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Larry King Live

What Is the State of Journalism?

Aired March 31, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite joins the most famous executive producer in television, Don Hewitt. Plus, the publisher of the world's most influential newspaper, Katharine Graham, and famed veteran journalist Hugh Downs. We're going to talk about TV news and journalism, then and now, and it's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We've got a great panel tonight. We'll talk about lots of things in the news. Cumulatively, we have 321 years of experience. Walter Cronkite is the elder of the panel at age 83 and Don Hewitt is the baby at 77. Hugh Downs is 79, and the lovely Katharine Graham is 82 years young.

So we'll start with questions for each.

Walter, what in television news has changed the most?

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: The news.

KING: You mean what is the news?

CRONKITE: The presentation of television news -- it's changed, I am afraid, for my likes, at any rate, for the poorer. There is less real news being delivered on the broadcasts, most of them. You can't paint this all with a broad brush because they differ from time to time, but basically, there's less feature material, not nearly, I think enough news , and serious delinquencies in failure to cover foreign news.

KING: The look is better, right? The graphics are better, the way the presentation is better?

CRONKITE: Sure, sure, you'd expect that, for Heaven's sakes.

KING: But the content you think is less.

CRONKITE: Content is the important matter, and that is not as good as it was before.

KING: Katharine, what's the biggest change in newspapers?

KATHARINE GRAHAM, PUBLISHER, "WASHINGTON POST": Larry, I think that unlike Walter is saying that television is worse, I think the quality newspapers, of which there are many, are better. I think the news is more completely reported. It's reported by people who are professionals, like doctors and lawyers, architects, and I'm very proud of the way the news is being reported.

KING: Same in the magazine field, too? You publish "Newsweek." Magazines are better?

GRAHAM: I agree, it is.

KING: Magazines are better, too?

GRAHAM: I think so.

KING: Don, what about -- well, magazine television, if we could call it that with broad brush, better, worse? What's the biggest difference?

DON HEWITT, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, CBS "60 MINUTES": Well, for a long time, there was so many that they were using it as filler, and it wasn't about news; it was about filling time. But I think the big change in television was when we went from being a service to being a business, and I'm afraid "60 Minutes" is responsible for turning what was a service into a business, and a very profitable business, and Katharine would know better than any of us ,because she owns the stations, all of whom are making money from television.

KING: so you were the culprit who brought a good thing to it, but it turned out bad? Are you saying that, Don?

HEWITT: No, it didn't turn out bad. It turned out differently. I just wish that the people in the business had the same feeling about news as they had when it was a service. I think that's what's happened to newspapers and magazines. It isn't just us. It -- television is no better, no worse than newspapers or magazines. We're all doing a pretty good job.

KING: And Hugh Downs, as an anchor for years of "20/20," a very successful magazine format, what's the biggest change you have seen?

HUGH DOWNS, FORMER CO-ANCHOR, ABC "20/20": Well, the biggest change, I guess is -- the biggest change is in the technology, because it's just -- even in 21 years that I have done "20/20," it's an enormous change, and it tends to be perception that the technology outstrips the content. That's not quite true. I would agree with what Walter said about those shortcomings, but I would like to introduce a mitigating note, and that is that for a generation ago, it was considered on network broadcasting that nothing was news unless it was geopolitical, or domestically political or military, almost nothing, and now the introduction of things that people need to know about -- medical things, family things, some scientific things -- that broadens it a little bit, even if it engages the public in a way that gets us accused finally of show business or something. I don't think that's quite true. I think they're performing a broader service than they were a generation ago.

CRONKITE: But, Hugh, the problem with your formation of this is that, sure, health is important, your bankbook is important, all of these little things that they put on the evening news is important, but they now have all of these "20/20"-type shows. That's where that stuff belongs. They've only got 22, 23 minutes in the evening to deliver the news of a very complicated nation, a terribly complicated world. There's not time in that for these feature stories. They belong elsewhere in the day's broadcast.

KING: You're saying they don't belong on the CBS Evening News, but they do belong on "60 Minutes," and they do belong on newsmagazine shows.

CRONKITE: That's right.

HEWITT: And they also show up on page one of "The New York Times."

KING: They do...

CRONKITE: Sure, but they've got the 26 pages in section one, which is news devoted. They've got 48 pages and two more sections. That doesn't wash --

KING: Katharine...

HEWITT: Walter...

KING: Hold it one second, Don.

Is it apples around oranges, Katharine, comparing newspapers and television, since there is...

