[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: We want to talk today about your work on "20/20" and "Nightline." One of the stories that you did on "Nightline" that is particularly timely this week* is your trip to South Africa and your coverage of Nelson Mandela's release from prison.
Simpson: That was for "Nightline," not "20/20."
Moorhus: Right. For "Nightline."
Simpson: Did you say that?
Moorhus: I think I said that. [Laughter.]
Simpson: Okay. I wasn't sure that's what you said.
Yes, and I have been so torn this week, because I wanted to go back and be there to see this wonderful change take place, but I also was terrified to go back because of my experience there four years ago. I was hoping ABC would not ask me to go, because I didn't want to have to be put in the position of saying no, which I think I would have had to say, because it is still too painful and frightening to me.
Moorhus: Start at the beginning about how that happened, how you got sent there four years ago, what the story was, and then what happened.
Simpson: I was in California shooting a story. I don't typically work for "Nightline;" I'm not one of Ted Koppel's favorite people. I was in California shooting "American Agenda" and got a call from Paul Friedman, the executive producer of "World News Tonight" saying, "Carole, I know you're shooting something for my broadcast, but Roone Arledge has called and they want you to leave immediately for South Africa. Drop your story, come back, pack, and get on the quickest plane that you can to South Africa."
And I'm going, "What?" This is kind of like what this job is, that you never know exactly what you're going to be doing. It turned out that "Nightline" had gone to South Africa in 1985, and now with prospect of Nelson Mandela coming out of jail, because [F.W.] de Klerk, the new president, had seemingly a different attitude, they wanted to go back and see how much progress had been made in the five years since they had left.
So they apparently had put together the entire team of people that were going to go to report, and had no black reporter. They were sending a virtually all-white crew. There was a
* The first free, democratic elections in South Africa in which all citizens could vote were held April 26-30, 1994. Nelson Mandela was elected president by a newly elected parliament.
black producer, but people that would be doing the actual reporting would have been all white males, and I think Roone Arledge noticed that and said, "Wait a minute. We can't do this. We've got to have a black reporter go down and cover." So I was chosen. There weren't that many of us to choose from, but I was chosen to go.
So I came back here. I think I left on a Thursday, and on Friday I got back to Washington, and Friday night I was on a plane to South Africa.
Moorhus: What was that date?
Simpson: I'll have to look it up for you. It was February of 1990. I think it was the second of February. Mandela was actually released February 11, 1990.
So I dropped everything, and of course it was February here, which means it's summertime there, so it was like trying to find some summer clothes, going through boxes, trying to get ready for this trip, and I left with great anticipation. I'd been on the continent of Africa, but, of course, South Africa conjures up Sharpeville and the massacre, and Soweto and all of these other kinds of things, and I didn't really have much time to prepare, and I said, "Somebody get me some books, get me something." So they had delivered to my house a book, Kaffir Boy in America by Mark Mathabane, who is a South African author, that really documents in incredible fashion apartheid, what it is to live under apartheid, and a book—and I forget the name of that—by a white author whose family was part of the provincial family that instituted apartheid. This man grew to separate himself from his family and saw how awful it was, so it was kind of a white perspective of apartheid.
It was a fourteen-hour flight to South Africa, so I had plenty of time to read and kind of was able to go in not completely stupid, because I hate to do that, to go to a foreign country, or any place, and not know what's going on. So that really helped, to be able to read those books and kind of get a sense of what the people—because I knew what I would end up doing would be covering the black side of the story, that there would be the white side and there would be the black side, and that's clearly what I was being sent for.
As soon as I arrived in South Africa at Jan Smuts Airport, where the bomb went off recently before the elections, I got off the—it's a beautiful—I mean, I was so amazed flying over Johannesburg, because I'd been in many other places of Africa but was not prepared for how industrialized it looked. There were nuclear power plant cooling towers, skyscrapers, highrises, and it looked kind of like Kansas City or Dallas. I mean, it looked very, very modern and you would not have any idea you were that far away and at the tip of southern Africa. So I was first of all struck by how modern and industrialized it looked.
We landed at the airport and go through customs and everything, and as I go out into the lobby, the first thing I see is a stuffed zebra, and it kind of symbolized, for me at that very moment, the black and white. It was a stuffed zebra in the lobby—but it was so stark a reminder that this is a country where black and white are so separated and so different. I love zebras, and it's a beautiful animal, but I was really struck by you're going into this place where it's rigid, rigid, rigid black/white divisions.
I got to the hotel, checked in, and had a message to go immediately to a large hospital—and I can't remember the name, it's a difficult name for this hospital in Soweto—and I'm in downtown Johannesburg and it's beautiful, I'm standing in this very lovely hotel, the Carlton Hotel, and I'm exhausted after this flight—I don't sleep on planes—and this fourteen-hour flight where I'm
trying to read and get there. I thought I'd be able to rest a little bit, but the message was to meet the producer that I was going to be working with at this hospital. I already had an assignment.
So I go out to the cab stand, and there was a doorman, and I think he was a black doorman, and he said, "Where do you need to go, ma'am?"
And I said, "I need to go to this hospital in Soweto."
So he goes up to one cab driver—it was a white cab driver—he would not take me there. He goes to a second cab—long cab stand, big hotel—second cab driver would not take me to Soweto. Third cab driver would not take me to Soweto. And finally, he found the fourth cab who said he would, but I would have to pay extra because he didn't like to drive into Soweto. So fine, I've got to get there. He was an Afrikaner. "Are you American?" he asked me.
I said, "Yes."
"What are you doing here?" I mean, these accusatory tones was how he was talking to me. I told him that I was down with an American company that was doing a week of programs out of South Africa, and he's just listening. "Well, tell the truth," he said.
I said, "Don't worry, I plan to."
So we get to—you leave all of this lush, gorgeous Johannesburg and highrise, modern buildings, and to go to Soweto it's like Chevy Chase [Maryland] from Washington, D.C. I mean, it's not that far from the city limits of Johannesburg. What I later found out is that Johannesburg is a city of 500,000 people. Soweto, which is a township, has two million people. I thought it was like a suburb, this little township tucked way out from the city, but it's kind of like adjacent to the city. It really is just like Chevy Chase. You cross Western Avenue, and you're in Chevy Chase. There is a highway that separates the city limits of Johannesburg from Soweto. And I can see for miles. It's kind of hilly outside the city, and I can see for as far as the eye can see what looked like shanties. I mean, the stark contrast of this very modern city with these shanties, for as far as the eye can see, scrub, no trees.
As I say, the Afrikaners live in very lush estates with high gates and barbed wire and bars, and they're really in fortresses. That is how the whites live down there, but it's beautiful. Flowers—you can just see all—and then you see this scruffy area, there are no paved streets, there are just dirt roads driving through, a huge city, almost as big as Chicago. It's two million people living in the most squalid conditions you can imagine.
We pull up, and I can see this maybe ten, twelve-story building which is huge, and that's the big hospital. The cab driver said, "I've got to let you off here."
I said, "Here? We're on the highway. We're on a major highway. How am I supposed to get over there?"
He said, "That's your problem. I'm not driving into the compound."
Moorhus: So he wouldn't cross the highway to get you literally into Soweto?
