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Larry King Live
Walter Cronkite Discusses His Career in JournalismAired March 09, 2001 - 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: He was once voted the most trusted man in America. And as a world-renowned anchor, he not only covered legends, he became one -- the extraordinary Walter Cronkite next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It is always an honor to be in his presence, and it's a great pleasure to have him as a special guest here in New York tonight, the legendary anchor of the "CBS Evening News," the author of numerous books -- got another one even coming soon -- Walter Cronkite, who recently marked -- it's the 20th anniversary of your stepping down.
WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER "CBS EVENING NEWS" ANCHOR: I can't believe it, but it seems to be true.
KING: Does it feel like 20 years?
CRONKITE: Not at all. The world has been passing by as a great panorama of events that I wish I had been out there covering. I really regret I stepped down when I did.
KING: You do?
CRONKITE: I didn't know I'd be in such good health, and I didn't...
KING: Were you forced to resign? Was it a CBS policy?
CRONKITE: Oh, no, not at all. I had long since decided I was going to step down from daily journalism at 65. I had been with United Press for 11 years, at "Scripps Howard" for two or three years, fighting deadlines every day.
And then, 20 years on "The Evening News," and you know, after that, I said I want to take it a little easy. I didn't realize how easy I was going to have to take it.
KING: You are going to be 85 then.
CRONKITE: Eighty-five, by gosh, in November.
KING: Do you feel 85?
CRONKITE: Not at all. Not in the slightest. I tore my Achilles tendon last summer playing tennis, and now I have to creep around a bit. I am still getting over that very serious wound and the surgery that followed, and I have to tell people -- I said, this is not an old man's golf, this is a young man's active tennis game.
KING: Baseball players get this, football players.
CRONKITE: It's one of the worst of the athletic injuries, and it happens often.
KING: And one thing we do have in common -- just one, I think -- is that we have the same heart surgeon, Dr. Wayne Isom, who has gotten famous now with all the people he has done.
CRONKITE: He is an incredible man, isn't he?
KING: Yeah, unbelievable. You feel OK, the ticker's fine?
CRONKITE: I felt OK immediately. I've never had any repercussions from that quadruple bypass at all -- as far as I know. If I keel over tonight, it wasn't Isom's fault.
KING: And I know you have got a new knee.
CRONKITE: I got a new knee three or four years ago. I was playing tennis only two months after that one.
KING: How many days are there where you miss being on?
CRONKITE: Every day, every day. Not on, that's not quite the term for it, Larry. I don't miss being on the air, I miss not being at the center of gravity there where you're getting the show together, getting the broadcast together, where you're really setting the agenda that day for people's consideration. That's an important job, and I miss that.
KING: You always like being the one who says, hey, I know something and I am going to tell you. That's what you are, right?
CRONKITE: Absolutely. That's what a reporter wants to be, whether they write it for a newspaper or do it on the broadcast.
KING: And do you know why you like that so much?
CRONKITE: No, I'm not so sure of that. There's something about being on the inside first, about being the first to know something, or one of the early ones to know something, harboring it, working with it, molding it for the public's advice and information.
KING: And of course, you got involved as well with the space program. You became not just the reporter, you became part of it, you do realize that?
CRONKITE: Well, yes. That's true. I have been credited with that, or debited with it, depending on how you look upon what a reporter's job should be. I was enthusiastic about space flight. I was very critical about many of the decisions that NASA made in the course of getting man up to the Moon eventually -- and then in the shuttles -- but at the same time, the enthusiasm of the idea of human beings getting out there into space and finally getting to that distance orb, I thought was the most exciting adventure of our time.
I think that we live as such in the 20th century. I think when people look back at the 20th century, where all these incredible inventions, these technological improvements, these -- and particularly in medicine, for heaven's sakes -- and everywhere else -- atomic energy, for goodness' sakes -- all of it -- the one thing that will live 400 years from now will be man's escape from his own environment, and landing on the Moon, just as Columbus' trip to America 400 years ago is the one date the kids remember today.
