Roger Mudd, TV Newsman Who Made Name in Washington, Dies at 93
(Bloomberg) -- Roger Mudd, who covered politics and government from Washington for CBS and then NBC during a 45-year television career, has died. He was 93.
He died Tuesday at his home in McLean, Virginia, according to the Washington Post, citing his son Jonathan Mudd. The cause was complications from kidney failure.
At both CBS and NBC, Mudd stopped just short of reaching the pinnacle of television news -- serving as solo anchor of the evening newscast. At CBS in 1980, he was passed over in favor of Dan Rather to succeed Walter Cronkite. He moved to NBC, where, in 1981, he waived his contractual right to succeed John Chancellor as sole anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” agreeing to share the role with Tom Brokaw. When that arrangement faltered, it was Mudd who moved on to other NBC assignments.
“I had always been ambivalent about anchoring,” he wrote in “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS and the Glory Days of Television News,” his 2008 memoir. “For all the prestige of the position, the fact is that anchoring is among the most boring jobs in television news. The journalism of it is rarely original, usually secondhand, and mostly one big rewrite of the wire services.”
TV anchors, he said, “are hood ornaments for their companies.”
After leaving NBC in 1987, he reported for the “MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour” on PBS. From 1995 until his retirement in 2004, he reported and hosted documentaries for the History Channel.
CBS won Peabody and Emmy awards for a 1971 documentary reported by Mudd, “The Selling of the Pentagon,” about the Defense Department’s public-relations operations.
He was honored with another Peabody for what may stand as his most memorable piece of reporting, a 1979 documentary on Senator Edward Kennedy that aired shortly before Kennedy announced he would challenge incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination.
Kennedy sat for two interviews with Mudd, fielding questions about his marriage and about the 1969 car accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, that killed his passenger, campaign aide Mary Jo Kopechne.
Yet it was a routine question from Mudd -- “Why do you want to be president?” -- that undermined Kennedy’s nascent presidential hopes.
Kennedy, seeming surprised, offered a rambling answer that began, “Well, I’m, were I to make the announcement, and to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country.”
“It was almost a parody of a politician’s answer,” Mudd told the Boston Globe for a 2009 retrospective. Days after the program aired, Tom Wicker wrote in the New York Times, “It was as if the shock effect of the personal questioning -- of which he must surely have been generally forewarned -- left him incapable of dealing with even the more routine stuff of politics.”
Kennedy, in his memoir, “True Compass,” published after his death in 2009, said his answer reflected his determination not to announce his candidacy prematurely. He said it also showed his “displeasure with Roger Mudd,” who, he insisted, had broken an agreement to limit the first interview to the importance of Cape Cod to the Kennedy family. Mudd told Politico that Kennedy’s account was “complete fiction.”
“I don’t want to be known, and don’t think I should be known, as the person who brought Ted Kennedy down,” Mudd told the Boston Globe. “I was the man who did an interview with him that was not helpful.”
Roger Harrison Mudd was born on Feb. 9, 1928, in Washington, where his father, John, worked as a mapmaker for the U.S. Interior Department. After serving in the U.S. Army, he graduated from Washington & Lee University in 1950 and earned a master’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina.
His first job in journalism was at the News Leader, a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia. He moved across the street to become news director at the newspaper’s radio affiliate, WRNL, then moved to Washington to work at CBS affiliate WTOP. In 1956 he married the former E.J. Spears, and they had four children. She died in June 2011.
In 1961, CBS News hired him for its Washington bureau, then led by Howard K. Smith, one of the so-called Murrow boys, named for their development under Edward R. Murrow. Mudd’s colleagues during a legendary era at CBS included Rather, Marvin Kalb, Eric Sevareid, Daniel Schorr and Bob Schieffer.
Mudd covered the U.S. Congress for most of his 19 years at CBS. He led the network’s live coverage of the 1963 civil-rights march on Washington, regularly substituted for Cronkite and, starting in 1966, anchored the Saturday-evening newscast.
By 1980, Mudd was seen as the successor in waiting for Cronkite’s chair on “CBS Evening News.” Instead, the network gave the job to Rather. Mudd, “offended and puzzled,” left for NBC, which created the new position of chief Washington correspondent for him.
A year later, when Chancellor stepped down as sole anchor of NBC’s evening newscast, Mudd waived his right to succeed him. That helped NBC keep Brokaw, the host of “Today,” whose contract was up and who aspired to the evening anchor’s chair. Mudd and Brokaw became co-anchors in April 1981, with Brokaw in New York and Mudd in Washington.
Mudd left NBC on strained terms after the cancellation of “1986,” a news program he hosted with Connie Chung. Mudd said canceling the poorly rated show was like “killing a newspaper.”
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