GRAHAM: They have some relevance to each other, but the thing that we do have 26 pages, and I think that we have as many correspondents abroad, for instance, as we had, whereas television, it's so expensive to keep them around that they have had to cut back on that kind of thing.

KING: But newspapers are down, aren't they, in readership?

GRAHAM: Somewhat. Some more than others.

KING: But the "Post" is not, the "Times" isn't?

GRAHAM: No...

KING: The healthy newspapers remain healthy.

GRAHAM: No, we're down some.

KING: They're in trouble.

GRAHAM: We're not in trouble.

KING: No, no, no, I know we're not. We don't need a benefit, right? But you're down some from where you were when there was less trouble?-

GRAHAM: Actually, we're now even and have been for two years, but we did decline a little bit before that, but not badly.

KING: Don, what were you going to say?

HEWITT: I was going tow say I see stories showing up on page one of "The New York Times" that used to be inside, and I think they are trying to compete with television, and I think they're making a very big mistake. I think they should be an alternative to television, and I think they're trying to compete.

CRONKITE: Let's put it the other way -- television should be an alternative to the press, the print press.

KING: All of you were in both, right?

You were in both?

You own TV stations.

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Hugh, were you ever in print?

DOWNS: No, I have no print background at all.

KING: Don, were you ever in print?

HEWITT: Yes, worked for the AP, Associated Press.

KING: And you were saying that you regard them as -- you think newspapers are doing too much of what television has done?

HEWITT: No, no, I am talking about "The New York Times." I am saying that newspapers now seem to be wanting to compete with television, and I wish they'd just contain themselves to what they do best, which is being a newspaper, and I think...

KING: We'll get a break, and we'll talk about coverage of some items in the news and how these four very talented veteran folks look at it. We'll also talk about the Internet and its effect on all of them, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We'll start with Katharine Graham. What's the Internet going to do to your business?

GRAHAM: It's really hard to know, but nothing good.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Good line.

GRAHAM: It -- it -- it's a tremendous challenge, commercially, I think, more than any other way. Classified ads, which is a lot of our income, are very easy to pick up on the Internet.

KING: Don, can you imagine reading the newspaper on a machine?

HEWITT: No.

KING: I can't. But are we just talking as old people?

HEWITT: Yes. Of course.

(LAUGHTER)

CRONKITE: You know -- you know, it's the old problem again. We just simply can't wrap a fish in an Internet report.

KING: That's right. But our kids, our the young people saying -- Hugh Downs, are young people -- I know you're involved with the Internet, Hugh.

DOWNS: Yes.

KING: Are young people saying, yes, I can get my "Washington Post" on a machine? I don't need the whole pick up the paper in the morning.

HEWITT: The Internet is really going to absorb everything eventually. It won't destroy anything, anymore than radio destroyed newspapers or television was supposed to destroy radio and the movies. That doesn't happen.

But there's all going to be -- there's going to be a merge at some point where the Internet is going to take over television. And we'll still have television news, but it will all be -- all be there, all archived, all different. It's a big challenge.

KING: Do you fear this, Walter?

CRONKITE: Well, it seems to me the important thing, particularly, is that the newspapers get in there and fight for their -- for their exposure on the Internet, that they get in there and innovate just as much as these young people who are coming out of Silicon Valley and New York's own Silicon Valley. They have got -- they have got to find ways to be sure that they are the authoritative source on the Internet, because they have the facilities to be that authoritative source.

I think we all are quite frightened of the nonauthoritative sources on the Internet today.

KING: Because anybody could be on it.

CRONKITE: Rumor -- rumor-mongers that pose as news organizations. This is a dangerous trend in America. Newspapers have to be the ones who fight for that.

KING: Don -- before Don, Kay, you agree?

GRAHAM: It's so right, because what you have to do, as Walter started to say, was fight and get on the Internet yourself. And our Web site is very, very strong, and as a result of the Internet, we now have hundreds of thousands more readers.

KING: Don, do you fear it, respect it, or is it moot to even ask?

HEWITT: I'm not even sure what it is at this point, and I don't think -- I'm not even sure they know what they are at this point. And it will evolve into something good or bad, but I think the jury is still out.

KING: So you can't put it -- you don't know?

HEWITT: I don't know. I don't think anybody knows.

KING: Hugh, do you know?

DOWNS: No, I don't know, but I am impressed with the fact the Internet really is the Wild West. It is the street. And all of this business about protecting children from it, which I think they have to be protected, but you wouldn't send a little kid out on the street in the middle of the night, and that's what the Internet is really. And so parental supervision would be indicated in my mind other than -- rather than the v-chip or all of this censorship nonsense.