KING: We have a lot to talk about tonight. We will be taking your phone calls, our guest is Walter Cronkite.
You are now in the news. Apparently, you are among many notables who lobbied for a pardon for somebody. What was the story, Walter? Walter!
CRONKITE: Well, no money changed hands as far as I know. No money changed hands at all. There was a very fine gentleman in Austin, Texas, a banker, who in those 1970 problems with the banks -- trust funds and all the rest of it -- got mixed in a very small, really almost unimportant aspect of banking.
He owned a big bank in Austin. His problem was that he took a fee for managing the bank's building, the new building they put in and leasing of it, and that turned out to be illegal.
He fought the case, of course, but he was found guilty. But he was treated most unfairly, we felt, many of us felt, by the justice at the moment. He was sentenced to a longer term than bankers who really stole vast amounts of money.
His -- the total amount was five figures, $41,000 or something like that, and they sent him up for five years, and he served every minute of it. And while there, he formed a choir in the prison, of the prisoners. He counseled the prisoners in a religious sense. He is a Knight of Mulder (ph), the Catholic Church. He is -- he's got a list that long of things he has done for society in Austin, and the man deserved a pardon.
KING: And he was pardoned?
CRONKITE: He was pardoned.
KING: That's what pardons are written for, right?
CRONKITE: That's what -- exactly what they -- exactly this. This was a typical case of why there should be a pardon to let people once -- once they have paid their penalty return into society with full privileges of citizenship.
KING: What do you make of the Marc Rich story?
CRONKITE: The -- which one? KING: Marc Rich, the pardon, the infamous pardon.
CRONKITE: Yes, yes, the Rich pardon. Well, it seems absolutely unexplainable. Unexplainable -- except money changing hands. And of course, the pressure from Barak in Israel. I think that was probably the key to the last-minute decision that the president made. Whether he should have made it is obviously a very serious question of doubt.
It would seem that the president should have had at least a dossier in front of him that would say, well, wait a minute, does this fellow -- no matter what Barak wants -- really deserve a pardon, and you think he would say, certainly not, but that wasn't the way it worked out.
KING: Our guest is Walter Cronkite. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1963)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Directly from our newsroom in New York, this is "The CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite."
CRONKITE: Good evening from the our CBS newsroom on this: the first broadcast of network television first daily half-hour program.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back with Walter Cronkite.
How do you assess Bill Clinton? I mean, you have sailed with him, you know him very well -- an enigma?
CRONKITE: Definitely a mystery man. I don't really understand how he could have mishandled his departure from the White House as he has. It's a tragedy, because the man is exceedingly smart, he is a great politician, he is a wonderful salesman.
He'd be a great spokesman for the United States and for the Democratic party and for what the Democratic party stands for, and here he seems to have blown it at the moment.
I have some hope for resurrection for Clinton after this all blows over. I think he is strong enough to come back and be still of some help to this democracy, which I think he really nurtured.
KING: How about his wife?
CRONKITE: Well, I think she is capable of being a worthwhile senator for the state of New York. However, she has been caught up really with this same problem of the evacuation from the White House, if you can call it that. She has to do some recovering. She has six years before she has to stand for re-election, four years if she wants to run for the presidency. I think we have yet to find out how she will function as a senator. She has got the capability of doing it and she's got the smarts to do it. And if there are no other secret problems out there that come up...
KING: One never knows.
CRONKITE: You know, it's was the Clinton story of the day, practically, last month.
KING: What is your early assessments of President George W. Bush?
CRONKITE: Well, the early assessment is that he is doing well in these opening months in the office. He has shown leadership quality. He has, certainly with the help of his advisers, pushed quickly to move legislation along, getting that tax bill through yesterday was remarkable, getting it through the House this early and with this little debate.
It's remarkable, and perhaps unfortunate that there is that little debate, but it proved that he had that hold in the Congress to do it in the House. We will see how it works in the Senate, where the division is a little more difficult, but at any rate, I think he has done well.
The polls show -- the one yesterday, NBC "Wall Street Journal" poll showed that his approval rating is quite high for this early in the administration. So he is doing all right.
