Cronkite Takes the Helm at CBS Evening News
|Walter Cronkite, Robert Trout, and Bill Downs in an advertisement from July 14, 1958|
From the New York Herald Tribune. Thursday, March 15, 1962:
Major News Shakeup at CBS
Edwards, Cronkite, Collingwood, Downs Involved
One of the biggest television news-personnel shakeups in many a day has hit CBS: Doug Edwards, after fourteen years on TV's oldest continuous newscast, the 7:15 report, is being replaced by Walter Cronkite. State Department correspondent Bill Downs, after more than nineteen years with CBS News, is walking out. Cronkite will hand over his "Eyewitness" narrator's role to Charles Collingwood; he will also be pulled off the "Sunday Night News Special," but the network is not prepared to say who will get this assignment. Edwards will replace Collingwood on the 3:55 p.m. five-minute daily news.
Downs is the third well-known, longtime CBS newsman to check out of the network in recent months. The other two, Ron Cochran, once a fixture on WCBS-TV's 11 p.m. news, and former CBS chief Washington correspondent Howard K. Smith, have both gone over to ABC's news staff.
Disclosure of the Edwards-Cronkite switch yesterday morning caught CBS officials unprepared. Later in the day the network officially confirmed the shuffle in assignments. The reason for it, said CBS News president Richard M. [sic] Salant: "These reassignments will give added strength and depth to CBS News coverage."
A CBS spokesman denied the shift on the evening newscast was impelled by NBC's Huntley-Brinkley competition. "After all," he said, "Edwards' ratings have been running pretty even-steven with them."
Cronkite, who will take over the newscasts April 16, will become "managing editor" of the show as well as its anchorman. Don Hewitt will continue as producer.
Cronkite will continue as narrator of "Twentieth Century," the Sunday evening documentary series. He was in Seattle yesterday covering the forthcoming Century 21 Exposition for this program. Tom Stix, Cronkite's agent, quoted the newsman as "delighted" with his new evening news assignment.
Edwards flew yesterday to Oklahoma City to be principal speaker last night at an annual "brotherhood citation dinner" of the Oklahoma Conference of Christians and Jews. Two years ago he received an award from the group.
Before leaving, the newsman said he "in no way disputed" CBS' right to make the decision. He admitted trying to get a release from his contract, but declined to confirm a report that he had asked to be assigned the "Sunday Night News Special" and was turned down. He will continue his local news stint on Channel 2 at 11 p.m. The network said he might do some "CBS Reports" and would be given other "important network assignments."
Last year CBS required Edwards to quit his host's role on "Circle Theater" as incompatible with network news policy. Ron Cochran quit CBS News and took on the role.
Downs said his departure from CBS was "amicable" but hinted he had not been happy with recent developments. "I'm not willing to be put out to pasture yet," he commented without elaborating. Asked about his plans, he replied, "I [am] going to take it easy for a while. I'm writing a book." It's a novel, he explained.
Cronkite was Downs' longtime friend since they worked together in 1944 during Operation Overlord. 1962 marked the beginning of what would come to define Cronkite's career, while Downs joined ABC News in November 1963 to cover the Kennedy assassination. In October 1968, he wrote to Fred Friendly about his disaffection with CBS in his later years there:
As you know, the frustrations of reporting for this network are as great in a different kind of way than they grew to be in CBS. I quit Columbia after 19 years and 7 months in disgust at the midget-minded, rabbit-heartedness of the Salant-Clark regime (which never did decide the difference between analysis and commentary and have yet to recognize good reporting).
. . .
Although the AFTRA strike does not appear to guarantee that any contract renewal with ABC will be much more favorable than my old arrangement, I'm not convinced that the ABC top executives nor the news management being developed on West 66th street (even if the ITT merger goes through) will ever become adult, professional, responsible or respectable. I suppose it's true in all broadcasting shops to some extent or other, but sometimes one gets the feeling that news selection and coverage is directed and assigned by a class of backward kindergarteners, constantly in a tantrum of fear that Elmer Lower will eat them alive if they make a decision. One feels that if they had a million dollars to spend on a story, the first thing they would do would be to change it all into dimes.
On the credit side, I must emphasize that not once has there been any attempt to inhibit my writing either for radio or TV—and no one in ABC has even mentioned the so-called "editorialization" issue which was the ever-bleeding anathema of Mssrs. Paley and Stanton.
In reading your book [Due to Circumstances Beyond our Control, 1967]—and thanks for the mention in the introduction—it brought back a lot of memories of old battles won and lost—but seldom compromised. And the echoes of Ed and the unforgettable Murrow fury at injustice and/or stupidity made us sad.
If I had any criticism of the book, it was that you were unable to expand the indictment to include NBC, CBS and the lesser change guilty of the same kind of abdication of industry responsibility for the sake of the holy, gawdalmighty, much-bedamned 50¢-dollar. But to document the sins of the competition would mean the opus would probably never be finished.