Simpson: He wouldn't cross the highway that goes into Soweto. So here I am—I mean, I have just arrived, and I'm let off on the middle of this super highway, trying to pick my place to cross
—it's like crossing [Interstate] 495*—trying to cross all these lanes of traffic, dodging cars to get over to the side. Then there's a ditch down there, like it's graded down, and then you have to come up and go over guardrails. It was quite an adventure for me. It was, I guess, about a block from where he dropped me off. I had some distance to go to get to this place. Dodging cars on a major highway, going down into this gully thing, climbing up, climbing over fences, guardrails and things, to then walk across a field to get to this hospital. So, as you can see, in a very short period of time, I had already experienced this phenomenon that was South Africa, I mean of no one wanting to take you there, then being dropped off on the side of a major highway.
I get to the hospital and meet my crew and my producer that had already been there, and they said, "Carole, we've got a story right away. We've begun shooting, but we're going to be doing a story about the differences in health care." What ended up happening for those programs of "Nightline," we would take different issues and contrast what was available to the white population versus what was available to the black population.
So while my counterpart is at the fancy white hospitals, I'm at the Soweto hospital, which is overflowing with people, it is filthy. We walked through the hospital and you see dirty linens, you see inadequate lighting. Nothing in the United States—and I've been in some pretty bad public hospitals in the United States—nothing could compare to this. I ended up talking to a black doctor there. There were only five black women doctors in the country, and I talked to one of them whose practice was primarily gynecology and obstetrics and pediatrics, and she was talking about the level of health care and how awful it was, and how being compacted in these horrible conditions with no sanitation pick-up—what they've done is made the townships so unlivable and so intolerable, because they won't pick up the garbage—but the people are spotlessly clean. Once I got into their homes and I saw it, and you see the women out sweeping, but there's garbage piled high because they won't pick up the garbage. They won't fix the sewage system, so there's raw sewage laying around. It's just horrible, horrible conditions. So, of course, the problems of parasites, the problems of disease and illness and diarrhea among babies and overcrowded conditions, the stresses, the mental problems and all these kinds of things come to bear out of the conditions that these people are forced to live in.
She even told me—and this is one of the most astounding things that I had ever heard—that 90 percent of the patients that she saw, female, over age one, had been sexually abused.
I said, "Excuse me? Over age one?"
And she said, "Yes."
A woman is nothing in that society, and that goes back to tribal things, and it goes back to men being able to oppress women because they're oppressed by the white society, so the poor South African female is triply oppressed. She is economically oppressed because they don't see that she goes to school and can get a decent job, so they do domestic work for the most part; they are racially oppressed because of the apartheid system; and they are sexually oppressed because of tribal things, of no property rights, your husband can beat you and nobody will report it.
I was real anxious, after hearing that, to do a story about the plight of the South African woman, because I hadn't thought about it. Yet more South African women have been jailed for political crimes than any other country, women in any other country on the face of the earth.
* I-495 is an eight-lane highway around Washington, D.C.
They've been actively involved in the fight against apartheid, and arrested and beaten and killed, and all these other kinds of things, protesting, and very much a part of the struggle, but nobody knew about it. I never knew. You always saw young men, when you'd see demonstrations. I just had no idea. So I decided that while I was there I was certainly going to, at some point, do a story about the South African woman.
So we finished our story, did some interviews and things like that, and we were driving through Soweto to get back to Johannesburg—we worked out of the South African Broadcasting Company, SABC, which is their big government-owned television broadcasting company, so we would be editing and feeding our materials there.
So we're trying to leave Soweto, and we saw a group of kids waving signs, "Free Mandela," and I said, "Let's stop and let's shoot these kids demonstrating." They were boys, I'd say between nine and sixteen years old. I asked the crew to stop, and "Let's get some shots of them."
By the time I had arrived, it was announced that Mandela would be getting out soon, that de Klerk had decided—so people were happy, people were excited. We stopped, and we got shots of them demonstrating and dancing. It's like every South African can sing. They have the most beautiful voices, and all of a sudden there's harmony. It's just ordinary people, and they're singing in four- and five-part harmony, which is just incredible. So we shot them, and the singing and their dancing. They do this little step where the knees are brought up very, very high, and it's a very jubilant, happy kind of a thing.
Then I asked if I could talk to some of them. "Why are you so happy?"
"Because our country is going to change." They were all excited.
All of a sudden, here come the South African police. They're in what they call a yellow submarine. It's the equivalent of our paddy wagons. It would be where you could put bunches of people that you arrest, but it's got wire mesh windows that you can see out, and the people call them yellow submarines because they're kind of long. So here are all these white South African policemen that say, "What are you doing here?" And we told them. He said, "This is an illegal demonstration. It's against the law. Get out of here." It was like an illegal demonstration. These kids are in Soweto carrying signs and dancing. What I later learned is any congregation of blacks, more than three or four of them, becomes an illegal demonstration and they can arrest people for that. So they said, "Leave."
I'm trying to argue. I forget. I'm thinking I'm in the United States where, with the cops here, I'd be going, "Come on, let us get our shots. Give me five more minutes and then we'll go," or something like that, and these guys were having none of it.
They're like, "Carole, let's go. We'd better go," the crew who had worked in South Africa before.
Moorhus: Was the crew black, white, or mixed?
Simpson: It was a white woman and a black soundman, and my producer was a white male, so we were kind of a mixed-up group. But they were based in Europe and had shot in South Africa before, so they knew. And, as I say, I hadn't gotten much time to be acclimated. This is my first day, I'm still a zombie sleeping, and forgetting that I'm in this other place, and, as I say, I would
reason with cops here and say, "Come on. Let us get our shots in," and they said, "Go," and they said, "Carole, we'd better go."
So we pack up the car. The kids go on down the road, and the police follow them. They're watching them. We pull and we start driving, and we go to the end of a street, and this yellow submarine comes up in front of us and blocks our way from going that way. So the driver turns around and goes another way, and this thing—it was like just harassment. They didn't do anything, they just wouldn't let us go through the way they were. They would block. They would just keep going every way we would try to get out, and I started getting scared. It's like, "What are they doing?"
They said "They're just trying to harass us. It's a typical thing they do to the media, press harassment, just to make you crazy and stuff like that."
But now I'm getting kind of scared, because it was like they wouldn't let us leave. We couldn't get out. Finally, they pulled off to the side after we had tried ten attempts to get out of every little street way we thought we could get out of, they would block it, and they were just funning us, I guess, and finally they let us go through.
That kind of impressed upon me, "You're in a different place now. This is not the United States. You are not in an inner city of America," which it was easy to think I was. Then I started like, "Okay, well, I've got to change my attitude, and obviously I'm going to have to work a little differently here than I'm used to working."
We continue working, and I experienced great difficulty talking to black people, because I was viewed as colored because of my lighter skin and my hair texture. I was considered colored. I was like, "What are you talking about?" I was trying to do this story about women, and I saw a group of women in a marketplace, and I went over to them and I said, "Can I talk to you about what it's like being a South—," and they kind of turned their backs to me.
And I said, "What's wrong?"
And they said, "You're colored."
I said, "No, I'm not colored. I'm black. In my country, in America, I would be considered a black woman."
"Yes, but if you lived here, you would be considered colored, and you would have a higher status than we, and you would live in a better place than we do."
And I'm like, "Yes, but I don't live here, I live in America where we're treated like all black people. No matter what your coloration, you are a black person in America and you don't have the same status that white people have." I'm trying to convince them that, "I understand where you're coming from and I want to tell your story."
So they said, "No, but you're not black."
