Skip to main content
CNN.com /TRANSCRIPTS

CNN TV
EDITIONS





CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interviews with John McCain, Walter Cronkite

Aired February 12, 2002 - 21:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, in depth with legendary newsman Walter Cronkite. He's been an eyewitness to history. What's his view on today's hot stories?

First, Senator John McCain on his most recent cancer scare and his political battle as a Republican maverick. They're both next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin tonight with an old friend, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, ranking member of the Commerce Science Transportation Committee, before which, by the way, Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared today, co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, former Vietnam POW, decorated veteran, member of the Armed Services Committee. Go through the whole legendary litany, and we're out of time. Thanks for being with us, John.

First of all, how are you? We see the little patch, as we're getting used to seeing patches on McCain. What's the latest?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It's fine, Larry. There was a place on my nose that was discolored, and they saw it was, in technical terms, melanoma in situ, which isn't as bad as my other one was. And they removed it, and everything's fine. It's all negative. And I think I'm going to be looking at these little marks for the rest of my life and having them removed for the rest of my life.

KING: Does it usually mean that once someone has melanoma skin cancer, they're going to get reoccurrences in other places?

MCCAIN: They say that it's more likely, once you've had one, and that seems to be -- there's some logic because it's all got to do with cumulative sun damage that you experienced, particularly when you were young. So yes, this is my third, and I'm sure there will probably most likely be another one.

KING: But everything's OK?

MCCAIN: Oh, yeah. Sure. The whole secret, as in most problems, is early detection. And every three months, I religiously visit my wonderful dermatologist. And she had this one worked on, and I'm sure she'll have more work ahead of her.

KING: And no more hanging around in the sun. MCCAIN: No. I strongly, again, urge all of our viewers, wear sunscreen, keep your children out of the sun in the warmest parts of the day. And really, watch for any discolorations. A person who used to be on your show fairly often, Maureen Reagan, as you know...

KING: Yeah.

MCCAIN: Hers all started with a spot on the back of her thigh. And so you got to be careful.

KING: All right, let's run down some things. First, Pakistani police arrest the prime suspect in the kidnapping of the journalist Daniel Pearl. Rumors now that we may have a release on our hands. What do you make of this?

MCCAIN: I think it's a sign that Pakistanis are really trying to help us in this effort against the Taliban and against terror, and I hope that they get credit for it. There's still very high tensions between India and Pakistan, and I know our administration working very hard to reduce those, as well.

KING: What are your thoughts on the latest terrorist warning, which we had last night, about a possible occurrence today? Is that a good idea, by the way?

MCCAIN: You know, that's a judgment call. Larry, I -- all of us worry about the "crying wolf" aspect of it, that if you get so many warnings, people begin to ignore them. But the responsibility that our government has is to provide the best information and recommend the best course of action. So it's a very tough call, and I'm glad I don't have to make those calls.

KING: What is the public, do you think, supposed to do with it, look around?

MCCAIN: Uh-huh.

KING: Carry the pictures with you? What? I mean, how do you react to this kind of threat?

MCCAIN: I think vigilance. We've seen several cases of vigilance on board airliners that have, obviously, saved many lives. I think there are other threats in other areas that, by having Americans be vigilant that all times, we can probably help out. And I want to say, in the long run, serve your community, serve your nation. Sign up for the president's new program that's called Freedom USA, where we can do a lot of other things in the way of volunteering and helping our country and its security and our fellow citizens.

KING: All right. This morning, former Enron CEO Ken Lay testified under subpoena. You were the senior Republican on the committee he testified before. What did you make of it?

MCCAIN: I think it was predictable that his lawyers would advise him not to testify. I was told that he wanted to testify to clear his name, and his lawyers warned him of the problem of self-incrimination. I had hoped that he would testify because his wife said on the "Today" show, as you know, that he was innocent of any knowledge that bad things were going on. I'd like to have heard his side of it. But you know, I guess you have to go with the advice of lawyers. But it's unfortunate.

KING: Were you angry?

MCCAIN: No. You can't get angry about these things. He still has the rights of a citizen, and that is to not testify, if he thinks it may be self-incriminating. The Supreme Court made it very clear that taking the 5th Amendment is not therefore an admission of guilt or a taint of guilt. And so he has the right of every citizen.

KING: But you did say that "You and others in senior management of Enron have failed to completely fulfill your responsibilities." That there is no doubt, right?

