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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Walter Cronkite Dies
Aired July 17, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: Campbell, a sad night for the country and a sad night for the news industry.
And good evening, everyone.
I am John King filling in for Larry King tonight.
The sad news we give you -- the breaking news tonight -- Walter Cronkite, the legendary anchorman, the voice of CBS News in the mid- '70s, the most trusted man in America, passed away tonight. Walter Cronkite was 92 years old.
Walter Cronkite leaves a legacy. He was, for many, the voice of the man on the moon. He was, for others, the first voice to tell them President Kennedy had been shot and killed.
He also was the voice who frustrated President Johnson by coming back from Vietnam and saying to the American people, the war there was mired in a stalemate. President Johnson believed it dramatically helped change public opinion here in the United States.
As I fill in for Larry King tonight, we want to go first to my friend and colleague, Larry.
He is standing by on the telephone -- and, Larry, quite simply, Walter Cronkite -- what did he do for the business?
What is his legacy?
LARRY KING, HOST: Oh, what can you say, John?
I wish I could be there tonight. I'm with my boys on a prior commitment I couldn't change.
But Walter Cronkite was not only a great broadcaster, he was a dear friend, especially to other broadcasters. He would aid you and help you, in very -- he would always build you up. If you were young in the field, if you were on your way up, he was right there.
And, of course, I don't think -- John and I think you'll agree -- there will never be a newsman again ever who will have that clout. The -- it's too diffuse now. There's too many channels, too many areas, too many broadcasters.
Cronkite stands alone. He could change public opinion. No one broadcaster could do that today. No one can even touch it.
As you said, Cronkite came back from Vietnam and the mood about Vietnam changed.
In fact, I'll tell you, one of the proudest things in my life -- and I don't want to get personal -- was in the '90s, I forget the year. I got the Walter Cronkite Award -- an award that he presented himself to a different broadcaster each year.
And that was one of the greatest nights of my life to stand up on the podium and hear that voice give something to me -- a man who gave so much to this country.
I remember when he started on -- you weren't born, John. I remember when he started on radio doing -- he did the business report every night for CBS Radio Network. And from there, he went on to meteoric fame.
We'll never see his likes again.
J. KING: He was a wire correspondent for United Press. Then he became the voice and the face of CBS. He was the anchor of "The CBS Evening News" from 1962 to 1981, signing off each broadcast with "And that's the way it is."
L. KING: Yes.
J. KING: Larry, that was his trademark.
You mentioned the trust factor. Because there is cable now, there are so many options out there. There are the Internet and the blogs. The trust factor that Walter Cronkite had with the American people wasn't only borne of the fact that there were fewer platforms in those days, it was because he was a reporter first, anchorman second, right?
L. KING: Correct. And, do you remember the time -- there were many times he was rumored to run for president. I forget the year. In one of the years, there was a strong group of people around America who was Twittering out there -- there wasn't a Twitter then, but I'll use that word. They were sending the message out to draft Walter Cronkite.
He had that great an image. There's no broadcaster today who could even touch that.
And here was the man anchoring the news every night. And I'll also tell you, John, he was bitter when he left CBS. He didn't want to retire. That was a forced retirement. I don't think he ever really got over that feeling toward a network that he thought let him down, that he felt he had done so much for. I'm sure, at the end, he got over that. He was in very failing health. He was deaf.
This was probably a peaceful going -- if you're going to go, you're going to go the way Walter went.
But that voice, isn't it in your head, John?
J. KING: Yes. I grew up listening to him at home. My mother tells me I was a baby on her lap when she learned from Walter Cronkite that President Kennedy had been killed. And, of course, I didn't know him in the business. He was gone by the time I made it to CNN. But I did have the honor to meet him just a few times in my life, including in my coverage of President Clinton -- watching them sail in the waters. Walter Cronkite loved his boat and he loved the sea.
Larry, I want to share with our viewers some of Larry King sitting down on LARRY KING LIVE with his friend, one of our colleagues in this business and a man who will be very much missed, Walter Cronkite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM SEPTEMBER 2003)
L. KING: When you watch it, Walter, do you miss it?
WALTER CRONKITE: Oh, yes. Of course. Every day. Every -- every minute of the day, I miss it, because as things develop, I hear them on the radio. I see them on the Internet. And I wish I could get my hands on that story, you know?
L. KING: You want to go in and do it?
CRONKITE: It -- it's the old -- it's the old fire -- fire horse. You know, when the bell rings, you want to go.
A well dressed young white man seen running from the scene.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
J. KING: And, Larry, we are 40 years -- it is 40 years ago that man walked on the moon. And Walter Cronkite, of course, was the great voice of much of that, the space movement. And, you know, sometimes we try to be profound in what we say. Walter Cronkite said this watching men walking on the moon. He said: "Oh, boy; ooh, wow and jeez. Remember that day 40 years ago.
L. KING: Oh, do I remember it.
And what's that show?