But it is a wild and woolly place right now. It'll shake down. But some terrible things happen on it: you know, people having to buy their name back, and people -- one prominent actress found a thing in her name, dot.com, that was a porn channel. She's suing, and I hope she wins.

But we need -- it needs some regulation, but I don't think it needs a lot of censorship. And I -- I...

CRONKITE: You know, what it needs primarily, it seems to me, Larry, is that it needs some form of supervising responsibility, not -- not censorship, but those who go on the Internet should let everyone know who they are. We ought to be able to respond to them. Today, the anonymity of people on the Internet is a dangerous situation because there is no response, no way to even answer...

KING: Is it...

CRONKITE: You can't hold them liable.

KING: Is it a case, Katharine, of anything goes? Does anything go...

GRAHAM: It certainly is now. I think, therefore, though, that the people who are known for having a responsible voice are listened to and are wanted. And it's more important for us than ever for us to be on it.

KING: So you think that talent, for want of a better word, will out?

GRAHAM: I think responsibility and credibility will out. CRONKITE: Reputation for integrity will out. And that's what The Washington Post and "New York Times" and other newspapers can bring to the Internet. That's why I think they've got the chance to survive if they just get in there and stay ahead technically.

KING: Does "60 Minutes" have a Web site of its own, Don?

HEWITT: Yes, but so far it doesn't amount to much. But I'm afraid that The New York Times and The Washington Post are going to have trouble competing with the porn. I mean, I don't -- this is so uncontrolled that I have no idea where it's going, and I don't think anybody does have an idea where it's going. And what it's turned America into is Las Vegas. Everybody uses it to gamble all day long.

DOWNS: Don, could I counter that for a second? I really think that these things seek their own level. And I happen to agree with whoever it was who said the only proper censorship is public boredom. We have seen that with porn channels in cable situations where finally they kind of shrivel up a little bit. They stay, but it's not going to take over like some terrible disease.

And I think that if alone we're going to see the porn business shake down into a minority of Web sites.

HEWITT: I wish I believed that.

GRAHAM: I think -- I think people look for dependability and something they can believe in, and they find out that these really disgusting things that are on the air are no good.

KING: We're going to take a break, and when we come back, we'll get to some current news stories and how these veterans look at the way it's covered and how important it is. Like, for example, we'll begin with Elian Gonzalez. Why is that a big story? Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEWITT: Don Hewitt, why is Elian Gonzalez a front-page big story every day?

HEWITT: Because the electoral votes in Florida. I think Al Gore today finally brought the thing to a head and admitted that the whole Elian Gonzalez story is about the electoral votes in Florida and he wasn't about to lose them, win, lose or draw.

KING: So you don't think in and of itself it's a story: a kid who comes over; his mother dies; he survives; he's 6 years old; his father, who had custody is in Cuba; the other relatives are taking care of him. That's not a big story in and of itself?

HEWITT: Yes, yes. It's a great story one day, two days, three days. This has been going on for months, Larry, and it's all about vying for the electoral votes in Florida, which Al Gore today admitted.

KING: Katharine? GRAHAM: I think it's a tremendous human story that people are interested in and that merits the front page. Now, it -- I agree that it's been made to go on by the political things involved not only domestically but internationally with Cuba. I think what they are doing to this child is just awful when you think that this 6-year-old kid has lost his mother, has seen her drown, has been alone on a rubber tire in the middle of the ocean, and then is rescued. And when you think what he has been through since then, it is not even human. And I think it's too bad that the press has been allowed to get at him in the way they have.

CRONKITE: I don't even understand myself how this can be a legal case. It seems to me that it is open and shut, that the boy belongs to his father.

KING: But you've got a volatile community...

CRONKITE: I don't even know how we can tolerate even the suggestion it belongs in court. I mean, as far as Ms. Reno has gone in trying to get it settled in court in favor of the boy, getting...

KING: But South Florida is very volatile.

CRONKITE: But why should it be there in the first place?

GRAHAM: I agree.

KING: You agree. Hugh, what do you think? How big a story -- does it deserve the bigness?

DOWNS: Well, maybe -- these things tend to reach a threshold that's self-igniting, and then they just keep going and going. It is an important I story, though. And to me, the old legal phrase "time is of the essence" applies here, because when you're 6 years old and have this kind of thing drag out on and on and on, if it drags on for a long time and he finally does go back with his father, that's another dislocation for him and it's very tough on the child.

KING: And as a news man, Walter, if you were covering this, if this is 20 years ago, it's a lead item on the Walter Cronkite...