MCCAIN: There's no doubt about that. I read in my opening statement a comment that he made in 1991 about the responsibilities of a CEO and a board member. They were very strong words. And clearly, at least in my view, he did not fulfill his responsibilities. Now, whether that's criminal behavior or just, you know, negligence or whatever it is, I think will be sorted out over time. But this scandal, I think, is going to be with us for a long period of time.

KING: Did you get any money from them?

MCCAIN: Yes, $9,500. I obviously returned it, but the fact is that we're all tainted by this process, and -- including me, and that's why we have to have campaign finance reform.

KING: When you say "obviously" returned it -- to your knowledge, are a lot of other members of the Senate and House returning it?

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.

KING: Yeah. Do you think...

MCCAIN: For whatever that's worth.

KING: Do you think Mr. -- Vice President Cheney should release the names of those who attended the meetings?

MCCAIN: Yes, I do. And I think that it's going to come out sooner or later. I've seen a number of scandals, and it'll come out sooner or later. And I think it would be helpful in moving this process along if those -- that meetings and the people who attended -- I don't think that anyone's asking for transcripts of conversations, but I think the America people have a right to know.

KING: Do you fear any government involvement?

MCCAIN: I don't -- I want to wait until we get all the evidence, and there will be. The media is hard at work investigating this situation. I think it's going to lead a lot of places that we never thought it would. And I hope that nobody did anything wrong. I hope it's just a pure story of a collapsed corporation because of bad financial management. I'm afraid it's a lot more than that.

KING: All right, let's discuss campaign finance reform. The Shays-Meehan bill in the House, modeled on McCain-Feingold that's passed the Senate -- House vote looks very tight. When is that coming, by the way?

MCCAIN: In the next couple of days, they'll start to -- they'll start on Tuesday, and then it'll go through Wednesday. They may not vote finally until Thursday morning, but probably most of it will be done on Wednesday. I think well there will be some close votes. The speaker has said that it's Armageddon.

KING: What do you expect?

MCCAIN: I'm cautiously optimistic, but I think you -- it's hard to underestimate the depth and passion of the opposition and the threat that it is to the addiction towards the huge, hundred -- multi- hundred-thousand-dollar contributions that both parties have become addicted to.

KING: The speaker said it means the end of your party if it passes. That's your party. How do you react to that? It's your bill.

MCCAIN: Well, I react by saying that the Democrats outraised us in 1994, when we took control of both houses of Congress. We've been outraising the Democrats ever since and losing seats ever since. Ronald Reagan won the presidency and re-election in 1980 and '84. We didn't have soft money, but we had ideas and we had vision and we had principles and we had things that attracted Americans to our banner. We seem to have lost sight of that in our all-out effort to get money to finance negative ads.

KING: The president opposed McCain-Feingold. He has not said what he would do about current legislation and a veto. What do you expect from the White House?

MCCAIN: Well, I hope the president would sign the bill, and I wish he would signal clearly that he's for campaign finance reform and that he would sign a bill if passed by both houses. As you know, there's a -- without getting too arcane here, even if it passes the House, there may be some debate as to whether it has to go to a conference between the two houses or not...

KING: Yeah.

MCCAIN: ... which would be a black hole. But I hope the president would sign a bill. I hope he'll say he'll sign a bill and recognize that it's time we cleaned up this system.

KING: Hope is one thing. Do you think he will?

MCCAIN: I think, politically, the pressures will be very strong for him to sign a bill, and I've been told that he has signaled that he would sign a bill. We also read in "The New York Times" this morning that the White House, working through the Republican National Committee, is trying to kill it. So I'm not positive.

KING: The public attitude on this -- a new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll -- 72 percent of those polled favor new campaign finance reform legislation. But only 28 percent believe that campaign finance reform will reduce the power of special interests. What do you make of that?

MCCAIN: Because they've grown cynical, and understandably so, that we -- they're cynical about our ability to clean up our own act. They think that we can't do it because we are so beholden to the special interests. And we've got to prove them wrong. Otherwise we will lose the faith, the much-needed faith in the political system on the part, particularly, of young Americans. There were more registered Republicans in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected than there is today, Larry. The participation in the political process continues to decrease, and that's unfortunate. And the ultimate result of that is obvious.

KING: We're certainly glad you're in good health. We wish you all the best. We look forward to many more appearances.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.

