This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 11, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow citizens, our nation is poised for greatness. We must do what we know is right and do it with all our might. Let history say of us these were golden years when the American revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life and America reached for her best.
[END VIDEO C
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Ronald Reagan (search) had a boundless capacity for optimism. He also had a gift for making Americans believe in themselves and their country.
While his speeches were uplifting, they also conveyed a sense of determination. Ken Khachigian was President Reagan's chief speech writer. He joins me now from the Reagan Library. Ken, when we heard President Reagan speak, were we hearing Ken Khachigian (search) or President Reagan?
KEN KHACHIGIAN, PRESIDENT REAGAN'S SPEECHWRITER: No, you were always hearing President Reagan largely because those of us who worked for him basically reflected him. We tried very hard to make sure that it was his voice that was coming out of our typewriters, and that's what I learned very quickly working for him in 1980 when I started. I was a little intimated, and I found within about 48 hours that the best thing to do was to listen to him, watch his gestures, his modulation, the words that he used. And then, from there on I think I was just basically being him in a different persona.
GIBSON: Well, how do you do that? What would you pick up from him that would tell you how to formulate a speech?
KACHIGIAN: Well, for one thing, I took some advice from Mrs. Reagan. She was a very good listener, and critic and helper. On one occasion, she took me aside and said, you know, Ronnie is at his best when he conveys emotion and is emotional. So every chance I got, I picked up on advice from her or from him. He liked short, declarative sentences. Also, the — one very important thing is when he I had edited his speeches, I read them very closely to see how he edited them. He was known, as he said, in Hollywood, not as a good script writer, but as a good script doctor. I'll tell you one little story that is indicative of — he would start so many sentences by that — saying well. And it got confusing because the cadence of a speech is very important, So, finally I asked him about that. He said, you know, well, that's a stage pause. It helps you think about the next sentence. So his writers, including me, started including that at the beginning of sentences, and we would right well . . . And he would pick up from there. He was a very disciplined orator. And you just learn from him every single day.
GIBSON: He had a reputation of being a smart guy, but didn't at the time he was speaking nobody said there walks Winston Churchill (search). Yet, looking back, we now see that maybe there was more in those speeches and more in that communication that a lot of people gave him credit for at the time. What did he personally add to the great themes that you would need to deal with in a speech? How would he fix it?
KACHIGIAN: Well, for one thing, he would look at a speech and he would tell you right off if there was a concern he had about it. As I said, he would prefer — he wasn't big on grand, eloquent words and big structured sentences. He liked simplicity. He used to tell me a story about working at WHO radio in Des Moines how the call sign used to be — this is WHO radio station in Des Moines, Iowa. And he said we whittled it down to WHO Des Moines because we knew it was radio, and there was only one Des Moines, and it was in Iowa.
So we learned lessons like that, but I also learned just from listening to him talk before we do a speech, he would tell a patriotic story or he would tell you how emotional he would get when he saw the flag or he would tell you stories about the POW's coming home from Vietnam. You would pick up on those things and realize that this enormous love of America and the sacrifice made by its soldiers and its work-a-day people were things that were imbued in his soul. You look for things like that.
GIBSON: Ken Khachigan, President Reagan's chief speechwriter joining us from the Reagan Library out there in Simi Valley. Ken, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
KACHIGIAN: Thanks. Good-bye, John.