CRONKITE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

KING: Right.

CRONKITE: I agree with Don that it is about now the -- the 40 million or 4 million, whatever it is, votes that the Cubans have in an important state of Florida. That's what it's about now. But it was about something even more fundamental in the beginning. That, indeed, is why it is a great story. It's a tremendous story, this boy surviving when his mother died, the separation in the family, in the beginning. They -- now a family fight. It's a story very worthy of...

KING: Don, would you have interviewed him if given the chance, as ABC did? Would you have interviewed the boy for "60 Minutes"? HEWITT: I think maybe not. I'm uncomfortable about interviewing 6-year-old boys because I don't know what it adds to the thing except maybe it confuses the situation even more.

I think -- Walter, I think every time you said it is a great story, it is -- I think it was a great story, and it's now become part of a political football. This poor little kid is part of the fight between the Cuban community and Fidel Castro. And why Americans are afraid of Fidel...

CRONKITE: It's still...

HEWITT: Why Americans...

CRONKITE: It's still a fascinating story.

HEWITT: Let me...

CRONKITE: The push and pull for this boy is a story in itself that it seems to me we -- we cover as we should.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with more. Lots to discuss, your phone calls as well with Walter Cronkite -- you used to say Cronkite. You used to say it differently.

CRONKITE: Cronkite.

KING: Cronkite, yes. Katharine Graham, Hugh Downs and Don Hewitt. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with four of the best in the business. We have 321 years of experience here tonight. We'll be taking your phone calls as well.

Let's start with Hugh Downs on this one.

The Ramseys, we had them here Monday and Tuesday. We had the district attorney last night.

Is that big? I mean, we can make a case: this is the killing of a child, children are killed every day.

DOWNS: Horrendous story, and the thing is the mystery is so pervasive -- it's one of those things you say, "Are we ever going to know?"

So, that intrigues the public, and for that reason it remains a story. And it should be covered. I think that news is doing a better job than the police were in trying find out what really happened.

KING: Katharine, do you -- you being the collective you, the media -- do you make it a story or does the public make it a story?

GRAHAM: In those cases I think both. I think you -- I think it's more of the public's interest.

KING: In other words, you do the one story on it. This girl was killed, and she was in a beauty pageant, and this was her father and mother, and then the public reaction drives you.

GRAHAM: You have to follow up any story.

HEWITT: Larry...

KING: Is it the -- yes?

CRONKITE: I think we could settle this by letting the Ramseys go back to Cuba.

(LAUGHTER)

HEWITT: Hey, Larry.

KING: One swoop -- yes, Don.

HEWITT: Isn't it strange that here were parents of a little girl who was murdered, had nothing to say to anybody until they did a book? Then they show up with Barbara Walters and they show up with Katie Couric and they show up with you. They're out plugging a book. Does that not disturb anybody, that the parents of a little girl who was murdered are now out plugging their book. That's what television has come down to.

KING: And their answer would be that they've been vilified so they have no way to respond but to...

HEWITT: Yes, they had a way to respond. They could have sat down with you. They could have sat down with Barbara Walters. They could have sat down with Katie Couric. They could have sat down with "60 Minutes" without writing a book. But they're trying to push a book.

KING: All right. That aside, is it still a big story?

HEWITT: It was -- it's been a big story ever since that little girl was murdered, and nobody knows who did it, which is -- one of the mysteries to me is how bad the police work was. But the fact that all of a sudden you write a book and now you're everybody's guest, something strange about that.

KING: All right, Hugh, the questions sometimes come to mind is I would imagine another little child may have been murdered in the United States today, right?

DOWNS: OK.

KING: Right, possibility. Why don't we know about that one? Why do we know about this one?

DOWNS: Larry, tell me this, why -- there -- when I became chairman of the U.S. committee for UNICEF, there were 40,000 small children a day dying avoidable deaths. It's down to about 38,000. Considering the population increase, that's a real inroad, but still, 38,000.

A single child in a well -- it happened a few years ago in Texas, and we were on the air covering it late into the night. That engages people's attention. So we get overwhelmed with numbers.

And you're right: An unknown child or a case that -- where it wasn't very mysterious doesn't grab the public attention like this Ramsey case does, because of the mystery.

KING: Do you know why, Walter, that that's a big story and foreign policy isn't? For example, the Ramsey -- if you get a break in that story, that's bigger than China going into the World Trade Organization.

CRONKITE: Well, it shouldn't be. That's a great mistake. I think it's an interesting story, but I think it's a legitimate newspaper story, and television story. But certainly not -- you don't -- you don't try to mix these apples and oranges when you judge which is the story that's going to lead that particular day.

