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Interview With Israel's President; Interview With Brian Williams

Aired November 14, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight my exclusive interview with Israel's President Shimon Peres on that open mike Sarkozy moment heard around the world. His relationship with President Obama and the nuclear danger from Iran.

Plus he brings America the news every night. What does Brian Williams really think about the stories he covers? Tonight I'll ask him about politics.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, MANAGING EDITOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": This is the Andy Warhol primary process for the Republicans. Everyone has the lead for 15 minutes.

MORGAN: The greatest moment of his life.

WILLIAMS: I would have to say taking this job when Tom Brokaw stepped down.

MORGAN: And watches the brand old man of American news does something I guarantee you've never seen him do before.

WILLIAMS: When we come back, I want to ask you if you've ever been properly in love. But don't answer now.


It's a pretty tumultuous year in the Middle East with governments falling in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. And unrest all rocking the region. From Syria to Yemen and Bahrain. And in the middle of it all, Israel.

Joining me now is Shimon Peres, the president of Israel and the author of "Ben-Gurion: The Political Life."

Mr. President, thank you very much for joining me. It's been an extraordinary year, as I've said. How does Israel feel about all these uprisings throughout the Middle East? What is the collective mood at the moment?

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL: I think it's a change of generations more than the difference of culture. There are 220 million Arabs in the Middle East. Twenty percent of them are young, from 19 to 26. They are more educated, more modern, and they are the carrier of the revolution. But it's a disorganized revolution. MORGAN: One of the most important things I would imagine for Israel right now is the support of allies, particularly America. There was an extraordinary story only a few days ago involving a conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama in which President Sarkozy said about Prime Minister Netanyahu, "I can't stand him. He's a liar."

What was your reaction when you heard about this?

PERES: I think gossiping is a bad thing.

MORGAN: I mean, gossiping is a bad thing, but when it comes from the president of France to the president of the United States --

PERES: Yes, but --

MORGAN: And it basically calls --

PERES: I don't think that this was considered a judgment of Mr. Netanyahu. And in politics, you know, from time to time becoming a little bit angry. And -- but I wouldn't take it as a judgment and I don't think this really represent the character and leadership of Mr. Netanyahu.

MORGAN: Are you concerned at all about the nature of the support from President Obama and America right now? Because clearly it's a crucial relationship. Are you confident that you have President Obama's full hundred percent support?

PERES: You know, when I judge by his actions he really has shown friendship. I don't judge a person just by what he says, but rather by what he does. And so in fact he was friendly to Israel and we appreciate it.

Now the dangers we are facing are not a monopoly of Israel. There are world dangers. Iran is a danger to the rest of the world, not just to Israel. And Israel alone cannot meet this great challenge or danger. And I think the only real power in the world that cares about the overall situation worldwide is the United States of America. To this very day, we don't have a match for this responsibility.

MORGAN: Let's turn to Iran. Because you said very recently the possibility of Israel launching a military attack on Iran is, quote, "highly likely." This is clearly got everybody nervous, there's no question of that. There has been rumor of this now for two or three years.

Do you believe that it actually could come to an attack in the near future? I mean, how serious should we be taking your comments?

PERES: Well, I don't think that this is a correct interpretation of what I have said. I was asked what is nearer today a military option or a political solution. I say unfortunately the political solution is far away so the military option is closer. I didn't say that Israel will do it. Now Israel would really prefer that the attempt to stop the Iranians from building a bomb, which would really create a terrible situation in the Middle East because they're not only building a bomb, they're also the center of terror.

And all the leaders of our world, President Obama, President Medvedev, President Sarkozy, they say they will not permit to have an Iranian with a nuclear bomb. So we call upon them really to meet their responsibility, their promise.

MORGAN: When you see the comments and behavior by President Ahmadinejad, you know, he's made no secret of the fact that he doesn't believe in the holocaust, he believes that the eradication of Israel would be a good thing.

When you have somebody in his position with his kind of power apparently are getting nearer and nearer to a nuclear capability, are you surprised that more leaders around the world are not making a more concerted effort to get rid of him, to enforce regime change?

PERES: I think in the beginning most of the leaders thought that it would take a longer period of time before they'll have a bomb. Now with the publication of the Atomic Energy in Geneva we know that time is very short and they have to take it into consideration because then it's maybe too late.

