Bernard Shaw, imperturbable founding anchor of CNN, dies at 82

Bernard Shaw, a journalist who quit network television in 1980 over the uncertainty of anchoring the first 24-hour cable news network – CNN – and whose constant coverage under Baghdad missile fire during the Persian Gulf War helped elevate the outlet to world fame, died Sept. 7 at a Washington-area hospital. He was 82 years old.

The cause was pneumonia, his family said in a statement.

With his unflappable demeanor and dark intonation – his heroes were broadcasters Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite – Mr Shaw was credited with bringing a professional polish to an experiment initially derided as the “Chicken Noodle Network” for having challenged the big three networks for new dominance.

A former Marine who made his professional debut at Chicago news radio, he joined CNN after covering Washington for CBS and reporting for ABC from Latin America, where he was one of the first reporters on the ground. after the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana.

Agitated for a job as a presenter, Mr Shaw tried his hand at CNN. Atlanta business and sports magnate Ted Turner, the network’s founder, had bet on round-the-clock coverage of world events at a time when the major networks offered half-hour evening newscasts. -time and where the public’s appetite for constant news updates was untested.

The job looked risky at best when Mr Shaw took a pay cut to sign on as a Washington-based presenter. But over the next 21 years, it became essential to CNN’s credibility and the reputation it cultivated for breaking news. He was also one of the most prominent black journalists on television before leaving the anchor position in 2001. (In 1978, Max Robinson joined ABC, becoming the first African-American co-anchor on a major network news.)

Mr. Shaw’s tenure has not been without controversy. As moderator of a 1988 presidential debate, he provocatively asked Democratic candidate Michael S. Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, if he would favor capital punishment for the killer if his wife, Kitty Dukakis, was raped and murdered.

Dukakis’ unbiased response to the hypothetical – emphatically reaffirming his opposition to the death penalty – was said to have been a factor in his loss to his Republican rival, Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Mr Shaw acknowledged that some viewers and even other journalists found the question “macabre and tasteless”. Kitty Dukakis called it “inappropriate” and “outrageous”. But he was unfazed, insisting that politicians deserved tough questions.

“I realize that asking that kind of question would stir up emotions, but I meant the question to Dukakis was a stethoscope to find out how he felt about it,” he said. told the Washington Post at the time. “Bush severely beat Dukakis in the head and shoulders, accusing him of being soft on crime. Many voters feel like they see and hear Dukakis but not smell him. I asked this question to see if there was any sentiment.

In 1989, Mr Shaw was one of the few American presenters in Beijing when Chinese authorities cracked down on pro-democracy student protests in Tiananmen Square. “Goodbye from Beijing,” he said, signing as the government cut live transmissions and he was forced to phone for further reports.

The most serious test of his skills and stamina came in January 1991, when he arrived in Baghdad hoping for an interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, whose forces had invaded Kuwait. The interview failed and Mr. Shaw was making arrangements to leave the country when he got stuckwith his colleagues Peter Arnett and John Holmanas the first bombs from the US-led coalition fell on the capital on January 16.

Mr Shaw perched by the window in a ninth-floor room at the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad to watch anti-aircraft fire blaze as the Persian Gulf War erupted. Phone lines to the three major broadcast networks were down, leaving CNN reporters the only American reporters able to provide live reporting via satellite phones.

“The skies over Baghdad have lit up,” Mr. Shaw told a global cable audience of one billion. “We see bright flashes going off all over the sky.”

For the next 16 hours, until Iraqi authorities cut off their communication, the trio reported non-stop amid the onslaught of bombs and cruise missiles, with only brief breaks for sleep. “I’ve never been there,” Mr. Shaw told viewers, “but I feel like I’m in the middle of hell.”

The network received a Peabody Award for Distinguished Wartime Coverage.

“He literally helped put CNN on the map by being on the Gulf War scene,” said PBS “NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff, a former colleague of Mr. Shaw’s to CNN, where they co-counseled. -hosted the show “Inside Politics”. ”

Mr. Shaw continued to play hopscotch across the United States and the world. In 1995, he spent more than two weeks in Oklahoma City after a domestic terrorist targeted the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building with a truck bomb that killed 168 people. He later described feeling “post-traumatic stress” from covering such horrific events.

“It’s happened to me on a few other stories,” Shaw told the CNN talk show host. Larry King. “Most of us, we’re so macho, we walk around pretending they’re not postmen. But let’s be real: it’s really heavy.

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“I mean, standing there, a few feet from that vertical grave, seeing the mangled concrete floors,” he continued, “and knowing that human beings on every floor of the federal office building in Murrah were cascading into a permanent hell of death – it must affect you.

Bernard Shaw was born in Chicago on May 22, 1940. His appetite for journalism was whetted by his father, a railroad worker and house painter who brought home four newspapers each evening. Her mother was a housekeeper.

As a teenager, Mr. Shaw avidly watched television programs featuring Murrow and Cronkite and turned to a career in television news. He was not intimidated by the lack of black faces on these shows, later saying he did not see Murrow as white but simply as a reporter.

When Chicago hosted the Democratic National Conventions in 1952 and 1956, Mr. Shaw managed to force his way inside the hall. Live television coverage was then becoming an established practice. “When I looked up at the anchor cabins,” Mr. Shaw told Time magazine decades later, “I knew I was looking at the altar.”

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1959 and, while stationed in Hawaii in 1961, learned that Cronkite was coming to Honolulu for a story. Mr. Shaw followed the reporter to his hotel and left him repeated messages, pleading for a meeting, until Cronkite accepted a chat in the lobby. ‘He said the main thing was to read, read,’ Mr Shaw said told in the New York Times decades later. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

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Back in Chicago, Mr. Shaw enrolled in 1963 at the University of Illinois, but left when his side job in local radio news took him to work for a television station. owned by Westinghouse Broadcasting. He was sent to Memphis in April 1968 to cover the aftermath of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.and Westinghouse soon transferred him to Washington.

CBS, considered the premier news network, poached him in 1971. Mr. Shaw covered the political beats before accepting an offer in 1977 from ABC at No. 3 because of the promise of experience at the stranger.

He was on a fast track at ABC when he decided, confusing himself, to leave for an unknown cable company. His wife had told him that it would be impossible to live with him if CNN succeeded and he was not part of it. “She knew there was a swordsman in me,” he said. “I saw it as maybe the final frontier on TV.”

He and his wife, the former Linda Allston, had a son, Amar, and a daughter, Anil. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

As his career progressed, Mr Shaw said he struggled more and more with the “unspeakable sacrificeshis family had done for his work and the milestones in his children’s lives that he had missed. After hosting the 2000 vice-presidential debate between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman, Mr. Shaw retired at age 60, after his contract expired.

He made periodic comebacks on television but mostly pursued a quiet life with his family.

“I’m committing anchor heresy,” he admitted in a 2001 interview with King, when he walked away from CNN. “Most of the people in those jobs, as you and your viewers know, don’t give up on them. But a little voice inside that 7½ size head said, ‘Bernie, it’s time to go.’ ”

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