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Interview With Walter Cronkite

Aired September 9, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, an eyewitness to history. He's bee around for it all, from Pearl Harbor to JFK's assassination to September 11. What are his reflections on the one-year anniversary of 9/11? Where was he last year. We'll put it all in perspective, as only he can do; take you calls too.
The one and only Walter Cronkite next on LARRY KING LIVE.

I must say on a personal note, one of the great thrills of my life was on our 45th anniversary when this gentleman, Walter Cronkite, hosted two night highlights of a career. You can't get any better than that, and I can't thank you enough. And I wanted to do it publicly, as well as do it privately.

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: It was a privilege for me to do that, Larry.

KING: Walter, so much to talk about. We will be including your phone calls.

I know the story. But for those of you that don't, where were you on 9/11?

CRONKITE: I was in Italy. We had gone over to Florence and to Rome. I was making a couple of speeches, getting an honorary degree at the university in Rome. And we were in Florence on the day of the 11th, just finishing lunch there and planning to go up to pizza for the evening for dinner when our driver, who had a pretty good spattering of English, heavily accented, but good enough, got a call from another friend of his on his cell phone.

And he said, an airplane has hit your twin towers. Well, we never called them the twin towers. I don't remember ever using that phrase, "twin towers." I didn't identify, "a plane had hit our twin towers" I thought is what he said. I couldn't get it; I was asking him more questions, and finally he said something about the World Trade Center or something, close enough.

I said, oh my gosh, a plane hit one of the towers. And I assumed, of course, like everybody here had, that it was an accident. And I told him, turn around, go right back to the hotel. I want to tune in CNN, which is on all day in English in Italy, fortunately; the only service that is in English all day. We got that immediately on the machine just in time to see the, repeating the first -- show the picture of the second plane hitting the south tower. KING: Do you remember what you were thinking?

CRONKITE: Yes, I was thinking, good God, this was not an accident. This is not an accident. And this changed all your thinking immediately that -- immediately -- the horror of an accident, showing the building burning and all of that suddenly turned into a vastly different story.

And I was, of course, immediately shocked. Immediately I called about getting a plane back to the states. I found out that wasn't possible; all planes have been grounded and we were stuck for five more days in Italy.

KING: Did you want to be working?

CRONKITE: Oh yes, of course. Yes.

There's no story that breaks, including a five-alarm fire in Brooklyn that I don't wish I were covering.

KING: What did you do those five days?

Well, I had some speaking engagements to fulfill. I did that, and spent most of the time with CNN on the television.

KING: Now, when you flew back, you landed at Kennedy?


KING: What was that like coming in?

CRONKITE: Well, the Kennedy landing wasn't so sensational. I kept thinking, we might see where the towers used to be, but that was not so. We didn't come in that route.

But the departure from Milan was very interesting, with people trying to get out and get home. And the Delta Airlines did the thing that they should have done, which was quite proper, which is to say, we don't know how long it's going to be before we fly again to the United States, so what we're doing is taking all of your reservations in the order in which you had them and putting them off until such time as we fly, in that order.

Well, I began to use every pull I had to try to get an advance booking. It turned out that we did get on the first plane out on the following Sunday, which happened to be the same one we were booked on originally. But we did make it back.

But the scene at the Milan airport was quite extraordinary, of course, with the very heavy security, people taking forever to get through security, this crowd moving so slowly, you never knew whether you were going to get at the other end of the line in time for the flight you were trying to make or not, and many people did not.

KING: Did you live near the trade center? Do you live near?

CRONKITE: Not that near...


CRONKITE: ... United Nations.

We can see out of the corner, right across the corner downtown, we could see one of the buildings, sort of. But it wasn't enough to have seen much, if we had been present, as far as the destruction of the towers.

But what was remarkable, Larry, when we got to our apartment, and our apartment faces southeast towards the -- southwest toward the towers, and there was still a lot of smoke and stuff rising down there five days later. But our windows were closed. The apartment had been closed up until we got back. And it was stuffy, of course.

So I opened a window. And before I could get the window closed I was choking with this terrible, vile stuff in the air, whatever it was. We got the window closed quickly but it took us forever to get the apartment cleared it seemed, of just that one blast of this terrible air.

