When he is tired or has an extra beer, John King’s Massachusetts accent can emerge.
“I can pahk a cah like anybody,” says King, host of CNN’s new Sunday talk show, “State of the Union with John King,” which debuts this weekend. At which point, he says, “I usually start laughing.”
Well-known for manning the network’s magic wall during the recent presidential election, King, a Dorchester, Mass. native, says his new show, airing 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Sunday, will incorporate the interactive wall that allowed him to call up information with a touch of his hand.
“Absolutely,” he says. “We’re building the wall into our studio. It will be a centerpiece of the program. I call it my transporter beam.”
Learning to navigate the wall was complicated, but not impossible. There’s a certain flow required. “The thing I learned is, some things you have to learn the manual and study,” he says. “But the wall? The thing I had to teach myself is just trust myself. My hand is the mouse and there’s different layers of the map and you can take it around the world.”
What if he makes a wrong move and the wall collapses? “You can’t worry about that,” he says. “You learn that occasionally you are going to make a mistake. You correct it as soon as you can, or you accidentally learn something and you go there.”
Replacing Wolf Blitzer on Sunday mornings is another matter. But King won’t emulate Blitzer’s famous beard after a trial run convinced him it wasn’t his style.
King was recently snowboarding and didn’t shave for five days. “I looked in the mirror one morning and it was a unanimous decision that I can’t match Wolf in that department,” he says. “I yield to Wolf on this one.”
But he credits Blitzer for giving him the best example of how to be in this business. “He has a gift of keeping his cool in incredibly tense and stressful situations,” he says. “He is just a gentleman. Those are the best lessons in life.”
Travel was a deal-breaker for King. A show for him had been discussed over the years, but ultimately, he told his bosses, any anchoring job would have to include travel.
“My rule is to travel every week,” he says. “I’m going to get out from behind my desk every week — that’s what I love. It’s just who I am. I would not have agreed to do this if I could not go out and travel the country, or the world.”
King says he has never been comfortable with the egos of Washington, particularly those in broadcast journalism. “I have a healthy ego,” he admits, but then explains that he’s a “blue-collar kid” who was one of seven children. His father was a jail guard.
The broadcaster started out in print journalism. His first reporting job was as an intern for The Associated Press in Providence, R.I., where he made coffee, organized files and scoured the courthouse for cases.
Between his junior and senior years he served as vacation relief and got assigned to help cover the retrial of Claus von Bülow, who was accused and then acquitted of murdering his wife, Sunny.
“I was a bit player in our coverage,” he recalls.
His first job ever was delivering the Boston Herald. He later moved on to dishwasher and cook for a downtown-Boston German restaurant. “I learned to cook there and I still love to cook,” he says.
He calls competitors, such as NBC “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, friends. “I wish him the best,” he says. “Everyone will say it’s competition, Sunday morning. It is, but it’s not grudgeful.”
Recently married to CNN correspondent Dana Bash, King, 45, says he has given thought to how he interacts with his wife on air.
“She is one of the best reporters I have ever met,” he says. “We’re married and we have to be mindful of that. When we were in a relationship I thought, ‘Are there going to be times when this is awkward?’ I am a stickler for the rules of journalism. There haven’t been any [awkward moments].
“I’m a big fan and big admirer — it’s one of the reasons I was attracted to her in the first place. You know what? You’re going to see her on Sunday morning. If it makes sense to make a joke, we’ll get there.”