I wouldn't suggest to start immediately with the military operation, nothing at all. I would rather prefer to see a tighter economic sanction, a closer political pressure, and what is lacking very much is an attack in moral sense because Iran is a spoiled country. It's morally corrupt.

Therefore killing the only country that threatens to destroy another country openly. They hang people. They arrest the opposition. They shoot around. They spread arms. They encourage every center of terror all over the world. It's a danger.

And today terror is a global matter very much like economy. They can arrive with 9/11 to New York, it can arrive to Chechnya, it can arrive to Moscow. It's mobile and it's dangerous. So I don't think we have to feel alone in that respect.

MORGAN: I mean the latest report suggests that Iran may be 62 days away from enriching its uranium, but several years away from actually developing a fully capable nuclear weapon. But clearly, the clock is ticking here. And Israel has to make a decision.

Could you foresee a situation where Israel may take military action without the whole support of the United Nations or indeed America?

PERES: Israel fails to foresee what the world is doing. We don't want to tramp Iran. We are part of the civilization of the family of international responsible countries. And we expect that the leaders that make a promise will fulfill it. MORGAN: Let's turn to Palestine, if we may, Mr. President, were you surprised that the Palestinians went directly to the U.N. in the way that they did? What is your view?

PERES: I think they've created a mistake, but mistakes are being done by many people. It can also be done by the Palestinians. I think the right way to really have a fair solution based on two states for the two people is by direct negotiation. There is no other way because an agreement is based on agreeing not on forcing.

Unfortunately, the United Nations cannot answer their expectations nor our needs. The United Nations cannot create a Palestinian state. They can create a declaration about a Palestinian state. The United Nations cannot guarantee the security of Israel and can issue a paper about it. And we are talking in real terms.

In real terms is the Palestinians it vows will meet directly. We talked already a great deal. I think we made progress. And I believe the Palestinians are entitled to have a state of their own. I think Israel morally and otherwise wouldn't like to be the master of another people.

We weren't born to rule other people. So basically we agree. It's a matter of technicalities. It's a matter of security. It's a matter of definitions. And it's -- I don't say it's easy, I say it's possible and needed.

MORGAN: You've written this fascinating and very moving book about your mentor, David Ben-Gurion. He was a heroic leader in many ways. What do you think he would have made of the fact that there is still no settlement with the Palestinians so long after he started this process?

PERES: He would concentrate on this issue as the main topic. And he would make decisions and invest energy and willpower and try to call the people to do so. He wouldn't change his mind. He was really an unusual person. He's the only leader in the 20th century that led the country that he wasn't born in. That had a war before he had an army. That became the head of an army without any experience.

He was the head of a nation that was dispersed. We were very -- it was a small community at the time that Israel was formed. We were only 600,000 people surrounded by 40 million Arabs that attacked us. And, you know, there was an embargo against it. Even countries that recognized us wouldn't sell us rifles for self-defense. And he never lost his hope.

So if you think, shall I say, in a cool manner we should have lost and we didn't. But I look back upon Ben-Gurion, I today feel that his dream was smaller than the reality that is created. A man of great courage and a human being and a Democrat.

MORGAN: He was certainly a remarkable man. And it's a fascinating book. "Ben-Gurion, A Political Life" by Shimon Peres.

Mr. President, thank you very much for your time today. PERES: Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up not necessarily the news, Brian Williams on Chelsea Clinton's NBC job and his second career in comedy.




TED KOPPEL, NBC NEWS: Williams. Welcome aboard.

WILLIAMS: Kate Snow.



Seth Myers, fake news anchor. Not one of ours.


MORGAN: Brian Williams, although he may not appreciate this, has become the grand old man of American news. He's the anchor and managing editor of "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" and has a new show, "Rock Center with Brian Williams."

Not bad for a guy from New Jersey whose first job was as a bus boy at Perkins Pancake House. And Brian Williams joins me now.

It's been a long way from that pancake house, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Can I quibble with grand old man? I mean there's nothing grand about me whatsoever. But yes, I'm about as lucky as anyone who will ever sit in this chair across from you.

MORGAN: What is the definition of news in the modern age, do you think?