KING: From that far away?

CRONKITE: Yes, must be about three or four files.

KING: What's the mood as you -- I guess no one in our history of media was able to assess public mood better than you. What do you assess the mood of this county is?


KING: Now.

CRONKITE: I think it's one of deep concern, watchfulness, worry, great acceptance of the danger in which we live in this world. The fact that we have learned since September 11, a year ago, that those broad oceans don't any longer protect us from foreign invasion, that we're susceptible, that we're in danger.

And I think this obviously has changed our entire psychological outlook; that we're not as free in our lives as we once were.

KING: I'll talk about Iraq and other things in a while.

But the media coverage, is there a good rule of thumb? Are we doing too much? Not enough? Should we show the buildings? Not show the buildings? What's your read?

CRONKITE: You're talking about now?

KING: Now, as we approach Wednesday.

CRONKITE: In the observance of the anniversary?

KING: Yes. CRONKITE: I think that it's unavoidable to show the buildings in very short form, not dwelling upon the buildings, not dwelling upon the bodies flying through the air, not dwelling on each of the buildings collapsing. This isn't necessary. We can be reminded of the horror and the technical horror of these great structures collapsing. We can get all of that and the loss of life in a very quick flash. I think that's enough.

KING: Do you agree, though, with the all-day coverage? Every network seems to be doing...

CRONKITE: No, I think we're going to get very weary, as tragic as are the stories, as heartrending as are the stories, as tear- jerking as are the stories, I think we're going to get very tired of hearing them over and over again over a period of two or three days or more. I think it's going to be overdone.

KING: Well, we didn't when it happened.

CRONKITE: No, we didn't.

KING: Couldn't get enough when it happened. Is it that our mind fades quickly, or we go onto other things?

CRONKITE: Well, no, you couldn't at the time. There was no way to break away from that story. We were anxious for details. We were anxious for every detail: how people got out, how people didn't get out, the search for bodies, the search for human remains, the collapse of the buildings and the buildings around them, the atmosphere of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) zero point zero.

All of this needed to be covered in detail. The people were terribly thirsty for every bit of information they could get. The "New York Times" did that extraordinary job of having an entire section of the paper each day. That went on for three months, for heaven's sakes.

KING: We're going to take a break and come back.

By the way, on Wednesday night we're going to have a two-hour edition of LARRY KING LIVE, and among the guests will be Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Governor George Pataki and first lady Laura Bush and the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft. And also, the president will address the country right when we go on the air. In fact, one minute into our broadcast, he will address the world on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the horror of September 11.

We'll be back with Walter Cronkite right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I said, that's going to go down like the first one. And it came down, and it was just this sound, this rumble and this mass cloud coming at us. It was intense.



KING: We're back with Walter Cronkite, the legendary newsman, over six decades in the business, former anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News. He's also the voice of Benjamin Franklin in the new PBS animated series, "Liberty's Kids," which launched on Labor Day. How does it feel to be old Ben?

CRONKITE: It's good. I'm sure it's going to be a great and a very important program. We have all looked for ways to help educate our young people, to use television in the best possible way. I think the people that produce this program have found that it's a very well authenticated by Pulitzer Prize-winning historians' account of the early days of the revolution, founding our Constitution, with animated figures.

Ben Franklin is the animated narrator, and I'm Benjamin Franklin -- my voice anyway. I don't think the animated figure looks much like me, but probably looks like Ben Franklin. And I think it's going to be really a charmer for the kids. It's going to be on at 4:30 every afternoon on most PBS stations.

KING: You've seen it all, Pearl Harbor, atom bomb, war ending, war beginning, JFK shot and September 11. There's no way to rate these things. Is September 11 the worst?

CRONKITE: In many ways, it is the worst, because of the nature of the attack, the surprise attack. Now, Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack, according to President Roosevelt at the time, and indeed it was a sneak attack. But it was a military attack on a military target, and it was understandable. We were all having our problems with the Japanese. We knew we might be going to war with them. There really should not have been a sneak attack. We should have been a little more alert to the situation. But as a consequence, we can understand that, that was acceptable. That was within the norms of historical behavior.

This thing had no norms, and it's living as a horror.