This is always a debate with every makeup test, every managing editor, what do you lead with? What's your banner story? Where does the other story belong?

KING: Is The Washington Post a local newspaper, Katharine? Does the local story count over a national -- over a foreign story or an international story?

GRAHAM: They both count, Larry. We are a local paper, but we report national and international news. And so we are both a local paper and one that goes out on the wires to other papers.

KING: "60 Minutes" has always devoted a lot of time to things international, haven't they, Don?

HEWITT: Yes. Sure...

KING: Do you see...

HEWITT: ... that's why we have -- that's why we have Christiane Amanpour, who we stole from you.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Hugh Downs, why is foreign policy or international policy less of a story now? No war, no big enemy?

DOWNS: Well, that must be a factor. But -- also people's eyes tend to glaze over on foreign policy, things that don't involve something sensational like a war. And for that reason, we tend -- in the news we tend to go with what people are more likely to be glued to the set for or to read the paper for. And Walter is right. That's a serious hiatus in coverage of things people ought to know. CRONKITE: I think you'd probably agree with me that the -- that this is an example of the matter that -- foreign policy not being on the front pages of the paper, not being played up at all on television, evening news. We don't even have foreign correspondents anymore, basically.

This is an example of trying to edit by readership survey the newspapers do or by polls -- readings as television does.

KING: Are you letting the public lead you...

CRONKITE: That is a total irresponsibility, a failure to discharge the responsibility that journalists have of telling people what they need to know. We shouldn't be editing by what they want to know. What they need to know is essential.

KING: Let's pick up on that. We'll take...

(CROSSTALK)

CRONKITE: ... put some concentration on foreign policy.

KING: We'll take a quick break and come back. We'll include your phone calls. Need to know against want to know. We'll reintroduce the panel not that they need it, but I'll do it anyway, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: When you say "veteran" and "respected journalist," you're talking about tonight's panel. They're Walter Cronkite, the former anchor of CBS Evening News. He's 83 years young. Katharine Graham of "The Washington Post," chairman of the executive committee of The Washington Post Company, which owns Washington and a lot of the eastern part of the United States -- a little joke there.

GRAHAM: "Newsweek," Larry.

KING: What?

GRAHAM: "Newsweek."

KING: Yes, I know. I was kidding, maybe of the country. Hugh Downs, the former co-anchor of ABC's "20/20" is 79 years old. And our baby on the panel, our bar mitzvah boy, is Don Hewitt, executive producer of CBS "60 minutes." He is 77.

All right, who wants to pick up, Katharine, on need to know to want to know?

GRAHAM: I think that you have an obligation, as Walter said, to report things that are news and that people ought to know, even if they don't want to know, but you have to weigh that against the interests and what they will read.

KING: It's balancing act then. GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: All right. Other areas -- and we'll take some calls.

Don, what do you make of...

HEWITT: Need to know, want to know?

KING: No -- do you agree, by the way, that there is a balancing act between...

HEWITT: No, no. The big difference in television news from the time that Walter did it is CNN. When CNN came in the picture, every local station in America had to stay competitive on news. When Walter the evening news, you didn't know what happened in the world until you tuned into Walter Cronkite or his competitors. Today, there is little or nothing on the evening news that you haven't seen on a local station, because there's a syndication service that feeds them everything, and there's nothing left for the evening news shows.

CRONKITE: There is a lot left, Don. I submit, you know, with curtsy you do. But what is left is to tell what that story means, that you're not going to get on these flashy, minute-by-minute, day-by-day, hour-by-hour broadcasts. This is where the networks are abrogating their responsibility. They've got the capability of telling us what it means and how dangerous the story may be to us, and we -- and that's what they should be doing.

DOWNS: Walter, would you agree that if you got on the air, and you could do this really well, and really gave an in-depth explanation of the oil business and why gas prices went up and won't come down right away, might you not be in danger of having the audience's eyes glaze over and have them tune somewhere else? That's one of the big dangers I think now.

CRONKITE: I think that might be a danger, Hugh, but I think that's where the responsibility and the courage of broadcasters should lie, the courage to do what they know is right and trust that the audience will follow, and I think it would.

KING: It's an easier story for "The Washington Post" to tell, though, isn't it Katharine. You can use graphs, and you don't have to be visual.

GRAHAM: And you can tell the other story on the front page as well.

KING: Yes, you could do both stories simultaneously.

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Let's talk about television -- since our -- certainly the most caustic member of our panel is Mr. Hewitt tonight, I would say.

