ... I was doing something on the bushman; my last book was on Africa and I spent a lot of time in the Kalahari, and I was with a friend of mine. We got up at dawn, then were driving across the Kalahari, just sort of the where the forest is just starting at the edge of the desert as the sun's coming up, and there are these shapes running down the track ahead of us and we get a little closer and there are four male lions just loping along in front of the jeep. We're getting closer and closer. It really tells you something about ... you really feel close to the planet, and you don't feel, oh, I'm an American in Africa or you don't feel, I'm a this or I'm a that or back home is here. You just feel like this is all one universe we're in and we all ought to take care of it together.
LAMB: If you had a choice, where are the countries that you'd never go back to based on what you saw there either the way they ran the country or the poverty or the condition of the country?
ROSENBLUM: Well it would depend. As a reporter, there's no place I wouldn't go back to because ...
LAMB: I understand. But if you had a choice?
ROSENBLUM: Well, Beirut is flat dangerous right now. I'd go but it's ... Nigeria -- I haven't been there in awhile. People tell me it's a little better, but there was a period in when Lagos in Nigeria was very unpleasant to visit. But every country has it's attraction as well as it's -- sometimes the places that have the worst reputation are the ones you like the most. I really can't think of any countries that ... I spent a lot of time in Bulgaria. I had a good time. Burma , Indonesia -- Indonesia is where Bali is. And Java, I mean places that are fabulous.
LAMB: Where haven't you been besides Albania that you want to go?
ROSENBLUM: Well Soviet Central Asia. And ...
LAMB: Not open to you?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I'm going. And these are places that I've never been -- Ireland. I was in Paris for five years while some very dear friends of mine were just across the water, and I just never worked it out to get the time to go. I mean, it's amazing how some things that are close by, you just don't get to.
LAMB: Which country or which peoples that you've visited in the world do a better job than the United States of running their affairs?
ROSENBLUM: Well, unfortunately a lot of people. I mean, mind you American affairs are a lot harder to run than most people's affairs.
LAMB: Why?
ROSENBLUM: We're just a big country. And whether we like it or not people look to us for leadership. We're the shotgun rider of the free world. I mean we ... 240 million people -- a lot of different interests. But just in general, and I know this is a big debate in Washington -- there are these 34 million people without health coverage and the level of taxes and stuff like that, but separating all that and not -- speaking as a reporter , an outside insider -- we don't have a safety net in our society for people that fall through the cracks. I mean, this whole idea about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps -- do you have boots? Al this kind of stuff. The truth is most industrialized countries have worked out that some people are just disadvantaged. Whether or not it's just that they just don't have it to be able to, whatever. Never mind the motives. But we don't have a system whereby somebody who doesn't have a job and doesn't have the means to take care of himself or herself, to make it. So we have a lot of desperate people. Our homeless problem is worse than most homeless problems in industrial societies. Our health care is excellent at the high end and terrible at the bottom end. Our education is nowhere near as good as a lot of European and some other industrialized countries. Our drug problem is a lot worse in a lot of ways because of poverty and desperation at one end and just boredom with the experience at the top end. We don't necessarily do the best job in everything.
LAMB: Are we the best-run democracy in the world? Or better, more generalized, is this the best democracy, truest democracy?
ROSENBLUM: There's no way to measure that and I wouldn't ...
LAMB: Freest democracy?
ROSENBLUM: Well, probably not. Probably not. It depends on how you define freedom. The basic definition, does somebody else have sovereignty over you, is easy to figure. But in your daily lives. Look at Poland. You go into a Polish newsroom and you can't write anything you want, but you can light a cigarette. Look at Pamplona -- the way we've cut the corners on a lot of how we live our lives. You can imagine a town in America trying to get insurance for the running of the bulls like in Pamplona. Well, we've got these 12 bulls and we put them loose in the streets every year and thousands of people run in front of them and a few people get killed but we don't -- we've legislated away danger, which is good. And we've started to legislate away a nuisance which is dangerous. There is a lot of things that you can't have -- a bottle of wine and a piece of cheese along side of the river here. You can't drink in public. I mean there's a million things -- day-to-day things that we have for one reason or another, good or bad, we've legislated away. And that's all part of freedom.
