When Gerry met Larry
The Irish Echo
The legendary American broadcaster Larry King died at the weekend. For over 60 years he worked in radio and TV. He was a master at doing interviews with a style that discouraged abrasive and hostile questioning. David Frost once told me that he believed in civility and asking questions reasonably. He told me if an interviewer comes at an interview like a storm then the guest buttons up and shelters from the storm. But if the interviewer is like the warm sun the guest relaxes and opens up. Larry King’s approach was similar.
I first met him during my 48 hour visit to New York at the end of January 1994. I was invited to participate in a peace conference organized by the National Committee on Foreign Policy. The British government began an intense private and public campaign to keep me out. The British Embassy worked round the clock arguing that a visa for me would be a diplomatic catastrophe. They sought and received the support of the House Speaker Tom Foley. Years later when Tom and I met in the Capitol Building he graciously apologised. The Secretary of State Warren Christopher opposed granting a visa, as did the Attorney General Janet Reno and the Head of the FBI Louis Freeh.
On the other side Ted Kennedy and three Democratic Senate colleagues, Chris Dodd, John Kerry and Daniel Moynihan wrote to President Clinton backing the visa. Others in Irish America rallied to the issue. In addition full-page advertisements appeared in the New York Times calling for US support for efforts to find peace. To his credit President Clinton made the right call.
I was surprised at the furore my visit caused and the media interest it generated. I spent most of my two days in New York doing round-the-clock interviews. Among these and probably one of the most important was with Larry King. His interview slot was internationally famous. It was watched by millions in the USA and around the world.
The interview was to be broadcast by CNN into Britain and across Europe and into Africa. But there was a snag. At that time my voice was banned under the censorship restrictions introduced by Margaret Thatcher. Consequently, any broadcast of an interview with me had to have an actor’s voice. CNN’s uplink connection was based in London making it subject to British law.
To be honest much of those 48 hours are now a blur. Little sleep and a lot of talking. I vaguely remember Larry King opening the interview by pointing out that it was against the law in Britain to put my voice on television. Most US journalists and broadcasters were not even conscious of censorship and many disapproved of the denial of this basic civil right.
The fact that CNN also had to use an actor to lip-sync my answers made it even more newsworthy. As a consequence Larry King’s interview with me was not broadcast into Britain, Europe and Africa until 12 hours later. I have always believed that the USA media’s ridicule of Thatcher’s censorship nonsense to be a key factor in the decision to scrap it. Actors voices and all.
I met Larry several times after that and we did more interviews. He was always generous with his time and though friendly he still asked the hard questions.
To his family and friends I want to extend my condolences.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams appeared on 'Larry King Live' in 1994 to address Larry's massive American and international audience. Ken Maginnis, a loyalist politician also appeared but would not shake Gerry's hand or engage in an honest discussion of the issues.