What do you make of marrying multimillionaires as television?

HEWITT: Oh, come on. It's -- it was inevitable. It had to happen. You knew it was going to happen.

KING: What's next?

HEWITT: Billionaires.

KING: Are we "Springer"-ized, Hugh Downs? The Jerry -- is that just part of the mix? Is that just you've got to take the wheat with the chaff?

DOWNS: Well, no I don't think -- that kind of thing will never take over mainstream television, but I think one of the things I objected to in that program was the sexist approach that it wasn't a panel of multibillionaires that were going to be chosen by some woman. It was one multibillionaire who chose among panel of women. That's very sexist. That bothers me.

KING: And it became a story, Walter. Newspapers, and magazines and television covered it.

CRONKITE: covered the millionaire story?

KING: Yes, the two of them became little figures.

CRONKITE: Sure, they should have covered what happened on television, but I don't think the program ever should have been on there. But once it was there, it was certainly a cultural phenomenon that we were entitled to look at, worry about and laugh at.

KING: What does it tell us about ourselves, Katharine?

GRAHAM: Something I prefer not to know.

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM: It really seems know beneath contempt, but I guess, as has been said, it was bound to happen.

KING: Is this campaign going to be interesting, Gore-Bush?

CRONKITE: Sure, it's going to be interesting. I don't think it's going to be as interesting as the primaries were, but it will be interesting. We saw today the kind of thing that can shake up the entire race, when Gore decides that the votes of Florida are more important than the conscience he must have...

KING: Is that blatant to everybody? Katharine, did you regard that as just a blatant political statement today by Al Gore? Had nothing to do with feelings about Elian or feelings about the case?

GRAHAM: I'm sure he does, but he wouldn't have made that statement, I suppose, unless Florida's votes were important.

KING: And do you think George W. Bush, who criticized him when he made the statement six weeks ago, was he being political, Hugh?

DOWNS: Well, they can't avoid being political at this stage. They're out now, both of them, saying they're going to do something about campaign finance reform, and that -- that's hard not to laugh at, because this has been going on for 30 years, we've had laws and what not, and it's always been circumvented. I don't think either of these candidates is going to be successful in changing that.

No, they're bound to be political. That's what it takes. They've got to win the election. They've got to spend record amounts of money in order to get elected to see to it that campaigns don't get record amounts of money. It's crazy.

KING: Before we take some calls, we're going to ask this panel's opinion of the, maybe enigma that is Bill Clinton, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Before we ask these folks about President Clinton, let's take a call from Ellijay, Georgia.

Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Mrs. Graham, I would like to ask you, what do you think about the national -- what kind of report card or grade would you give the national news media for their coverage of politics on the national level?

KING: How are we doing?

GRAHAM: I think that we actually do better and better on campaigns and on political life in general. Now, it is not easy, and we're always accused of partisanship, but I think the news media do the best they can to report it honestly and completely.

KING: Bill Clinton -- we'll start with Don Hewitt because the mea culpa occurred on your program during the -- around the New Hampshire primary. It all started there, and he started there, and he stayed around with a 63 percent performance rating, sometimes 64, sometimes 65. How do you explain him?

HEWITT: I can't. I think the best thing that was said about the whole thing was said the other morning in Maureen Dowd's column, where somebody said you can't hold Gore responsible for Clinton because you can't even hold Clinton responsible for Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: How do you explain him, Walter? It's a phenomenon, isn't it?

CRONKITE: I think that it's the economy stupid. The phrase came up in his own campaign eight years ago now, and it's -- I think that's the story today. It's the economy.

KING: Something about him...

CRONKITE: We're doing exceedingly well. Well, look, the economy is doing very well. Then in the scandal, Monica scandal, in that scandal, there was such a heavy hand of politics involved that a lot of people were turned off by what they thought, I think, was the unfairness of the prosecution. This kept it from being the story it might have been otherwise, a more serious story perhaps about his performance in office.

KING: Hugh, some people say he has been lucky in his enemies. Do you agree?

DOWNS: Well, That could be. In Clinton's case, it seems to me the public has made a remarkable distinction between private life and statesmanship, and the public seems to understand that this man has some statesman-like qualities. He handles himself well in ad-libbed press conferences and so forth, and the things he does about foreign policy can be impressive in many quarters. And it's hard for many of us to make a separation between that and the scandal he was involved in. The public seems to have done that for him.

KING: Katharine, as the powerhouse of Washington who has entertained presidents in her home, so you know whereof they walk. How do you explain him?