He still has to overcome some things. The appointment of the attorney general, John Ashcroft, was certainly laying down the gauntlet to a lot of Americans, and we have to see how that one works out. Is Ashcroft going to be a fair attorney general or not? That is going to make a lot of difference with his administration.
KING: And what is your read on Dick Cheney? Here is a man who loves his work, obviously has a problem, physical problem -- there are some people calling today -- I think Arianna Huffington's column, Walter Shapiro, calling for him to resign.
CRONKITE: Well, I would hope that doesn't happen, because I think Dick Cheney is important to this administration. I think he's one of the strongest figures in the administration, and he has a good reputation in Washington, previously Secretary of Defense, and well acquainted with the right people in Washington. That's important.
You know, poor old Jimmy Carter lived up with -- to his campaign promise of turning his back on Washington, and that is something you can't do and get along in Washington. I think Jimmy Carter was a very fine president in principle, but he didn't play the political game that has to be played. Cheney knows where the bodies are buried, and that's important. And I think it's important that he stays in that job.
KING: But we should be worried about his health, should we not? CRONKITE: And we certainly should be, yes, indeed.
KING: But it's -- his -- as long as he is willing to do it...
CRONKITE: Well, and his doctor maintains that he sees no stress factor. Apparently, there was not a stress factor in this recent episode a couple of days ago...
KING: In fact, I saw his doctor today and he told me it's not nearly as bad as they originally thought. It was a clot instead of scar tissue, and the prognosis of a 40 percent return is probably down to 30 percent, maybe 25 percent.
CRONKITE: Is a clot better than the scar tissue?
KING: Yes, it's better, because clot goes away. Scar tissue doesn't.
We're doing a medical thing -- two old guys talking about...
CRONKITE: But doesn't a clot indicate there's likely to be more of them?
KING: Apparently -- I don't know. They said a clot is better than scar tissue. What do I know? I just listen, and that's what he said.
What do you make...
CRONKITE: I want to check on that one.
KING: Since you have left, we saw the clip of -- wow, we've got a 30-minute newscast! Think of it, folks, no more 15, now 30. Now since then, we have got 24-hour news. What is your view of this whole CNN, Fox, MSNBC -- instant, everything today, get it now!
CRONKITE: Well, in some ways, that's good. It's good to have 24-hour news. I think it's important. People can, indeed, tune in any hour of the day, any minute of the day, and get caught up on what is going on. They don't have to be there at 6:30 -- or whatever it is in the evening -- to get today's news. That's important.
I think it's important that competition drives these people to be at the source of news when it breaks. That's important too.
What is not so important, however, is being first in news. I would like to see us back up a bit and spend a little time thinking about a story before we put it on the air.
You know, that business of being first was an old newspaper bromide, and it was a necessary thing. Indeed, when there's competition on the streets, in the afternoon newspapers -- particularly morning newspapers as well -- every city had more than one newspaper...
KING: They wanted to be exclusive. CRONKITE: And they had to get that headline out, because the first one on the street with a big headline...
KING: Sold the papers.
CRONKITE: Sold the papers. That doesn't exist anymore. It doesn't exist for newspapers, with only one newspaper in most cities today -- certainly not more than one newspaper, afternoon or morning -- and as far as broadcast goes, it's not important. Unless one network is so good that it's always first, and that's got to be tough, because they have to first long enough that people realize they are first, and that's not going to happen, because every other network as soon as goes on one network, picks it up and broadcasts it anyway...
KING: So, you are saying it's meaningless, I beat you by one minute.
CRONKITE: It's meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. Why not take a little time, digest the news, get it right, be sure it's right. I'm not talking about election returns, that's another story.
KING: Yeah, I want to get to that in a minute.
CRONKITE: But on regular news, we can take it a little slower.
KING: We will ask about election return and lots of other things with Walter Cronkite. When they write -- when they etched the name in the building, his name. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1962)
CRONKITE: A press corps of 500 and we, of television and radio standing by, and, atop of that rocket, Colonel John Glenn, standing by.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 10 seconds. Counting: eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero, ignitions, lift off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: At 85, by the way, he's still active, making speeches, writing columns, got another book coming -- on sailing, I understand?