I'm trying to think of the name. "You Are There." "You Are There," a show he hosted Sundays on CBS, kind of a documentary in which he would take you to July 4th, 1776 and you are there, with those wonderful tonal qualities that he had.
That was another wonderful program in the '50s that Walter Cronkite put his own stamp on it. He also continued to do a daily commentary on radio. Throughout his entire career on CBS TV, he did a daily commentary on radio.
And there's that one moment, John, I think which nobody in America will never forget if you were there and watching it, when he announced Kennedy's death. He takes that -- I'm sure we'll be showing you. He takes that pause -- you have to watch this -- and takes the glasses off and gives you the time he died with a lump in his throat.
That was great broadcasting.
J. KING: And as we listen to Larry King reflect, we're watching pictures of Walter Cronkite. You saw him with Eisenhower; with President Kennedy; a man, Larry, who was there for the Apollo landing, as we said. He helped turn public opinion on Vietnam, the civil rights movement. He was a man in a powerful position, the CBS anchor chair, at a time of remarkable change in the United States of America.
L. KING: Yes, the '60s. Correct. The '60s. And he told me once that he didn't really like being anchor. He didn't like being famous, particularly. In fact, he thought there ought to be a time when the anchor is not seen, that everything ought to be on camera. It's a visual media, we ought to see things visually. The anchor ought to be a voice-over.
J. KING: Larry, I want to ask you, if you can, to stand by as long as you can. I know you're with your boys. And please, just tell us when you do need to go.
I want to bring you into the conversation (INAUDIBLE)...
L. KING: I've got about another -- I've got another 10 minutes, if you want, in there.
Is that OK?
J. KING: OK. Thanks, Larry. Stand by...
L. KING: Sure.
J. KING: ...because I want you to interact in the conversation here.
Don Hewitt is standing by with us on the telephone, as well. He is, of course, the legendary producer of CBS "60 Minutes." And, Don, first, I want you to -- that program is the gold standard in news, "60 Minutes," in part, I believe -- and tell me if you think I'm right, because Walter Cronkite, in his day, made CBS the gold standard of the business.
DON HEWITT, CREATOR, "60 MINUTES": Walter Cronkite was the gold standard of -- I produced Cronkite for years before we ever even decided on "60 Minutes." Walter was the consummate newsman. He could reach anybody. No -- everybody took his phone calls. Walter was, as far as I can recall, the best known newsman, print or broadcast, of his time.
J. KING: And, Don, what made him the trustworthy figure?
HEWITT: His knowledge of the story he was doing. Walter read assiduously. He talked to everybody who could possibly know something more about a story than he did. He was the newsman's newsman.
J. KING: And as we watch some of these classic pics... L. KING: And he (INAUDIBLE)...
J. KING: We're watching some of these classic pictures -- the Apollo landing. We see Walter Cronkite holding a model of some of the spaceships designed. He was...
HEWITT: I know. I produced that thing with him.
J. KING: You produced that thing?
Reflect on that moment, man on the moon, 40 years ago.
HEWITT: One of the singular moments in television was Walter's man on the moon. I think deep down, he wishes it was him -- he who was landing on the moon.
L. KING: Yes, he would have gone.
HEWITT: He would have gone.
L. KING: You know, Don, I'm sure you also agree, Walter used to tell me -- John, you'll agree with this -- or I hope you will. But the fact that he had a print background, that he started in newspapers, was very important to him. He thought he brought that newspaper knowledge...
HEWITT: And you know something?
L. KING: ...of who, what, where, when, why.
HEWITT: ...all of the best broadcasters that I know had a print background. They came from print. That's where we all learned our trade.
J. KING: And, gentlemen, let me share a number with you. We spend too much time in our business reading polls. But here's a fascinating one from 1972. A public opinion poll gives Walter Cronkite a 73 percent approval rating -- the most trusted public figure in the United States, outranking President Richard Nixon, who, at the time, had a 57 percent, not so bad, approval rating, and the vice president, Spiro T. Agnew. A news anchor who had more credibility at his moment than the president of the United States.
L. KING: And that was the thing, John...
HEWITT: It wasn't difficult...
L. KING: ...urging him to run for president.
HEWITT: ...to be more popular than Richard Nixon.
L. KING: It was '72 when they were urging him to try to get the Democratic Party nomination for president. I bet he would give Nixon a run for his money, Don.
HEWITT: I remember getting a call from a -- a Democrat politician in Albany very high up in the Democratic Party who asked me if I would ask Walter Cronkite if he would consider running for a Senate seat from New York. And I did. And Walter said, tell him thank you very much, but no thank you.
J. KING: And, Don, you had reflected on Larry's point earlier, that Walter -- his legacy is remarkable. At the end, he was not happy.
He felt he was being forced out, did he not?
HEWITT: I -- I know why he was unhappy. He agreed to step down from the anchor chair of "The Evening News." He assumed that that did not mean he was stepping down as the anchor of all the big special events. And when he found out that he was not doing the conventions and the election nights and all the things that he thought he was going to inherit, even though he had stepped down as the anchor of "The Evening News," it was a very big disappointment to him.