I'm going, "Well what color—" I looked at somebody. I said, "Is it because of my color?"
And they said, "Yeah, and other things."
And I'm like, "Like what?" I pointed to someone who looked about my shade. I said, "What is he? Is he black or colored?"
They said, "He's black."
I said, "Why is he black and I'm not black?"
And they said, "Your hair."
I said, "My hair?" And that's when I found out that there was a racial committee—it was like the Department of Agriculture, they're called committees there, the departments of government—but it was a Committee on Racial Classification, which was an entire government department. Their job was to classify people whether they were colored, white, or black, and among the things they use to determine if you were black and they weren't sure was a little instrument that would pull a piece of your hair out. It's like a little pencil-thin thing. If they pull out a strand of your hair and it kinks back, you're black, no matter how light your skin is. But if they pull it out and your hair stays out, or it doesn't go back like that, then you're colored. So they were saying because my hair was not that curly, I was colored.
I was amazed. "You mean there's actually a tool?" Babies would be brought in and they would measure, if somebody had a question, or if people moved [to South Africa] from other places, you had to have a racial classification, you would have to go before this committee, and they would measure these things like the quality of your hair and whether it was straight or kinky or whatever, and analyze your skin color, and if they thought you had other blood in you, you became colored. I was just so amazed by this. I'm going, "This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of!" A hair implement that will measure your hair?
Finally I persuaded them to talk to me, and won their confidence, kind of playing around with them, and ended up hearing the horrible things that they go through. I met a woman who started crying, and she said, "I'm forty years old. My husband died. I'm a widow. I have to go in with his family. I can't go to my own family. They've taken everything we had. They've taken our house, they've taken all of our furnishings, all of our belongings, and I will have to go and work for his mother and take care of his brothers and I'll probably have to have sex with his brothers," and all of this. I was just amazed, because that was the tribal custom. She couldn't go to her own family. You become, then, the property of whoever your husband was. They couldn't go to school; it wasn't important for girls to go to school.
I later went back to libraries to look up things on South African women. There weren't even books that even mentioned things, white or black. I later talked to white South African women that had the same problem. At South African Broadcasting Company, a woman could not have the title of producer. She could produce programs, but she would be supered at the end of the program, "produced by," but it would not be producer So-and-so. All the men were producers, but the women were not called producers, although they were. Little stuff like that. So even the white South African women were having problems with equality.
So I did this wonderful story, and it was on the Friday that they announced that Mandela would be getting out on Sunday, and we went to downtown Johannesburg to the Anglican Church, which is the biggest church in Johannesburg, and I was there doing this story on women. I was continuing my work on women. I wanted to show that the women were part of the celebration and part of the fists in the air, and I needed good video to go along with how they had been a part of the struggle from the very beginning.
So we go into this service, which was just the most moving thing. I'm Episcopalian, and a lot of the Anglican stuff was the same. There were coloreds and whites and blacks all gathered in this church to overflowing, to celebrate that Mandela was finally getting out of prison, so it was a religious ceremony of celebration. It was a white priest, and blacks spoke and colored spoke, and there were readings from the gospel, and there were hymns and there were songs, and people spoke with such moving words, and there was so much emotion, and then they sang the black national anthem. The black South Africans sang, with their arms clenched in the air and tears streaming down their face and it was the most beautiful song. I was just so moved by this ceremony.
It finally comes to an end, and they sing a final hymn, and as the people leave the church, they started into, again, "A Mandela," which means freedom, and they started chanting that, and they start leaving the church, and then this singing spontaneously starts, as I told you, in this wonderful harmony, and people are leaving the church and filing out and they're starting to do that dance, as I told you, with the big lifting, which is again a dance of victory and celebration, and they start going out into—and I'm like, great, the crew's getting all this. I'm thinking about all these great pictures, with a focus on the women that are part of the celebration. And we get out into the plaza in front of the church, and it's still happy. There are banners, and there are ANC [African National Congress] flags and everything, and it's this happy, happy, happy occasion, and all of a sudden, the police charged.
What I did not know when I left the church was that the police had cordoned off, just as we had been blocked, our egress from those streets, they had blocked off both sides of the end of the church where you could walk. I didn't know they were out there. They later claimed that they had warned the people that this was an illegal demonstration, but, as I say, I didn't know. Everybody's singing; I don't think anybody heard that. Nobody even knew. All of a sudden, the police charged from both directions into this happy crowd, this happy, happy crowd, and people just start running. I mean, that's your instinct. I'm looking around, I didn't see my crew, and you had to run or you'd be trampled.
So I started running with the crowd, too, just terrified. The contrast, again, was so incredible that we went from this happy, happy occasion to kind of this horror all of a sudden. I see the South African police with these truncheons and they're beating people, and I'm running and running. I don't see my crew, I don't see my producer, and I run into the street, and then I was grabbed from behind and hit across the back with one of these, they're like rubber truncheon kind of things, and I was up against a car and hit across the back. It knocked all the wind out of me and I fell to the ground. I am lying on the ground, scared to get up, seeing chaos all around me. I saw people just being beaten. I mean, I was lucky. People's heads were split open, there was blood everywhere, there were shoes all in the street, and I'm lying down watching all of this stuff. I saw a woman about seventy years old being dragged by her ear, and she was screaming, "I do nuhting, I do nuhting," and they were literally dragging this woman down the street by her ear.
Somehow, some people came and got me up, and there were some TV crews. It was all covered [by the news media]. CBS, all the network crews and worldwide crews were at this church service, because it was a big news event of celebrating Mandela. So some other crews got me up and got me to a bench, and I was just shaking all over. It was more fear than the pain of the blow. It was just terror. I have never been so frightened—except for the carjacking a year later—up until that point, that had been the most frightening experience of my life, and I realized, I'm in a place where I was just another black or colored person. We had credentials, news credentials and stuff like that, but a CBS cameraman was beaten. They didn't care.
He was a white cameraman. If you were with the press, you were a target, too. I don't know if I was targeted because I was colored or because I had on press tags or what it was, but it was horrible.
So my producer finds me. I've seen the video of me. It appeared on CBS that I had been hit and it became news back in the United States that I was a part of this "riot" that occurred. But there was no riot, because they had no arms or anything. It was just the police with tear gas. It was just horrible. I'm telling my producer, "Get me out of here." I was just terrified, absolutely terrified.
So they said, "Come on, we'll try to get you out." Now, chaos is still going on. This thing is still continuing, they're arresting people, more of these yellow submarines are coming up, and it's like, how do we get out of here to get to where the car was? We had a car that was parked some distance away, because it's like a mall area outside this church and there are shops, so it's like a downtown shopping mall, so cars can't—so they are trying to get me through the crowd. There are like three people with me trying to get me to our car, and I can't breathe, and my back is hurting, and I'm crying. "Where am I? What the hell is going on?" It was just awful.
They can't find the car that was supposed to meet us where it was supposed to meet us, so they set me down on a bench, a bus stop bench, and I am aware—none of us are thinking—again, we're Americans, they just set me down while somebody's going to go try to find the car and see if it can pull up to where I am because I can't walk much further, and we had walked maybe three or four blocks at that point to get to this—and I'm sitting on this bench, and all of a sudden I can just feel people recoiling and then getting up. I was sitting on a "Whites Only" bench. My good friends had put me down on a "Whites Only" bench, and I see these people just shrink away. I guess they could tell that I was shaken, but they weren't going to sit with me on this bench. So they got up, and it was, again, you feel so helpless and so subhuman and so—it was really awful.