CRONKITE: I do.
KING: He's still around, Mr. Walter Cronkite!
Oh, you mentioned election night coverage, what do you make of that?
CRONKITE: I think that the broadcasters got a bum rap.
CRONKITE: I, indeed, do.
CRONKITE: Because that system of exit polling and calling the elections had been in effect for about 20 years. Fifty states and 20 years, and we never had that kind of mistake before. That's a pretty good record. I can't think of any baseball player or any sport or any salesman of stocks who has kind of a record like that.
One big mistake in all those years, and that mistake was not as horrible as people made it out to be. It turned out to be worse than it seemed because nobody else could count those votes either. And we had that five-week gap of trying to figure out who won Florida. Why should we have known when nobody else could figure it for five more weeks?
KING: How about calling a winner soon?
CRONKITE: Well, that has been a practice, state by state, as I say, for 20 years without a major boo-boo like this one. And indeed, it was a haste -- rush to judgment, which we might now, looking at it, been better off not calling. But as it turned out, it was, they called because that's what he numbers seemed like at the moment. They found out shortly that wasn't correct so they changed it. Then that turned out to be such that they didn't want to call anything. So it seemed that there was all this confusion. But it wasn't anybody's fault.
KING: Did you like election night as a journalist?
CRONKITE: Well, as well as I've liked anything after I, since I left...
KING: I mean, was that a night, as an anchor, you looked forward to, or was it tedious?
CRONKITE: I looked forward to it and then found it a little tedious as it goes on. I realized how tedious it must have been when I did it. But, you know, before we had that exit polling it was a lot more fun because we were counting the actual returns...
KING: Actual returns!
CRONKITE: Oh, boy, we really had a, really had a horse race there. We went until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, you know, without any indication who was going to win, and that was a lot of fun.
KING: Are you disturbed by the seeming tabloidization of the news?
CRONKITE: Absolutely. Very much so, very much so.
The, we've always had sensationalism in the press. A lot of people think this is something new. It's not new. Look, you know, you've looked at the files, 1850, 1830, from the time of the revolution. They were terrible. The newspapers are far more, far more responsible today than they were in those days, right up, right up practically through World War I --far more responsible.
Broadcasting is reasonably responsible. But the trouble with broadcasting, as I see it, is we get hold of these stories that are really not important to the future of the democracy: Princess Di, O.J. Simpson for heaven's sake, John John's accident at Martha Vineyard. And we cling to these stories so long. We wear them out. We wear them to death, and they're not that important.
There's so little time on the air to report the important news that makes a difference whether we're going to live or die in this democracy of ours. Whether we're going to succeed or fail in our education, and our health care, all of these things. That's what should be taking our time and we spent all that time going over the same facts over and over again.
And we rush to these stories. With John Kennedy's accident, my gosh, within a half-hour one of the networks I won't name here on CNN, immediately found a pilot who piloted a plane similar to the one that Kennedy was in, and we saw that guy on the air for 24 hours telling us how that accident could have happened. He knew, had no more idea of how the accident happened than I did.
KING: I've got to get a break. Wish we had hours. We'll be right back with more Walter Cronkite. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: This is Walter Cronkite on the Greenland ice cap. Beyond the horizon lies the North Pole.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: Walter Cronkite reporting from London. Queen Elizabeth the II to be crowned Britain's sixth reining queen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: This is Walter Cronkite back at our CBS news booth overlooking the platform on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol, where now, in a very few moments, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, age 43, from the state of Massachusetts becomes the president.
KING: We are back with -- what did you make of the retirement of Bernie Shaw?
CRONKITE: Oh, boy. I saw the show last night, CNN. It was terrific. That was some broadcast.
KING: Thank you.
CRONKITE: A wonderful tribute to a wonderful reporter and a great guy. He's got everything...
KING: We really enjoyed interviewing him. It was a different kind of Bernie we saw last night.
