The broadcast veteran weighs in on the Donald Sterling scandal and shares his thoughts on racism and segregation in 2014.
Talk show host Larry King
Tavis: So if I started listing all the accomplishments of Larry King, we’d never have time for a conversation. So I’ll just say that after nearly 60 years in broadcasting, winning just about every award there is, he’s still reinventing himself for new generations.
He’s the cofounder, with billionaire Carlos Slim, of a new digital service called Ora TV, which right now hosts two of his series – one called “Larry King Now,” the other called “Politicking with Larry King.”
Let’s take a look at an outtake from his recent conversation with the Dalai Lama as they joked around as Larry was introducing his wife, Shawn.
Tavis: (Laughter) The Dalai Lama’s got jokes.
Larry King: Hello, Dalai. (Laughter) No, he is, he’s a really terrific guy. He has a sense of humor, he’s very humble, he’s fun to be around, I’ve interviewed him a lot, and he’s always fun.
Tavis: Yeah. Let me go from something that is fun, like that clip, to something not so fun. Actually, I see you wearing a black shirt. Is that your way of telling us that you actually like Black people, (laughter) unlike Mr. Sterling?
King: I was going to take a Black person to a Clipper game as a show of (unintelligible). (Laughter) I had my kids go today when they were playing in the playoffs. I had them wear black instead of their customary Clipper shirts.
King: It was – that’s a terrible period in the life of the NBA and the life of a country in the year 2014, that we could still have someone who actually thinks that way.
Now I abhor the private conversation of taping. I think that’s illegal, and there’s a California law against it. But, but, there’s a big but. So she was wrong to tape, but that conversation, two conversations that they played over different tapes at different, different outlets played different tapes, were just terrible. Abominable is the only work I can think of.
Tavis: See, I was thinking the other day, knowing that you were going to come on the show, about all of these similar incidents that you’ve covered in your broadcast career, and there’s a whole lot of them.
King: Whole lot.
Tavis: But I don’t even want to start running down names, but there have been so many people who’ve gotten themselves in trouble on tape, being overheard, offering racist, anti-Semitic kinds of comments.
After all the years of you being in the broadcast business and hearing these kinds of things and covering them, how do you – I don’t want to say “rate” or “rank” this, but how do they hit you versus the stuff that you’ve seen heretofore.
King: Well this is way up there. I’ve seen it from Southerners who were raised in the culture and should know better, I’ve seen it from others who I can’t understand it.
But to have a man who has earned this kind of money, lived in a city like Los Angeles all these years, rent – he lost a suit to the Justice Department over refusing to rent to Blacks.
To have that kind of – I’m trying to understand where does it – he said it’s “cultural.” What culture? He’s a Jewish man. Who should be more understanding than a Jewish man?
I’m shocked. I know Donald Sterling, I’ve been at his party in Malibu, he has a party every year out in his, he has a summer home. He has a wife of over 50 years, but he had girlfriends all the time.
He’s never sold a piece of property, ever. Never sold anything, but he’s extraordinarily cheap. He buys property, but he’s incredibly – a friend of mine was with him once, a man worth 1.9 billion. True story.
They’re at a drug store and he’s filling a prescription, and the druggist comes back and says, “That’s $8,” and he goes, “What, $8?” (Laughter) He said, “Give me the generic.”
That’s incredible to me. So that’s the kind of mind we’re dealing with here, and he’s, I can’t, it’s – of all the ones that I’ve dealt with, and I’ve gone from the George Wallaces on down, this one is way up there.
Tavis: It is sad to me on any number of occasions when a news story – I think if most Black folk are being honest, they will admit this. They might not come on PBS and say it like I’m about to say it.
When you hear a news story that’s breaking, and before you can get the details of it you’re just hoping that it’s not somebody Black. I hope this story is not about somebody Black, and you know where I’m going with this.
You were subject to the rip-off that Bernie Madoff engaged in, you were one of his victims –
Tavis: – of Bernie Madoff.
King: Oh I got the money back.
Tavis: You got the money back. So here’s the penultimate embarrassment for Jews, I think, is probably Bernie Madoff.
Tavis: But here comes Donald Sterling now, and again, I don’t want to put an entire people on trial for the actions of an individual. You take my point here, because Black folk –
King: Well, my first thought was I’m glad he changed his name. (Laughter) But yes.