KING: Personally, though, you had to report the death of John Kennedy, and we saw you wipe a tear. Was that personally the toughest day for you?

CRONKITE: I think it probably was, yes. Yes, it -- the moment when I had to finally say that the president was dead, the enormity of it struck me and almost quieted me.

KING: How is President George W. Bush doing?

CRONKITE: Well, I think it depends upon whether you believe in what he's doing or not. He's certainly taken a strong hand. He's taking definitive action, according to his own rights, and according to his recommendations of his council. And if you believe that that is the way we should be going, then you've got to say he's doing a great job. If you happen to be in opposition, then you are going to say, well, wait a minute, hold on a minute. Let's examine this a little more closely.

KING: In the public's eye, though, at about a 60 percent to 64 percent favorable rating. They approve.

CRONKITE: Oh, yes, he's doing -- in that sense, he's doing well. But then don't forget that he commands the public relations power of the country. His spokesman, the president himself, when he speaks, he's listened to. When he speaks, he gets time on the air. He is the central figure and, therefore, he is the leader. So you've got to expect some of that.

It's very important, I think, terribly important that this nation today have a wide open discussion, debate in Congress that will carry over and spill over into the public as to the wisdom of the Iraqi program. And that's terribly important.

It surprises me, Larry, very big, huge surprise to me that the military itself is saying, we don't need this discussion, we have made a decision. We don't need to take this to the people. It's the military that toward the end of the Vietnam War, by saying that it was the press that had lost the war for them in Vietnam, because we had misrepresented what they were doing in Vietnam, et cetera, and they -- they are the ones who then put a heavy damper on our coverage of the Persian Gulf War and other conflicts we had.

But every one of those officers who said that the press lost the war for them was also saying, the lesson we have learned is we never again go to war unless the American people are fully behind us and we know that, unless they understand why we are going, unless they approve of our going, we don't go. That was a military rule of procedure.

Now they are turning around and doing just the opposite. Don't tell them anything. We'll go if we want to go, and let them -- let the devil take the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: We're going to take a break and we'll ask Walter's thoughts on Iraq and that emerging situation. And as we go to break, as we approach 9/11, a daughter remembers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was quite extraordinary. And sometimes you don't get quite how extraordinary when a person is living. She just always kind of took on life with a great kind of, I don't know, energy, at 68 years old, working for Aeon, as a vice president on the, you know, 93rd floor of the World Trade Center.

She was a very strong life force. I also know that she would want me to focus more on how she lived. I miss my mother tremendously, and I want to celebrate her life, because there actually was a lot to celebrate.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CRONKITE: I think we're just beginning the discussion. We haven't had the discussion yet. We've had unilateral approach by this administration to a unilateral solution. And it is now up to Congress to hear both sides at great depth, and it is, I hope, the intention of the United States to take the matter to the United Nations and work with the United Nations.

You know that the brilliance of this president's father in the old Persian Gulf War was the fact that he got these allied nations with him, including the other Arab nations. That was done through the United Nations, at the United Nations openly, in front of the United Nations. That's what is needed now is that same kind of open discussion, saying that this is what we need, this is what -- not that this is what we are going to do whether you come along or not, that is not the answer.

KING: But you're not going to get a coalition on invading Iraq. You're not going to get approval of some nations that gave approval years ago.

CRONKITE: That might have been said before the Persian Gulf War too, Larry. We don't know that to be sure. We haven't tried it yet. That's the thing. We haven't tried this. We have got to -- we simply have to explore the alternatives, the diplomatic alternatives. We have to look at the evidence of the danger from Iraq.

This is a -- this is a huge move, to take the United States military forces alone -- alone -- to the Arab nations and expect to win a war and win the peace. We might win a war and never establish a peace again with those people.

KING: Do you -- do you think we have to prove the case, absolute proof, as Kennedy did with the missile crisis in Cuba?

CRONKITE: Well, I think we have to go a lot farther than we've gone. Let's put it that way. We don't have adequate evidence now. We've got very deep suspicions, and the danger from these people in Iraq is so great that there is certainly every reason for deep concern about what they are doing and what they are up to and how far along they have gotten and what the future holds. That's nothing to toy with. And in a moment, I think, all of the American people, most of the civilized people in the world would agree with that.