We will take a break, and when we come back, Walter Cronkite. And if I have to tell you who he is -- major problems. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE -- it's always a great pleasure to see him, he was with us shortly after the tragedy of September 11th -- the legendary newsman, the former anchor of "CBS Evening News," Walter Cronkite.

And of course, we have a kind of ongoing news story today, Walter, about the possibility of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl. The latest we get is from the Pakistani police that he could be released soon. Are you hopeful? Are you surprised?

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Of course, I am surprised, but I'm happily surprised, obviously. I don't think we really thought seriously we were going to get him back. And I certainly hope that this turns out to be a true story that they're going to get him today. He must have been through a terrible experience. It's been, what -- January 23rd, I think...

MCCAIN: Yeah, along time.

CRONKITE: ... he was captured. It's a long time. Boy! Twenty- four hours would be long enough.

KING: What do you think they hope to gain when they do things like that with a news man?

CRONKITE: Well, if, indeed, it is the culprit they think it is who engineered this thing, he's had a record of this. He gets pretty good ransom, trades off prisoners that he feels that are unjustly held by other people -- governments, that is -- and money. I think that was what he was after, very probably. But I don't think he expected to get anything of any material value as intelligence out of a reporter.

(CROSSTALK)

CRONKITE: Not that a reporter wouldn't have it. If anyone did have it, I'm sure Pearl would. But it's just that's -- that wouldn't be the game he'd be playing.

KING: And when they think about CIA and stuff, I mean...

CRONKITE: Oh, yeah.

KING: Have you ever known a journalist who also worked as a spy?

CRONKITE: Yeah.

KING: You did?

CRONKITE: I did. We had one, unfortunately, at CBS many years ago, who worked in the near Middle East and Greece, in that area, Turkey and so forth. And it turned out later that he confessed that he had been working for the government as a spy. There's -- it's a terrible thing for the government to recruit reporters as spies because it -- when a revelation comes that one is, indeed, a spy, it can create serious problems for all journalists, wherever they're working. The job is dangerous enough in many of these countries without that added burden. The same thing would be certainly true if this -- if this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KING: You had to fire that gentlemen, of course?

CRONKITE: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

KING: Yeah. What if his defense to you was, "But I'm first an American. I'm helping my country."

CRONKITE: Sure, sure, "Working for my government and my government asked me to do this, so I did it." Well, that's not a defense. You've got to be a little stronger than that. Your government can ask you to do a lot of things, but you have a conscience and a job to perform that is also of great importance to our democracy. The full reporting from every source of information that we need to vote properly in our democracy is as important as any other function of our government.

And it's up to a reporter to advise the government of that and tell them that his job is -- and the integrity of his job far more important than anything they could assign him to do.

KING: I want to touch a lot of bases, but first, how is your health?

CRONKITE: Very good. Very good. I'm still hobbling along with my torn Achilles tendon. Tennis injury, not gout.

KING: Did you also have the hip surgery?

CRONKITE: No, I didn't have hip surgery. I had a little back surgery, as a cause of some of the therapy I was undergoing for the leg. You know, once you get in the hands of the medical profession, they don't let go easily.

KING: Aging is not fun.

CRONKITE: Somebody said it's not for sissies.

KING: Yeah. But you still sail, right? You're still an active...

CRONKITE: I sail as much as I can. And I'm hoping to get back on the tennis court, for heaven's sakes. And one thing I miss is not being out there on the court. This was a tennis injury, the old torn Achilles tendon, which is -- happens to a lot of players who don't warm up properly, I'm told.

KING: How old are you now, Walter?

CRONKITE: I'm 85.

KING: Were you mandatorily retired?

CRONKITE: No, I was not.

KING: No.

CRONKITE: And that story just bothers me a great deal, but...

KING: Tell me the situation. How did it -- what -- what were the...

CRONKITE: Well, what happened was that for several years, I'd been telling CBS that I was going to step down from the "Evening News" when I was 65. I began -- became a journalist while I was still in college. Actually, I had a job as a copy boy when I was in high school. And I had been at United Press for 11 years. By that time, about 40 years with CBS, meeting deadlines every day. And I decided that at 65, I wanted a little easier life, not the daily deadline. I wanted to stay with CBS, intended to stay with CBS, doing documentaries, things of that kind, but not daily. I mean, you know, that's -- well, you know what it is, for heaven's sakes. How many years have you been...

