I would be most remiss if not posting about the death of Roger Mudd, a stalwart news reporter and famed journalist. He was from the respected old-school of news gathering, writing, and reporting. In short, the kind that dominated my growing-up years.
He, perhaps better than any other example I can think of, demonstrated a classic case of a reporter asking the obvious question. At the same time came perhaps the classic example of why a candidate needs to be ready for the obvious question from a reporter. I recall watching this interview in my Hancock home.
Mr. Mudd is perhaps best remembered for the CBS interview with Senator Kennedy on Nov. 4, 1979, days before the senator began his campaign to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from the incumbent, Jimmy Carter. Mr. Kennedy, heir to the political legacies of his assassinated brothers, had a 2-to-1 lead in the polls when he faced Mr. Mudd and a prime-time national audience.
“Why do you want to be president?” Mr. Mudd began.
Mr. Kennedy hesitated, apparently caught off guard.
“Well, I’m — were I to — to make the, the announcement and to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country,”
He stammered.It got worse. He twitched and squirmed, conveying self-doubt and flawed preparation, and stumbled through questions for an hour.
Back in Hancock, Wisconsin in 1977 I was 15 years old and eating supper (dinner) with my mom and dad when the phone rang. I recall that mom got up from the table and answered it. Aunt Evie from across the road had called after hearing the news of Elvis Presley’s death on the national evening TV broadcast. At once our set was on, and tuned to CBS. The broadcast was well underway, and we were sure we had missed the story. But then Roger Mudd, who was sitting in for the vacationing Walter Cronkite reported the shocking news from Memphis. (Mudd would later try and defend his editorial judgement for not placing the story at the top of the broadcast. Mudd felt that entertainment type news stories were not hard-top-of-the fold type stories, and as such he made news himself in the handling of Elvis’ death. In spite of that day I always felt Mudd to be one of the finest reporters in the country. I have every reason to think that my Aunt had been watching the NBC News program with David Brinkley and John Chancellor, thereby hearing the story at the top of the news.)
While I differed on the significance of the death of Presley, in relation to the placement in his newscast, I very much agree with Mudd’s over-all desire to not have info-tainment news reporting. We see almost daily what that means for the integrity of news programming and the short-changing for other actual news stories to be presented to the public.
Mudd proved to be the epitome of a newsman and journalist. He was able to see a story and make an instant call about what had just happened. When President Nixon left the White House in 1974 it was Mudd who told Walter Cronkite that Nixon did not address the issue of accountability for Watergate. Nixon had just given his farewell address to the nation before leaving on a helicopter from the White House lawn. It was a spot-on analysis that did not waver for any other consideration than the facts which were presented to the viewing public.
Mudd was an example of the kind of reliable journalist with bedrock principles that allow us to fondly remember him at this time. It’s sad that his caliber is harder now to find.
And so it goes.