CNN's John King hits 50-state marker

'State of the Union' goes literally from sea to shining sea

NEW YORK -- John King had no thoughts about trying to touch 'em all when he began traveling to different states for his CNN "State of the Union" show.
Part of the way in it became a goal, realized when King reported on the tourism industry from Jackson, Wyo., on Sunday's program. He traveled to all 50 states in one year, accomplished just as he's about to leave. King's Sunday gig will soon end, as he prepares to launch a new daily show in the time slot vacated by Lou Dobbs.
King believed he could better illustrate many of the issues faced by Washington leaders by leaving Washington.
"It's not just a gimmick to say we went to all 50 states," he said. "It's worth doing because we learned so much. My body is a little beat up, but I wouldn't trade this for the world."
King would do a prepared report on an issue important to a particular state, such as the auto industry's troubles in Michigan. He also found diners operated and frequented by locals for discussions on how things are going in the country.
It wasn't hard to find stories illustrating the nation's economic woes, but different states were affected in different ways, he said.
"If that doesn't inform your thinking or the questions you ask, then it's time to do something else," King said. "I was privileged and a little numb by what I learned and what I saw. I just hope it makes you a better reporter. I hope it makes you understand. The defining challenge in our business, at a time when people have so many choices, is to be relevant."
Being on the road made "State of the Union" more diverse than other Sunday shows, he said. It also gave CNN a heads-up on trends that took awhile to reach ears in Washington, King said. For example, he began to sense very early a concern, even among supporters of President Barack Obama, about the level of government spending.
"A lot of people in Washington sit back and say, 'Holy wow, how did this happen?"' he said. "Well, part of it happened because we made it seem like he was walking on water. We are a part of the problem."
Utah and Wyoming were the last two states that King hit on his tour. Hawaii was No. 48, in advance of Obama's holiday vacation there.
His exit from "State of the Union" brings more tumult to the Sunday sweepstakes, where ABC is looking for a replacement for George Stephanopoulos. It makes NBC's David Gregory, a year into his "Meet the Press" job, one of the veterans.
CNN hasn't said when King's replacement will be named. CNN's Gloria Borger and Candy Crowley have subbed for King in recent weeks, which is usually a network's way of giving a test drive to a potential replacement.
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