LAMB: "Mort Rosenblum hasn't rediscovered America; he's discovered a new America. It's an extraordinary land of curious customs, fine places and restless natives. You won't believe it until you see it, and you won't see it until you let Rosenbum" -- I did it again -- "show you the way." It's
ROSENBLUM:, not Rosenbum. That was signed by Linda Ellerby. Why did she do this? Why did she endorse your book? Do your know her?
ROSENBLUM: Well, actually, I don't. No. I know a friend who knows her and I respect Linda. I like her book a lot. I think like any blurb on the book you say -- the other one is Paul Through. You think, well, who do you as a writer, as an author, respect -- whose judgement would somebody else sort of relate to in the way you've got the book across. And of course, who blurbs books? Some people just as a matter of course do and don't.
LAMB: Does it make a difference to sell a book?
ROSENBLUM: I don't know. The truth is it probably does. It gives people -- I mean, I love blurbs as a reader. I love to go through a thing and sort of look and see what somebody else has to say about it, because if I respect the person that says it, then that makes me stop at least long enough to start reading the book. And then if I start reading the book and I figure it's not too great, then I'll buy it or I won't.
LAMB: Here's who you dedicate the book to: "For sweet Gretchen, again, and for Richard Bordman." Who are they?
ROSENBLUM: Well sweet Gretchen is Gretchen Hoff -- the word isn't wife but close enough. And we've been together -- she lives in Paris, she's in Paris right now. She's an antique dealer who helped me an awful lot on this book and everything else. Richard Bordman was a laugh -- a great man. I met him in Malaysia years ago. He was the the U.S.I.S. guy. He's one of these wonderful diplomats I was talking about before. He was the cultural and information officer for the U.S. Information Service in Malaysia. A character in the greatest sense. A gentle, wonderful man and cultured and the whole thing, and I kept in touch with him. He lived just off DuPont Circle, and I used to see him from time to time coming back. And he was just a friend of mine. And for awhile he worked for U.S.I.S., and he was the one who selected American art to be put in embassies overseas. And while he was overseas he'd gotten a kind of debilitating disease that sort of made him -- he had to retire from the foreign service and then he lived -- he was on DuPont Circle for awhile and not long before I finished the book, he came through Paris and we were talking about it and it helped me a lot because when you write a book like this, once you finish your reporting, you have to stand back and sort of see it from a distance again. And Richard helped a lot. He had decided to leave. He decided that there was just a lot of things about this society that he wasn't against, he just didn't feel comfortable with and he was going to Australia and was going to live in Australia for awhile where he'd also served as a foreign news officer. And I finished the book and quoted him toward the end. And I finished the book and I wrote a note to him to let him know that the book was out, and I got a note back from a lawyer in Australia telling me that Richard had died. And obviously I was very sad. And the book had been dedicated just to Gretchen, and I added Richard.
LAMB: Are you still struggling with whether or not this country has got it together? I mean, is there a decision that you're going to have to reach eventually on whether you really want to live here?
ROSENBLUM: I don't think so -- no. This country -- you know I love this country. No country solves all of its problems, and the fact that this country does or doesn't solve its problems really wouldn't affect whether I'd come back or not. But I must be honest that it makes me uncomfortable that we have all this energy, we have all this wherewithal and all this possibility, and we're really not focusing on some of the serious problems. One thing -- one very serious problem we haven't talked about yet, but I do get into in the book, is that we as Americans don't really pay attention to the rest of the world. We just don't. I don't think it's arrogance or snobbery or anything like that, and it's certainly not lack of any ability to be able to do it -- it's just we just don't seem to care. We just don't seem to see why it's important.
LAMB: Let me ask you, though, about that. Do you think if I went up to the average Parisian and said, "What's going on this week in Chicago?" they'd have any idea or "What's going on in Washington?" for that matter -- would they have any idea?
ROSENBLUM: Well, they may not know about the mayoral problems in Washington, but yeah, and they could also find it on the map for you. How many people in this country can find Leon on a map, let alone Paris, let alone France, let alone the United States.
LAMB: Can the French find Lyon?
ROSENBLUM: Well, the French could, sure. Sure.