So finally the car came, and they took me back to our bureau in Johannesburg—we have a bureau there—and by that time it had hit the news. CNN had it on, and now I'm getting calls. I still haven't been able to tend to myself and my psychic damage and physical damage, and now I'm like interviewed. Channel 7 here called, Paul Berry called, CNN interviewed me by phone, "Good Morning America" was on when this happened and I was live on "Good Morning America" describing what had happened to me, and I felt it was important.
Although I didn't feel like doing it, I felt it was important for the world to know how crazy this place is. This is crazy stuff going on down here. This happy celebration, and all of a sudden to turn into this bloody thing, it was awful. It turned out, I think, about seventy people were injured and taken to the hospital. No one was killed at that time. I don't know if anybody later died. But that many people were bloodied and injured in that situation with the police.
So I felt I had to talk about it, and I was interviewed for our broadcast, ABC, and then I start hurting very badly in my kidneys, so the bureau said, "You'd better go to a doctor and see if everything is okay," because I was hit across my back. There was a doctor close by, a white South African doctor, and thank God he was there, because he was comforting me, stuff like "You need some tranquilizers and I want to get a urine sample and make sure there was no kidney damage or anything like that," and he was talking to me, and he could tell, as I told him, the worst thing wasn't the pain. I didn't even care about that. It's just I can't believe I'm in this place and feeling so helpless.
In this country, if you felt you were wrongly—police brutality, you'd file suit, like Rodney King.* You have some recourse. Thinking that you're in a place with no recourse at all, that you have no rights, to be treated unfairly or unjustly, you just take it. You just have to take it. It was so hard for me.
He ended up telling me about his mother. He was Jewish, and he was born in South Africa, and his mother had been a member of the Black Sash Society, which was a group of wealthy white women who, as early as the fifties and sixties, were demonstrating against apartheid. They would dress up, and it was good, because they were old women, and they were mothers and grandmothers, women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. They'd wear these black sashes and go out all dressed up with their hats and their gloves, and they would go and hold signs against apartheid. His mother had been one of these people, and he was very anti-apartheid, and his family had fought against it. So it was good for me to go see a white South African who hated the situation and whose mother had been arrested and had demonstrated against apartheid. I think that just kind of helped heal me for that moment, because I thought I would hate all white South Africans. How could anybody live in a system like this? How could you even live in a place where people are so unjustly treated? He was important to help me see "They're not all like this." They are not all like this, and there are white people who have died and who have fought against apartheid.
So he pronounced me okay, said that if I saw any blood in my urine to come back, but there wasn't anything. He really thought what I suffered most was emotional distress, so he gave me some tranquilizers and then sent me home.
Well, it's really late. The hours were crazy because we had to do spots and stuff like that, and I'm still working for "Nightline," and I went to bed shaking. I got in a tub and soaked and just—all that my people have suffered in this country that I've felt very strongly about, slavery and lynchings and the hoses and the dogs in Birmingham and all, nothing could compare. It really helped me put the black American experience in some kind of perspective, because we still were a minority in a white country, and you could kind of—but to be the majority in this country and to be oppressed in the way that they were with no rights, no living conditions, it was just—I completely felt differently about the experience of black Americans, that, yes, we've suffered, yes, we've gone through a lot, yes, we continue to suffer, but nothing could compare to what was happening in South Africa. Nothing. That these people are 87 percent of the population—no, not 87 percent, Afrikaners are 5 percent of the population—to rule the other 95 percent was just incredible to me.
So again, I was frightened and scared, but Mandela was being released earlier or something like that, and they said, "We've got to do live coverage, Carole. Ted's [Koppel] going to be in Capetown, you're going to be in Johannesburg. We're going to have to do live coverage. We're no longer working for 'Nightline' now, we're working for the news division, and it becomes this huge worldwide event."
So the next day after this horrible thing happened, I'm broadcasting live from the studios of SABC and watching Nelson Mandela walk out of that prison. Again, I hope I'm getting through
* On March 3, 1991, Rodney King, an unarmed black man, was stopped in his car by four white police officers in Los Angeles, California. Their brutal efforts to subdue him were videotaped by a citizen. Charge and tried for brutally beating King, the police officers were acquitted, leading to several days of rioting in Los Angeles. At a later trial two officers were convicted.
what the contrasts were. I'd go from one horrible experience to this really wonderful experience, and to be there and to be part of broadcasting live, this man walking out, and really thinking that change is going to come, and that something is happening, was just incredible. That was one of the highlights of my career, to be able to report on such an event of worldwide importance. So it was like this weird thing that I was in, trapped between these two worlds, the highs and the lows, and they came so quick and fast. It was incredible, but I wouldn't give anything—I mean, it was even hard for me to broadcast. I was choked up as I watched him come out—and I'm sure you've seen those pictures—and the people were so happy and just all their hopes and all finally were being realized, that he would come out and that things would change.
So that was the incredible—I continued, then I continued to work and did many spots on the schools.
The South African people are just the most wonderful people in the world. That they have their resilience and that they still have good humor and that they still can sing and that they still can have hope after such horrible, horrible conditions was just remarkable.
Moorhus: How long were you there altogether?
Simpson: Two weeks. We were there two weeks, and did a week of programming. I contrasted education, showed the differences in education. I went into the schools. There were four children sharing a book. The teachers don't have beyond an eighth-grade education. They had no paper. They had no pencils. They had no globes, no maps. And then, again, my counterpart was showing the white schools with everything—everything. And they [blacks] got the cast-off books which were outdated and outmoded. You just couldn't believe it. Fifty kids in a classroom, sharing desks, sitting two to a seat. You just can't imagine. Holes in the ceiling with no indoor plumbing, with no lunch program, no—
Moorhus: I've been watching the coverage in the last couple of weeks, and George Strait has been doing reports. You still see the schools with holes in the ceilings and no textbooks and no indoor plumbing, but there is still a great deal of hope that it will get better.
Simpson: Right, and that's my concern, that expectations are so high, and you know they're going to want things to change overnight, and they just can't.
Moorhus: Did you get a personal call from Roone Arledge after this?
Simpson: Not from Roone, but from other executives. I got calls from all over the world, friends I have in Paris. It was like on the news. I got many, many calls, but not from Ted Koppel, which hurt me very much, and we have talked about this. I was there for his broadcast, and the night that I was injured, the story was on press censorship, and it would have fit, logically, to have me discuss that experience.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Simpson: He would not only not have me on the broadcast, but no reference was made to what had happened to me. As I said, there was video, and I had been interviewed by ABC for our other ABC broadcasts, and he wanted to make no reference to it, no talking about it, no video, no nothing. I'm like, "This is crazy!" Because I was anxious to get on again, in terms of letting the world know, to be in the middle of that, how frightening and how awful that was. What's more riveting than eyewitness accounts of things that people go through and what their feelings were
and what they saw and how they felt about what was happening? Again, my being able to relate this to the African-American experience and how that really changed my—it all would have worked, and would have made that program even more compelling than it was, but he would not have me on it.
I later talked to him, and he said, "I was shot in Vietnam. What happened to you isn't anything compared to what's happening to the South African people."
I said, "I agree with you totally. That wasn't the point. The point was—" But I don't think he wanted me to get the attention. I really don't think that he wanted this.