But there is a form which we must follow in doing these things. And that form requires diplomatic maneuvers first. It requires an exhaustion of every diplomatic overture before you take military forces in on an invasion of another country to change its leadership.

KING: Are you surprised that the Democrats have been rather generally silent?

CRONKITE: Yes, I'm very, very surprised. And I really don't expect them to retain that posture very long into the congressional debate.

KING: Switching to the media coverage of the whole -- do you think that -- some have suggested the media contributed, generalized word media, to the lack of awareness in pre-9/11, by not concentrating much on terror, not asking questions about it.

CRONKITE: You mean before 9/11?

KING: Yeah.

CRONKITE: Well, we'd have to examine that one, I think. What were the questions we should ask? What should we have done? Short of -- an example, we had the al Qaeda explosions of the two embassies in central Africa. We had that. We had the blowing up of the Cole, the destroyer. These were obviously some pretty, pretty powerful lessons in the dangers of these people.

I would have thought we could have done more, certainly. A lot more in the intelligence area. And it seems that the answer to that is that we simply too early moved into what we thought was fool-proof intelligence gathering by technological means -- satellite observation, wiretapping, telephone tapping, the rest. It turns out that that is only part of the answer to espionage.

KING: How do you balance the need between obvious security on the part of a government and the press' right to know?

CRONKITE: I don't balance it at all. I'd say the press has a right to know. The people have a right to know.

KING: Period?

CRONKITE: Period. Now, of course there is security. There is security requirements, just as in a military situation, there is every reason to have censorship over dispatches that would reveal our strengths as opposed to our enemy's, our disposition of forces, our losses -- that's proper censorship.

However, before that censorship is applied, you have got to have the correspondents in the field doing the reporting, you have got to have the cameramen in the field taking the pictures. We are not permitted to do that at this point.

There's no question of our having a right to cover the war. We have no rights to cover the war. The American people will never know how we performed in Afghanistan because we have not -- we do not have the privilege of having troops with -- I mean, correspondents with the troops at the time that they are in action. Now, that is denying us the right to know. We are sending our boys, our girls. We use the phrase, to fight our war in Afghanistan, and we're not permitted to know what they are doing in our name.

KING: Was there a legal remedy? Could someone have gone to court over this?

CRONKITE: Well, I suppose -- I would hope that if you went to court about this that the courts would say, you've got a right to report. But I -- and I don't know why perhaps that hasn't been done. I am a little puzzled, quite honestly, about the fact that the media moguls, those who run the television networks, those who run the newspapers have not been more vociferous in going back to the administration and the Defense Department and demanding our rights to have our people or reporters on the scene. They haven't done that. I'm terribly suspicious of why not.


CRONKITE: Well, it occurs to me we know they have been so encumbered, having cambered the news departments over the last few years, on the bottom line, on the cost of coverage, so we don't cover foreign news anymore. But it's going to be very costly to send correspondents and film crews and satellite trucks to distant countries and covering a war.


CRONKITE: And I think that perhaps they are saying to themselves, if we fight for the right to send them, we're going to have to send them, and when we have to send them, it's going to be a little expensive.

KING: He never loses cynicism, folks. Walter Cronkite is our guest. We're going to go to your phone calls. As we go to a break, a son remembers a father.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was an amazing man. He was my so-called rock. He just always put people ahead of himself. My dad came and just walked over and put his happened on my shoulder and said, do you need some help, son. That's just the type of dad that he was.

He always worked very hard and had very long hours, but he always found a way to come home to make it to, you know, a recital or to my brother's baseball game, or to go on a camping trip with us for boy scouts.

And when I was asked what was his hobby, his biggest hobby really was his family. He truly loved spending time with his family. And when he wasn't with us, he was talking about us. It's just a void that, you know, will never be filled. It's just something that we have to learn to deal with.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost -- from our company along, we lost five, but there were guys that we run in with all the time down here, just missing companies. Can't find them. Don't know where they are.

The quicker we can get to the people, the better chance of survival. The quicker we get to the voids, any type of voids that we might have, and there are plenty of voids underneath the building. There is opportunities, though, even as the week goes by, that still there's a chance.