KING: Forty-five.

CRONKITE: Well, you know what it is. And it's tough to get off, and particularly in broadcast it's very tough to get away. And so I said 65. Well, they didn't believe me. Nobody steps down from an anchor job on a network. Nobody ever had.

KING: Especially the most famous ever. And you were the most famous ever and...

CRONKITE: Well, I don't know about that, but I was doing pretty well with CBS.

KING: So what happened?

CRONKITE: So they kept just denying me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pooh- poohed that -- "Oh, come on. You're not -- you're not going to quit." And one day, our president of CBS at the time, Bill Leonard, came to me. It was in December, whatever it was, '80, I guess. And he came to me and he said, "Listen, are you -- are you serious about that business of quitting when you're 65? Because that's coming up in November." And I said, "You're darn right I am." My contract ran till November. I had it running to my birthday, so I could stop on my birthday. I was going to make a celebration out of it.

And I said, "I certainly am." He said, "You're not really serious." I said, "I am really serious. At 65, I'm leaving this room" -- we were in the newsroom at the time -- "and I'm not coming back every day. I'll come back whenever you need me, big story, I want to be back, but not every day." "Well," he said, "we've got a little problem. Dan Rather is threatening to go over to ABC, and we're trying to put a package together that'll keep him with us, and the package will be that he can come aboard in November, then, if you're going to really step out."

I said, "You better grab him right now because I'm leaving." And that's what happened.

KING: I'm glad...

CRONKITE: But I don't -- I can understand why not a -- I don't think a single television reporter for the newspapers believed me because...

KING: Who leaves?

CRONKITE: Nobody does that, you know? Just doesn't make any sense.

KING: Ever sorry you did it?

CRONKITE: Yeah. Yeah, I am. If I'd known my health was going to be as good as it was, and I would have known I wasn't going to be more fun than I had anyway, I -- and knowing what the stories were going to be -- it was just a month after I stepped out that Reagan was shot, for heaven's sakes. My gosh, I was in Moscow already. I was doing a documentary already. I was in Moscow when this story broke.

KING: Do you still miss it?

CRONKITE: Yeah. I still miss it. I don't miss being on the air, Larry. What I miss is -- as far as the daily news goes, I miss being in the newsroom when the stories are breaking, helping make the agenda for the day, deciding what should be covered, which I did.

KING: Yeah.

CRONKITE: I was managing editor of the broadcast. The -- and I also do miss being on the air at times like the tragedy of September 11th. When you've got such a major story as that, you're ready to -- you want to be aboard, you know?

KING: Our guest is Walter Cronkite. What can we say? We'll be back with more right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "CBS EVENING NEWS")

CRONKITE: Good evening from Paris. Tonight, this broadcast originates from outside the United States for the first time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: My guest is Walter Cronkite. Earlier, John McCain. Tomorrow night, Dominick Dunne will be with us.

And we are here at our bureau in New York.

What do you make of the latest terrorist warning, the idea of issuing a terrorist warning, showing pictures and telling people "Be on guard." Good idea?

CRONKITE: Well, sure. I would think so. We ought to be told whatever they know that can help us be on guard. I must say, I thought the fellow they pictured looked like an average tourist from that part of the world. And as a matter of fact, coming over here to your studio tonight, we passed a guy on the street who almost ran into the car, and it looked just like him, I thought. Didn't know -- what do you do? Do you turn around and say, "Hey, that's the guy"?

KING: Have you gotten more nervous since? Are you more aware of your surroundings since September 11th?

CRONKITE: Oh, I suppose, to a certain degree, yeah. I'm not frightened. I'm not scared. I'm not shaking all the time with alarm or the possibility that the guy going into the theater behind me has got a bomb in his shoe. But I -- sure. Sure. We know that we've got these people out in the world now that are looking for us, looking for an opportunity, whatever their plans or plots may be. I worry just as much, however, about the kooks out there who think that now is the time to plant a bomb. You know, they read the papers, and they're copycat terrorists.

KING: You were out of the country, weren't you, on September 11th?

CRONKITE: Yeah, I was in Italy.

KING: Trouble getting back, as I remember.