King: Jews always think that, if a big story breaks and it’s bad, that it’s not a Jew, as Blacks would think the same, I’m sure.
King: I’m sure if you hear about shooting up a school –
Tavis: Please don’t let him be a Black guy.
King: And you know it’s not going to be a Black guy.
King: Blacks don’t shoot up schools. Schools in Harlem don’t get shot up. In South Central, they don’t get up. Schools in Cheyenne, Wyoming get shot up. That’s incredible to me. I think we’ve only had one Black serial killer, Walter Williams in Atlanta. That’s the only one I’ve ever heard of. And they had that sniper in Washington.
Tavis: The sniper back in D.C., yeah, yeah, yeah.
King: Washington. But when we hear a story, that’s the first thing we think of. But one thing the Jews have had better than Blacks is a PR system. As Godfrey Cambridge, the late Godfrey Cambridge told me once, “Man,” he says, “If a story breaks that’s good, like they cure polio, the first thing I hear is ‘Jewish doctor cured polio.'” (Laughter) “You get that in before the cure.” And he says, “We Blacks have got to learn how to set that network up, that whenever a thing good happens, ‘He was Jewish, you know.'” (Laughs)
Tavis: Yeah. But what do you make of Black – this is another big question. You’ve covered this many times in your career. What do you make in 2014 of Black-Jewish relations, because this is, again, a story that has opened up all kinds of conversations?
So I’m just curious as to your take of what you make in the country now of the relationship or lack thereof between Blacks and Jews.
King: Well I think – there was a period where it got, where Blacks were a little upset that more Jews didn’t stand up for them, or Jewish conservatives who seem to support a – let’s say an anti-civil rights point of view, which was abhorrent to me as a Jew.
I would say it’s probably settled down into (unintelligible) fine now. I don’t hear much about it anymore. You don’t hear – remember Jesse Jackson once made a bad reference to Jews.
I don’t sense it in the Jewish community of anything like that, anything. I think that’s, I would say it’s gone. Have you heard anything like that in – I don’t hear about – Jewish-Black relationships I think are fine.
Tavis: What’s ironic about this, though, as I think about it, there was someone who overheard Jesse make that remark, so Jesse kind of got outed in the same way that Donald Sterling got outed.
Sterling’s on tape. With Jesse, there was a reporter name Milton Coleman, as I recall –
King: Right, correct.
Tavis: – who overheard Jesse Jackson make this derogatory remark about Jews.
King: I don’t know, maybe it’s where we were raised. I have never understood, I’ve never – I’ve asked this question since I started in broadcasting in 1957. I started 57 years ago.
I’ve never understood prejudice, which means to pre-judge. To pre-judge is stupid. I don’t like this; I won’t read that, I won’t look at this – that’s insane. Even if I looked at it just from a standpoint of monetarily, as Ross Perot told me once: “Forget morality. The insanity in the South of building two bathrooms when you only needed one.” (Laughter)
Talk about busing, you know, the South used to bus white children far away if they lived too close to a Black school. That was, it was insane. I remember my daughter, she went to Montessori school in Florida, and she came home one day crying, just – she was five years old.
Ran into the bedroom. I walked in, “What?” “I want to be Black. I want to be Black.” “Why?” Well, Flip Wilson’s daughter was in her school, and they had a field trip to the beach, and they wouldn’t let my daughter go out in the sun.
She had to sit in the shade, because she was very fair, while Flip Wilson’s daughter was playing on the beach. So she wanted to be Black. Which shows you that, how stupid the whole idea of prejudice – why don’t we buy Coppertone?
(Laughter) It’s just – when I landed in Miami to go to work, I broke in in Miami, I got off a train, came down from New York, and I had never seen prejudice in New York, New York City. Never seen it, never used the N-word, never had anything in the culture like it, never.
I get off the train, and there’s a water fountain. It says, “colored,” and I drank out of it. It was very good, it was cold. (Laughter) It was really good water. Now I get on a bus to go over to my uncle’s apartment, and I’m sitting in the back of the bus, and my first look at Miami, I’m looking out the window.
