Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News

Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News

Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News

Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News


Harry Reasoner was one of the most trusted and well-liked journalists of the golden age of network television news. Whether anchoring the evening newscast on CBS in the 1960s or on ABC in the 1970s, providing in-depth reporting on 60 Minutes , or hosting numerous special programs covering civil rights struggles, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, Reasoner had "that almost mystical quality it seems to take for good television reporting, exuding this atmosphere of truth and believability," in the words of Walter Cronkite. Yet his reassuring manner and urbane, often witty, on-air persona masked a man who was far more complex and contradictory. Though gifted with the intelligence and drive to rise to the top of his profession, Reasoner was regarded by many colleagues as lazy and self-indulgent, a man who never achieved his full potential despite his many accomplishments. Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News covers the entire sweep of this enigmatic journalist's life and career. Douglass K. Daniel opens with Reasoner's Depression-era Midwestern upbringing and follows him through his early work in newspapers and radio before he joined CBS in 1956. Focusing on Reasoner's thirty-five-year tenure in television news, Daniel presents fascinating, behind-the-scenes accounts of Reasoner's key role in founding the top-rated newsmagazine 60 Minutes. He also explores Reasoner's highly publicized move to ABC in 1970, where he anchored the nightly newscast, first with Howard K. Smith and later with Barbara Walters-a disastrous pairing from which Reasoner's career never fully recovered. Based on scores of interviews and unpublished letters, memos, and other primary sources, this first biography of the man once rated second in credibility only to Walter Cronkite illuminates an entire era in broadcast journalism, as well as many of the unique personalities, from Andy Rooney to Mike Wallace, who made that era distinctive.


In the days when Americans relied on just three television networks for news and information, the world must have seemed to many a simpler place. It was not, of course, but there likely was a reassuring feeling to know that, whatever was going on, CBS and NBC and ABC would explain events each weeknight. Three out of four people watching television in the early evening were tuned in to the networks' news broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, before twenty-four-hour news channels, only a handful of anchormen enlightened a national audience. They helped shape what tens of millions of people thought was important and how they thought about it.

One was Harry Reasoner. For much of the 1960s, he was the regular substitute for CBS evening news anchor Walter Cronkite, who became known as the most trusted man in America. “Harry reflected in his personal work that almost mystical quality it seems to take for good television reporting, exuding this atmosphere of truth and believability,” Cronkite recalled. “He looked like a rather handsome but regular fellow. He looked like a man who came from Middle America. He didn't have any special air of region or accent. He was immediately acceptable as being imminently believable.” Surveys near the end of the decade showed Harry Reasoner to be second only to Cronkite among viewers' favorite newsmen.

ABC took notice of Harry's popularity—and his desire to anchor his own newscast. Hired in late 1970, he was ABC's leading broadcast journalist for nearly eight years. Unlike Cronkite, he also delivered commentaries on Vietnam, Watergate, and other current events. Even with the smallest audience among the network newscasts, Harry and coanchor Howard K. Smith often reached from twelve million to fourteen million viewers each night. With their newscast, ABC began its long and eventually successful climb from last to first among the evening news programs.

Cronkite retired from the evening news in 1981, prompting TV Guide to ask its readers who on television they now trusted most. More chose Harry than anyone else. By then he had left ABC and was a correspondent on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, one of the most-watched television series on the air. For most of the decade, and for the rest of his life, Harry could be found on Sunday night reporting on an offbeat topic as more than twenty million people tuned in.

Harry's features—the hint of a smile, a knowing look in his eyes when he was being ironic or downright humorous—had been televised nationally since he had joined CBS News in 1956. Those who worked with him consid-

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