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‘I Never Learned Anything by Talking.’ Watch Larry King on the Art of the Interview and a Shifting Media Landscape


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‘I Never Learned Anything by Talking.’ Watch Larry King on the Art of the Interview and a Shifting Media Landscape

In 2009, TV news legend Larry King sat down with TIME’s Gilbert Cruz to talk about his new memoir, My Remarkable Journey, a retrospective on his 50-year broadcasting career, and to answer questions submitted by readers about his life and work. King, who died on Saturday at the age of 87 in Los Angeles, hosted CNN’s Larry King Live for 25 years and became known as an iconic interviewer who would approach his exchanges with politicians, celebrities and other newsmakers with an intense curiosity and plainspoken demeanor that consistently got his subjects to speak intimately about their lives and work.

King opened up about the art of the interview during their discussion, and his comments on the future of journalism, his concerns about the dark side of “new media” and the rise of TV news hosts with an ideological bent on both sides of the aisle are eerily relevant more than a decade later.

Wearing his signature suspenders during his TIME interview, King politely pushed back when Cruz posed a question from a reader in Copenhagen, Denmark, who wanted to know if King agreed with the perception that sometimes he avoids “asking difficult questions.”

“I’m not there to pin someone to the wall. I try to ask perceptive questions, thoughtful questions that get at an arrival of what that person is, how they are and what they bring forth,” King said. “If I were to begin an interview with Nancy Pelosi and say, ‘Why did you lie about the torture things you learned?’ …the last thing I will learn is the truth. Of course, what am I doing? I’m putting them on the defense, purposefully, to make me look good—nothing to do with them…At that point, they’re a prop. Well, to me, the guest is not a prop.”

MORE: Larry King recalls how he got Ross Perot to declare his 1992 presidential run on air

The key to a good broadcast interview, King added, is having a “good interview subject” who is “passionate, has the ability to explain what they do very well, who has a sense of humor—hopefully self-deprecating—and a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. You got those four things—don’t matter President, plumber, architect, singer—you got those four things, no one will click off.”

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King said he remained unwaveringly passionate about broadcasting starting from age of 5 when he would imitate announcers he heard on the radio, and he was thoughtful when asked about the changing media landscape. When Cruz posed a question submitted by a reader in Bloomington, Ill., who asked “Are you at all concerned about the popularity of ideologically-charged news programs, programs where the host is someone who injects a lot of themselves?,” King replied, “I’m not personally concerned because I know that all things are cyclical. There’s a wave that comes in, then it goes out. Hopefully the good straight interview, in-depth, thoughtful, listening to the answer, the guest counts, will always be around.

“So I’m not a fan of the ideologically-based show—right or left—because I don’t learn anything. It’s something I learned a long time ago, I never learned a thing when I was talking. I never learned a thing when I was talking. So these shows in which the host is on 90% of the time, the guest 10%, I don’t get it. But, I understand people like it. I wouldn’t do it.”

In response to a question from a San Juan reader about the greatest challenge that media faces today, King said “new media.”

“No one can predict tomorrow,” he said. “The technology is ahead of the intellect. The new media, everybody’s a journalist. Everybody Twitters, and they have websites and the danger in it is real. When everyone’s a newsman you get a lot of false news, overreaction to stories, jumping on stories too quickly, no measuring. And the saddest part of it is the decline of the newspaper. I love newspapers.” In fact, King said while getting his hair done that day, he ran into newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch, and they talked about their shared love of newspapers: “That’s another generation,” he lamented.

The interview covered lighter topics, too. King couldn’t say off-hand how many pairs of suspenders he owned, but he guessed around 150 between his home and his offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Suspender buttons had been sewn into every pair of pants he bought, even jeans. And while he hesitated when asked what he would do if he wasn’t an anchor at CNN, the baseball fan guessed he would volunteer to work for Major League Baseball. And while he said he was very comfortable sitting in the anchor chair, he admitted to being very uncomfortable when just sitting around and relaxing.

“I’m not a relaxer, no no no no,” King laughed. “Relax is not in my nomenclature. I’m not a good sitter-arounder, if that’s a term. It doesn’t suit me.”

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