Larry King, legendary journalist and host of CNN’s highest-rated show, Larry King Live, is an award-winning journalist. He’s recognized as an icon in broadcasting, and has conducted more than tens of thousands of interviews.
But speaking to a packed audience at the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday, King made one thing clear: the interview and the show have never been about him.
“I respect the audience, I try to ask good questions, and I listen. The most important thing to do is listen,” King said. “And I don’t ever have an agenda.I never learned anything when I was talking,”
King came to GW as part of the School of Media and Public Affairs’ “Conversation Series,” a series of interviews with notable media figures conducted by School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno.
Sesno and King focused the afternoon’s discussion on King’s career and experiences in broadcast journalism. King has made a name for himself as one of the most influential interviewers in history, all without a college degree.
“When my father died, I just lost interest in school,” King said.
With more than 40,000 interviews under his belt and countless awards for his work, King said he often cannot believe where his career has taken him.
“Almost every day I still pinch myself that this happened to me,” he said.
King said he has learned “the only secret in this business is there is no secret. It’s to be yourself.”
Over his 50-odd years in journalism, King has interviewed a range of subjects, including sitting presidents, pop-culture icons and murderers.
As an interviewer, King says that he finds “less is more” in terms of preparation. King said if a subject “is passionate about what they do, good at what they do, has a sense of humor and a bit of a chip on their shoulder, it doesn’t matter what they do. Those four things will make them a good guest.”
Video clips from notable moments in King’s career at CNN were played throughout the program, including an interview with Carla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed for murder; Ronald Reagan’s response to King’s question about “how it felt to be shot;” and the infamous 1993 debate between then-Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot, which had the highest rating in all of CNN history.
During the interview, King showed his Colonial pride by promising Sesno he would wear GW suspenders on air Thursday evening “if we have the right tie at CNN.” King was scheduled to interview Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., Thursday, but Rangel canceled last minute, King said in a tweet. The suspenders didn’t make their primetime debut.
In 2007, King was inducted into GW’s 1821 Benefactors Society – a society comprised of the University’s top donors – to honor the journalism scholarship fund King created. Since 2000, 38 journalism students have received the Larry King Scholarship. In addition, part of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation is based at GW Hospital.
“I always felt something missing. That was a college education,” King said of his involvement at GW and his reasons for establishing the scholarship.
King said students thinking about a career in journalism have to be tough or get out of the field.
“If someone could talk you out of being in that light, you don’t belong in this business,” King said, referring to the On Air light in broadcast studios.