WILLIAMS: Oh, I think it's very clear. Take the broadcast I do, "NBC nightly news." we are very fortunate to be the leader among the three traditional network evening newscasts. It's the oldest product NBC has in a building built for the radio era, and yet we have built our audience over this past year.

And my theory is that people know it when they see it, to quote the great Justice Potter Stewart. They know our brand name. And if they come to us in the evening, they're not going to get yelled at. They're not going to hear my opinions. Those are immaterial.

They're going to hear the stories as we've stacked them and go through them from what happened today in America. And they know their local paper. They know the Webs sites they like. So I think it's in the eye of the beholder, but we all know what the definition is. MORGAN: I'm approaching my first anniversary of my time at CNN. It struck me that it's been an unbelievable year for separate breaking news stories, but you're the guy to ask about this. Has it been exceptional?

WILLIAMS: I see our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel in our building when he's in this country. And I think about the places we've been in the last decade. I think about getting ready to go out on patrol with him in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think about this past spring walking with him in Tahrir Square the day before it went sour, the day it went sour, and then the night afterwards.

And he's kind of my barometer through whom I measure all these events.

Piers, I would have to sit down with you -- it goes so quickly, and because I'm a day-of-air journalist, it's very common among us if you ask me, what was your lead story last Thursday, I can't tell you.

We hit kind of escape at the end of the day, and we start recycling for the next day literally when we get off the air. We're starting to think where to put correspondents. It's such break neck speed, but 2011, I think those magazines that come out at the end of the year -- and I'm sure your anniversary will be foremost among the stories. You'll want to get those issues of the magazine just to catch up on the break neck pace.

MORGAN: I mean I think to understand just how much of a newsman you are, I got a real insight into this because I was in London for the royal wedding earlier this year. And you flew in for that royal wedding. And I think you actually turned around in your car as it sped from Heathrow Airport to London because you heard about this massive tornado back in the United States that had killed over 300 people.

And your natural gut instinct was, well, sod this royal wedding. I'm going home to cover what is to me a more important story. I thought that was a very interesting barometer to the Brian Williams' news sense. Tell me about that.

WILLIAMS: Well, I wasn't doing it for any gallantry or headlines. I didn't think anyone would ever really know that I had arrived in London. I was at baggage claim, Piers. I had done "Nightly News" the night before. I'm a bit of a weather buff. And I always have the Weather Channel on in my office. And I had seen an F- 4 or 5 tornado approaching Tuscaloosa.

I came out in the newsroom 6:15 Eastern Time and said -- that's a college town, population of about 110,000. But by the time I went to JFK to get on my British Air flight to London, we took off at 8:45, the veil had come down over Tuscaloosa, no communications, no news.

But 5 1/2 hours later on the baggage claim at Heathrow and my BlackBerry is going wild with this death toll that had reached -- you know, 173 people. So I called my boss who was over in London, and I got as far as a nice residential neighborhood off the motorway, and I asked the cab driver to pull over.

And I said, this is our story, it's our country. I thing we need to go home. I was on the ground in London for probably five hours. I got a strange look when I got back to terminal five at Heathrow from the people at who had just seen me walk through there and I said, I needed to go back to New York City.

MORGAN: You've established yourself very much, I mean not as the grand old man of American news but certainly I would say the most authoritative and respected anchorman in news in America now.

That carries with it a particular responsibility, doesn't it? I mean you, I know, have revered many of your predecessors. Tell me about that unique place that you have as a news anchor in America?

WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, and no false modesty here either. Let's remember that every night I face off against Diane Sawyer and Scott Pelley who are two of the best journalists in America certainly among television journalists. And let's also remember I'm about to celebrate my seventh anniversary, I guess, in the chair.

My competition, when I started, that scant few years ago was Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. And we miss Peter every day, but the landscape changes so quickly. It's not for everybody. I always say to people, I talk to a lot of students and I talk to our NBC page program twice a year.

And I always say to them, I found you'll do better if this is what you've always dreamed of doing. If you chose our occupation at career day in high school, if it was either dentistry, farming or television journalism, and it sounded like a good idea to you, I think you'll fail.

You have to want this for the days you're in Tuscaloosa, for the days you're living on a fire base in Afghanistan, and for those very dangerous walks through Tahrir Square.

