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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Legion of Honor

John King talked with Sports Business Daily a few months ago, here is an excerpt from the article:

King took time out right before Election Day to speak with SportsBusiness Journal N.Y. bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.

Favorite vacation spots: Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard.

Favorite author: SHAKESPEARE.

Favorite movie: I'm a big fan of the COEN BROTHERS.

Favorite sports movie: "Field of Dreams."

Favorite political movie: "The Manchurian Candidate."

Favorite Web sites/blogs: I float around. The Huffington Post or the Daily Kos to get a sense of what the left-of-center is talking about. And Red State and Town Hall to try to get a good sense of what the right-of-center is talking about. I'll flip through and Politico just to see what the other guys are doing in their political coverage.

Pet peeve: People talking about something who I've never seen out there covering it.

Last book read: "A Thousand Hills," by STEPHEN KINZER.

Bucket list: I've thought of making one. I like the concept. I'm 45, and I think I'm going to wait until I'm 50 to make one just out of superstition.

Earliest sports memory: My dad took me to Fenway Park and TONY CONIGLIARO hit a home run.

Q: With the election coming up, this has to be a hectic time for you.

King: They just let me out of the padded cell. They think I'm safe now and over my Red Sox depression enough to come out.

Q: What would a cartoon of you look like?

King: That's a great question. I would have a cell phone to my ear and my Blackberry in my hand and I would probably be driving with my knees, somehow trying to buckle my seat belt with my teeth. That's my typical day.

Q: Sounds like a dangerous job.

King: Do not try this at home. These are trained professionals. Is that how that saying goes?

Q: TOM JOHNSON, former CEO at CNN, regarding the book "No Time to Think," said that in the competition to break news, "Getting it right often has been replaced by getting it first." How serious a problem is that today?

King: I always had a simple motto, and it was taught to me by one of my heroes, WALTER MEARS, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the AP covering politics back to JACK KENNEDY. When I was all of 24 years old and covering the [MICHAEL] DUKAKIS campaign, Walter took me aside and said ... to remember one thing: "You'd rather get it second than get it wrong." That's a lesson that I always keep.

Q: There's more competition now to get it first.

King: There were many times where I think I could have been first on a story, but I wanted a third or a fourth source because it was very sensitive -- even though our standards are that you only need two sources. And the business has changed a lot in my 20-30 years of doing it. There are a lot of "outlets" that you and I might not consider journalism. They have every right to be there -- don't get me wrong -- but with the Internet and blogs and everything else, a lot of people put up "information" that might not pass the test that you and I were taught to follow.

Q: They're not under the same guidelines, I suppose, although they should be.

King: No, they're not. But sometimes in the industry you'll hear people say, "Well, I know that we're not positive" ... or "I know that's sensitive, but it's out there now." I reject that wholeheartedly, but it comes up from time to time.

Q: In his book "Between Washington and Jerusalem," WOLF BLITZER wrote: "I have learned ... that being at the right place at the right time, and asking the right question, can make a big difference." Can you pinpoint a personal example?

King: The first big political story I broke was Dukakis picking LLOYD BENTSEN as his running mate. I was in my car across from [Dukakis'] house because I knew that his VP team would come to his house in Brookline every night. His chief adviser, a lawyer named PAUL BROUNTAS, was probably Dukakis' best friend. He would come out every night with this stoic face, but one night he came out and he just looked different. I can't even describe it. My gut just said, he's got a little bounce in his step and seems to be relieved of the pressure. They've made a decision. I didn't talk to him because he wouldn't have talked to me there. I went back to the office and I started pounding the phones. About four hours later, I got it.

Q: You covered the first Gulf War.

King: I got very lucky there. I was the AP's guy who was in the Pentagon pool. I went over and ended up staying for six months. It taught me a lot. I'd never covered a story overseas. I'd never been out on my own without an infrastructure. We went in with the old Radio Shacks and a few notebooks -- me and a photographer, SCOTT APPLEWHITE. There was no AP infrastructure to support us. We were the AP in Saudi Arabia for several weeks. That was a fascinating learning experience.

Q: Your work has brought you into contact with people high and low around the world. Has there been a most memorable?