CRONKITE: Took five days. We got on the first plane out of Italy, after the -- which was the Sunday following. Actually, it's -- you know, sometimes you got to use that old reportorial cachet, whatever it is. We were on a Delta flight that was -- we were scheduled to be on the flight on that Sunday morning. As it turned out to be, the first one out of the country. However, when we got to the airport or we checked by phone about the flight, they said, "Well, yes, you're scheduled to fly with us, of course, but we're taking people in priority of the time of when they would have flown, if we'd been flying these last five days. And therefore, you're going to come back on September 28th," or something like that. I mean, it was way off. And I'm afraid we had to use a little...

KING: A little clout.

CRONKITE: A little clout to get aboard that first plane.

KING: Was it strange flying back in?

CRONKITE: Oh, it was strange at the airport, of course, with the masses of people, not only waiting to check in through security, but also those hoping to get on some plane or another. The airport in Milan was actually jammed. But aboard the aircraft, I didn't feel that there was any real difference up in the aircraft. I didn't sense that my fellow passengers were frightened.

KING: Am I remembering right? Didn't you live within proximity of the World Trade Center? Didn't you have a good view of it?

CRONKITE: We had a view of it, not a particularly good one. We're on the Upper East Side. We look down the river, and I could see a corner of the buildings. I miss them now. We would have had a view, certainly, of the clouds of smoke, if not the collapse itself. And I do miss it now. That picture out of our window down the East River is missing something over there on the right-hand side.

KING: Did you ever think -- we all feared terrorism coming to this country. Did you ever think it would come the way it did?

CRONKITE: Oh, no. Not in the slightest. Not in the slightest. I have -- I've thought a lot about nuclear, biologic terror. I've thought that would be the way it would come, if we had it. I had no idea of the diabolic cleverness of sending a heavily-fueled airplane into a major building. That, unfortunately, was brilliant.

KING: Have you -- you've gone to wars. You've covered wars. We'll never forget your reporting from Vietnam. Being a journalist and taking risks, is that part of the story?

CRONKITE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And Larry, that can't be hammered home strongly enough with an administration and a military that is trying every possible way to conduct their business in the dark from the American people. I think we should abhor this. I should think the newspapers and television outlets should be hammering home the fact we are not able to put our reporters with the troops, where they should be.

The excuse is that it's too dangerous. That's one excuse. We got to protect the correspondents from their -- from themselves, in essence. Not so. The correspondents -- in World War II, we were out there with troops. Vietnam, our correspondents were out there with the troops, when it was pretty darn tough going into the jungles with a small unit of then, not much different than the kind of almost guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan.

And the business of not being able to -- not having trained people who are going along with these highly-trained secret units -- we can understand the problem there. Just a few men going in, it's hard to take a cameraman and somebody else along. However, they have taken their own cameramen along, so that's not a problem.

And training the people is not a problem. In World War II, they trained us to go on high-altitude flights, the bombers, over Germany in a week. We went to a training center for gunnery, not that we were supposed to man a gun, under the Geneva convention, but gunnery and high-altitude first aid and that kind of thing. We -- they gave us parachute training, so you'd go in with the airborne. And a little -- two days on a standing parachute drop.

(CROSSTALK)

CRONKITE: ... land in a parachute or with a glider, whatever. Now, this can be done if they wanted it to be done. They don't want it to be done.

KING: Because?

CRONKITE: Because it is -- war is a very messy business. It is bound to be messy. There are going to be mistakes. We've seen some, probably, in Afghanistan already. The -- they don't want those reported. They feel that to maintain wartime morale, we've got to be a cheering section for the military. We should be reporting what we see and can see.

The people have a right to know, not only a right, but a duty to know what the Army is doing in their name. We call them "our boys" and "our girls." We've got a right to know what our boys and our girls are doing in our name.

KING: As we got to break with Walter Cronkite, here's a little sample of his work during World War II.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE: I'm just back from the biggest assignment that any American reporter could have so far in this war. And when we were permitted to write, there was plenty to report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Walter Cronkite. What do you make of this, as they call it, fog of war in Afghanistan? CRONKITE: Well, it's something we had to do. I think there's no question about that. I think we've got every right to believe that we've done it quite well up until now. The problem, really, is setting in now, in trying to bring permanent peace to that country that has been through a war for three decades anyway.

The warlord problem, competing warlords in one little community have already thrown us off pace, as it were. The -- as you know, was recognized by the provincial president at the moment, was thrown out by another warlord in the same town, and apparently everyone agreed he was the one who should be in there anyway. It's going to be messy and it's going to be very tough for us.