MORGAN: How much of a news junkie are you? I mean are you one of these absolute freaks that just wakes up at 6:00 a.m. like I do and start endlessly reading Web sites, Twitter, blogs, turn on the news, and then just carry on all day long? Are you a news adrenaline junkie?

WILLIAMS: I am. I have your network on a lot, I have MSNBC on a lot. I -- it's not uncommon for me to have three media going at home in the evening. My wife Jane is lovely and has been the most understanding woman for 25 years. I'll have my laptop open. I have my BlackBerry, I have my briefcase with linear versions, paper versions of newspaper websites. And I have the television on. And yes, I must know everything. I watch way too much television, way too much television.

There should probably be a program that I can enter for complete immersion for two weeks. But it's -- but it's a vocation and an avocation, Piers. I can't imagine doing anything else. And if I wasn't doing it at this level, I would hope they would take me at local news, I would edit a blog, I would edit a Web site. I would work for my local paper.

That's just -- that's just a love of knowing what's going on. I've got a New York Fire Department scanner in my office and one at home. So when I see trucks and hear sirens, I can know what they're responding to. My friend Lester Holt does the same thing. That's very common among us very strange news addicts.

MORGAN: Well, rest assured, it all goes wrong for you at "NBC Nightly News" there would always be a place on my team at the CNN PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT staff.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

MORGAN: When we come back, I want to talk to you about one of the biggest news stories of the last week. The Penn State scandal.


MORGAN: Back with my special guest Brian Williams.

Brian, this whole Penn State scandal has gathered real momentum and has said a lot, really, I think, about the American psyche, about the importance of sport, about how normal values can get reduced in a way by wanting to win at all costs. What do you make of it?

WILLIAMS: It's the most disturbing story in so long that we've come across, Piers. I saw it in the eyes of my friend David Gregory who was angry yesterday morning on "Meet the Press." He has several children. I'm a father of two. And I recognized what I saw in my friend and colleague David, who is normally a very straight down the middle interviewer, but he couldn't help it.

I'm also a Catholic, who was forced to watch my church go through this and routinely mishandle a terrible scandal that shook the modern American Catholic Church to its core. I played high school football for a -- he was called at the time maniacal borderline psychopathic coach who was rough with us.

And you could tell was trying to break us like colts so we would turn around and give him his undying love that he wanted from us. Was never around anything like this, this predatory behavior, again, if allegations are true. A friend of mine keeps saying, you guys in the media are getting bogged down with the daily revelations. Keep your eyes on the prize. Will Penn State lose its football program? Will the civil settlements it's forced to pay out bankrupt the place?

Will this mean wholesale departures of the board? Will this mean a change for college football? And I'm watching the NCAA so carefully now because the spotlight is going to shift to them. This kind of behavior can't be tolerated anywhere.

MORGAN: I mean it's interesting to me as a total outsider here -- I'm not a massive American football nut by any means -- but I was watching the kind of conflicted emotions about Joe Paterno, this heroic legendary figure in American sport who had been there for nearly 50 years. And I found it increasingly disturbing there seemed to be a complete reality shutoff about his complicity in this. And it seemed to me purely because he was this heroic figure. Nobody really wanted to believe that Joe Paterno could have been involved in any kind of cover-up about child sex abuse.

WILLIAMS: We could take the rest of the hour and tomorrow night's hour as well, and I still wouldn't be able to fully tell the story, the myth of Joe pa in Happy Valley. It's beyond anything in American sports.

The great rider bus messenger who is the author of "Friday Night Lights" has been blogging along with several other people warning Penn State, begging Penn State, going back a year or two, you guys have to have an exit strategy. This is not working and his productive years are over. And what are you going to do? How are you going to extract this legend?

And of course, if Penn State, the board and others had listened to common sense and the voice in their heads, we wouldn't be looking at the removal of Paterno on top of the mounting human tragedy here, just the damage that's been done to people.

You know, when I look back at my son when he was eight years old, the beginning age in the indictment of some of these kids, he wore a football helmet around the house for about a year of his life. Was football obsessed and could conceivably have been one of these kids coming to this football camp.

We're a big football household and big new York giants household and big New York Giants households. And there's nothing better in this country than a Saturday afternoon when Michigan's playing Ohio State. You can feel the excitement. But that's what it ought to be about. And not this.