The bus driver pulls over, stops the bus, and, “You, move forward.” “Why?” “The back of the bus is for Negroes, the front of the bus is for whites,” and I couldn’t believe what I’m hearing.
So I yell back, “My father’s Negro.” (Laughter) So the whole idea of prejudice and people who didn’t stand up for it, as Martin Luther King once said, “The most segregated hour in America is 11:00 Sunday morning,” that religion ever, any religion that had a segregated synagogue or a segregated church is abominable to me.
Inexcusable. I’ve never heard a defense of it. It just never made any sense to me. The waste of money and time and effort in racism is absurd. It’s just absurd. How anyone could think it in the year 2014 is beyond, it’s beyond me.
Tavis: Well we will see –
King: How it all plays out.
Tavis: – how it all plays out in the months and years to come. I’m always troubled by the fact that whenever we have these moments that ought to be rich and ripe for the country to sink its teeth into, to have some real conversations about this issue, whether it’s Donald Sterling or Trayvon Martin, it’s like we punt every time.
It’s right there for us to really have a national conversation, and we can’t seem to get it together. But I digress.
King: What makes this conversation unusual is that 80 percent of the people employed are Black. This is a white owner with a slave mentality, with wealthy Blacks.
So we’re not talking about the sharecropper’s son, we’re talking about Chris Paul, making 24 million, right?
King: Their dilemma of I’m under contract, I have to play for this guy, but – so this is, that’s what makes this story different from all other stories.
Tavis: But you don’t have, you have no idea, though, how many conversations I’ve been in since this story broke about what responsibility Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and others on that team have.
Because if this were some decades ago, we know what Muhammad Ali would have done, because he did it. We know what Bill Russell would have done, because he did it.
We know what Jackie Robinson would have done, because he did it. So there’s a whole – and we know what Curt Flood would have done, because he did it. There’s so many conversations I’ve been in about what the responsibility was of this team, and whether or not it was their responsibility to do something or the NBA’s.
My thing was it’s not either-or, it’s both-and. The NBA had to do something, but also I believe the players, if they don’t want to be seen as billion-dollar slaves, they’ve got to do something.
King: Well, these are different times. Muhammad Ali was not a contractual employee.
King: He was an independent arbitrator. Curt Flood didn’t want to be traded, so he fought that battle.
King: But the times are different, and they weren’t – Muhammad Ali’s a great story, and I’ve spent many hours with Muhammad. He’s separate and apart. These guys weren’t making $25 million, with homes in Bel Air.
They were out on the streets. They may have been making a little more money than the average guy was making, but what’s the most money Bill Russell ever made? You’re talking about another – Chris Paul’s kid flies on private planes.
Tavis: But what does that have to do with courage and conviction and commitment? That’s my point. Is there a price for that? That’s what I’m saying.
King: I don’t know, I don’t know the answer, and it’s easy to say, “I would give that up.” Would I give that up? I don’t know the answer to that. The men of courage who do, and I – are you saying Chris Paul should quit basketball?
Tavis: No, I’m not saying they should quit, but I thought initially when they walked out in that first game up in Oakland and just took their jerseys, turned them inside-out, and dropped them, that wasn’t enough for me. I thought the situation demanded more.
King: What’d you want them to do, not play? Forfeit?
Tavis: I would not have been bothered by that, only because it seems to me when you’re dealing with a racial arsonist, and I might add a slumlord like Donald Sterling, the only thing that matters to him, to your earlier point, is money.
You have to hit this man where it counts, where it hurts. Nothing else apparently seems to matter. Now let me be very quick and say that I don’t believe that any of us are beyond redemption.
Dr. King, who you referenced earlier, used to say, “There’s some evil in the best of us and some good in the worst of us,” and so the point is that none of us are human and divine, we’re just human.
But I just think that when you have an opportunity in sport to make a statement that advances society, that advances a conversation, that calls for just a little bit of sacrifice, maybe you lose a little bit of money.
On top of that, I can’t imagine that the NBA would have fined these guys. The country would have jumped all over the NBA if they had fined them for not playing. I just think –
King: No, they wouldn’t have done that.
Tavis: I just think a bigger statement could have been made, but anyway.
King: Maybe they could have canceled the games that day so as not to deprive the players of the chance to be a champion.
