SBJ/20081103/One-on-One

Pitchers-duel primary gives way to Obama-McCain bout

As senior White House correspondent for CNN since 1999, and as its chief national correspondent since 2005, John King has covered all manner of domestic and international issues. His travels have taken him across the country as well as to Vietnam, Haiti, South Africa, Thailand and the Middle East. King has interviewed presidents, heads of state and citizens of the United States and the world while he has reported on the economy at home, the first Gulf War, terrorism and the war in Iraq, the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, the tsunami in Indonesia and hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He has played a major role in the network’s coverage of the 2008 presidential campaigns. King took time out shortly before Election Day to speak with SportsBusiness Journal New York 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 Time.com and Politico just to see what the other guys are doing in their political coverage.
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.


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.

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.

Sounds like a dangerous job.
King: Do not try this at home. These are trained professionals. Is that how that saying goes?

Tom Johnson, former chief executive at CNN, regarding the book “No Time to Think,” said that in the competition to break news, “Getting it right often has been replaced by getting it first.”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.

There’s more competition now to get it first.
King: 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.

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 [Mass.] 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.

If you could secure an interview with anyone now — past or present, living or dead — who would it be?
King: Ted Williams

What’s the first thing you’d ask him?
King: Help me hit a curveball.

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.

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.

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.

King thinks McCain’s drive to win
makes him a little like Bob Knight
in the sports world.

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.

What in sports would not be missed if it were eliminated?
King: The wave.

If you could switch places with any athlete, who would you choose?
King: Jason Varitek. I want to catch for the Red Sox.

Is he going to be catching any more games for them?
King: Good question. I don’t know.

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.

Not necessarily a bad thing?
King: You know, in the TV age we live in, sometimes you see a picture of him [McCain], 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.

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