It's dangerous, but that's what, you know, this is the career we've chosen and this is what we're doing. That's why everybody's here today. Everybody here today either knows somebody. Everybody here knows somebody that's missing. That's why we're all here.


KING: Walter Cronkite is our guest. Let's go to your calls. St. Mary's, Pennsylvania. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry.

KING: Yeah.

CALLER: Mr. Cronkite, it's an honor to speak to both of you.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: My question for Mr. Cronkite, if you were still a working journalist, with all the history of the world and this country that you have covered, would this have been the biggest story of your career?

CRONKITE: It would certainly if not the biggest, it would be very close to it. And I would think that in the nature of the story, yes, it would have been the biggest in my career.

The stories, as we journalists judge them, are judged on various other bases than just what you'd appear -- what appears on the surface. This was a huge story. The death toll was terrible. The nature of the attack was terrible. And all of that.

On the other hand, the landing of the man on the moon was the most important scientific achievement, perhaps, in 100 years, and the greatest in a century of scientific achievement. That was an important story. The assassination of a young president before he had really much of a chance to make an impact on the country was a terrible story. The civil rights fight was a very important fight. The Vietnam War, the tour America part was a very important story. Pearl Harbor and the entire World War II was a terrible story.

KING: Atom bomb.

CRONKITE: They're all bad stories.

KING: Atom bomb. Atom bomb.

CRONKITE: And the atom bomb, of course, the use of the atom bomb. Truman's decision to drop it.

KING: Angola, New York, for Walter Cronkite. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello, Mr. Cronkite. I grew up as an elementary student learning most of my history from your series that you did for school kids, and you always ended it saying, "this is Walter Cronkite, and you were there." And that always made me feel very comforted, no matter what you were reporting on. Can you please tell me what you could say to the nation now to comfort us?

CRONKITE: To what?

KING: To comfort people. You did comfort.

CRONKITE: I think that our comfort is in our history. You have watched history being reported, played on the "You Are There" program. What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times. I appreciate your watching that, and many, many people did.

But the comfort is in our history. We have overcome some terrible blows to our democracy, to the future of our democracy, to the future of our nation. We survived the Civil War and the strife that tore this nation apart. We survived the period of minority dominated -- majority domination of a minority until we finally let the peoples of minority free, just 30, 40 years ago now with our Civil Rights Act.

We've survived a lot of horrible things in this country. We can survive this. And that is where the comfort is, that we know we have the strength to do this. And we -- if we follow through with that strength to intelligently exercise our franchise as voting citizens of this country, to be sure that we are -- our feelings are represented, we will be comforted by knowing that democracy is still at work and that the country will prevail.

KING: For those of you who never saw "You Are There," they would take an event in history, going way back, and Walter would cover it as if it were the nightly news that night. The assassination of Julius Caesar, and you are there. Interviews with Brutus. Quite a show.

Chico, California, hello.

CALLER: Yes, good evening, Mr. Cronkite. My question is, do you feel personally that we're going to be hit again? It's been awfully quiet for the past year, and I'm just kind of wondering, personally, from all your experience and all your expertise in the news area, do you think we're going to be hit again?

CRONKITE: I think it perhaps is unfair for an individual to suggest that we're going to be hit again with any suggestion that that comes from knowledge or from experience or any other information that we could call to play, because we have none. I have none at all about that.

I hope that our intelligence departments do have, but I don't. I would not say that we are going to be hit again. I think we, however, should understand the dangers that exist in the world today, the possibility of our being hit again, yes. Obviously, it is there. We cannot deny it. So we should be preparing for it. We should understand it. But we should not cower down in fear of it. KING: We'll take a break and come back with more, more phone calls for Walter Cronkite. John Walsh will be with us tomorrow night. And as we go to break, a daughter remembers her father.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was just a sparkle. You know, he was always happy to see you. Actively involved, super-loving, so gorgeous. He had these beautiful green eyes. He taught me that if you can't find where you're going, look up and look for the twin towers, and that means, you know, you go that way towards home.

And he'd just would always say to me, you're going to be fine, you know, great guy, you know, and I would say to him, but nobody can fill your shoes. And so that day I just had the feeling like I should be helping him. He loved us very much. I just wanted to make sure that the whole world knows that we love him a lot, and we miss him a lot.