KING: Is it definitely our role to be involved all the way through?

CRONKITE: It's our role to be involved, but I should think our role should be subjegated to the United Nations. We should be very important to the United Nations role, we are the strong military power that has to be a lead power in this respect. But we should be working under the ideas of the United Nations for heaven's sake.

KING: What do you make of the allegations of this country mistreating prisoners?

CRONKITE: I am disappointed if it's so, but not terribly surprised. The -- we don't know the extent of that, really. We've got a few quotes from a few people that maintain they were mistreated. But it -- again, it's wartime. It's a difficult period. The police mistreat people, and we don't condemn them too seriously for that, if it's in the distress of a riot situation. Nearly always in riots where they are picking up civilians and throwing them in the back of a bus or something to take them to jail, there are always going to be complaints that they were mistreated by the police. If you are trying to handcuff a recalcitrant individual, you might turn -- twist his shoulder a little bit or something of the kind.

KING: War is hell?

CRONKITE: War is hell. And arresting people, particularly if you have made a mistake and they are innocent civilians, can be pretty tough.

KING: We know about friendly fire in Vietnam. We hear about it a lot in subsequent altercations. Was there a lot of it in World War II?

CRONKITE: Sure there was. I don't think we had, perhaps, quite as much in World War II as we seem to have today, with smart weapons. We've got so much technology going into these weapons today that one little chip goes awry and the whole package of explosives goes somewhere it's not supposed to go. I think that's maybe the problem we're having in some ways.

KING: What's your assessment thus far, of President Bush? CRONKITE: My assessment is that he has done an extraordinarily good job in bringing us all together and taking the first immediate emergency steps after 9/11, and therefore we should be grateful that we got him doing the job for us.

On the other hand, I'm concerned about some of the domestic policy and foreign policy, which I think we should have the right to examine and criticize, and not feel we are being disloyal to the war effort. The war efforts over here on one side. And we've got to be critical of that as well because the war effort is piercing the governments of many, many countries, that, as we are getting very intimately involved in what they are up to and what they are doing, that we've got to, somehow or other, be sure we are respecting their rights, whatever they are at the moment.

KING: Do you think he'll have a lot of clout in the November elections?

CRONKITE: You're speaking November this year, the congressional election?

KING: yes.

CRONKITE: Well, that -- I don't know. That would depend on circumstances. We're a long way off from that, still. I think this thing...

KING: They lose seats in the first two years, right? Usually the incumbent president loses seats?

CRONKITE: Yes. Well, they certainly will hope not to lose. They've got a very narrow -- Democrats have a very narrow balance there now and hope the Republicans, clearly, to unseat them in both the leadership of the Senate and in the narrow -- narrow minority position they have in the house.

But, you know, there are so many things that are going to be at stake. If the Democrats are organized well enough to put together the package of things that the Republican administration is doing, almost by fiat today, I think the main thing the Democrats have to look at is the fact that the administration is trying to bypass Congress on so much that Congress feels is their bailiwick, and I think the people should feel Congress should have a say. And if that continues, the Democrats are going to have a pretty good argument to put forth.

KING: When you've seen it all, as you've seen it all. All the political figures you've seen, the presidents you've known, does it ever get old hat to you?

CRONKITE: No, no. It can't.

KING: Goes around, goes around. You never get that kind of jaded feeling?

CRONKITE: Well, that was Sam Rayburn's line, and it was a good one. But that -- that's true in a sense. You've seen similar situations before, but the personalities are different. Interplayer personalities are different. You've always got just a little different balance of power in there somehow or other. Today you've go McCain on here, here you've got a very strong Republican who made a very good showing in the primaries a couple of years ago, and here he is, really, he's probably as pointed a thorn in the side of the administration as any Democrat is today.

KING: And we are hardpressed to find a similar situation in recent years to McCain and Bush?

We'll be right back with more of Walter Cronkite. We'll ask him his thoughts about Enron right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRONKITE (voice-over): The Tet offensive still had its hotspots. And one of them was that once beautiful city of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .

(on camera): But the communist's intention was to take and seize the cities. They came closer here at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) than anywhere else. It was a tough fight. It was house to house, door to door, room to room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back. Before I ask Walter about Enron, he wanted to add something about military and the way of doing things, where you can cover things but do it similar to World War II, where there is censorship, right?