DOWNS: I think that it is the economy partly, but I think he's also a really extraordinary politician, just very, very able at politics and public life, and particularly at speaking.

KING: Is he one of the best you've seen?

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Some think the best maybe?

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: I mean, to overcome -- if I gave you a list of all the things that have happened to him, you in no way would say this guy has a performance rating of 65.

GRAHAM: Well, the performance rating isn't quite up to the speech making.

KING: Do you agree that the public has separated...

GRAHAM: Yes, yes.

KING: They've said what he's done personally, we may not like it, but we're going to judge him as a CEO sort of?

GRAHAM: I think a lot of people think that.

KING: How will you cover the Hillary race, Katharine? Is that front page?

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes. I think the campaign is interesting, but it's gone on such a long time that that it counteracts a little bit, but I think the Hillary race in New York, with Giuliani, is really probably more interesting than the national campaign.

KING: Hugh Downs, is it front page for "The Arizona Republic?"

DOWNS: For what? You mean the Hillary...

KING: Hillary, Rudy.

DOWNS: It will be covered well, I am sure. And yes, it will appear on the front page, I'm positive. Things that happen in Arizona often are important to the world, so the reverse is true.

KING: Walter, what do you make of this extraordinary senate...

CRONKITE: What happens in the world of interest in Arizona ...

(LAUGHTER)

CRONKITE: That's one of my favorite states, incidentally. And I envy Hugh for living there. The -- well, I think it's an important race for obviously the personalities involved. The first lady running for the Senate of the United States is unprecedented in our 200- something years of history. The fact that she herself has been controversial in Washington, and she dares come out on the platform and open herself up to the kind of attacks that will inevitably come from whatever directions. This all will make for very interesting political reporting, and it will be seen in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Giuliani, of course, has his problems in the racial area in New York with the police murders, with these killings anyway, of blacks in the community. So it's going to be an interesting race.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with phone calls for our panel, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Buzz Aldrin called in, of Apollo 13 fame. You were supposed to go. Are we going to see a journalist go up in space?

CRONKITE: Oh sure we're going to. Just when is the question. It's far overdo at this point.

KING: Nobody on this panel will make it, right? Doubt it.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Hugh, do you think we're going to see a journalist go up?

DOWNS: Yes, I think that'll happen inevitably, and I felt bad about not going with Glenn on his return to space, because I did a lot of the space training there. They didn't want the taping of his training, but since I was exactly the same age and I passed the physical, I said I would carry his luggage without a tip if I could go along. And I said, when he came back, I said, if 10 years from now, they want to see how 87-year-olds do in space, let's both go, so I'll go if they ask me, but they won't. KING: Don, do you think Mike Wallace would go?

HEWITT: If I send him, which I might.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Yes, but you have to find a scandal up there.

Chicago, hello?

CALLER: Hi.

What does the panel think of the tendency of journalists to become close socially to the subjects that they cover?

KING: an age-old question. We'll start with Walter, our dean here.

CRONKITE: I think that's one of the toughest questions that journalists face, whether it's on a national level or local level, whether in the business world or anywhere else. It's a very tough problem. You want to be close to the people in power because they are the people with the stories that you want cover. On the other hand, if you get too close, you obviously are embarrassed when you have to reveal things about them that might break up that friendship. That's the chance you have to take when you become friendly in the first place.

KING: Katharine, you got a hard and fast rule, or isn't there one?

GRAHAM: Well, I think it's harder for editors and reporters, and I can understand why a very good political reporter doesn't want to get close to people. I always did, because I thought it was part of my job as publisher to know them, and they had to understand that I understood that if there was -- that if I had to choose them or the news reporters, I was going to back the news, and if I...

KING: It's tough sometimes.

GRAHAM: Well, sometimes you lose a friend, but that's the decision you have to make, and I think it's a perfectly simple one.

KING: Jack Kennedy was a great friend of your husband's, right?

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: But he was able to separate that. Jack Kennedy threw "Newsweek" out of the building one day, right?

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: He did. But that's hard, isn't it, when you're buddies with someone?

GRAHAM: Yes, it is, but I think it's just an inseparable -- it's a rule.

CRONKITE: I think you've got to say that journalists, for the most part, appreciate that as a rule, that the newspaper, the story comes first.

KING: Don, do you agree?

HEWITT: Well, two of the most respected journalists I have ever known in my lifetime, the Walter Lippmans and the "Scotty" Restons were always very, very close to American presidents, got access to the Oval Office. I would like to believe that it didn't affect their reporting, but I don't know that.