LAMB: Are they your friends that could find them or the average Frenchmen could find Lyon?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I don't want to be put in the position of defending France. I'm certainly not ...
LAMB: Well, I could pick any other country ...
ROSENBLUM: No, I understand. I know, pick ...
LAMB: A general country -- pick the British.
ROSENBLUM:. I don't mean to be defensive. All I'm simply saying is that, in a word, yes. In a word, tests have shown this and in writing back home I've found just an amazing amount of examples of this kind of thing that -- well, I'll give an example. I was in Tucson, Arizona which is my hometown. I went back to my old school, Peter Howell Elementary. I went into the fourth grade and the principal introduces me and says this guy's an alum from here and he's living in Paris, in France, and I said to the kids, well, what do you kids know -- how many of you kids know where France is? And a lot of them raised their hand and I asked one girl, and I said where, and she said next to Italy and that was pretty good. And I said what else do -- and a kid raises his hand and he says a lot of famous people. And I said name one, and he says Jacques Chirac. Well, this was during the Presidential election - Jacques Chirac is running against Mitterand, and I'm thinking, good lord. So I said, well, where'd you hear that name? And he says in the comics. And so I'm thinking editorial cartoon. Not only has this kid picked up Jacques Chirac but also the Arizona Daily Star is running editorial cartoons about the French elections. I mean, maybe I'm wrong here. And so later on I was telling the AP education writer about this -- Lee Mitgang, who always argues that American kids get a bad rap anyway. I tell him about this, and he laughed. And he says he is also a cartoon expert, and he says this is Black Jacques Chirac, who's a Canadian fur trapper in a Warner Brothers Cartoon. But I said to the teacher -- I said, look, schools aren't teaching geography. Schools aren't teaching what we used to call Civics. They're not teaching social sciences, and I said, for example, in Alabama they are using some school books that are so old they are still referring to Persia. And this fifth grade teacher looks at me and he says, yeah, that's terrible, Persia, gosh, that's terrible. That's Iran, Iraq, isn't it? And I mean, if that's the teacher what do you expect from the kids. I mean, we just -- it's true. Studies show it. We're raising a generation of a lot of kids who think Chernobyl is Cher's full name. It's dangerous.
LAMB: I want to get very personal with you now.
LAMB: Because I was there. This picture right here. I must say, I got a big kick out of this. This is a man that I remember when I was about 13 years old, who made a little jump shot.
ROSENBLUM: Shot heard around the world.
LAMB: Shot heard around the world. Why is he in this book? This is Bobby Plump.
ROSENBLUM: That's Bobby Plump. Well, he's in the book because -- Bobby Plump is in the book because the guy sitting the next office to me in Paris, Peter Turnley, a fine photographer for Newsweek is from northern Indiana and he says -- I'm telling him about the book and he says this is really a great idea. And he says well you gonna do anything about Indiana basketball. And I said what? And so he starts talking to me about Hoosier Hysteria and here I obviously wanted to get to sports. I'm not a great sports expert and and I knew sports was vital to the society. So I spent a lot of time in Indiana looking at Hoosier Hysteria and Bobby Plump. I don't know who remembers the movie "Hoosiers." that Gene Hackman film. but at the very end of the game -- a lot of it was not quite true -- but at the end of the game that one half-court jump shot that swished right in and won the championship for that little school -- the shot that was heard around the world -- was Bobby Plump's. And he made that shot back in -- what was it, 1954?
LAMB: Number 25, as I remember.
ROSENBLUM: Yeah, he's still got his jersey in his office, and now he's a very successful insurance salesman, partly because he's Bobby Plump. He's also a nice guy. But ...
LAMB: Was it hard to get him to talk to you?
ROSENBLUM: Oh, no. Are you kidding? It's hard to get him to stop. I mean he's still reliving the moment in a good way.
LAMB: Let me read this, because I, as a Hoosier, want to find out whether this is accurate. "Hoosier is a person born or living in Indiana. An industrious, hospitable, down-home folk who enjoys popcorn, Indian summers, race cars, and basketball."
ROSENBLUM: That's a pretty fair description. I mean in Indiana people are so nice out there it makes your teeth hurt. But it's really a part of the country I didn't know, and I really liked a lot.
