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Three weeks ago, when talk of a possible CNN-ABC News merger was red hot, Barbara Walters appeared on the Larry King Show
to promote her next-day interview with Al Gore. Naturally, the first thing Larry did was ask her about the merger.

I've got to tell you, I didn't like Walters' answers. So I made up the answers I wish she had given. What follows are King's and Walters' actual words, along with what she should have said (in italics).

Larry King: It's always a great pleasure to welcome Barbara Walters to this program, the ABC News anchor and correspondent; the host of 20/20
and Barbara Walters specials; the creator, co-host and executive producer of The View. Tomorrow night, Barbara has an exclusive interview with Al Gore and his family. It will air Friday night [Nov. 15] at 10 p.m. Eastern on ABC's 20/20. The Gores will be on this program next Tuesday night, and, actually, Barbara got them first.

But before we talk about the Gore interview, and we'll show you some clips from it as well, let's get right to what's on everybody's thinking. Is this the future, you and me on the ABC/ CNN channel?

Barbara Walters: Wouldn't it be nice, Larry? I mean, we could finally be together?

What she should have said:
Let's hope not. A merger of ABC and CNN would mean the loss of a major editorial voice and fewer correspondents and producers chasing stories. It will be one less check on big government, one less check on big business.

King: I wonder how it will work. I'd like to know how it works. … I mean, off the top, this sounds terrific. … Do I do Good Morning America? Do you do Larry? I mean, what happens?

Walters: I don't know. So I'm really off the top of my head and only from pretty much what I read in the papers. I think that our programs stay the same. … What gets joined or merged is different bureaus around the world, a certain number of producers, but I don't think that, suddenly, you're going to be doing 20/20
and I'm going to be doing Larry King.

What she should have said:
What happens? I'll tell you what happens: The public gets screwed. If a company like Disney can't afford to operate a first-class news organization, it should give its TV-station licenses back to the FCC and let it find someone who does. Eisner's punishing ABC News because he can't figure out how to program prime time.

King: What is the buzz at ABC about it?

Walters: I really haven't heard that much conversation. I think it's just sort of wait and see. I was talking to one of the heads of your company the other night at a dinner and thought that it would be, like, three years before this happened, by the time you go to the FCC and they examine everything, and so forth. And his feeling was that it can happen very much sooner than that. Maybe it could happen within a year.

But I think that it is very good for us. I have missed on ABC not having the international thrust that you have … And I'm sure there are downsides. I'm sure some of the bureaus are going to merge. People, you know, will be let go. That's never very good. But if, indeed, both of our companies do better, make more money—which is the nature of the game these days, isn't it?—then it's probably a very good thing for us.

What she should have said:
The merger talk has created a high level of anxiety among the rank and file. I bumped into a producer—you know, one of those people who actually works hard to gather and interpret news—and she was extremely upset that she would lose her job. I think it is up to me and others drawing the fat salaries to lead the protest against this merger and try to stop it.

King: I agree completely with everything you said. And it would be kind of nice if maybe you and I do something together once.

Walters: I've always thought that you and I are a very good team.

What she should have said:
When hell freezes over. And, by the way, I can't understand for the life of me why you are promoting my show and the fact that I beat you on the Gore interview. Have you no pride? Has CNN no pride? No wonder Fox is clobbering you in the ratings.

Jessell may be reached at