MORGAN: You're talking about news earlier, NBC "Nightly News" has taken on a new star reporter, Chelsea Clinton. Are you pleased with this new addition to the armory?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Somebody pointed out we have Jenna Bush on "The Today Show" and now we have Chelsea Clinton on "Nightly News." I mentioned Richard Engel earlier. Here is a kid who went to Stanford and the day he graduated left for Cairo. He wanted to learn Arabic and live out in the world.

And I've always said when people come to journalism from a basis of being super smart and worldly and curious, come one, come all. And she just wants to work for us. And Chelsea just wants to do our Making a Difference Franchise stories. These are stories about people. We're surrounded by them. We meet them every day, who are choosing to do good things for, in some cases, people they'll never meet.

My wife actually gave this series its start just because she thought we could afford two, three minutes a day on our broadcast to highlight good works. Well, Chelsea Clinton noticed these stories and wants to work with us. I think with her intellect and her -- the life she has lived and the world she has seen, I think it will give her a very, very unique viewpoint.

And really at the end of the day -- this was pointed out in this morning's paper -- most Americans haven't heard her voice. And they don't know that Chelsea -- I don't know her well, but what an impressive, impressive woman who has, at every turn, lived her life so well thus far.

MORGAN: I think she'll be terrific and for all the reasons that you just said. It's an inspired appointment. But there will be journalistic critics who say this is just further evidence of news networks dumbing down. It's the celebrification, if you like, of news, of conventional news journalism. What would you say to that?

WILLIAMS: If a candidate walked into our offices with her academic training, with her travel, with her access and time around conversations at the highest levels with policy makers, with her business experience, with just her travel experience, we would sit down if their name was Nancy, and have a thorough conversation about coming to work for us at NBC News.

That her name is Chelsea Clinton is all the better. I can't wait to hear her voice and her viewpoint. And I would remind everybody that there was much kerfuffle about Tim Russert's resume. Oh, my goodness, he worked for a couple elected Democrats. And what that nicely left out was Tim Russert's talent and intellect and ability to call them down the middle.

What is he remembered for and what do people miss about him? His decency, his humanity and his incredible ability to call them down the middle. So I would urge everyone to let's sit back and watch some of Chelsea Clinton's work on the air.

MORGAN: Yeah, I'm with you on that. There were three things that you're obsessed with, Brian Williams, news, politics and presidential history. So I'm imagining you're beginning to get very, very excited about the next few months. So when we come back after the break, your triple whammy.



WILLIAMS: You're state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, sir, I've never struggled with that at all.


MORGAN: It's from the Republican presidential debate on MSNBC in September. I'm back with Brian Williams. Before we get o the GOP race, Brian, I want to talk to you about your strange obsession with American presidents. And in particular, with two little nuggets I discovered about you, which I found fascinating.

One is that you're particularly enthralled by Zachary Taylor. And the reason for that is that Zachary -- I think I'm quoting directly here -- died after being in the sun too much at the dedication of the Washington Monument, and then ate too much berries and cream.

WILLIAMS: Just amazing to me -- well, first, I would add another obsession and that's British-based talk show hosts. I -- I -- the parts of the presidency that I love are those little stories, the death of president Garfield at my beloved Jersey shore about eight miles from where I grew up. He thought after being shot that the air on the Jersey Shore would have a restorative power, as I find it to have around about August 1st.

Zachary Taylor, we were so young a nation and so medically naive that, yes, it's believed he had a kind of rancid bowl of cherries and milk in the hot sun and there was no saving him. And of course, now given medical science.

But it's that nuggetry, the granular nature of our presidential history I've always enjoyed. I was eight years old, I guess, when I wrote President Johnson, having seen the iconic photo of him listening to a reel to reel tape recorder in the cabinet room alone.

And he slumped his head down. I learned later that on that tape was a young Marine lieutenant named Charles Robb who, if he wasn't already, was going to become Johnson's son-in-law. That's how Lyndon Johnson knew a lot of what he knew about the Vietnam War, were these tapes dictated by Lieutenant Robb.