LAMB: What did you learn in Indiana about the rest of the country, if anything?
ROSENBLUM: Well, the whole idea of family values -- one of the real problems we face -- I'm getting into a cliche, but the way to look at a cliche is to look at examples of it and see what it's made of. And the whole idea -- I mean, it is true. A lot of the reasons for the problems we're talking about are lack of old family values. And you see partly it's the farm culture. It's the growing up in small towns partly. You see a lot of that is still important. And yet another thing I learned in Indiana which wasn't so happy is that somehow one tends to sort of focus on regional problems -- problems in certain regions. Racism in the South, or at least in the cities. But there's an awful lot of very subtle and sometimes not so subtle racism in a pivotal state like Indiana. At Indiana University in Bloomington -- some terrible problems and there's a lot of -- you run into trouble when you start tarring a society a racist, but there are a lot of incidents of real racial tension that I somehow didn't expect to find in the Midwest.
LAMB: Is there -- and I want to try to relate it back to where you live now in France -- is there any racial tension in France?
ROSENBLUM: Oh, a lot. A lot. Not black and white, but much more North African. It's really just against the Nigerians, the Algerians, excuse me. It's more economic tension. It's more too many immigrants are coming in, and they are taking the jobs. And then it's they are starting mosques, and now you're not going to hear church bells anymore you're going to hear the moisine whaling from the mosques. It's that kind of racism. It's not so much the the I'm-better-than-they-are kind of racism.
LAMB: Is there more racism in the United States than there is anyplace in the world?
ROSENBLUM: Well, no. Not in a world with South Africa. But once again, it's very hard to qualify this sort of thing. There is a lot of racism in the United States. Much more that I expected. I was shocked, quite frankly shocked, by how much racism there is here. I was also shocked by -- it's always the blacks that tell me there is racism and always the whites that tell me there isn't. Which says something. It's quite serious in a lot of different ways.
LAMB: Could somebody like Bobby Plump exist in France? Is he unique to America in any way?
ROSENBLUM: No. They've got -- well, in a way he is. In a way we are good with our heroes. But they've got theirs, too -- the guy who wins the Tour de France or the guy that loses it by eight seconds ...
LAMB: In trouble.
ROSENBLUM: He's in trouble or he's a national hero.
LAMB: Let me show this picture. It's a little bit of a travel log here. Graceland. This is the grave of Elvis Presley. Why did you include this?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I have a chapter called "Motown to Graceland." And for a couple of reasons. One, Elvis Presley is certainly part of the American culture. And what's followed Elvis Presley is as well. I wanted to go to Memphis. Detroit was a city that I focused on for urban problems and the bridge between Memphis and Detroit -- between South people coming up from the northern South up to work in the auto plants and the music that came with them was sort of the theme I wanted to hit.
LAMB: Got a picture here of -- and you talk about either a maniac or a" mainer," and this is a car with bumper stickers on it in Maine?
ROSENBLUM: Not enough. I like Maine a lot. I went up, sort of cruised around and had a good look at it. Talked to a lot of people and found on the one hand, what I thought were comfortable, beautiful little towns where you get decent lobster and people that still talk about the old stuff. And I found an enormous drug problem. Here again, this drug problem we always talk about as though it's something restricted to the inner city or the ghettos or fast living kids in L.A., and stuff like that's not true. It's everywhere.
LAMB: You also have a chapter "Portland to Portland," and I can't see it but you can tell me is this Portland, Maine or Portland ...
ROSENBLUM: That's Portland, Maine. yeah.
LAMB: And right down below it is Portland, Oregon. What were you trying to get at here?