Moorhus: Wanted to share.
Simpson: Sharing. That's good. It was sharing, but it was part of the news story. It was part of why we were there. That was my job as a reporter, to tell people and to report to people what's going on. I mean, I was caught up in the middle of it. It seemed just a natural to me, but he felt that we should not treat ourselves like we're so special and if we get hurt that's bigger news than what happens to the people. I said, "I'm not talking about its being bigger news, it just seemed to make sense." And he was quite cozy with the South African government, because he wanted [to interview] De Klerk, and he wanted [to interview] [Former President of South Africa Pieter W.] Botha and he wanted all of these people, so he was courting those people, and I think it was also a matter of not embarrassing them.
But I thought ABC should launch a formal complaint. I thought I'd hear from the South African government, "We're sorry that this happened to you," and I would have thought that ABC and Ted Koppel or somebody would have demanded that somebody say something to me and say, "We're sorry that you got caught up in this," but there was nothing. There was never anything. Never anything, and ABC did not officially complain about what had happened, and I certainly was not in the wrong place, some place I shouldn't have been, or trying to cover something I shouldn't have been covering. I was in the middle of a public street in downtown Johannesburg inside a church covering a news event, and that something like that would happen to me.
Moorhus: And you've said that you really would not have gone back to South Africa, even if you had been asked to go this time.
Simpson: Because I have later found out that I am still suffering post traumatic stress syndrome from this incident. I didn't realize it until I began getting treated for stress a year ago. There were a series of incidents, and that was one of them that kind of shook me from my moorings, and every time I now have to report on South Africa, I still have these horrible memories of it and my therapist is saying, "This is not the time. If everything were over, and there were no more violence or something like that, but with it still going on, this is not the time to go back into that situation and damage yourself further." It wasn't like Jack Smith going back to Vietnam and the Danang Valley where he'd been part of an outfit where his buddies were wiped out. The war is over. The valley is grown green again, and it's a very different kind of situation for healing from that. But because the bombings and the killings, it was really horrible, and that's when we would have gone in, before the election, and I don't think I could have handled it.
I want to go back to South Africa some day, and I was at the South African Embassy Tuesday night to celebrate the elections, and that's where I was happy to be. I was invited to be there, and that was wonderful, to watch the old flag pulled down and the new flag hoisted, and being a part of the celebration. I felt really good that I was able to participate a little bit, but I
would have loved to have been down there and seen the people in the long lines voting and stuff like that. I went to Zimbabwe last summer and I was supposed to make a stop in Johannesburg. I didn't even want to do the stopover. It still freaks me out. I don't want to feel those things I felt. I'm not ready to feel them again yet. So that's why I didn't go.
Moorhus: Did you talk to George Strait and Ron Allen about being black in South Africa?
Simpson: Yes, especially George, because I figured he was going to have the same problem that I had with the color thing, because he's lighter skinned, and I was telling him the difficulties that he might have, because you're not safe anywhere, because the colored community is not that big—it's mostly black, white—so you're not safe from the black side, you're not safe on the white side, you're not safe with the police. You're kind of like in this no-man's land. So particularly for George, I was warning him about that, and to be careful, to be very, very careful. The crime is horrible there.
Just crime, as I told you. The young women being raped, and again, it's because of these horrible conditions that people live in, and so crowded and so compacted, and the men being sent to the mines, and then seeing a young girl walking down the road. It's very twisted, and the whole country probably has a psychosis. It's a bad situation.
We had people that were assaulted that were part of our team—black-on-black crime. We had one of our black producers that was jumped on, tried to be robbed, and he almost broke this guy's neck. He fooled with the wrong person that he was trying to attack. But the crime rate is very bad, so I kept telling them be careful of all that stuff, too.
Moorhus: What a chilling story.
Simpson: Yes. But it's so exciting now. As I say, I've just enjoyed seeing these wonderful pictures of the voting that they couldn't stop, the bombings did not dampen people's spirits, and you saw the lines with them waiting for hours.
I had to speak to the black mayors on Saturday. I was moderating a town meeting between [Henry] Cisneros and [Mike] Espy, the secretaries of HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] and Agriculture, and eight black mayors, and I had to speak about South Africa and talk about the election. In our country, we were thrilled that 55 percent voted last time, which was up from 51 percent, and only 38 percent of eligible black Americans voted, and those are the ones registered to vote, and there are still a whole slew of them not registered. Having covered the voting rights movement, and all of the people that died and killed to get the vote, and how we in this country have so little appreciation for it, and won't even stand—and these people standing in line for hours.
Moorhus: Seven and eight hours.
Simpson: I heard a white woman, a white Afrikaner interviewed, and she asked this elderly black man how long he'd been waiting to vote, and he said, "Forty-eight years," and it just kind of brings to you of how important it is.
I'm going to sing this song from now on, because I'm on this voting thing anyhow, about how people don't vote, and how important their vote is, and they don't realize that it really is important who you send to Congress and who you do have in the White House. Just think of Clinton with the [Native American] tribal leaders. This was incredible—yeah, style. Probably no
substance, nothing will happen. But it meant so much to them, for the first time, to bring all these tribes to the White House. Some of that stuff is just so important. So the people that you do elect do have a lot to do with it. It is your state legislators. I'm on this soapbox all the time about voting, but especially now. No one can have looked at the lines of those people and not—even with the bombings, even with no toilets, no water, no food—they waited to cast that vote.
Moorhus: And the fact that it was secret. So many of them made a point that that was what mattered. They didn't have to tell their husbands.
Simpson: Right. Sam [Donaldson] tried to ask [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu—no, it was David Brinkley asked Desmond Tutu on Sunday how he voted. He said, "Isn't the ballot secret in your country?"
He said, "You don't have to tell us."
He said, "I'm not. I'm not going to tell you." [Laughter.] This was important.
Moorhus: Very important. What were the other examples, experiences you had, that contributed to the stress? You mentioned a carjacking.
Simpson: A year later, in the middle of the Persian Gulf War*—and this is the story I did for "20/20," one of the stories I did for them—I never heard of carjacking. Everybody accuses me now of starting it, because nobody had heard of it until it happened to me.
It was the middle of the Persian Gulf War and we'd been working around the clock. We'd been working twenty hours. We dumped all programming and we were on for forty-eight hours, and Peter [Jennings] was doing New York, and I was doing the cutaways at twenty-five after the hour and five minutes to the hour, so local stations could break away if they wanted to, or they could continue with the war coverage, so I was on the air for twenty-two hours the first day, and the second day we were updating every hour, I worked twenty hours the next day.
So it was like three or four days into the hot war in the Persian Gulf, and it was January, and because I had been working, we didn't have many groceries in the house. I came home one night, and I said, before I go into work, I would take my housekeeper with me to the grocery store. I said, "Let's sock in some groceries, because I don't know how long this is going to last." So we went two blocks from my house—I live in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and have lived in this area for seventeen years. It's a lovely community. I love it. I wouldn't live any place else in Washington, D.C.—and two blocks from my house is a little community market. It's not a big chain or anything. It's a little strip mall, little tiny one-block strip mall with a bakery, a cleaners, a deli, drugstore, and this little supermarket.