J. KING: So (INAUDIBLE)...
L. KING: And I don't think he ever got over that. He never got over that, Don.
HEWITT: Right. He never got over that.
J. KING: He never got over that.
We're watching Walter Cronkite with our Wolf Blitzer on the coast. He loved the coastline. He loved the sea.
We need to get a quick break.
We ask all of our viewers to stay with us. It is a sad night for our business and a sad night for the country. Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS newsman and anchor, a man who helped the country understand its mot tumultuous decades and who its hand through the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the death -- the assassination of a president and then his brother, a presidential candidate, died tonight.
Walter Cronkite dead at the age of 92.
LARRY KING LIVE will be back in just a moment.
J. KING: America has lost a legend tonight -- a legend in our business and to many, a part of your life -- growing up in a tumultuous time. Walter Cronkite -- you see him there with President Bill Clinton in the White House, dead at the age of 92.
Walter Cronkite, of course, the legendary CBS News anchor.
With us on the phone is Mike Wallace, a man who worked so closely with him.
And, Mike, on a sad night for our business and a sad night for the nation, reflect on the legacy of your friend, Walter Cronkite.
MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS: Well, I'll tell you something, it's -- it's hard to imagine a man of whom I had more admiration than Cronkite. Cronkite is just -- he was a superb reporter, an honorable man, a fine friend. And -- and I have nothing but -- but admiration for Cronkite.
J. KING: He was this steady, reassuring, son of the Midwest, through so many tumultuous, big news stories -- Vietnam, the civil rights movement, man on the moon, the Kennedy assassination, the Robert Kennedy assassination.
Mike Wallace, did he ever say this is my favorite story -- this is the one I got into, I enjoyed reporting the most?
WALLACE: No, he never did that with me. We were -- we were close. We were good friends. He didn't have to do that, because we -- I admired him so damned much. He had -- he had done such a wonderful job at "60 Minutes," at -- at CBS. He just -- he was a first rate reporter.
J. KING: A first rate reporter.
WALLACE: They don't come any better.
J. KING: A first rate reporter. They don't come any better. And he, of course, made CBS, in his tenure, the gold standard.
I want to bring into our conversation my friend, Katie Couric.
Katie Couric, you are the current anchor of "The CBS Evening News." You sit -- not quite exactly -- but you sit in Walter Cronkite's chair.
How does that feel every night?
KATIE COURIC, ANCHOR, CBS EVENING NEWS: Well, John, it is a huge responsibility and, I have to say, slightly intimidating, when I took this job. And, you know, for a number of days, we've known at CBS News that Walter was in -- in failing health. And we were all worried about when this day would come.
And he was so revered and so beloved here. And I've read so much, John, in recent days and, really, throughout my career, about Walter. But I've been reminded, really only recently, what an incredible man and journalist he was.
I mean he was the personification of integrity and decency and humanity. I think that's one thing that struck me as I watched some of the -- the earlier broadcasts from the past. You know, when he announced that President Kennedy had died, it was so moving to see his body language and his facial expressions. And, similarly the glee he exhibited when, you know, he was anchoring a space launch.
He had sort of an adolescent enthusiasm, it's been said, about the space program -- this unbridled joy in terms of reporting that story, and a huge interest in science, as well.
But I think he -- he really connected to the audience. You know, sometimes you think about television as being this sort of stiff, stilted profession, particularly when Walter was at the helm. But what struck me is how natural he was. And, in his early days, apparently, before the era of teleprompters, John, he would write a few notes on file cards, just glance at them, know what the story was and speak extemporaneously to the audience. And you can't find many anchors who are really capable of pulling that off in this day and age.
J. KING: Speaking with the country, I think not at the country, might have been part of his gift.
I want to take you back in time. Walter Cronkite goes on the air in February 1968 and he says on the air that the United States is mired in a stalemate. And President Johnson, we would later learn in the history books, told his aides: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."
Will any television anchor in today's age, when the business is so different, ever have that power?
COURIC: I don't think so. You know, it was a very different period of time. And there was no CNN -- no 24 hour news cycle. In fact, he often talked a bit disparagingly about 24 hour news and said people get a little pill of news and they think that's enough, 24 hours a day -- no offense, John, to you or CNN.
But I think he did wield incredible influence because he was so trusted. So when he did say, you know, the Vietnam War is not working and we need to negotiate and the whole that, you know, speech, really, he made during that special back in 1968, it had such a profound impact.
But I was talking to Douglas Brinkley, John, earlier today. And he's writing a biography about Walter. And the University of Texas is the repository of all his papers. Apparently, he was a pack rat. He has boxes and boxes. And he has the reporters' notebooks from when he was in Vietnam.
And very early on, in fact, as early as 1965, he was growing disillusioned with this war. And his reporters' notebooks indicate that. But I think he waited and went there numerous times. He was on the front lines. He showed tremendous courage in putting himself in harm's way.
And, of course, I think there was that moment after the Tet offensive where he felt like he could be silent no longer.