ROSENBLUM: Well "Portland to Portland" once again was just sort of a literary device, almost. But I wanted to show across the north. I'd always thought and on most people's maps -- most foreigner's maps of the United States -- the whole country sort of peeters out on a line between Boston and San Francisco. It's all rainfall and Canada. And so I wanted to see the north. And I'm sitting in my office again, in Paris, and I've got my finger on Portland, Oregon and my friend Ed Coyte of the Washington Post walks in, and I just sort of say, "Hey, Ed ,anything about Portland?" And he says, "Sure, my uncle just shot my mother's washing machine in Portland." And his uncle is the guy in the picture -- Fenton Uleburg, who's this fabulous old guy with the white hair in a frontier flip and still goes off on a motorcycle and has adventures and explores for minerals and stuff, so I put Coyte's uncle on my itinerary. Then I found there was a train from Portland up on the Columbia River, up into Montana. Well, in fact, the guy on the other page -- the guy in the conductors hat -- Willy Rice -- fabulous guy -- yeah, that's Willy -- was the conductor on the train. He'd been making that run between St. Paul and Portland for 40 years. And the guy next to him by the way is Abe Schwab in Memphis who I also wrote about with Graceland. And these guys -- those open pages there really show you what the book really is about. It's characters. It's individuals. It's Americans. It's people.
LAMB: How many of your characters did you have before you left Paris to start this book. Did you run into a lot of people that you knew that knew people?
ROSENBLUM: That's how I did it. I did it the way I'd do it anywhere else. You're going to go Burundi, you ask around to find out who your contact points are. Sometime the people you go to contact turn in to be interesting, and sometimes they just know people. And mostly I just ran into people I didn't know existed.
LAMB: Why did you pick the publisher, Morrow?
ROSENBLUM: They're a good house.
LAMB: What's that mean to the non-book writer?
ROSENBLUM: Well, actually I picked the editor Jim Landis, who's the editor in chief at Morrow, and he's a wonderful wonderful editor. He did "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," and I knew his track record, and I had lunch with him, and I knew he'd be a really good inspiration and an awfully good editor. And I picked right.
LAMB: Do you write this book to make money or to get it out of your system?
ROSENBLUM: You write a book when you're a journalist ... I was interviewed the other day, and the guy says to me, "This really isn't a journalist book. It's really well written." And I'm thinking he was a nice guy and didn't really -- you know I didn't want to hit him, but the thing is, when you're a journalist, there's so much more you want to say that you just can't get onto a newspaper page. You just you really want to leisurely go into something and really explain it, and you just want to present these people and you don't want to just say da da da da da, he said. You want to sort of spend three paragraphs explaining who they are in a real colorful way, just sketching the world around in the way a novelist might but talking about reality. You can't talk about the United States in the way I tried to talk about it without writing a book about it. And if it makes money, then that's great, because that means I can maybe write another one about something else. But the truth, the honest truth -- I'd like to be established as an author, because an author ... first and foremost, I'm a foreign correspondent -- I'm a journalist. I'll never stop doing that -- when I'm a reporter -- it's all of us. It's what you are, all of us. If we're reporters. But if there's another specialty, you add to it in a different format that takes the same thing along fine.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
ROSENBLUM: Mostly on my boat in Paris.
LAMB: When did you finish it?
ROSENBLUM: About January.
LAMB: When you write, how do you write? Do you write on a typewriter? Do you write longhand? Do you write on a ...
ROSENBLUM: On a computer. It's funny because these days especially the portables -- I use a little Toshiba 1100, but they're the nearest thing to a pencil. I'm stealing this from Paul Through, but he's dead right. Paul used to write in longhand, and then he never did a typewriter, and now he's moving to computer and it's the same thing. When you write in pencil you're sort of sketching it out, and you go back and you erase, and you make little notes and you can do the same thing with a word processing program. Although I always think of Velvetta cheese when I think of the word processor -- but that's really what it is. The typewriter was an aberration. It was murder. You write something down and like people say to me -- how many drafts did you write. Well, if you count up the number of times I've hit the delete button and gone back and tested new words, I've used probably 130 drafts. I just keep going over it back and forth, and it's like a sculpture you're hammering at it. You take a piece of metal and you bang away at it, and that little dent doesn't reflect the light quite right, so you just give it another pop and you can do that on a word processor.
LAMB: What are some of you favorite words?
ROSENBLUM: Oh. Can't pull them out of a hat like that. I always like redolent, but it's getting overused. Redolent of Grenada, redolent of Cinnamon Winds or whatever.
LAMB: What are some of the most abused words or phrases that you see and people always get ... we get our callers who don't like the word "insight."
ROSENBLUM: Yeah, "insight"?
LAMB: No, it's not "insight," it's "indeed." They find ...