CRONKITE: Yes, indeed. It showed the great intelligence that he has. The ability to, he recalls so much that he has done over the years. He is a top notcher.
KING: And you are his hero, as you know.
Rather, Jennings, Brokaw, you like them all?
CRONKITE: I do like them all. I think they're all very, very good, Rather, Brokaw, Jennings. You know, the people in broadcast journalism, the networks, are good. They're all good.
Their editors are good, producers are good, reporters, correspondents in the field, the producers, who don't get enough credit. The producers ought to be called correspondents as well, you know. They do so much of the reporting, so much of the writing, even, in the preparation of the broadcast. They should have title of correspondents, not producers.
KING: So, you like a lot of what you see?
CRONKITE: I like a lot of what I see. I dislike a lot of what I see as well.
KING: We'll get to that too. We've got to take a quick break. And we'll come back with more of Walter Cronkite. We will also include your phone calls. Tomorrow night Hugh Downs will host LARRY KING WEEKEND, and his guest will be Rosalyn Carter. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: They called it the march on Washington for jobs and freedom. They came from all over America, negroes and whites, housewives and Hollywood stars, senators and a few beatniks, Clergymen and probably a few communists. More than 200,000 of them came to Washington this morning in a kind of climax to a historic spring and summer in the struggle for equal rights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1963)
CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard time, 2:00 Eastern Standard time, some 38 minutes ago. Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of the office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is that your toughest moment?
CRONKITE: Emotionally certainly, yeah. That was the only time I really been caught up and thought I was going to lose it, and I did for a brief second. Managed to come back. You know, I am not ashamed of that in any way.
KING: And why should you be?
CRONKITE: I heard Bernie Shaw talking in here last night about emotion, showing emotion on the air. I think he was entirely right, I don't think we should hide it. Why should we? We are presumably human beings, and are affected by these things.
In that case, a case like that, you know, we reporters are very much like other emergency room workers. Policemen, firemen, nurses, doctors who go -- who see the most horrible things happen, and we have only learned recently that there is psychological affect, that there needs to be trauma treatment for that sort of thing.
We are very much in the same sort of thing. We have to do our job, we do our job. It's only when you get back to your hotel room, or back home or whatever, that it hits you what happened. The rest of the time, your adrenaline is flowing and getting the job done, just like those policemen, firemen, nurses and doctors, and that was much the same thing that day.
KING: By the way, we saw a clip of you discussing the March 1963, and you used the word "Negroes" -- unless anyone think that that was current -- that was term of the day.
CRONKITE: You know, we went through that constant changing until we got to African-American for or black brothers, but we went through negro -- that was first effort to get away from the real nasty "N" word, and "colored" was also used, then "negro," then we got to "black." It was a proper word, and now we are to African-American.
KING: Do you -- there are -- we are going to some calls, but there are some people now in Santee, California complaining that we overdid it, we went there too much, we laid too much on that town, do you think so?
CRONKITE: Well, that's a tough call. That's very tough call. That is a major story, important story. It's a headline story, however you look at it, and it needs to be covered.
I think obviously, when so many cameras, so many reporters move in on a scene like that, a small suburban town, obviously there's going to be an appearance of overkill. It's not overkill from the standpoint as the press goes, because we have individual cameras, we have individual reporters, individual newspapers, press services, but it's going to appear that way.
The question is whether the coverage, however, inspires others. Whether there is an imitation aspect there, those sort of crimes. And even if that is so, what do you do about it?
KING: Do we know that is so?
CRONKITE: We don't know it's so. But even it is so, what would you do about it? I mean, not report it? The worst thing we can do is self-censor to the degree we do not tell people such stories, and let rumor run wild in this country, to where the press is not believed, not trusted, that we are -- we censor ourselves. And when we do that, we are leading down the path of real serious problems of democracy.
KING: Speaking of trust, the power of Walter Cronkite -- to those of you who may not know this -- when Walter Cronkite turned on Vietnam, and he did -- LBJ said he can't afford to lose Cronkite. If I've lost him, I've lost the country.