J. KING: And, as you mentioned that, he felt he could be silent no longer, our business has changed so much. Walter Cronkite worked in the days of film. He worked in the days of black and white. Then along came tape. Now we work in this 24 hour, high definition digital environment. There is cable television.
As -- as his era passed, what is the lesson Katie Couric takes sitting in the chair?
Of course so much changes. But the key is to take the things that matter most -- the values that matter most and carry them with us.
What are they?
COURIC: Well, I think, John, you know, that's increasingly challenging in this new environment -- in this ever-changing landscape that is television or news in general. And I think what I take away from everything I know about Walter Cronkite is that good journalism matters.
Seeking the truth is really important. And, you know, you have to source material. You have to be certain of material. He was an incredible stickler about getting it right.
And, you know, things are done kind of fast and furiously in this day and age. And, John, you're a former wire service guy. You know, that's where, you know, Walter really honed his craft, working for United Press, back in the day.
And I think those same values -- you know, getting to the truth and being accurate and fair.
You know, I wanted to mention, John, before I took on this job, he was nice enough to take me out to dinner here in New York. And he was so wonderful. And he said, you know, he used to get in trouble from both sides of the aisle. People were angry at him, you know, whether they were liberals or conservatives. And he said, I thought I was doing something right, because I would hear it from everybody.
So, you know, I think, also, he -- he didn't necessarily care about his popularity. And I guess he really didn't need to, because he was so trusted.
But I think he was a real fact finder and truth teller. And I think all journalists today, you know, could use a reminder of the values that he held so dear and that he imparted on all his colleagues here at CBS News.
J. KING: Very, very well put.
I'm going to ask Katie Couric, my friend and "The CBS Evening News" anchor, to stand by with us as we go to a break.
And as we do, you're watching, of course, pictures of the legendary Walter Cronkite, "The CBS Evening News" anchor, a man who, I would say, held the nation's hand through so many troubles times of the 1960s, the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Walter Cronkite dead tonight at the age of 92.
And we should say, of course, our thoughts and our prayers go out to his three children. And, of course, our thoughts and our prayers are with his colleagues, former colleagues and current colleagues at CBS News tonight.
Walter Cronkite dead at 92.
Please stay with us.
J. KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
I'm John King filling in for Larry King.
As you see there, America has lost a legend tonight. The news industry has lost a legend. Walter Cronkite, the longtime CBS News anchor, dead at the age of 92,
Katie Couric is still with us.
And, Katie, you were talking before the break about his talent, his ability to communicate, to work without a teleprompter, just talk, communicate, have a conversation with the American people.
I want to read you something Walter once said of today's news business, including the woman who sits in his chair, Katie Couric, today: "I don't think if I were competing today with the anchor people out there, I'd get a chance of getting on the air."
Minimizing his own talents.
We both know that's far from true, right?
COURIC: Well, you know, it's funny, John, because I was talking to Doug Brinkley, as I mentioned earlier, a historian who's writing a biography about Walter and is going through just stacks and stacks of papers.
And I asked Doug, you know, do you think that Walter really understood the impression and -- and the impact he's had on American life -- or had -- for so many people growing up -- and as you said, I know repeatedly during this broadcast, really shared so many of the momentous events in the latter the second half of the 20th century through and with Walter Cronkite?
He said, he was incredibly humble. You know, he said he liked being Walter Cronkite, don't get -- don't get him wrong, he said. You know, there was, of course, a little vanity in him, because there is in everyone. He really enjoyed when people recognized him and wanted his autograph. And he connected, he said to everyone -- from the taxi driver to the cashier at the drugstore, to, of course, heads of state.
But he was so humble throughout his life. And -- and, you know, he didn't want to be a celebrity. And I thought when -- when Doug told me that, I thought, of course, because he transcended celebrity. He was much more than a celebrity in our celebrity culture, but had so much humility.
And, you know, he would say, oh, I'm not that much, because I think he really saw himself as a reporter, a journalist, as somebody who had to just do his best to impart accurate information to all these people in the country who were depending on him so every night.
When you think about it, John, 90 percent of the American people were watching the three newscasts when Walter was at his, you know, in his heyday. So it was a very, very different environment.
But I was just struck by how -- how humble he was, really, until the end of his life.
J. KING: Katie Couric, the anchor of the CNBC Evening News.
We want to thank you for spending some time with us, reflecting on a great man in our business and a great legend in our country.
Katie, thank you so much.
And our thoughts and our prayers are with the men and women of CBS News at this difficult evening tonight.
COURIC: All right. Thanks, John.
J. KING: I want to bring into our conversation another one of those great voices and faces of CBS News, Bob Schieffer. He is the host on Sunday morning of "Face The Nation." He is a longtime Washington correspondent.
Bob, you worked with Walter through all the times we've talked about -- the civil rights era, the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination.
Help us understand -- help the country understand tonight what we've lost.
BOB SCHIEFFER, ANCHOR, "FACE THE NATION": Well, I did work for Walter for a long time. And I'll tell you, John, Walter was who I wanted to be when I was a young reporter and a lot of young reporters did. He really set the standard.