ROSENBLUM: Oh, yeah, "indeed." I go nuts with that word. But I mean the thing is -- "in the wake of" is another one that drives me nuts. But you see -- one problem it's easy -- you're in a hurry and you can't really ...
LAMB: When you're writing as a journalist?
ROSENBLUM: Yeah, when you're not, you have no excuse to use kind of words like that. To use lazy things like that. But I mean the thing is you -- it's a real funny thing the way our society works. The way television is now -- I mean, Dan Rather will get on and he'll have some sort of down-home colloquialism about that the game's not over until the bear does whatever he does in the woods or whatever that kind of stuff -- the fat lady crossing the road. I don't know all these things. But as soon as somebody says it, it's great. And the second time, OK, you're reminded of it. But by the time the thirteenth person says it during the day, I mean, it totally defeats its purpose. The one that takes all the gas is "have a nice day." Well, that one doesn't bother me -- I live in a place where half the people wouldn't care at all if your day included someone spilling boiling oil on you -- in France. So "have a nice day," at least it's a nice thought even if it rolls off people's tongue. "The bottom line" -- I mean, if I hear that one again I'm gonna ...
LAMB: I do that all the time. When I finish this program, I say, "Have a nice day." "Have a nice day."
ROSENBLUM: It's a sincere thought, though. I mean you're ...
LAMB: I don't want you to have a lousy day.
ROSENBLUM: I'll finish this show and you're a nice guy. You're going sort of hope I have a nice day, and I'll say the same thing. You don't mean it, and so that's okay, that's not a problem. But there is one thing. The next headline -- this playing with the names of currencies. The next headline that I see about a Japanese with a yen to travel -- I'm going to pound the guy into sterling or something. I mean, it's just some of those are so easy.
LAMB: When do you write? What time of day do you write the best?
ROSENBLUM: Usually late. I put in a full day with the AP. Nobody believes it, but I actually do. And I start writing this kind of stuff around 9:00 or 10:00 at night, and I'll write until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, sometimes. It just depends. I mean, you don't get writers block, but sometimes you write better than other times. And you just let it go when it comes.
LAMB: Don't misinterpret this question, but are you controversial inside AP?
ROSENBLUM: Oh I don't think so ...
LAMB: I mean, it's not normal is it -- normal's a bad word -- it's not usual that we see a AP reporter writing books and traveling a lot like this on another subject other than what he's done. I mean, your mind thinks that an AP reporter is that person that grinds it out day after day.
ROSENBLUM: Yeah, but there's nothing written that it should have to be that way. I mean, it's just there's ...
LAMB: And they don't care if you do this?
ROSENBLUM: No. I mean Time magazine has a publisher's note saying these are the authors -- these are our authors and these are the books they've done and we're proud of them. And the Washington Post and New York Times -- all these guys write books and why shouldn't AP?
LAMB: We only have about nine minutes left and I want to ask you after you make this tour of the United States and you're back home, what's the best thing somebody can say to you after reading this book?
ROSENBLUM: I had a good time. I learned something. What I really hope happens is that I tried to make it a good read. I tried to make people laugh when they read it, but what I really want people to do -- well, the Wall Street Journal had a very good review of it, and what the reviewer in the Journal said was, "This is a tough book. This ought to be digested and raged at, but it probably won't because people don't care that much." And what I really want is people to care that much. I want people to read it and say, yeah, he's right and I want them to get mad at me, and I want them to say, well, I want to be defensive and I want people to think. I mean, I really want to stir up the pot because there's some provocative things, and there's some things in there that people won't want to read, won't want to hear.
LAMB: Did you sense when you were traveling around that people here in this country are turned off to everything?
ROSENBLUM: No, not at all.
LAMB: Turned off to serious discussion about serious issues?
ROSENBLUM: No, I don't think so. Well ,also we've got to talk about layers. I mean this is a country within a country within [audio loss] and you don't have in other countries people that sit down quietly in front of their TV set and listen to a couple of guys talk about an issue for a long period of time. I mean, you've got serious journals -- you've got some -- this is not to say -- you got to really be careful about generalities when you talk about a society of 240 million people. Of course, there's a very thick layer of people who are very serious-minded and very knowledgeable. But most people are serious and knowledgeable about whatever they choose to be about, even if it's rock groups or even if it's the type of mind-bending drugs on the market. I mean, everybody knows a lot about something. It's just a question of -- not even lazy; lazy is the wrong word -- I think the real problem is that Americans don't understand why it's so important for them to know about things beyond their own borders. They're not lazy, I mean ...