So about eleven o'clock in the morning, she and I drove up there, and just loaded up with groceries—I must have spent $200 on groceries—and there was no one in the store, it was pretty empty that time of day, and it was January, so it was cold, but that little shopping mall is very busy because it has the Parkway Deli in there, which is the best-known Jewish deli in the
* Persian Gulf War. U.S. and allied forces began bombing Iraq and Kuwait on January 16, 1991. The ground war began February 24 and ended 100 hours later with Iraqi forces defeated and Kuwait liberated.
Washington area, and so people come there for lunch and it would be very crowded in another hour with people coming in there.
So we went into the grocery store, and I'm trying to do this as quickly as I can to get into work, and as I recall, the store was virtually empty except for us and the salespeople, the clerks and things. We check out the groceries, and I pay, I write a check—I have a card there, and I write a check for the groceries—and I'm helping pack them up so I can hurry up, and I was going to drive her back home and drop her off with the groceries and head on to work.
We had two baskets full of groceries, so I left her right at the front door. I said, "Let me back the car up to load the groceries in the trunk." So she's standing there right in front with the two baskets.
I had a Mercedes. I had gotten it for celebrating my twenty-fifth year in the business. It was a present to myself—a beautiful burgundy Mercedes. It was about five months old. I backed the car up, turn off the ignition, open the door to get out, and there's this twenty-five to thirtyish, young, attractive black man standing in my doorway, and he says, "Do you want help with your groceries?"
And I said, "Yes, as a matter of fact." Normally, boys offer to help. I'll give them money to help me put my groceries away, but then it kind of struck me that he's got on a leather jacket—
Moorhus: A little old to be—
Simpson: And a fur collar, he's got a brown bag under his arm.
So I said, "Yes," and I'm getting ready to get out.
He said, "I don't care anything about your damn groceries. I want this car."
And I'm like, "Yes, it's a nice car, isn't it? I like it, too." I'm thinking he's admiring my car.
He said—can I say bad words on the tape?
Moorhus: Yes, sure.
Simpson: Do you want to know what he said to me?
Simpson: He said, "Get out of the fucking car now, bitch, or I'll blow your fucking head off."
And I'm like, "What?"
And he said, "Get out."
I said, "You're kidding." Nothing is computing here. "What?"
He said, "I'll blow your fucking brains out, bitch. Get out of the car now."
And I said, "What are you talking about?" I'm still like—
Moorhus: Oh, Carole. [Laughter.]
Simpson: I hadn't had any sleep. I'm like, "What are you talking about?" And then he lifts up his sweater and pulls from his pants what I later learned to be, after I identified them from police drawings, a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol, and I saw that gun and just—I had never, it suddenly all computed. And I'm like, "Oh, my God." I could feel my knees just turning to jello, and I'm like, "Okay."
Moorhus: You're still sitting in the car?
Simpson: I'm sitting in the car, the door is open, but the ignition isn't on. People say, "Oh, I would have turned on my ignition—" After you see the gun—I couldn't believe what he was—I thought he was joking. It didn't make any sense. And people are saying, "Oh, you should have taken that door—" With a gun? Somebody puts a gun at your head?
So I'm thinking, okay, I'll leave him the ignition key. I need my keys for home, and I need my—I have a valet key, so I'm like fiddling with the keys I need, my office key, so I'll give him this ignition key.
And he's going, "Bitch, get your hands off my keys and get out of the car now!" He's just talking to me in the most foul language, and that's all part of it, to use that language and this horrible face and this tone to terrify you.
So I'm like, okay, I've got to have my keys. So now I grab my purse. Well, I need my purse, so I grabbed my purse, and I get out of the car, and I almost fell to the ground because my knees, I really could not stand, and it was like a dream. It's like you're sleepwalking through this thing. It was like the same thing in South Africa. I'm like, "What the heck is happening?"
So I get out, and my housekeeper, which I didn't realize, was being distracted by his compatriot, who was asking her, "Hey, baby, what's your name and where do you live? How about your phone number?" She's real cute and she's young and she's from Africa, and she's like twenty-two years old, and so she said—I come back, and I guess I'm looking like a ghost, and she says, "What's wrong?"
I said, "They've got a gun. Don't do anything. They're going to take the car." So now, stupid Carole, I open up the trunk. I'm like—I don't know. I'm starting to put groceries in. I didn't want them hungry! [Laughter.] I'm starting to put the groceries in the trunk. It's so funny when I think about it now, but it's like, what am I thinking of?
And he said, "Drop the bag."
And I've got a grocery bag, and I'm like, "Drop the bag?"
And he said, "Bitch, drop your bag to the ground." Now I realize he's talking about my purse. And I'm like, "Fine. Take the car, don't take my purse." I could live out of my purse for a week, okay? I always have a big, huge purse and everything's in it, and it's like, "Not my purse. Anything but my purse."
And he says, "Drop it," and I dropped the bag.
My housekeeper is going, "What is happening?"
I said, "Just shut up. Just be quiet. They're going to take the car." She's still not understanding what's going on.
So then both these guys leave, jump into my car, they slam down the trunk, and they drive my car off like bats out of hell. They floored that thing and drove out of that parking lot and screeched around the corner. I'm standing there watching my car, and I'm just looking. I'm in a daze. It's like, what has just happened here? I don't have any keys, I don't have any money.
Moorhus: They took the purse?
Simpson: They took the purse. I don't have any money to take a cab. I'm here with this load of groceries, these two baskets full of groceries, and that's it. No key to the house, because she didn't bring her purse. It's two blocks away. So I'm like, what do I do? What do I do?
All of a sudden I get what has happened, and I go screaming back into the supermarket, "They've stolen my car! They've stolen my purse! They had a gun! Call the police! Call the police!" The clerks later told me they had seen them come in. We were spotted when we pulled into the parking lot, and they had come in behind us, these two guys, and had just kind of followed us, waited for just the right moment. The moment was when I turned off the ignition and opened the door.
With a Mercedes, you have to have the keys. If you try to break into a Mercedes, it will destroy the electrical system and you can't drive it. The new anti-theft devices make it worse. This is why carjacking is a big deal. So how do you get the keys? You have to get the keys from the owner, so that's why you carjack.
They had followed us and bought some ice cream. They were right behind us. Watched me, when I got to the car, a guy picked his moment. We were surveilled. We were staked out, and that's frightening to think someone with a gun is watching you. And then it's like, what if I had made a wrong move? All this kind of stuff.
They called the police, and the police came pretty quickly, and I called my husband at work, and he's like, "What?"
I said, "They've stolen my car." I don't know what I was saying. I was probably babbling like an idiot on the phone, and I said, "They've got the garage door opener. They've got our house keys. They've got all my I.D. They know where I work. They know where I live." I had my White House pass, all my—so now I'm thinking, they know who I am and they know I'm somebody, that I might have more stuff, they're going to come back to get me. I'm petrified now, and especially about the garage door opener. So my husband leaves work immediately. I said, "They've got all my credit cards. They've got my air travel card. They've got my telephone credit card." So he came home immediately.
The police came, drove us, with the groceries, back to the house. I had a spare key hidden, and we were able to get into the house. So I'm talking to the police. They don't care. It's a property crime. It's like, "You've got insurance, don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."
And I'm going, "I don't even want the car, but can people just do that?" I said, "I feel so stupid. I just watched them drive away."
And he said, "Hey, we could be drawing your outline in chalk on the sidewalk. You did the exact right thing. Do what they say, whatever they want, give them everything that they want."