CRONKITE: Sure. In World War II, there were very few places we couldn't go. I can't remember really being turned down to go anywhere. Each of the armies had its own press camp with it of independent reporters.

KING: Did you interview generals and stuff, you had access, didn't you?

CRONKITE: Sure. They'd brief us and we could see them and we could see them in action at their headquarters, drop in almost any time. I mean, it was that kind of thing. You want to go somewhere, you got a Jeep and you went. You spent many a night in a foxhole up there where the action was.

But the point was that we understood that there had to be censorship of our material that we sent out. When we wrote it or it was photographed or filmed for news reels in those days, that material went into the censors at that Army headquarters and the unit headquarters, then up on up to the Army and beyond. And they held that material if they felt that it was in any way endangering the troops. If we were talking about losses, they didn't want your enemy to know the losses when you are still on the frontline and material (UNINTELLIGIBLE), all these things. We understood it had to be secret, but you wrote it. You wrote it that day so history, our history was preserved. They held it to the censors until they could release it. And that might be a week later, might be a month later, might be six months later, might be years later. But the material was there to show the history of our troops in action that we could see at some point to balance what we might have been able to hear through the censorship. And it was terribly important and we don't have that history anymore.

KING: Makes too much sense. What do you make of Enron?

CRONKITE: Well, apparently there's something going on there.

KING: I think so. You think there's a story here?

CRONKITE: I think there's a story there.

KING: What do you make of a thing like this and all of these nontestimonies?

CRONKITE: The terrible part of it, of course is that it's creating a very severe case of doubt upon the part of the investing public in the honesty and integrity of the companies that are asking people to invest. I think it's a -- I think it's a dangerous situation right now.

You know, here, Enron seemed to be such a profitable and fast- growing, powerful organization, seventh largest in the world or something of the kind. And to have this going on there, and now we've got another company coming along with that kind of a problem, the accounting industry not performing its job, which we had depended upon. Even a law firm, a very dignified, important law firm, possibly being involved. My gosh, where does this stop?

And isn't it -- isn't it proof, again, Larry, that greed is simply overwhelmed our civilization. I mean, it's not just them, not just the officials at Enron. It's a lot of people invested in Enron and expected immediate dividends, huge dividends to pour out. That's not the way I should think you normally invest in a growing company.

KING: What is the government's response? Does it owe a responsibility to those who lost monies in the 401(k)? Does the vice president owe it to release the names of those who discussed energy policy? What does the government, assuming they are not involved in any chicanery, what do they owe us?

CRONKITE: Well, I think what they owe us now is some real knowledge as we go through these, what are there, nine committees or something now studying the matter in Congress. They've got to come up with legislation that protects us. And that should be perfectly possible. It ought to be almost easy if, of course, if the special interests do not dictate that legislation and that's the danger.

Right now, we've got this very important matter before the House, representatives of the finance -- campaign finance bill. There are all sorts of special interests in there right now. I understand the Hill is just crowded with lobbyists trying to get their own version of that bill, mostly intending to kill it, trying to get such provisions in it that cannot be accepted by Congress.

KING: The puzzling thing is no public official says they are against campaign finance reform.

CRONKITE: No, they can't, of course. And that should indicate -- that should be the indication right there that they can't come out against it, that the people want it. People overwhelmingly want it. And they know darn good and well they are going to be fighting a campaign issue themselves if they go out and have voted against campaign reform. But they are going to crowd up the issue so badly that it can't make sense as a working piece of legislation and we won't have campaign reform and they won't have anything on their description (ph) that will defeat them next November.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Walter Cronkite. Dominic Dunne tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Engine stop. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), engine command override off.

CRONKITE: Man on the moon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, tranquility base here. The eagle has landed. We're going to be busy for a minute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Walter Cronkite. One of the problems, of course, on the other hand is you need money.

CRONKITE: Indeed you do.

KING: And so the other side says I got to raise the money to run for the office if I can't buy advertising, so what do I do? I got to spend media money. What?

CRONKITE: Indeed, and indeed they spent more than a billion dollars in the last election on some television advertising, the candidates did. The -- this -- that's all the candidates. This has got to be cut down. And there's no reason why a television station should not give free time to the candidates. Not a lot of free time, but some free time. They still make their money on some more advertising probably. But --

KING: They said they'd do it in debates, interviews. Won't charge for that. CRONKITE: They say they do, but you and I know there wasn't that much time spent. As a matter of fact, on the network evening news programs, the sound bites of candidates on the air averaged 7.8 seconds last time. You and I haven't said a sentence that was 7.8 seconds today.