LAMB: That's the most frustrating thing that you found.
ROSENBLUM: I think so. I think it drives me nuts. I think it drives me nuts that people won't -- people do tend to think about the world as though they were watching TV so the world was somehow -- this is the common wisdom part -- but they look at the TV. They have the little channel changer and they can go to Iran, Nicaragua, Lebanon like this, and then when they're done they turn it off and go do something else. But the world's got a way of changing channels and turning up the volume all by itself. And we can't pick what it is we worry about when the real trouble starts.
LAMB: All right. Let me try to just to attempt to understand this. If I lived in Lyon, France, and I lived there for as long as you've lived in Paris -- what would I begin to conclude after a period of time about the people there that's different about what you conclude about say the people in Indiana?
ROSENBLUM: The difference is that the people in Lyon don't elect the guy with his finger on the button. The people -- you know the President of the United States and the government of the Unites States, Congressmen and Senators in the United States aren't -- they don't run the United States. They run the free world ...
LAMB: That's what bothers you more than anything else is this button thing.
ROSENBLUM: No, not the button thing. No, because that gets it into this -- especially now -- I mean, it isn't nuclear holocaust. That's not what one worries about. People look to the United States for leadership in figuring what to do about punching holes in the ozone layer. People look to the United States in figuring out in terms of what to do about not not polluting the ocean. People look to the United States in terms of finding solutions to bitter violence, bloody, violent, crushing stalemates in the Middle East and in Central America and in everywhere else in the world. People look to us for leadership. Not as John Dons, not to run around and send troops and stuff, but they look to us for guidance.
LAMB: Are you saying then in some ways, wake up? Don't you understand you are in control of the free world and you set the example and you don't know it?
ROSENBLUM: Well, I think we terribly overestimate our own ability to actually change a specific situation. Like, "Why can't we get the hostages out?" And we terribly underestimate our power -- not power, but our duty, our responsibility, in that sense. When the thing of this whole idea of "America in decline." I mean, this is one thing you see. You've got to remember I'm looking at this in time frame photography. This is Rip Van Winkle. I mean it's been 20 years since I've really looked at this country up close. I mean, I left as a some naive schmuck when I was 23 years old to cover a war in the Congo, and I come back 20 years later and tested these things. And this whole thing about "America is back." America never went anywhere. What's America's back? It never went anywhere. It's always been America. We've always had this same kind of role. We've always had this same situation. I mean beating up on some little country nobody can find on the map does not restore our pride. Does not ...
LAMB: Grenada?
ROSENBLUM: Yeah. Grenada. Big deal, what is this. That means nothing. It means nothing. What should restore our pride and what should counter this whole "American decline" thing is us solving our own problems, taking care of our own society, addressing our problems and world problems showing some kind of leadership and fellowship. That's what's really important. And that's what outsiders respect. We have this big debate about waving a flame-proof flag. Well that's not what outsiders respect. It doesn't matter if we say we're the best. If we're going to be the best, it has to be that other people consider us that way.
LAMB: What do they respect us for the most when you travel?
ROSENBLUM: I think most foreigners have still have this view of the American as a person who wants to do the right thing. The American is basically seen as basically a good-hearted person who wants to do the right thing. But he's also seen as someone who usually knows what the right thing is. This may be fair or unfair. But that's how most people see us.
LAMB: We've only got about a minute left here is what this book looks like again. Again, Roseblum, "Back Home." It's a book about the United States not a book about your foreign travels.
ROSENBLUM: No, not at all.
LAMB: You've written other books. Are you ever going to write a similar book about countries you've traveled to around the world?
ROSENBLUM: I've written one about France. I've written one about Africa. But I think if I write another book, it'll also be about America. I like this country. It's certainly enough to write about.
LAMB: Thank you for joining us.
ROSENBLUM: Thank you.
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