Let's take a call for Walter Cronkite. Toronto, hello.
CALLER: Hello, how are you.
CALLER: Hi. Not to put the devastation and -- comparison magnitude with John F. Kennedy, but is there a story that you would liked to have covered since your retirement that would put you kind of like in parallel with how you felt on the day that Kennedy died?
KING: Any stories since, Walter?
CRONKITE: Well, it happened within a month after I stepped down when they shot at Ronald Reagan. And right away -- I was in Moscow already, I had taken a trip doing some documentaries, and I was in Moscow -- and here I was halfway around the world, and here was the story, the attempted assassination of the president of the United States, and of course, the serious wounding of Brady. Yes, every important story since then...
KING: And if there was an important story you would have liked to cover, the California story.
CRONKITE: Oh, absolutely. And of course, there have been many really important stories in those years that affected the course of mankind that I would have liked to have covered.
KING: Do you like all these magazine shows?
CRONKITE: I would like them better if they took the feature stories out of the daily news, the evening news, and put them on the magazine shows. Your bank account and mine, your health and mine, all that stuff. That doesn't belong on the evening news. We got 23, 24 minutes on the evening news to cover the most complicated country in the world, the most complicated world that you're going to find that we are supposed to be leaders of.
There are so many important stories that don't get on the news at all, and instead those feature stories are run there. I cringe every time there is one of those. We ought to be hitting the news solidly for that half-hour -- or the 23 minutes after commercials and that other stuff -- and put all -- that other stuff is important. It's important to people -- your health, your bank account, but put it on those magazine shows instead of those Hollywood creatures they are always showing.
KING: Our guest is Walter Cronkite. We will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1968)
CRONKITE: Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the civil rights movement has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. Police have issued an all-points bulletin for a well-dressed young white man seen running from the scene.
Officers also reportedly chased and fired on the radio-equipped car containing two white men.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: During the break, Walter was telling me the thrill of covering the 1952 conventions, the last convention that had a second ballot. Now, you're saying we overdo coverage of them. You wouldn't cover them?
CRONKITE: I wouldn't cover them except for the acceptance speeches of the president and vice president.
KING: There's no suspense.
CRONKITE: I used to fight to cover them when people were already saying we shouldn't, because I thought it still was a good civics lesson. It's not even that anymore, because there is nothing open about the convention. It's all -- it's pre-staged deliberately for promotional purposes, and for -- it doesn't mean anything.
KING: So, when Ted Koppel went home a few years ago, you understood that.
KING: Let's take a call. Lawton, Oklahoma, for the dean -- Walter Cronkite. Hello.
CALLER: Good evening.
CALLER: Thank you for taking the call. I would like to ask Mr. Cronkite, what would you consider to be the low point and the high point of your journalistic career?
CRONKITE: Well, the low point, -- I'm taking the television years, the -- I was 11 years with United Press, many of them overseas, including Moscow for a couple of years, Nuremberg trials and all of that -- and several years with "Scripps Howard" newspapers -- but, taking the television years, which most people are talking about, I think the lowest point was a broadcast we did in which we named -- well, it was Hamilton Jordan, who was on the staff of President Carter, and we revealed that he had been present at party at which narcotics were used. And I think we did him an injustice in reporting that, not in reporting it so much, as leading this broadcast with it, as if it had great importance, and it had none really. Nothing important about it.
The high point -- I think, well, those thrilling moments, certainly, to take the easy way out -- man landing on the Moon. The one event that will live in history as, perhaps, the most important of all those great technical achievements and inventions and developments of the 20th century. That is the one that will live in history -- man escaping from his environment, because people will be living out there 400, 500 years from now, and they'll still remember that first voyage.
KING: You wanted to go, didn't you?
CRONKITE: Oh, I'd love to go. I would go today if they let me. You know, when John Glenn went, and I called him up -- they announced that he was going -- and I said if they are sending you just to send an old man out, I'm older than you are, John, I'll go.
KING: River Falls, Wisconsin, for Walter Cronkite, hello.