King: The moment that I can see like a movie in my head was after the tsunami. I was in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and I was just wandering around looking for stories. I met a man in a refugee camp who was walking around looking for his daughter. He didn't speak much English. I ended up spending about 12 hours with the guy, over the rest of that day and the next day. We went to five or six camps, walking around with a picture of his daughter. He had held on to one of his children when the waters washed through their home, and he couldn't hold on to both of them. He was holding the structure and he lost his grip on his daughter. To spend those hours with him and to see the pain in his eyes, and yet his determination to keep going ... I was giving him Power Bars and water. He had no food, no water -- he had nothing. I see that like a movie in my head.

Q: If you could secure an interview with anyone now -- past or present, living or dead -- who would it be?


Q: What's the first thing you'd ask him?

King: Help me hit a curveball.

Q: I had planned to ask you what teams or sports you follow, but I think you've established that.

King: I grew up in Boston, so I'm a big Red Sox fan. I'm having a hard year: I'm a Patriots fan.

Q: Come on, now. It's been a good two-year run for Boston sports fans.

King: It's been a great run. My son was so mad when the Red Sox were eliminated the other night. He's 15 years old, and he was heartbroken, muttering under his breath. I told him, "You know the difference between you and me, son: You have come to expect [winning]. You just think the Red Sox deserve to be in the World Series. I spent 40 years before they got there." ... Yes, we are a little spoiled now. [The loss] was harder on him than it was on me.

Q: And the Celtics, of course?

King: I grew up a Celtics fan, and I'm still very much a Celtics fan, but when I moved to Washington I got season tickets for what were then the Bullets and now are the Wizards, so I like to say I have dual citizenship. I'm a Wizards fan because I live here, but I still root for the Celtics.

Q: Even with your full schedule, you still have time for sports.

King: In 2004, when the Red Sox were in the World Series, I was traveling in the campaign. I signed up for the MLB audio. I'd be traveling with BUSH and playing the game on my laptop. And when I had to be on television, I would just mute it. The minute I was off TV, it was back to the game. I remember it like yesterday. We were in Pontiac, Michigan, for a big Bush rally the night Boston won the fourth game of the Series. It was the bottom of the sixth when the event ended and I was cleared. I was on the 10 o'clock show. I helped the crew break down the gear and we raced back to the Marriott hotel in Troy, Michigan, for the last innings. We broke a lot of traffic laws getting back to see the end of the game.

Q: ARI FLEISCHER said that there is a powerful tie between the pressure that government leaders and sports figures are under because of the way the media covers them. Does the media coverage really create pressure?

King: Sure it does. I think that 24-hour cable changed the political culture and increased the pressure in some ways that are good and in some ways that are not so good. The presidency's a pretty big job, and if we get to the point where we're treating what we have as "SportsCenter," and we think every hour we have to give you the score, well ... you can't score the presidency, or a senator, or any major politician every hour. Sometimes there's a temptation to do that, and that's a mistake. However, the fact that there are more outlets to do more reporting and to convey and transmit more information, and that people have more choices to go find that information, is a great thing. So we just need to find the right balance.

Q: ANDRE GIDE said, "The color of truth is gray." TOM BOSWELL of the Washington Post wrote, "Sports, with their artificial simplicity, their final scores, their winners and losers, prod us away from that sea of gray, at least for a while."

King: In sports there are winners and losers and you know the game is going to end at some point. Maybe it's going to go into extra innings, or maybe it's going to be one of those cursed shoot-outs. You might not like it. I don't happen to like the DH, but you know the rules and you know there's an ending.

Q: It's more black and white in sports.

King: It is a little more black and white. Politics is a lot more gray. What might be black and white to you might be gray to some guy in southern Missouri or eastern Iowa. The jigsaw puzzle that is the United States is a complicated place, and people see things very differently.

Q: Is there a sports story you are paying particularly close attention to?

King: Steroids -- the stuff about baseball. Partly as a fan but more as a parent. Because he's a baseball fan, my son pays attention to that stuff. He was someone who was too young at the time, but he knew who MARK MCGWIRE was, knew about SAMMY SOSA, and had that in his head, so I paid a lot of attention to that.

Q: What sports metaphor most closely describes this year's presidential election?

