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71 SIX The Networks As 1978 came to a close, the three prime television news programs were in a near tie. Of all TV viewers, 27 percent tuned to the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite; 25 percent, to the NBC Nightly News; and 24 percent, to ABC’s World News Tonight. The Edward R. Murrow era at CBS had ended in 1961, when Murrow left to join the Kennedy administration. The sixties had been dominated by NBC’s pairing of anchors Chet Huntley in New York and David Brinkley in Washington , but by 1968 the public’s trust in Cronkite had regained the lead for CBS. Huntley retired in 1970. It became a three-way race when Roone Arledge arrived at ABC News as chairman in 1977, bringing the flair that had created the Wide World of Sports. The networks went from treating their news divisions as “loss leaders” to expecting them to be “profit centers,” remembers Bob Schieffer: “There’s a difference in putting on the news and putting on something that’s designed to attract viewers.”1 The 1980–84 period was characterized by fierce jockeying for position . After taking over in 1980, the new president of NBC News, Bill Small, remarked, “I didn’t come to NBC to stay in second place.”2 (Small had been CBS’s Washington bureau chief before moving to NBC.) Also in 1980, Cronkite announced plans to retire; CBS announced that its new anchor in 1981 would be Dan Rather; Roger Mudd, his prime competitor, asked for an immediate release from his contract; Small of NBC hired Mudd, along with two other CBS correspondents, brothers Marvin Kalb and Bernard Kalb; Brinkley left NBC after a bitter dispute with Small; and ABC’s Arledge hired Brinkley to create a new type of Sunday program. Small was forced to resign at NBC in 1982; Mudd and 72   Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters Tom Brokaw became co-anchors of NBC Nightly News, working together from 1982 to 1983, when Brokaw became sole anchor; and Mudd and Marvin Kalb became co-moderators of Meet the Press, working together from 1984 to 1985, when Kalb became sole moderator. Marvin Kalb had been CBS’s chief diplomatic correspondent: “In 1975 I was out of work for eight months because of a bad back. Bill [Small] used to visit me at home. After a couple of months I said to him, ‘I want you to take me off salary because I am not doing anything for your network. I am just lying here.’ And he said no, that he is going to keep me on full salary. Then I said, ‘Well, do it on half.’ ‘No, full salary until you get better.’ And that was eight months. And I never forgot that. And in 1980 when he became the president of NBC and he called me and he said, ‘I’d like you to come over here,’ I knew that I owed Bill, so I went.” Bernard Kalb, who had a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent in Asia, went to NBC “really to be with Marvin.” He called this “sibling love.”3 In a finely detailed memoir, The Place To Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News, Roger Mudd described the floor plan of the CBS bureau at 2020 M Street, where “along the south wall of the newsroom were five cubicles, each about six-feet-by-eight, their walls covered in a beige textured paper and each equipped with a desk, a chair, a typewriter, a telephone, and a television star.” This was known as “The Front Row.” “The Back Row” was “a scattering of desks and chairs and mail trays. To type up a story, second stringers had to scrounge to find an available typewriter in the main newsroom.”4 Although the Washington offices of ABC and NBC did not happen to use CBS’s interior decorator, all networks clearly played by the same variation on Orwell’s dictum: All journalists are equal, but some are more equal than others. In the cubicles on the particular CBS front row that Mudd described sat Dan Rather, Daniel Schorr, Marvin Kalb, Roger Mudd, and George Herman. Had there been a sixth cubicle, Mudd contended, it would have gone to Robert Pierpoint. Those with front row seats could expect to have long careers at a network unless unusual events dictated otherwise , as when Schorr left CBS after a major dispute, moved on to become...


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