KING: Couldn't do it.

CRONKITE: You couldn't get a noun and a pronoun and an adverb out in that time. It's ridiculous and there's no reason, we're not asking anybody to go broke doing this, but the Alliance for a Better Campaign is the thing that Paul Taylor has put together. And Washington is very strong and he's going very strongly after the networks and the stations to give free times this next time.

KING: Walter, you have never really retired, have you? I mean, you do documentaries and you write books.

CRONKITE: No.

KING: Do you ever think of just saying okay, I'm 85, I'm going to just going to watch the dancers, as Adlai Stevenson once said?

CRONKITE: That's about every morning as I'm shaving. But by the time I've finished shaving and got the newspaper in hand, I want to go after the next story.

KING: Are you still doing active work?

CRONKITE: I get an opportunity in some of the documentaries we do. I do quite a lot of speaking around the country. And that's all extemporaneous, answer questions, "Conversation With Walter Cronkite, " very popular forum I think we invented a couple -- two or three years ago. People are beginning to copy and it works now...

KING: You go out and do what?

CRONKITE: ... when we get an interchange. It makes it really interesting.

KING: You take Q & A? You speak at colleges?

CRONKITE: Well, colleges and speaker bureaus type things, lecture bureaus and conventions.

KING: Still enjoy the travel?

CRONKITE: No. Travel has gotten so miserable with the airport problem, the getting there in advance, and the crowds, which we have to have, I agree -- and the security. I want my airplane just as secure as they can make it. But it has taken a little bit of the comfort out of travel anyway.

KING: Do you still have a strong optimistic view about this country? CRONKITE: Oh, sure. And I think that maybe we have got our focus a little better now on what we need to do in this country. Thanks to nine -- September 11 and the Enron situation. I think that Enron thing has awakened us to this matter of greed. I think 9/11 introduced us to the fact that maybe we had the wrong priorities in life to live. Putting those two things together, we just might be -- find ourselves moving ahead in this century in a way that I really hadn't expected us to.

I was a little depressed for a while, and I may be still somewhat depressed about the one thing that we can't seem to get a handle on and that's war. And armaments, we are going to spend now billions upon billions more for armaments when we can't have enough money for schools and education, health and all of those points. And all of this is in order to better be able to kill masses of people. Now, what the devil is civilization about after all these thousands of years that man has been walking upright? That we still believe that that's the way to settle an argument? Not only a personal argument so that everybody can have a gun in their pocket, but also countries spend their fortunes on their military. If we couldn't -- we spent some portion of that, in fact a large portion of that on ways to achieve peace.

For instance, right now, we ought to be putting billions of dollars into a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, particularly in the Arab nations that we were going to prevent future attacks, terrorist attacks and enmity of those nations is to help them come into the 21st century. And they need a lot of funds and money to do that. We can do that. We did the Marshall plan. We rebuilt Europe after World War II.

KING: A lot of people were against it.

CRONKITE: I know they were. But look what happened, we turned Europe into a viable organization and indeed, by so doing, fostered the European Union even now. Elimination, almost, of a danger war in that area. But we've got to do this now in the Middle East.

KING: We've never answered the question of why go to war? We never know, why do we kill each other? Why?

CRONKITE: Yes.

KING: Land?

CRONKITE: Well, envy. In the case of the Arabs, and understandable envy. Television has had its part to play, they see the pictures now. They all have television, maybe only one set to a village, but they all watch television. And as they do, they see the riches of the West constantly portrayed before them. And they are living in these hollows without food, clothing, shelter, jobs, education and they say, why can't we have that? And there's no answer to that. Their governments can't answer it.

KING: Did you ever think of running for president? Those rumors were around you. Did you ever give it a thought? CRONKITE: No, no. Thank you.

KING: Thank you, Walter, as always.

CRONKITE: I'm glad.

KING: Walter Cronkite. It's an honor just sharing some space with him. Legendary news man, former anchor of the CBS Evening News, 85 years young.

Dominic Dunne will join us tomorrow night. And as we close things out we'll be turning it over, after the break, to "NEWSNIGHT" and Aaron Brown.

In New York, I'm Larry King. For Walter Cronkite and earlier John McCain, good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


 
 
 
 


 Search   

Back to the top