And it was too much for the old man. And I, in effect, wrote him a letter saying, buck up, cheer up, you've got the job. And I got a letter back from the White House. Apparently my letter, written as a little boy in Upstate New York, was part of his nighttime reading. He would read about a representative sample, about a dozen letters a night, a tradition President Obama continues today.

MORGAN: Well, talking presidency, there's a new poll out today, CNN/ORC GOP poll. Romney at 24 points, Gingrich up to 22 percent, Herman Cain down to 14 and Rick Perry at 12 percent.

Clearly these have been moving around a lot now. Mitt Romney appears to be the Steady Eddie of this group, always around 24, 25 percent. But the emergence of somebody like Newt Gingrich may be significant in the sense that he's what I would say, again, as an outsider, is a real player here.

WILLIAMS: But this is the dating period, I think. Someone said this is the Andy Warhol primary process for the Republicans. Everyone has the lead for 15 minutes.

I think, Piers, a couple things. Both of our cable networks would go out of business if people stopped speculating and predicting this race. And yet I think it is so foolish to try to predict politics. A week is a year in politics. Anything could happen this afternoon.

Second, I think most people kind of believe in the Republican party that Romney will ultimately be the nominee. And yet there he is stuck at a quarter of the electorate. And these other players have come and gone and risen and fallen. When Rick Perry got into this race, everyone was saying, here's a retail politician who is going to take this thing by storm, most elected governor of Texas.

And we have seen his travails and his challenges recently. So Republicans are famous for uniting around the eventual nominee, regardless of differences. And if it is any one of these people, they will be formidable challenges to the incumbent president.

MORGAN: No incumbent president has ever won a second term with unemployment anything like these figures. And yet Barack Obama, by common consent, would have a pretty good chance of doing so if the election was held tomorrow. We are in extraordinary times, aren't we?

WILLIAMS: We are. One person I know who is very close to the Obama West Wing is troubled by, as he puts it, the many ways the West Wing staff feels they can get to 270, that magic electoral vote number. That can breed cockiness.

Both parties here need to be very, very wary. As the movie said, be very, very scared. And they need to be cautious in this campaign. This will be -- the Obama White House, what we know about the president is he's a fierce campaigner. Look at what he was able to achieve.

People get to judge him as a governor, as a leader of the United States. But now he goes out and campaigns again.

MORGAN: America is going through a very tough time at the moment. You're a quintessential American in many ways. And I mean that as a great compliment. What do you think's gone wrong with the American business model?

WILLIAMS: Well, in my -- thank you for saying that. In my patriotism, in my love of country, I yield to no one. But I am also highly critical, and often call us out when I feel we've lost the thread.

When I look at us -- I was born in 1959. Our trains travel the same speed as they did back then. Our cars are still using gasoline. And our jet aircraft travel at the same speed.

Yes, we have great things like the iPad, but we are also in the process of -- right now, throughout New England, after this freak storm, we are stretching electric wires tight, attaching them to wooden poles that used to be trees, and putting them hard up against the trees.

And I'm not a Nobel Prize recipient like our other guest this evening. And call me prescient, but in the next snow or ice storm, Piers, those wires are going to come down and they're going to take power with them. And it's going to be out for six to eight days throughout New England. And it's going to cost us productivity.

It's this kind of thing, the old American spirit of building those B-24s every 90 minutes, when are we going to apply that to things the way we used to? That's where I hold my country to task.

MORGAN: We're going to lift that weight a bit after we come back after the break, by turning to your comedic side.

WILLIAMS: Oh, boy.

MORGAN: Mr. Williams. Apparently the funniest newsman in American television. I don't know whether you think that's a bonus or a negative. But we'll find out.




WILLIAMS: Part of my daily ritual, I like to find time to watch footage of my favorite news anchor of all time. The master at work.


WILLIAMS: So highly unfair.

MORGAN: That's Brian Williams in a digital short for NBC "Saturday Night Live." You're a bit of a comedy star, aren't you? You're always popping up on "Saturday Night Live," "Jimmy Fallon," doing your slow news -- whatever it may be. You like this kind of stuff, don't you?

WILLIAMS: Well, I -- I'm -- I don't -- I never know what to say about this. Talk about in the eyes of the beholder. I guess the person to be blamed for was the first person who asked, who said, hey, can you get up here and do that? Can you come on our show and do this?