Tavis: A good Jew, Sandy Koufax, didn’t pitch –
King: On his holiday, right.
Tavis: Hello, and nobody called him a name. His conviction was just so deep, he wouldn’t pitch.
King: Right. But these kids, all of these players since six years old, if they play basketball, dreamed of being in the NBA, and then you dream of winning a championship. To have this one idiot –
Tavis: I get it.
King: – take that chance away from you.
King: Or how about the fans, fan money, who have invested – sports is a unique thing.
Tavis: It is.
King: We invest emotionally. I don’t – I’ll tell you the greatest thing about sports. It’s unimportantly important.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)
King: Why is it? – it is. Why does it matter to me if the Dodgers lose? Why am I depressed? I’m not getting any money from the Dodgers, I’m paying money into the – why am I depressed?
But these fans have invested in an entire season of basketball, and they’re going to the games, watching the games, cheering like mad for the team. Now, through this idiot who happens to own the team, I don’t get the chance –
Tavis: I think it was – let me answer your question, and we’ll move on. I think it was Earl Warren, I think Earl Warren who once said this, and I think it answers your question about why it matters to us, why sport matters.
He once said, when I get up in the morning I read the sports pages first – I’m paraphrasing here. I read the sports pages first, because they tell me of man’s accomplishment.
What turns me on about sport is on any given day, when I watch a great golfer, a great basketball game, great football game, whatever, it says to me that I’m capable of greatness too, in my own world.
That this athlete worked hard, he or she pulled this off, and I can do the same thing. That’s why it matters.
King: I’ll tell you two great examples about sports. The one the athlete – I’ve always admired athletes – face that we don’t face: Winning and losing, and the cheering stops when you’re 35, except in golf.
The cheering stops, and you will never do more in your life than you did up to age 35 by playing ball. Something you did free as a kid and got paid for as an adult. There is a final score. We lost 6-5. I can yell, I can scream, I can be mad.
That athlete puts his head down and faces it every day he goes to the hunt. As for the fan, George Will, wonderful writer, I asked George, “George, how important is baseball to you?”
He said, “If the headline in “The Washington Post” read “George Wills’ Secret Sex Life Revealed,” I would first turn to the Cub box score. (Laughter)
Tavis: Answers your question, doesn’t it? Let me congratulate you, as I shift gears here, on the second year in a row now, you getting a Webby nomination?
King: I don’t know –
Tavis: This TV show –
King: First of all, let me explain something to you.
King: I’m new to the world of the Internet.
Tavis: (Laughs) But you’re killing it.
King: I did the first national radio show on a network, Mutual network, in 1978. There’d never been a national talk show. I did the first cable worldwide show on the satellite through Ted Turner’s on CNN, and now I’m carrying on on the Internet, partnered with Carlos Slim, doing an Internet show. We hit four million viewers in March. It’s a whole world.
Tavis: It’s huge.
King: But it’s new to me. So last year when he came to me and said, “You’re nominated for a Webby,” now wait a minute. I’ve got a lifetime achievement from the Emmys, I got (laughter) 10 Cable Ace awards and I’m in two hall of fames, and I got Webby.
So I said, “Oh my – this is the thrill of my life.” (Laughter) “I got a Webby nomination.” Then I went to the Webby awards. I’ll give you a tip – it’s a wonderful organization, the award show is crazy.
They’re all 21 years old, and (laughter) there’s 7,000 shows, right? So I’m here reading the nominees are Porky and Wilma for (laughter) what we built in the garage. I’m nominated for best co-host of a Webby.
So I’m honored, it’s nice to be nominated. I always like to win. You want to win, that’s what we’re in the game for, is to win. So I’m honored to be a pioneer, they call me a pioneer.
Tavis: You are.
King: Hey, I’m 80 years old. I can’t believe I’m 80 years old. When I got my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, that was a great thrill. But a bigger thrill for me was to go to yours.
I’ll tell you why. I’ve known you a long time. You’ve always been very kind to me, and I’ve returned it to you.
Tavis: Yes, you have.
King: We have a special, indelible thing. I would have picked you to replace me at CNN. You or Ryan Seacrest, one or the other. Familiar name, good hosts, and it would have been an easy segue as opposed to what they chose.