DOWNS: Larry, you -- I feel you can try to be fair whether you're close or not. David Brinkley said once, you can't be objective, but you can try to be fair, and that's probably true.

KING: Don, Walter Lippman and "Scotty" Reston got stories because of those friendships though. They got breaks on stories, right?

HEWITT: Sure, sure, they did.

KING: Do you think -- are you implying also they may not have printed something because of their friendships.

HEWITT: I don't know. I don't know. Another hero of mine, Ben Bradley, who is about as good as you get, and I never knew what Ben knew about Jack Kennedy that never got reported, but...

GRAHAM: He didn't -- I promise you I don't think he did know.

HEWITT: Well, great. I'm happy to hear that, Kay, because I love Ben.

KING: Ben would have reported what he knew, right?

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Yes.

We'll take a break, and be back with our remaining moments with Cronkite, Graham, Downs and Hewitt. Could be a law firm. Don't go away.

Tomorrow night on "LARRY KING WEEKEND" we'll have an encore presentation of my interview with former first lady Betty Ford.

And then next week, Monday night, will there ever be a cure for arthritis? Join James Coburn, Debbie Reynolds, Allen King and others. And then on Tuesday, the Elian Gonzalez case reaches its deadline. We're going to have reaction from Gloria Estefan. That's all next week, 9:00 eastern on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Got another call in.

Oberlin, Ohio, hello.

Hello?

CALLER: Hello?

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, with all the sensationalism that seems inherent in the news today, I wonder if the panel thinks there was a better time to be a newsperson? Thank you.

KING: Another good question.

CRONKITE: Well, as the world's oldest living journalist apparently, sure.

(LAUGHTER)

CRONKITE: There possibly was a better time, but I don't think we judge it necessarily by the sensational press today, and the fact that some sensationalism has crept into the more conventional press. I think it is -- this is a time because of the nature of the news.

Certainly, in these last -- this last half century, we've never seen the range of incredible news stories -- the scientific, technological developments alone, of course, have been incredible, landing on the moon, incredible, the '60s, the most violent decade in American history, even probably exceeding the 1860s with the Civil War, with civil strife, for heaven's sakes, the Vietnam War, the resignation of a president under the threat of impeachment, the civil rights achievements -- all of these things. It's a -- been an incredible 50 years. I can't think of a better time to have been a journalist.

KING: Katharine?

GRAHAM: I agree. I think that the news business when we were younger was just extraordinary, from Vietnam to civil rights to Watergate, and we were always busy with very hard-to-report news. I think now maybe Kosovo having replaced Vietnam and other stories, I think it's much harder, but much -- equally interesting, and of course, one loves the news business, you know.

KING: Hugh?

DOWNS: Well, with the technology and the widespread coverage that we have now, you could almost say that these are the good old days of the news business.

KING: These are the good old days. Is there a time in history you would have liked to have anchored news, Hugh?

DOWNS: No, really I think the time that I was involved as an anchor, it was the best time because prior to that it wasn't -- we did have Edward R. Murrow and his programs and what not, but I don't think I would rather have anchored in any other time than I did.

KING: And, Don, having brought one of the most famous programs in television history to light, having put together the first presidential television debate, is there a better time to you than this past four decades?

HEWITT: No, no, it has been great. I think today more people know more about their world, their theaters, their police departments, their town hall. I think we have a very well-informed public, and I think all of us can take some credit for that.

KING: Is it going to get better, Walter, before it gets worse, or do we go back to your initial concern?

CRONKITE: Journalism itself?

KING: Yes.

CRONKITE: Oh, it's cyclical. We have our periods of really approaching greatness, periods of slow in between. It will be cyclical in the future. The main thing is what happens with the Internet, and that's going to control a great deal of what we see in the future.

KING: Newspapers going to get better, the good ones?

GRAHAM: I think they'll continue to improve, yes.

KING: Don Hewitt, can "60 Minutes" get better?

HEWITT: Anything can get better. "Larry King" could get better. You wouldn't believe that, but I am sure it's true.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And, Hugh Downs, do you miss it?

DOWNS: I miss the people I work with. I don't miss living in New York. And I said to many of my colleagues when I left, I said, I won't say good bye, because we'll be working together again. This is all going to merge eventually, and I look forward to working with some of these people in the new venue.

KING: And we look forward to doing this panel every year ad infinitum. Thank you all very much, Walter Cronkite, Katharine Graham, Hugh Downs, Don Hewitt.

Tomorrow night, a repeat interview with Betty Ford.

Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND." I am Larry King in New York. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend. Set the clock ahead one hour tomorrow night. Good night.

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