I never intended for any of this to happen. In our office with my assistant, I called them the extracurriculars. I turn down most of the very kind invitations to do things. But I have a lot of very good friends, especially at NBC. Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, these are fantastic people. Seth Myers, the entire cast of SNL, Lorne Michaels.

So when they call, it's very difficult. They know I'm not a pro. And they know they're going to get what they're going to get from a news guy freelancing. So it's all been very odd and -- what I will say one thing, the audience has been very understanding.

About once every six months, an emotionally constipated television critic, sometimes on the web, will harumph that this is blurring the line between news coverage and entertainment. Well, you know, and you want to write back, what don't you get about the work we did in Tahrir Square or after Katrina or our travels overseas to cover our armed forces? Because that's very clearly not "30 Rock." And it's not "Jimmy Fallon" and it's not SNL.

I just think that understatements the smarts of the viewing audience. People get it. They know what they're looking at. And they've been very kind and very understanding about my transgressions into accidental comedy.

MORGAN: I totally agree. I love the fact that you do that kind of stuff. To me, it makes you more of a well rounded human being, which I would have thought for a news anchor is vitally important. I think there's a real degree of pomposity about media criticism when people like you do that kind of thing.

I would find it much weirder if you didn't ever have moments of levity like that.

WILLIAMS: Well, people now greet me so differently. This, of all things, has led people -- I guess I talk about pompous -- let's talk about ourselves in the third person -- to feel that they know me. And the way that they approach me is entirely different after having done all of this.

You can talk to the American people through this lens on an evening newscast for seven years a night all you want. When you sit down across from Jon Stewart, take out your rapiers, and have at it, that is fun. I do the same thing often with David Letterman. They've been very kind about having me on.

It uses a different kind of muscle group. It uses a different department of your brain. And I'm very fortunate. I'm very lucky, because I'm the one having the fun.

MORGAN: I'm told that one of your numerous comedic talents is you do a very good impression of me?

WILLIAMS: Just my favorite thing about you -- in addition to the title graphic which shows you in that room with so many dust particles. I'm amazed that CNN shot those promos. I mean, it's visible. I'm worried about you getting Mesothelioma . It's really -- there are coal miners working in cleaner conditions, just visible dust particles that catch the light.

But second, my favorite thing about is your thing. You ask guests, going into a break, when we come back, I want to ask you if you've ever been properly in love. But don't answer now. Sometimes you'll get a guest like Jeff Bridges who will look at you and go, are we doing this now? What's the deal? So you want me to know about this question and shut up about it over this commercial break and then maybe we'll -- I love it, it flummoxes guests.

I've watched just enough of your show to know that's your thing, along with the whole accent and the I own a pub, Devil may care persona.

MORGAN: Funny enough, we are taking a break. When we come back, I am going to ask you, Brian Williams, how many times have you been properly in love. WILLIAMS: Oh my God. All righty.


MORGAN: Back with Brian Williams. Brian, I would never have dreamed of going there if you hadn't prompted it. But how many times have you been properly in love in your life?

WILLIAMS: Once and I remain there. I've been married for 25 years. If you don't count beloved pets and all of that. If you're just talking about the human side of things, yes, that would be the answer.

MORGAN: Finally, Brian, the other question I like to ask many guests is, with the exception of personal stuff like getting married and having kids and so on, what would you say has been -- this is a fascinating picked for you in particular. What has been the greatest moment of your life, of all the things you've been involved with, that you witnessed, everything?

WILLIAMS: If we're leaving aside marriage and birth of children and things like that, I would have to say, because it has defined me and it gives me the job title on my business card -- I would have to say taking this job when Tom Brokaw stepped down, because it was so unlikely, because of my very modest circumstances growing up, dropping out of school, kicking around and really not showing any promise.

That would have to be it. I grew up one of these American kids, watching Walter Cronkite in black and white, saying to myself, now, that's the job; that's it right there. And how outlandish that in this great country, a kid with my background could grow up, if you dream hard enough and get the right breaks, you can have that job. You can be in that job some day and be interviewed by someone from Great Britain.

MORGAN: Well, Brian, it's been a great pleasure and a great honor. I'm a huge fan. You are where all anchors would like to be one day. Brian Williams, thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, sir.

MORGAN: That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.