CALLER: Well, hello, and thank you very much for taking my call and for having such a wonderful guest on your show.
KING: Thank you.
CALLER: My question relates to your years on CBS, and I'm sure that it was very difficult to get the stories that made headlines every day on the evening news in this limited time that you had. What were some of the criteria that were used to choose one story over another? And thank you again.
CRONKITE: Well, the same criteria that all newspeople use, whether they are in broadcasting or newspapers, it's the story that affects the greatest number of people, and that can be a story of great importance, it can affect them because their taxes are going to be lowered or raised, or whatever, or it affects them because it's an emotional story. The death of a hero, the death of a much-beloved figure would be a leading story, because it affects the greater number of people.
That's the major criteria. That is the criteria that really counts.
KING: Now when does a sidebar story -- now, today, a lot of people are leading with the sentencing of a of a 16-year-old boy to life in prison in Florida for a crime committed when he was much younger -- 14-year-old boy for a crime committed when he was 12. Is that a lead story?
CRONKITE: It can be, depending on what else you have to lead with that day. You've got to take that in balance. There are days we have so many stories to get into that 24 minutes of a half-hour broadcast, that some of the important stories get dropped entirely. And that's one of the problems with television -- is too brief a period.
KING: You have complained that what goes by the wayside now is international stories.
CRONKITE: Yes. And it's a very serious deficiency in broadcasting today. The networks and additional networks are not covering foreign news as they should.
This is part of a budget cut situation, they do not have the bureaus overseas they used to have. They pulled their coverage overseas so that we only get one basic coverage. It's a disaster. We are a leading country in the world today, perhaps the leading country, as we believe we are, what we decide to do in foreign affairs is going to make a difference whether there is war or peace.
That little smoke rising from some small town in a country we never heard of before could turn into a mushroom-shaped cloud if we are not very careful, and if we don't cover the story from the beginning, it can suddenly explode on us.
That happened, as a matter of fact, in Iraq. We weren't covering Iraq and the Kuwait situation. If we had been covering it, we might never have had to go to war in that part of world. We weren't covering it, and that's a serious matter.
KING: Our guest is Walter Cronkite. We will be back with more after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1969)
CRONKITE: Armstrong is on the Moon. Neil Armstrong, 38-year-old American, standing on the surface of the Moon. On this July 20th, 1969.
NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT: That's one small stem for man, one giant leap for mankind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1962)
ADLAI STEVENSON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate-range missiles in sites in Cuba, yes or no? CRONKITE: Despite that angry rhetoric at the United Nations, the world seems to have veered off, at least for the moment, the collision course toward global annihilation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was something. Adlai saying, "I will wait until hell freezes over!" -- Stevenson said. Before we take another call, Timothy McVeigh has asked to be executed in the Oklahoma city bombing, and asked it to be telecast. Should it be?
CRONKITE: I don't know. I am of a mixed opinion about that. The fact that he asked it to be telecast was one factor that would mitigate against it happening to me. I'm not inclined to want to yield anything that Timothy McVeigh wants.
KING: How about the telecasting of executions?
CRONKITE: The telecasting of any execution I think is sensationalism beyond necessity. I don't see what the value of it is. If execution were committed in such a manner as to be heinous and bloody and horrible, such that it might deter others from committing such horrible crimes, then it might be advisable, but it's a simple process today, shot in the arm of a narcotic...
KING: But if it were shown, the shot in the arm, tomorrow night, the world would watch.
CRONKITE: Oh, the world would watch, but isn't that sensationalism?
KING: Murphysboro, Tennessee, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry. How are you?
KING: Hi, fine.
CALLER: Mr. Cronkite, I would like to know if you ever considered getting back into broadcasting?
CRONKITE: Well, if you're suggesting somebody's about to make an offer, I might listen to it.
KING: Have you had offers over the years, the last 20 years?
CRONKITE: Oh, yes, sure.
KING: You're still an employee at CBS.
CRONKITE: I've remained under contract with CBS for now 51 years.
KING: You're on the payroll?
CRONKITE: I'm loyal, I'm on the payroll.