And the thing I always try to stress to people about Walter is that Walter was off-camera exactly the way he was on camera. He was exactly the same person. And so many times we meet people, you know that, movie stars or TV people we see and -- and we're always so disappointed, because they turn out to be totally different when you meet them in person than when -- when you see them in the role they play on television.
Walter was a reporter. He -- he was a reporter's reporter. He loved the news. And he had -- he had the kind of curiosity and enthusiasm for the news that I don't think anyone could match.
I told somebody the other day, we were talking about Walter. And I said, you know, if -- if there was a car wreck outside and Walter heard the noise out the window, it would be like it was the first car wreck he'd ever seen in his life. He'd want to run down there. He'd want to get the names of everybody involved. He just never lost this great fascination for the news.
And he never let anything get in the way of the news. For Walter, it was find out what happened. And as an old wire service guy, that's -- that's how you were trained. And you'll know where I'm coming from when I say that.
But he was -- he was my mentor and he was my friend. And he really -- we'll never see his like again, John. We'll never see his like again.
J. KING: And as you say that, Bob, you have been a correspondent who's covered some legendary stories and you've also been in the anchor chair. Tell me the difference of an anchor -- reporters who become anchors, sometimes they love it, sometimes they don't like parts of it and sometimes they want to get out from behind the desk and go cover a story.
What was Walter like in that regard?
SCHIEFFER: Walter loved to get out and cover stories. And, of course, after he, you know, became such a well-known person -- I mean he was the most well-known journalist in America -- he couldn't really get out and cover a story himself, because he created such a commotion when he showed up.
I remember once during the '76 campaign and Gerald Ford was campaigning on a whistle stop tour through Michigan. Walter came out to join the campaign for a day. Well, the train would pull into a town. It would stop. President Ford would come out on the back platform of the train. But then Walter would step out of the car where all the press people were and every eye in the crowd would turn to Walter. And, you know, people wanted to see Walter and talk to Walter.
So when Walter got to go on overseas trips with the president, where was not quite so well-known, he loved that.
And the other part, John, he loved the other reporters. He loved the news and he loved people who covered the news. Nobody enjoyed sitting around in the bar after the end of a long day on the campaign trail or when you're covering a big event and just sort of kicking it around and telling war stories with the other -- the other reporters.
Walter -- Walter loved them, and, of course, they loved him, too.
J. KING: You mentioned -- you used the word "mentor," Bob, as you know, this is a competitive business. And there are a lot of egos in the reporting business and some would say especially in the TV reporting business.
How was Walter Cronkite a mentor? And I say it in the context of everyone we've spoken tonight, from everything they say about Walter, he's a great reporter and a great communicator. Everybody also describes him as a gentleman and a good man.
SCHIEFFER: Well, he was. And I mean it was this -- it was this love of the news, John, that just transcended all the other stuff. Was Walter competitive? Yes, he was competitive. And he was competitive with people within the organization.
He loved to get a scoop himself. Nobody liked it better than Walter. But I'll tell you, when you were out there on the beat -- and I covered -- my first beat in Washington was the Pentagon, and then I became the White House correspondent, and then went on to cover the State Department, all the while Walter was in the anchor chair, and later I covered Capitol Hill. But most of that was when Dan Rather was there.
When you did a good job, Walter would call you, and he'd say, I thought you did a good job on that one, my friend. And, you know, he always let you know. And I'll tell you, when you've got a compliment from Walter Cronkite, for me, it didn't get much better than that.
But he would call the reporters on the beat. What's going on over there? Why are they doing this? Why are they doing that? And, you know, he could come up with the question that you never thought to ask or something. And that's what made him such a good editor.
I mean, he -- he just had this great curiosity about things. And I just loved to work for him. And I mean, you know, he -- when he told me to do something, I found a way to do it. Yes.
J. KING: Bob Schieffer, we want to thank you for your thoughts and reflections on this sad night in America. Sad night for our business.
Bob Schieffer, thank you so much...
SCHIEFFER: Well, we won't see his like again, John.
J. KING: I'm -- very well put. I'm with you 1,000 percent on that one. Take care, my friend.
SCHIEFFER: OK. Thank you, John.
J. KING: And you're seeing pictures of Walter Cronkite with presidents, with prime ministers, with world leaders because that's who he was. The legendary anchor of CBS News, Walter Cronkite has left us tonight at the age of 92.
We'll be back with LARRY KING LIVE in jut a moment. Please stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: From Dallas, Texas, the flash. Apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time. Some 38 minutes ago.
Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas but we did not know to where he has proceeded.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Is that your toughest moment? CRONKITE: Emotionally, certainly, yes. It 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, we -- I'm not ashamed of that in any way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: What a single quality do you think will be the most important that you take to the White House?
If the communist intention was to take and seize the cities, they came closer here at Quay than anywhere else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
J. KING: For 65 years, Betsy Cronkite was at Walter's side. They were married in 1940. She died in March of 2005 at the age of 89. And tonight at the age of 92, Walter Cronkite, the legendary anchor of the "CBS Evening News," has left us.