But then you go, what if? What if they had forced us into the car and made us go back to the house? What if they had forced us to go to the ATM machine? They could have raped us. You start thinking about what if, what if, what if, but I was doing the most normal thing at the most normal time of day. I was not alone. I'm a cautious person, because I work late hours and I always keep my doors locked and always know, I walk in the middle of the street if it's at night and I've got to go somewhere. I know all of that self-defense kinds of things.
But here I was doing something so normal, so close, in supposedly a safe neighborhood, my environment that I know intimately, I'm not alone, I'm with somebody else, and something like this can happen to you out of the blue? You can start to see now how these things are shaking my—because they came out of nowhere, just totally, and the shock to your system, and again, to your psyche, what the heck is going on?
While the police are there taking my statement as to what happened and not paying much attention and telling me what a lovely house I have, I'm like, "Guys, just catch—" "This is a really nice house. How long have you been here?" They were not taking this seriously, and I'm feeling I could have been dead.
All of a sudden, I hear crackling on his police radio that they've had a bank robbery and that one of the suspects had a hooded blue sweatshirt, and that was the guy that was talking to the housekeeper. I remembered that he was in that, and I remembered what this other guy—I said, "I think that's the guy." They start calling. It turns out they had taken my car, driven to the Dominion Bank in Silver Spring, which was a half-mile from this shopping mall, had held up the bank with a hand grenade. They put on my son's Denver Bronco baseball cap which was in the back—they had the bank tapes—and this guy's there with a hand grenade and a gun holding up this bank with my son's Denver Bronco baseball cap on, and they robbed the bank for-I mean, my car was nothing. My car was small potatoes. They hit the bank for $150,000.
Turns out it's a gang. They had hit about five banks in that year in the Washington area, so these were real professional bad guys, and in a way, the police said that was lucky, because they know what they want and they know how to get it and they know how to handle it, and they didn't want to kill you or mess with you. It wasn't like some crazy kid or something that might shoot you. You were dealing with real professional bad guys.
The police leave, and I said, "I think those are the same guys," so that gave them a lead, and I said, "They had the Mercedes. They're in that car."
Moorhus: They know what kind of car to look for.
Simpson: Well, the FBI was called in on it because now it's bank robbery, it's a federal crime. My husband starts calling, gets a locksmith immediately, disables the garage door, cancels all the cards and stuff like that, and then I just freak out. After I've done all the things [I had to do] and talked to the police, I'm crying, I'm screaming, I'm carrying on. As many crimes as I've covered and as many crime victims as I've covered, you just can't imagine, until you're in that situation, what it is like to have your whole life, really, in the balance. I mean, anything could have happened. Because I was acting so stupidly, I could have started screaming, I don't know what he would have done. I was not thinking right. This was frightening to me, that I thought I'd be cool
in all situations, I'm kind of this tough, hard newswoman and I'll know how to handle any situation that comes my way, and I'm like this idiot.
So then I'm crying and crying, and now it's getting a driver's license, it's money, it's all the I.D.s, all these everythings, and again, I'm scared to go to work. Now they know who I am, they've got all my stuff. Are they going to come back? Are they going to be hiding in the bushes? For five days, I'm a wreck, just a total, total wreck, scared to death again of everything that happens, everything that moves. I'm walking around like this.
I get a telephone call about five days later, and it was a man who lives near Walter Reed Hospital. He said, "Is this Miss Simpson?"
I said, "Yes."
He said, "Do you have a burgundy Mercedes?"
I said, "Well, I did have one."
And he said, "Well, it's parked out here near my house. It's been here for five days, and the keys are in the ignition, and I went in the trunk of the car after I saw nobody coming around and nobody in the neighborhood knew anything about it. I opened up the trunk and found your purse." They had rifled through my purse and had taken some of the credit cards and taken the money. They took my electronic secretary. He found my cards and found I.D., and called, and found my book and some other things, and he said, "Well, your car is here."
I called the police. I'm scared to go to the car. I don't want to see the car. We call the police and meet the police there, and they go in, and, sure enough, the keys are there. They apparently had robbed that bank and just dumped the car right after they did it, and had another getaway car to go away, so my car was there. The police had to dust it for prints and all that kind of stuff, so it was filthy. It had all this black stuff, and I'm like, "Jim, I do not want this car. I'm not getting in this car. This car had a hand grenade in it. This car had a gun in it. I don't want this car anymore." From that day forward, I never got behind the wheel of that car again. I swapped with him. He had a Legend, an Acura Legend, and I said, "I can't." I rode in it [Mercedes] with him driving, but I could not get into the driver's seat anymore. It all came back to me, the terror and the horror of that experience.
It's been a long process. They still haven't caught them. I still live not knowing that some day they may show up or see me on TV and say, "That's the lady and, where is she?" I still live with that, not knowing. I have seen pictures, I think. They brought me all these pictures to look at people, and I think one of them was it, but I couldn't say with 100 percent certainty. If you have a doubt, and I'm thinking about I couldn't misidentify somebody, but I think one of the pictures they showed me was the guy, but they said you have to be able to, without any uncertainty, identify. I'm going, "How is this possible? The hair could be different." And he said, "Sometimes there can be mustaches and beards and they can change their—" But this guy was very clean-cut, very handsome, and one of the other awful things about it is there is a guy that I work with here, he's one of our studio cameramen, he looks just like the guy, so every time I see him, it reminds me again of this horrible experience, and they're still out there. They haven't caught them.
Moorhus: Oh, my gosh.
Simpson: My heart is beating fast as I talk about these things.
Moorhus: Yes. Let's take a break. [Tape interruption.]
Let's pick up with how did you turn this carjacking into journalism?
Simpson: What I didn't realize was that carjacking was something that had been going on for some time. It hadn't hit the Washington area, but was quite common in California, quite common in Dallas, quite common in Newark, New Jersey, that cars were being taken, and they want the fast Japanese imports often or the luxury cars, cars like that. So they lay for tourists, and if you've got a fancy car, you probably have gold jewelry and you probably have some money and you probably have credit cards and you've got all these other kinds of things. So it's been a growing crime.
I was asked to do a story for "20/20" and put my experience in it, because it was a phenomenon that was spreading across the country, this brand-new crime. With all of the new anti-theft devices in the cars, as I said, you have to get the keys to the car to be able—it's not like you used to be able to just break in a car and hot-wire it and drive it off. You can't with these new fancier cars. So the way you do it is you get the driver.
They asked me to go, and we went to Newark, New Jersey, and we went to L.A. There are about twelve carjackings a day in Los Angeles, and there are also these bump-and-robs where they'll tap the back of your car and you get out and they've got your car and gone. All kinds of techniques, and it spreads through the prisons. When guys get out, they tell them, "Hey, here's a new good way to get money and cars," and in Los Angeles it's big money for chop shops. Those cars are chopped up for parts and then sold to reputable dealers. So the problem in California is not as much just random crime as much as it is a business. They'll say, "We need a Porsche, we need a 1992 Porsche." So there are these gangs that will go out and look for that car. Legitimate businesses are playing into the hands of some of this stuff, so it's really a bad problem. Of course, as you saw, this year so far in Washington, now, there have been over 330 carjackings in the Washington metropolitan area, so it's a crime. They've tried to make it a federal crime, but it's easy. It's real easy.