KING: On the board?
CRONKITE: They don't use me very much. Well, I was on the board for a for a while. I haven't been for a long time. And I also have a contract with Discovery Channel for cable work, which has prevented me from doing some CNN things...
KING: They wanted you here.
CRONKITE: I'd like to have done them, too.
KING: By the way, Reliable Resources has been established at University of Southern California, the Annenberg School of Communications, to, among other things, improve television political coverage. A project of the Norman Lear center at the Annenberg school, and they're going to give the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in broadcast political coverage at a dinner, April 20th. It will take place in Bethesda in Washington, D.C.
Another thing in honor of Mr. Cronkite.
CRONKITE: Well, it's an important organization. They're, it's a new organization. And its purpose is to provide tools to local stations particularly, but also to networks, cable people in improving their coverage of politics, improving their coverage of elections.
In a way, to sort of, to elevate the entire industry. And I think that's a worthwhile cause.
KING: And we'll be back with our remaining moments with Walter Cronkite right after this.
KING: Let's get another call in. Tempe, Arizona, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Mr. Cronkite. I'm a student at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School Of Journalism, and my question for you, Mr.Cronkite, is what do you think we as students can do now to change the perception of the media in the future?
CRONKITE: Stay loyal to the general principles of journalism which you're learning there, I hope, at ASU. That's all it takes.
Actually, to elevate journalism is, really requires elevating the education of the American people. If the American people want a better newspaper, better broadcast, more complete journalism, they will get it.
It's a market-driven situation. And what you can do is stay loyal to the good principles of journalism: accuracy, fairness, impartiality, that sort of thing. Learn to write. That's the important part, both in print and in broadcasting. The communication requires using the right words. Learn how to do that. You'll get along fine. The first thing, of course, is to get a job.
KING: You once told me that you wouldn't mind it if the anchor were never seen, just voiced over all the film and edit we had for them.
CRONKITE: That'd be perfectly satisfy...
KING: You didn't like celebritydom, did you?
CRONKITE: No. And I don't like that part of the journalism today. I see too many young journalists who are forgetting the principals of the craft in order to be on air, to be a star.
Stars don't belong in journalism.
KING: But it's a product, it's a self -- you can't do anything about it.
CRONKITE: No, no. It can't be helped. It's nobody's fault.
KING: Did you ever think of just retiring, retiring? No Discovery Channel, no writing. Go out and watch the dancers.
CRONKITE: Or sail the boat.
KING: Or just sail the boat.
CRONKITE: Well, I thought of that. I thought that might happen when I stepped down from the evening news, but I found that I couldn't do that. And I don't feel that I want to do it today.
I think that gets pretty boring. The news, the current news, the breaking news, I've got to get that newspaper the first thing in the morning. The only trouble with boating is that you can't get that newspaper. But now can you get it on the Internet.
KING: And what about the Internet, where is that going to take us?.
CRONKITE: Well, it's going to be a major factor in communications, there's no question about it. The newspapers will be delivered through the Internet in the future, and I'm hoping that the one thing that the Internet needs is responsibility.
The, we don't want to interfere with freedom of speech and press, but we've got have to have responsibility. People on the Internet should be just as liable for libel as...
KING: Play by the same rules.
CRONKITE: Yes, absolutely. They should be playing by the same rules as everybody else.
KING: It's an honor knowing you. CRONKITE: Well, it's an honor to be with you, Larry. Thank you, very much.
KING: Walter Cronkite, what do you say after that?
Tomorrow night Hugh Downs will host LARRY KING WEEKEND. The guest is Rosalyn Carter, and on Sunday night we'll have a repeat of our interview with the then just pardoned Patty Hearst.
You've heard from us. We'd like to hear from you what you think of tonight's show. Log on to my Web site and e-mail us your questions and comments at cnn.com/larryking. I don't now what that slash means, but I just like to say it.
With Walter Cronkite, I'm Larry King in New York. Stay tuned for CNN TONIGHT and allow me one personal note: Chance King is 2 years old today. Happy Birthday, little one. Good night.
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