Again, Walter Cronkite was 92.
With us now on the phone is one of the men who comes to work every day. I would believe, and I hate to put words in his mouth, hoping that the American people trust him at least somewhere close to where they trusted the great legendary, Walter Cronkite, Brian Williams is, of course, the NBC "Nightly News" anchor and the 2009 winner of the Walter Cronkite Journalism Award.
Brian, thanks for being with us. And simply, your thoughts and reflections on this sad evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS (via phone): Well, John, thank you, you're very kind. But I'm with you and Bob Schieffer that we'll never see his kind again. I'm sitting here thinking that this is a man who broke tradition once as an impartial journalist, and he came back from Vietnam and determined with all he could muster that we couldn't win the war.
That's when LBJ unwittingly wrote Walter's epitaph, "If I've lost Walter, I've lost middle America," because Walter was us. He was a part of us, and he got us, speaking for so-called Middle Americans.
These days you can wake up and there's already a cable network that agrees with you and you can watch it all day in total agreement with its -- its political bent, and it's hard to conjure up the past, where there were just three choices on television.
And at his height, he addressed the nation. He didn't just anchor the "Evening News," he addressed the nation. He had a tear in his eye, twice in his career. And, again, fast-forward to today, we've got some hosts on television who cry twice a day easily. And it's just times have changed so, so much.
And we -- we loved him as a country, the model was quite different, anchorman talks, Americans listen. We turn off the set. That was the end of the conversation. Today in e-mail and the Internet, the conversation goes on 24/7.
He, in these later pictures, you know, he's wearing suits that he had handmade in London, and we kind of knew that about him as viewers, and he was broadcasting to a decidedly off-the-rack nation. But that was OK. He deserved it, because he was Uncle Walter.
J. KING: And to watch these pictures tonight, Brian, is to go through so many remarkable moments in history. You see him with Kissinger, with Saddat, with President Kennedy there, with Senator Edward Kennedy in a previous photo. And right there you see him with Brian Williams.
Tell us about your personal relationship with this man.
WILLIAMS: I'm talking to you from a house where Walter one night walked through the door and -- and came in and had dinner with us. And my daughter at that point was very young, and I said, honey, try to remember this -- this great man was in your home, because he means the world to your dad.
Walter always said he was 12 years old reading "Boys Life" when he read about a foreign correspondent and set his mind to becoming one. I was 8 watching him on black-and-white television every night in Elmira, New York and our home, my mother refused to serve dinner until the "CBS Evening News" was over.
And I announced my intention to my family, apparently, at the age of 8, that he was the man I wanted to be. And this was the profession I wanted. And I have lived such a charmed life that I got the chance to explain that to Walter and tell him that and make it clear. And just was able to breathe the air he exhaled and know him a little bit, as friends.
I went on a pilgrimage as a young man. I wanted to see that newsroom and that studio in New York where the "CBS Evening News" originated. And you get close to some of your icons, they can tarnish. Walter never did. But I did discover the globe behind him was just kind of a lime green and a wood model of the -- of the earth, and he sat at a mundane white Formica wrap-around desk.
But to me, as a little kid, as a viewer who watched him narrate the cold war, the space program, the Vietnam War, it was the center of the universe from small-town America.
J. KING: Well, as the little kid who admired him to the big kid who is now an esteemed anchor in his own right, what does it mean to Brian Williams to be the recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award?
WILLIAMS: Well, I can't believe it. Just as I can't believe earlier tonight I gave an interview to a friend who's writing a college textbook on journalism. I must have talked about Walter for 30 minutes. And I hung up that phone and got the call that Walter was gone.
I'm so fortunate to be the recipient of the last Walter Cronkite Award to which he contributed as a member of the board of Arizona state. It's a huge honor. It will be an emotional night this fall when it happens.
Again, just to have known him, to occupy this same space just means the world. And, of course, for the rest of us now it means upholding what he meant. He hated seeing the pressure against the ramparts. He hated the encroachment of entertainment on journalism values. And he hated to see opinion seep its way into modern-day journalism, as Katie noted.
And so his -- his retirement years, he didn't always like what he saw, but he was as curious as a terrier. He read everything he could get his hands on, every day of his life. Watched television news constantly. He was quite a guy.
J. KING: Quite a guy. A plainspoken way to say the remarkable -- say quite the remarkable. That's who see is.
Brian Williams of "NBC Nightly News," we thank you so much for your insights tonight.
You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. We're going to take a quick break as we thank you Brian Williams. We will be back. America has lost a great man tonight, a legend in our business and a legend in the country.
Walter Cronkite, dead at the age of 92. More on his life and his legacy when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
L. J. KING: When you did a broadcast, were you able -- can you honestly say that all those years that you were able to leave you out of it?
CRONKITE: I think so, yes. Yes. I really do. I believe that in -- in reporting the news, the personal opinion -- this is something that journeymen reporters, I'm talking about people who have had some time at it, who've been to journalism school and studied the ethics of journalism, so forth, live with.
