CNN anchor John King makes impromptu visit to Cronkite School

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CNN anchor John King encouraged students to endure journalism's difficulties during his visit to the Walter Cronkite School Monday. King will moderate Wednesday's Republican presidential debate. (Jack Fitzpatrick/DD)

CNN anchor John King spoke to Walter Cronkite School students for more than an hour during an impromptu visit Monday before he moderates Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate in Mesa.

King covered topics ranging from his early experiences as a reporter for the Associated Press to a controversial question he asked Newt Gingrich during the South Carolina presidential debate in January, but focused much of his time encouraging students to work through the difficulties of a journalism career.

“You need a lucky break or two, and then you make your luck by working hard,” King said. “And when you get knocked down, get up, because you will get knocked down in this business.”

When he switched from print to broadcast journalism, King said he felt “petrified.” He had been chief political correspondent for the AP before working for CNN, and his first time on camera was humbling.

“The guy who sweats through his shirt and he’s shaking — that was me,” he said.

King made headlines after South Carolina’s presidential debate in January, when he asked Newt Gingrich whether he had asked his ex-wife for an open relationship. Gingrich responded angrily, saying his personal life should be out of bounds at a presidential debate.

King told the students he did not push Gingrich for an answer because it was a debate among candidates — not between Gingrich and himself.

“It’s not my debate,” King said. “If he were on my show, I would have been ready to say, ‘Out of bounds now, Mr. Speaker, but during the Clinton administration you said this.’”

Gingrich approached him during a commercial and said the debate was “great,” King said.

King added that he thinks presidential debates should not have live audiences. Although they make for entertaining TV, he said they distract from the actual issues.

King also discussed social media’s effect on journalism and the immediacy of news, while stressing the importance of protecting the public’s trust in journalists. King said he developed a reputation at the AP for being the first to report big stories, but that an editor reminded him, “You’d rather be second than wrong.”

King advised students conducting interviews with politicians to know their usual talking points and their past record on important issues. He also said journalists should be comfortable around politicians, but not friendly.

“I hope you sit down and have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the people you cover sometime, because that’s how they learn to trust you. But you always have to be careful,” he said.

King spoke about his career for about 15 minutes and spent nearly an hour taking questions from students, sharing anecdotes and advice in his answers.

Nearly 100 students came to hear King speak in the school’s Cronkite Theater despite late notice. Students were not informed of the event until about 10 a.m. Monday morning, when Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan sent students an email saying King was coming.

After the event, Callahan praised King for meeting with students during such a busy time. King filmed his show, “John King, USA,” from Mesa yesterday while preparing for Wednesday’s debate.

“He loves talking about what we do,” Callahan said. “He loves it so much and if he feels that if he can affect some young journalist, to him that’s worth taking an 18-hour day and making it a 22-hour day. It’s pretty amazing.”

Contact the reporter at john.l.fitzpatrick@asu.edu