I interviewed a carjacker, a young man who had jacked many cars, and he was out of juvenile home. He was twenty years old. I interviewed him in Newark. He talked about how easy a crime it is. You just get a gun. He said, "I can get twelve people out of a car if you walk up to a big enough car. I can get any car from anybody with a gun—and you put on this tough face" and this bravado, and you could get—it doesn't matter how tall, the gun is the equalizer, and it's a real easy crime.
Moorhus: Was this the first story you'd done for "20/20"?
Simpson: No, I had done "Hands Across America" years ago, remember, when they were trying to link hands across America for hunger and homelessness? I did a total of three pieces for "20/20."
Moorhus: And did you do anything for "Nightline" after the South African story? [Pause.] No.
Simpson: No, not even fill-in. I can't even fill in. I can fill in on every other broadcast on ABC except "Nightline," which kind of bothers me, because I could certainly do "Nightline." I do know how to interview people, and I am comfortable in front of a camera, but it is the broadcast that I
do not seem to be acceptable for for substitute purposes, while many other people that I work with can do it.
Moorhus: How do you like anchoring on the weekend?
Simpson: I love it, because—I shouldn't say this, but I at one time made the mistake of telling my boss that I should pay them for coming in to do that. They went, "Oh, really?" It's a nice combination and it's a combination that I had in Chicago when I was in local news. I reported during the week and anchored on the weekends, and in twenty years I haven't made much progress, though. I'm still working during the week and reporting on the weekends. But what's nice about it is, of course, the visibility is much more there when people see you for a half-hour instead of a two-minute report that you might have on Peter Jennings' newscast. Plus I enjoy—it's like playing dress-up as a little girl. I get my hair done, and somebody puts on my make-up, and I buy pretty bright suits and things like that and go on TV and perform, and it's almost like back when I was acting in high school and college. You're kind of on a stage, and you've got to sell yourself and sell the product and be comfortable doing it.
When news is breaking out, it's incredible. That's like a high. I have fortunately been anchoring when some of the major stories of the past ten years have gone on. I was live with the Tiananmen massacre in Beijing,* and I'm doing live reporting. This is winging it. This is when TV is the most fun, when you're not scripted and when stuff is just happening, and your job there is to help collate that information, be comfortable with it, and explain it to your audience. A real challenge. People are talking into your ear, in your IFB, while you're talking. My husband still can't imagine that I'm able to do that. But while you're talking, somebody's telling you what we're doing next, and you have to be able to listen to that and still continue with your audience and relate to them without breaking the flow and making it look easy.
I did the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.* For fourteen hours I was on the air doing commentary, doing the broadcast, hearing the witnesses, and coming back and forth and talking about what was happening. I did Ferdinand Marcos' ouster from the Philippines. I did the Persian Gulf War, of course. When George Bush had his heart fibrillation problem and they found out it was Grave's disease, we were on live, not knowing what was happening with the president. All kinds of things like that, and that's when it's really wonderful. I had the Bosnian deadline with the first air strikes. A lot of stuff happens on the weekends. A lot of major news has broken on the weekends. I had the last big earthquake, big aftershocks. We were live with that on the weekends.
So that is where you really get to "play TV," and it's you and your product pretty much. It's not doing the report and having to go through producers and executive producers—this is you and the public and you trying to bring this information, and it's what you say, and it's not scripted, and that's also where you draw on all of your experiences. Tiananmen, I think I could report well because I had been in Beijing. I had been in the square. I can see it, I can visualize these things, and that's why it's sad to think that they want to get rid of older reporters, because I know I'm
* Tiananmen Square. On June 6, 1989, Chinese police attacked young demonstrators protesting authoritarian rule by Communist Chinese leaders. Hundreds were killed, injured, or jailed.
* At the Senate confirmation hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, former employee Anita Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her. Although Thomas was confirmed, the hearings focused public attention on sexual harassment in the workplace.
better now than I was ten years ago, twenty years ago, thirty years ago when I began. I have context now. I've seen the world. I've been these places. I've had these experiences. I've covered wars and riots and all kinds of things, so I have some historical context, and there are things that I can draw on from history when I talk about things.
When I talk about the problems in the schools today, I covered segregated schools, and I have a world perspective of understanding what's happening in France, because I've reported in many, many countries around the world. So it's a shame to lose that and try to get younger people that don't have the experience but that you can pay less money to, and lose what those of us who have been at it a while can bring to try to explain to the public what a story means and why it's important and why it's happening.
Moorhus: Is the weekend news a different administrative structure than the weekday news?
Simpson: It's different people, but same kind of structure. But as anchor, I have more input. As a reporter, I'm assigned a story, and as I told you what happened with the breast cancer story, at 5:30 they decided to kill it, that they were going to use something else. As an anchor, and after having done this for six years now, my input is important, so I help determine what's in the broadcast and I can fight for stories. I don't always win, but I can fight for stories to be in the broadcast that might otherwise not be in there. I have some of the input, and meaningful input, into how stories are played, how much time we give it, where it's placed in the broadcast, how important it is. So that's nice, being able to help determine the product. I can determine my little individual product with the pieces that I do, with the stories that I do, but to be able to give a broad context for lots of stories and help determine how they're positioned I think is important.
Moorhus: Has it ever been tried, or would you be interested in, anchoring both Saturday and Sunday?
Simpson: A lot of people think I should, but I miss—it's the only time my husband and my son are off, so to have to work both days, I miss it now that we don't have two days.
Moorhus: So it's a personal decision.
Simpson: Well, they haven't asked me to do it, and a lot of people say, "You should be doing it," but I haven't fought for it, because I do want at least one day that I can have with my son and husband. We try to do something on Saturdays.
Moorhus: Is it the same ABC staff on both Saturday and Sunday?
Simpson: Yes. There's a weekend news staff that's responsible for the Brinkley show and the two evening broadcasts, and it's called "Weekend News." That's another little department.
Moorhus: Have you ever co-anchored?
Simpson: Not since WRC local news. I co-anchored sometimes filling in when I was at NBC. They would ask me sometimes to fill in on WRC, and they had a co-anchor situation, and I filled in like that. But no, not at the network level, I've never co-anchored.
Moorhus: Do you think that ABC would ever go to a co-anchor situation for the nightly news?
Simpson: Yes. I think if they see—I was hoping Connie Chung and Dan Rather would make a difference.* It is still disturbing to me that in 1994, until quite recently, we still had three white male anchors of the evening newscasts. As I say, when you think that more than half the population is female, and presumably roughly half of our audience is going to be female, that the news is still presented by white males on daily basis bothers me. I think we're past that. So I was hoping when Connie was added to Dan Rather, that they would just shoot to the top, because everybody's going to do what's going to make the money, who's going to get the viewers. So I was hoping it would be more successful than it's turned out to be, although I've noticed the last couple of weeks they've moved into second place. They were in third place for a while, so it's starting to move. But yes, they're going to do what is going to make a difference with the audience, and I bet if that flies, they'll decide maybe Peter [Jennings] could use Diane Sawyer next to him or something. I don't know.
Moorhus: That would be an interesting combination. Amazing.
Well, certainly one of the other highly visible things that you've done in the last couple of years is the presidential debate in October of 1992 before the election.
Simpson: This is going to take an hour to talk about.
Moorhus: Does that mean you don't want to talk about it now?
Simpson: Yes. You said I'd be finished in an hour and a half!
Moorhus: Okay. We'll do that in another session.
* CBS News named Connie Chung as co-anchor with Dan Rather of the "CBS Evening News" beginning
June 1, 1993.
© 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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