KING: Before we take our next call, Walter just told me they are selling executive parachutes, parachutes for executives in tall buildings.

CRONKITE: Yeah. Yeah. You can buy them. They're available. I suppose it's the only way that they could continue to rent those high...

KING: Never heard of that.

Sacramento, California, hello.

CALLER: Mr. Cronkite, I'm one of I think many Vietnam veterans who appreciated your question of that war. Thank you, sir, for that. In Vietnam and in the Tonkin Gulf, there was a lot of government disinformation, and since then, a lot more. Do you think the news media are being sufficiently critical of what we're being told now by this administration to sell a war, and do you think we have considered enough U.S. foreign policy as one causative factor in the animosity that led to the horrible tragedy of 9/11?

CRONKITE: Your first question regarding -- regarding whether the news media are adequately skeptical of the information they're getting from the administration and are passing that skepticism along to the American people -- probably not. I think they could do a better job of that. Nearly every statement that is made by a political organization, and that includes an administration running the country, warrants little more -- little deeper examination than we are always given time and the adequate information to question.

We need to do more of that. I think individual reporters are doing a good job. I think it's difficult for an individual newspaper, for a press organization, for a broadcast unit to constantly keep that pressure on. I think there is some concern that the American people would not tolerate it and would turn away from that kind of continuing skepticism. I think that would be a mistake.

But then on the other end, we must notice that the American public is not very keen, not very aware, not very sophisticated about getting the information it needs. When it gets most of its news from television, as it still is today, it is accepting a little less news than it needs to intelligently exercise its franchise at the polls. And that, to my mind, is a fact of the matter.

KING: And foreign policy's effect on what might have caused 9/11?

CRONKITE: Yes, I think very definitely that foreign policy could have caused what has happened.

KING: Doesn't excuse it.

CRONKITE: We have been warned by other terrorist attacks elsewhere of the dislike for us and the intent of the organization to express that dislike in various terrorist acts around the country, the two embassies that were blown up in Africa, the destroyer Cole, for instance, episode, and that sort of thing. It should be apparent to us. It should have been apparent to us a long time ago, and it certainly should be apparent now. It should be, for goodness sakes, understood now. But it is not.

The problem is this great division between the rich and the poor in the world. We represent the rich. Each of our citizens is not rich, of course, but as a country, we are exceedingly rich. As a country, all of these -- most of these other nations of Africa and Asia and South America and Central America are very, very poor. The people in those countries who don't have adequate housing, don't have adequate hospitalization, don't have adequate medical care, don't have adequate education, they are not going to live forever in the shadow of the riches that we display constantly in our movies, in our travels around the world, in our airlines and our shipping.

They are not going to put up with that forever. This is a revolution, in effect, around the world. A revolution is in place today. We are suffering from a revolution of the poor and have-nots against the rich and haves. And that's us.

KING: Sag Harbor, New York. Hello.

CALLER: Thank you, Mr. King, for all that you do with your show. And Mr. Cronkite, my family used to watch you every night. Thank you for making me a better U.S. citizen, as well as a new addict. My question is, are you ever tempted to call up the CBS, or CNN news desk, with a suggestion or observation?

CRONKITE: Oh, no. CNN and CBS have some very intelligent, some very bright news people to do that job. I don't think they'd particularly welcome others coming around and suggesting how they do their work. That is one of the penalties of growing old and out of the daily swim. I am not in that league anymore. KING: Walter is 85 years young, and he keeps on keeping on. And we'll be back with our remaining moments with Walter Cronkite in just a moment. Right now, a mother remembers a son.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took care of everything around there. It didn't matter whether it was helping pay bills or shoveling snow or taking kids to Little League games.

The only thing larger than his physical presence was his smile. He had this incredible smile. He was absolutely infatuated with the city. He loved the city. It was a dream of his to work in those buildings.

The train comes in every day, and I expect him to come barreling in my kitchen door, and of course he hasn't. I feel like the rug's been ripped out from under my feet. He called me up and -- to say good night, like he always did -- and as we hung up the phone, he said, "take care, comb your hair." And that was the last I spoke with him.



