"I'm constantly accused of being a Washington elitist. I grew up on food-stamps. My father was a janitor," CNN commentator John King told columnist Fintan O'Toole during the final event of the Irish Times Winter Nights festival.
Growing up in Boston, the Irish-American King cut his teeth as an Associated Press “wire guy”. During his first campaign in 1987 as a 24-year-old, he crossed paths with Joe Biden.
“They let this kid in way over his head, and way too green to cover a presidential campaign. But it was the gateway to my career,” King said. “I was in Iowa covering [Michael] Dukakis’s [campaign], and I stayed a few days and went to some Joe Biden events. “Everybody said he’d never be president – he ran in 1988 and got nowhere.”
King attributes Biden’s recent ascension to the US presidency as a result of him being “stubborn Irish”.
“Whether you agree with him, whether you support him, he just never gave up,” Kings says. “Add in all the personal tragedy in life for a man to have gone through … I don’t care about your politics, you have to admire the resilience of the man. ‘Everybody thinks I’m nobody, nobody thinks I can do this’… well, guess what? He’s president of the United States.”
As to how King predicts Biden’s presidency will go, he adds: “You know the old adage, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’? Joe Biden is a creature of the United States Senate. He was the vice president, he has been an institutionalist legislator, and then a number two to Barack Obama.
“Biden’s never been the CEO. And so he’s the CEO of a country, and the CEO of a political party, at a time of enormous fundamental change being driven by voters, and more diverse voters. Can he adapt? Can he lead? Can he open his mind to the new ideas in the party?
“He’s the anti-Trump in many ways, and Trump was the anti-Obama. The American people in the middle of a pandemic said, ‘Whoa, we want an experienced, tested adult’.”
Talk turned to Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. O’Toole noted that journalists are “raised to be as objective as possible”.
On the “ethics of being a journalist and uncovering somebody who has no respect for democracy and has no respect for truth”, King said. “It took a while. I’m as guilty as others who kept thinking, ‘at some point, he will change. At some point, he will sit in the Oval Office and understand the stature of the job the importance of the position he holds … We were wrong about that.”
On journalistic bias in the job, King said: “I’m not pro-Democrat, I’m not pro-Republican. I’m pro-truth. I believe that there are probably a lot of Biden supporters who watch CNN, who think that I’m pro-Biden because I stand up to President Trump when he says things. And so I do think it’s a challenge for our business, and an early test of our business, to hold this new administration accountable to apply the same standards.”
An Irish Times reader, Adrian, asked King via social media whether he believed Trump would be on the 2024 ticket for the presidential race.
“I don’t know the answer, but I do know that he is going to keep that prospect hanging over our heads, until the last possible minute,” King replies. “There are a number of things that could intervene – there’s all this reporting about financial troubles for the Trump organisation. So, is there some legal or financial development that could change the dynamic and take him off the field?”
King’s CNN colleague, Kerry-born reporter Donie O’Sullivan, also put a question to King via Twitter. “He wants to know if you get to buy him pint of Guinness after the pandemic is over,” O’Toole said.
“I will buy Donie, as many as he can drink,” King replied. “[O’Sullivan is] a fantastic correspondent. I’m an indoor person now because I’m an anchor, so I’m so jealous of Donie because he’s out there on the street, getting his hands dirty all the time. And so he gets all the beer he wants. We need to conspire that when Biden does decide to come to Ireland on an official trip, we can be two guys who might be able to cover that trip.”
The Irish Times Winter Nights Festival – supported by Peugeot – was a series of online talks that took place over the past week. Among the guests were author and columnist Paul Howard; EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness; Irish-Nigerian author, academic and broadcaster Emma Dabiri; podcaster and author Blindboy Boatclub; athlete Sonia O’Sullivan; author Edith Eger; comedian Dara Ó Briain; Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon; Taoiseach Micheál Martin; professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin Luke O’Neill; 16-year-old award-winning author Dara McAnulty; and actor Gabriel Byrne.