King: I thought the Democratic primary was a great pitchers' duel. OBAMA and CLINTON were throwing high and tight a little bit. It was fun to watch. You get caught up in a pitchers' duel. The presidential race is like a boxing match between two guys with very different styles. MCCAIN is like the guy who keeps throwing short punches, hoping to land one. And Obama just sort of floats around and lands the big one.

Q: CHUCK TODD of NBC News said that pundits should not be allowed to use a sports analogy if they haven't attended a live event of that sport within the past year.

King: I agree with Chuck wholeheartedly.

Q: What in sports would not be missed if done away with?

King: The wave.

Q: If you could switch places with any athlete, whom would you choose?

King: JASON VARITEK. I want to catch for the Red Sox.
Q: Is he going to be catching any more games for them?

King: Good question. I don't know. The timing of my answer might not be so good.

Q: There could be a vacancy next spring.

King: That's right. Get LARRY LUCCHINO on the line.

Q: What would be your first order of business if you ran pro sports?

King: Find a way to make it more accessible to kids and families that don't have the resources. I was one of those kids once.

Q: What pro or college coach/manager reminds you of Obama and McCain?

King: Obama's like PHIL JACKSON. You know, live the moment. Block out everything else and be in the present. That is Barack Obama. And I think that McCain in some ways is like BOBBY KNIGHT. He wants to win. He has this appetite to win, and sometimes that appetite to win comes across as crusty and grumpy because he's so competitive.

Q: Not necessarily a bad thing?

King: You know, in the TV age we live in, sometimes you see a picture of him, and that little snapshot of him can be perceived as unfavorable. I admire competitors, and these are two very different guys. I like to watch them. I try to stay in the middle of the road and be objective about it. My constant joke is, if I'm on the yellow lines and I'm getting hit by cars going in both directions, I'm doing my job right.

Q: Any bits of conventional wisdom that you depart from?

King: In our business we use so many damn clich├ęs. It's horrible. And I use more than my fair share, I'm sure. I don't know if it's conventional wisdom per se, but I make it a rule -- you raised Chuck's point about not using a sports metaphor unless you've been to a live event -- my take on that would be that you shouldn't talk about the election unless you go out and touch it. And there are too many people in our business -- and they're good people, don't get me wrong -- who spend election years in New York and Washington and then talk as if they know what's happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Ashland, Ohio, and Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and the St. Louis suburbs. I go to those places, and there are people I keep in touch with that I met in 1988 in the first campaign I covered. ... It helps me enormously. I learn so much from just talking to those people around the country who help me do what I do.

Q: G.K. CHESTERTON wrote: "Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is dead' to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive." How would you define political journalism?

King: Political journalism consists of telling the stories of the people who matter most in making the decisions. Going into the communities and trying to understand not only them, but the forces that play around them. That's how I define political journalism, because it is the hopes and the fears and the anxieties of people in all these little communities in an incredibly diverse country who get to pick a president. I enjoy and learn more from spending time with them than I do standing in a rally listening to the candidates.

CNN's Jim Bittermann will receive the French Legion of Honor. This is the article about the award from CNN's website:

France has bestowed the Legion of Honor on 13 foreign nationals, including a journalist for CNN.

Journalist Jim Bittermann is also a professor of broadcast journalism at The American University of Paris.

CNN senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann, one of the longest-serving international journalists in France and a founder and co-president of the European American Press Association, learned of the award Thursday as he was preparing to cover the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"This came as a complete surprise, without warning," said Bittermann, who is also a professor of broadcast journalism at The American University of Paris.
Bittermann has been reporting on France and the French for U.S. television networks since 1980 and has been a CNN correspondent for 12 years.

In addition to Bittermann, who is American and Irish, two other Americans were named Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor on the New Year's list released Thursday by the president's office: Howard Mamoian, a World War II paratrooper, and John Morris, a news photographer.

Other recipients include two people from Spain, two from Germany and one each from Greece, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, Morocco and the Netherlands.

Napoleon Bonaparte established the order in 1802 to recognize unusual military and government service. It is divided into five grades: Grand-Croix (Grand Cross), Grand Officier (Grand Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Officier (Officer) and Chevalier (Knight).

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1 comment:

ACAnderFan said...

Great find, BookAsylum, with the John King interview. That's one of the best JK interviews I've read in a while.