They understand that. They understand that you -- we all have prejudices. But we also understand how to set them aside when we do the job. This would be the same as a doctor who perhaps didn't like a particular patient's attitude and perhaps his looks or his religion or whatnot, but when he opens him up, he does precisely what the profession requires him to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
J. KING: The man you see there on your screen, the legendary Walter Cronkite, left us tonight at the age of 92. President Barack Obama has just issued a statement on the passing of Walter Cronkite. The president says this.
"For decades Walter Cronkite was the most trusted voice in America. His rich baritone reached millions of living rooms every night. In an industry of icons, Walter set the standard by which all others have been judged. He was there through wars and riots, marches and milestones, calmly telling us what we needed to know.
"And through it all, he never lost the integrity he gained growing up in the heartland. But Walter was always more than just an anchor. He was someone we could trust to guide us through the most important issues of the day, a voice of certainty in an uncertain world.
"He was family. He invited us to believe in him and he never let us down. This country has lost an icon and a dear friend. And he will be truly missed."
That's the statement of the president of the United States, Barack Obama. It is a statement being reflected by many who worked in the news business with Walter Cronkite.
Joining us now is my friend, the legendary, ABC long-time White House correspondent, Sam Donaldson.
Sam, just reflect for us on what we have lost tonight.
SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS (via phone): Well, you know, John, I think Walter Cronkite's greatest strength was he was a reporter who had the background, D-Day coverage, all the war, the Second World War, and -- but he was unpretentious.
He led the country, as he was the anchor, with the largest television news audience we've ever had in our history, but he didn't act as if he was leading the country. He didn't sit there and say, I am the anchorman, I will tell you how to do it. Please follow me.
He did it by just being himself and bringing that authenticity of which you've spoken and your other guests have spoken. And I think that was his greatest, greatest achievement.
J. KING: And when you were a young man in the business, Sam, is Walter Cronkite somebody you modeled after? Is he someone who even though he was at a competing news work was friendly?
DONALDSON: Well, there were two people. It was Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. And there were others, of course, I don't want to minimize the other people. But when I got into the business in the very early '60s, 1961, Walter Cronkite was -- I worked for the CBS station, of course, the CBS anchor who took over for Douglas Edwards, who began to build the broadcast.
"Huntley/Brinkley" was still the number one broadcast through, oh, most of the '60s, but Cronkite clearly with his great team of reporters, Roger Mudd at the Capitol, later Dan Rather at the White House, Marvin Kalb at the State Department. I could call the names. Daniel Shore who covered Watergate.
They were the horsemen that he led in the sense that you watched that broadcast because of Walter Cronkite and because of the people that he was surrounded with. And into the '70s, of course, no one could touch him.
J. KING: And Sam, stay with me. We just read President Barack Obama's statement. I want to read you a statement now from Senator John McCain who, of course, was President Obama's opponent in the last election, but a man who has a personal history with Walter Cronkite.
Here's Senator McCain's statement. "I'm saddened to learn of the passing of Walter Cronkite, one of the most influential newsmen of our time. I will never forget or memorable visit together to Hanoi on the tenth anniversary of the fall of Saigon."
Sam Donaldson, help us understand how important the voice of Walter Cronkite was at the turning point of American public opinion in that war?
DONALDSON: Well, I know that you've already talked about the fact that he went to Vietnam, came back, and did a memorable broadcast in which he concluded that he didn't see how we could win. And the great quote from Lyndon Johnson, if I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America.
He was -- however impartial in the sense of having made that conclusion, he continued to report on the "CBS Evening News" on a daily basis about the war, reflecting the Johnson policy and then the Nixon policy. But he came to hate those kinds of wars.
I talked to talked to him in 2004 in the fall shortly before that election. He was for John Kerry, no question about it. He made no hiding of that. He was so against the war in Iraq. He thought it was a foolish war. He thought it was something that we shouldn't fight.
Now in the days when he was anchor you would not have known that except for the exception with Vietnam. But after he left the anchor chair -- and by the way, John, we at ABC were quite pleased in a sense that, competitively, that the rule at CBS that was established was at 65 you had to go.
I mean, that was Bill Paley's rule. He had created CBS. Frank Staten, his great president, he made -- let go at 65. Walter Cronkite had to leave. He was at the height of his power. If he had stayed and not had that rule, which he would have done, he wanted to stay, for another 10 years he would have been number one clearly.
J. KING: And my friend, I want you to help a generation of Americans who might not understand what we're talking about tonight. Walter Cronkite left the anchor chair in 1981, he was the "CBS Evening News" anchor from 1962 to 1981.
There are a generation of Americans who might not understand what he did to the business and how important he was in the country. I had the good luck and the high honor to meet him simply because of what I do now.
I met him when he was in retirement. But someone my age or younger might not quite understand. Help them.
DONALDSON: The business has changed. In the days when Walter Cronkite came to prominence, journalism was about bringing information that we believed to be factual to the people who were watching, and hoping that they would act on it but not telling them how to act on it.