KING: We're back with the dean of American television journalists, Walter Cronkite.

Terrysburg, Ohio. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. It's so wonderful to speak to such two knowledgeable people. So I'm very pleased. However, my question is, as a social studies teacher at Northwood middle school, which is a sixth, seventh and eighth grade school, what would you suggest as an appropriate remembrance of September 11?

CRONKITE: What was that again, Larry? I'm sorry.

KING: She teaches in middle school, sixth, seventh and eighth. What should she teach kids in that age group as a remembrance for 9- 11?

CRONKITE: Oh, boy. That's a tough one. You've got a tough job in deciding that. I'm not sure that I can be helpful in that regard.

KING: This is 12, 13 and 14.

CRONKITE: I think the thing that must be accentuated is the nature of the conflict between two peoples, these Muslim extremists and the American public as such. We are not guilty of all of the mistakes that our foreign policy has made through the years. We are not personally guilty of our failure to spread our riches around the world and help others lift themselves by their own bootstrap, and neither are all of those in the Muslim world, are they guilty of the extremism expressed by these violent terrorists. I think the most important lesson perhaps for you to communicate is that we are all human beings together. We all have our differences together, but that does not mean that we are all extremists by any means, that we share much of the same human values. Our manuals of our religion are not so different as we would sometimes believe, that we are a civilization that can live together in harmony, if we only understand each other and worked to understand each other.

KING: One more call. Montpelier, Vermont, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello. Hi, Mr. Walter Cronkite, how are you? After watching you for many years, and we all can recall the horrible things that had to be reported, in your opinion, what is the best thing you've reported?

KING: What's the best story you ever reported? I'm going to guess the moon.

CRONKITE: Well, probably. I'd buy that theory. The successful landing on the moon. Very probably is the best story. I do think that the success, although still not complete, in the -- in the recognition of equal rights of -- of equal rights to all Americans, regardless of color, creed and so forth, was also one of the best stories we've had to report.

KING: Were you on deck for the Salk's vaccine?

CRONKITE: Yes, that one. Sure.

KING: Not a bad story.

CRONKITE: Getting rid of infantile paralysis, for heaven's sakes, it was an important thing. A big story. All the medical breakthroughs, of course, each in its own way has had a great -- we got rid of smallpox at one point, you know. Now we're only worried about smallpox because we dared to hold on to some of these viruses in case we wanted to need to use them some day. Terrible problem.

KING: You retired once. We have about a minute left. No one will ever forget that historic last broadcast. But you never really retired.

CRONKITE: No, not quite.

KING: You will never retire-retire, will you?

CRONKITE: No, I never intended to retire. I only stepped down from the evening news, daily journalism. I'd been a daily journalist with United Press fighting deadlines every minute, then on radio, then on television, for all of my entire working life until I was 65 years old, and I always had intended to step down from daily journalism at 65. I intended to continue with the major stories, with the specials, and that sort of thing. I wasn't given that opportunity as much as I would have liked, but that was my intention.

KING: You're a national treasure. CRONKITE: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Thank you for coming. Walter Cronkite. By the way, before we come back in a moment and tell you about tomorrow night, we want to extend our best wishes to our good friend Jerry Lewis. He guested with us right before the muscular dystrophy telethon. I had the honor of being on that telethon with him. Jerry didn't feel well last night in London, had to cancel a performance. He was not hospitalized. He just went back to his hotel. As you know, he's been suffering from a lot of maladies. However, his people do tell us that he is well rested and recovered, and is doing OK now. You be well, my friend, because speaking of treasures, America needs you.

We'll take a break, come back and tell you about tomorrow night on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, right after this.


KING: One of the reasons among many that I love coming home to New York is the chance to be around Mr. Aaron Brown. At the same luncheon today, just to be in his presence is magnetic.

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": Yeah. Yeah. And of the reasons I like seeing you is because you bring your wife, and she's a whole lot nicer.

KING: Yeah. I got lucky. Tomorrow night, John Walsh joins us. He lost a son tragically many years ago, and has continued the fight against crime and children ever since. John Walsh tomorrow night. But right now, it's time for "NEWSNIGHT" and our man on the scene, my man, Aaron Brown.




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