But when I stood there with Jay Leno and you got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I felt so happy for you. It’s – in Jewish we have a great thrill when someone else has something good happen to them. We like it. It’s “kvelling.”
Tavis: Yes, I love that world.
King: K-V-E-L-L. Yiddish words are better –
Tavis: Yiddish word, I love it.
King: They’re better words than English words.
King: It’s to get joy out of seeing someone else happy. That, we kvell. It reminds me of an old joke told by – do you know why Jewish women do not open their eyes during sex?
King: Can’t stand to see someone else having pleasure. (Laughter) I don’t know how I got to that. But I kvelled for you.
Tavis: Trust me, I was thrilled beyond words. I’m still struggling to find a language to have you and Jay Leno –
King: The most amazing thing for the audience is I didn’t know you were either Mormon or Catholic until I met that whole family. (Laughter) My God. The Mormons were pioneers, they came – this guy brings – it was like a bar mitzvah. They came from everywhere.
Tavis: You’re teasing me about my nine brothers and sisters –
King: And you rattled off their names.
Tavis: Yeah –
King: Where are you in the pecking order?
Tavis: I’m at the top, basically, at the top.
King: You’re the oldest?
Tavis: Yeah. My family met Larry King and they saw him walk in the room, they just – and I told them, “Be cool, do not bum rush Larry. I’ll introduce you.”
King: They bum-rushed me.
Tavis: “Larry King, Larry King,” they ran to you, Jay showed me – it was a great time for everybody, and I appreciate that.
King: It was a wonderful day.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. So anyway, congrats on this second Webby award. I hope you win (unintelligible).
King: I want you to come back on my show when your book –
Tavis: I’m happy to do it.
King: – for the Martin Luther King book. I’m really anxious to read it.
Tavis: The book comes out this summer (unintelligible).
King: A lot of research, huh?
Tavis: A lot of research.
King: See, I’m starting the old interviewer’s thing. Was it hard to dig up a lot of stuff?
Tavis: A lot of it is, some of the stuff in the book is new – it’s a book about Dr. King’s last year in his life. The story we don’t know about the last 12 months of his life. The book’s called “Death of a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year,” comes out this summer.
But that last 12 months we don’t know about, so some of the stuff is new, but some of the stuff is sort of hidden in plain sight, if you know what I mean. The scholars have done a lot of this research, but nobody’s ever taken all the research, put it together in one book looking just at the last 12 months, and how the whole country turned on him.
We love him today, but in the last year of his life we turned on him, when he talked about racism, poverty, and militarism. The government, the media, white people, even Black people turned on (unintelligible).
King: Vietnam, when he got very –
Tavis: Vietnam got him in trouble.
King: I remember an instance once at a church in New York where he was speaking.
King: A Black kid got up and yelled, “Oh, here comes the God thing.” They didn’t want to hear that. I was sad about – I’m anxious to read it. When I heard that a book was being published, “Death of a King,” I looked in the mirror and said, “I’m alive.” (Laughter) So I’m anxious (unintelligible).
Tavis: That’s why I love Larry King, and that’s why you are welcome here any time, my friend.
King: My friend, you’re the best.
Tavis: Congrats on the Webby two years in a row, and two shows. Man, you’re doing, you’re 80, man.
King: And I’m doing a radio thing in the morning called “Dropping In” on the Cumulus network.
Tavis: Oh, come on.
King: It’s on AARP.
Tavis: You’ve got two –
King: I also do “Larry King at Bat” on the new Dodger network on Time-Warner Cable, which is seen in about 10 percent of the homes, because they can’t get a deal with DirecTV or all the other outlets. The Dodgers are not seen.
Tavis: They will. They will.
King: Yeah, they better get a deal.
Tavis: When are you sleeping?
King: Oh, I sleep pretty good. I have two kids at home, they’re 15 and 14, they’re both athletes. I got a young wife. But I always say the same thing. When people see us together, they see my wife and the two kids; I know what they’re thinking.
There’s a big disparity in age, so I know what they’re thinking, so I always say the same thing. If she dies, she dies. (Laughter) Hey, I’ll get another girl.
Tavis: And that’s our show for tonight. (Laughter) Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith. (Laughter)
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
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