Of course, there were columnists and of course there were editorialists. And that is fine. But most people in the business were not in the business of giving their opinions. So Walter Cronkite and his team of reporters would try to present factual information. And people would act on it.
Today, of course, it's all different. There are still reporters and anchors who try to present factual information. I think you're one of them. I watch you on Sunday, John. But the point is, now the whole business has trended towards opinion. And I indulge in that myself sometimes in our "This Week" program.
But the point is without the facts, without the information that's based on checking it, checking your sources, going to the scene, trying to find out what's actually correct and what's not, how could you have an opinion? How could you voice what you think about the health care plan if you don't know what's in the various proposals of the health care plan?
But today that's what you hear, people just shooting off their mouths. Walter Cronkite never shot off his mouth.
J. KING: We see there pictures, Bernie Saw, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Walter Cronkite on the screen. Sam Donaldson, my friend, is on the phone.
Sam, will we ever live in an age where people trust those of us giving the news on television? I have worked alongside you, I've competed with you, I've watched you as a colleague, nobody works harder than Sam Donaldson.
But will people ever trust us as they did in the days of Cronkite and of course, you've mentioned, of course, you know, your former colleague Peter as well?
DONALDSON: Well, I hope they will. I mean all we have to sell is our credibility. I mean certainly in my case you may be, I think you're an exception, we don't sell our handsomeness. We don't sell anything else. But when we say something we want people to understand that we think we're telling you what is actually there.
We may be wrong. We'll have to correct it tomorrow if we find out that we didn't have enough information. Or we didn't know how to process that information, but that is so important in the business.
The fear is, I believe in all flowers blooming, the Internet, the bloggers, let everyone have a say, but the fear is that if you watch or listen to people who don't care about the facts, they simply care about their opinions and their political agenda and you take that as factual, then we come on with something that sounds different, how are you going to make the distinction?
I think in the end, though, people will sort it out. They'll find the websites that really bring you information and not just opinion. They'll listen to people who have something to say and they may say it with very great passion, but it's based on factual material and not just opinion.
I think in the end it'll be alright. But at the moment, John, we're going through a transition period.
J. KING: Sam Donaldson, thank you for your thoughts and reflections tonight. Sam is a great friend. Walter Cronkite a great man we have lost as the age of 92.
LARRY KING LIVE will be back in just a moment.
J. KING: A few minutes left on our conversation here on LARRY KING reflecting on the remarkable life of the legendary Walter Cronkite who died tonight at the age of 92.
I want to bring into the conversation, Marlene Adler.
Marlene, Walter was, I guess, your boss but also your friend. We've heard so many tributes from greats in the business to Walter Cronkite the newsman. Tell me about Walter Cronkite the man.
MARLENE ADLER, CRONKITE'S LONGTIME ASSISTANT (via phone): Walter Cronkite the man was probably the greatest man that ever lived and I can say that with total impunity. He was everything that you could ever hope he would be upon meeting him, but he was more, because what people didn't know about him was his enormous, his great and joyful sense of humor.
And he was enormously witty and funny. And I often called him Walter Mitty because of his love of life, his curiosity about everything and his interest in people and in things that he didn't know.
J. KING: Joining us as well is Jon Klein. He is my boss, the president of CNN. But he also is someone who cut his teeth at the CBS News and Walter Cronkite.
John, your reflections this evening?
JON KLEIN, PRESIDENT, CNN/U.S.: Yes, my favorite memory of Walter happened actually after I left CBS and I was starting my own Internet company. I bumped into him at a cocktail party. He said, what are you up to these days? And at that time, it was 1999, the Internet was a brand new idea more or less. And I explained well, we're going to do video newscasts on the Internet. And he lit up. He talked about, you know, Marlene talking about his enthusiasm. He lit up, he said oh, that's wonderful. It means that a fellow in Ghana could get the latest news and talk to someone half the world away. It's such an exciting time. And I thought my god, this man just lives and breathes news, communication and connecting people.
J. KING: Marlene, we saw the pictures "Man on the Moon." Walter Cronkite holding up the front page of the "New York Times." That was a moment that we marked 40 years ago. That was such a moment in our history. What did it mean to Walter?
ADLER: It meant everything to Walter. As a matter of fact, I heard you ask him before what the greatest story that -- you asked about Walter opining on the greatest story he ever covered. And what he often said it was that -- it was man's landing on the moon because it was our escape from our environment. And an opportunity for -- to discover a new world.
J. KING: Marlene, unfortunately, I need to stop right there. Unfortunately, we're out of time. I want to thank you so much. And I apologize to your reflecting.
ADLER: That's alright.
J. KING: But as we end the program tonight, we want to end the program tonight with the words of the man who in his day was the most trusted name in news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRONKITE: A press corps of 500 and we have television and radio standing by and atop that rocket Colonel John Glen standing by.
Man on the moon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, (INAUDIBLE) base here. The Eagle has landed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to be busy for a moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)