24 September: Birth of a news notion

Douglas Edwards, when he worked for WSB Atlanta prior to World War II . . .(Photo: WSB)

Douglas Edwards, when he worked for WSB Atlanta prior to World War II . . .(Photo: WSB)

CBS European News and CBS News of the World had a baby during World War II, and its name was World News Today.

Anchored customarily by George Bryan or Larry Elliott (European News) and Harry Mottle (News of the World), the original two news programs established what World News Today would solidify: smart pacing, smart spacing, perhaps the best such pace and space of any World War II regular newscasts. For a nation relying far more often upon radio for immediate war news, it was a game plan that worked.

It didn’t hurt that the broadcasts often featured the legendary Murrow’s Boys news team of Edward R. Murrow himself at times plus Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Larry LeSeur, Bill Downs, Winston Burdett, Howard K. Smith, Cecil Brown, Richard C. Hottelet, Tom Grandin, and (the only lady among the Boys) Mary Marvin Breckinridge.

With the advent of World News Today, Bryan and Mottle yielded first to John Daly and then Douglas Edwards in what would be called the anchor chair in later generations. The weekly World News Today anticipates television’s respected MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour in format: an overview of the week’s key events, particularly war news, followed by more in-depth reporting and analysis.

News of the World continued apace as a daily broadcast during the war. After the war, it would be melded to World News Today and produce CBS’s long-running World News Roundup, which in turn spawned an evening edition known as The World Tonight. The anchor of The World Tonight? None other than World News Today‘s longtime wartime anchor Douglas Edwards.

Edwards assumed The World Tonight‘s anchor chair after his once-formidable television news career hit a brick wall named Walter Cronkite in 1962. With NBC’s The Huntley-Brinkley Report rising and then smothering Douglas Edwards with the News, after NBC decided John Cameron Swayze’s Camel News Caravan just didn’t have weight enough to match Edwards, CBS brass decided ironically enough that Edwards himself just didn’t have the weight enough and nodded toward Cronkite.

Cronkite himself may have been surprised by the move, as he noted in his memoirs:

I was advised that Doug had just been told. I went straight to his office to try to assure him that I had not lobbied for his job and that the change had surprised me as much as I assumed it had surprised him. He must have been in shock, but he greeted me without the slightest touch of rancor. We had a short chat and parted with a sincere handshake. In this as in all things, Doug showed class. He was a true gentleman.

For the nation’s first television news anchor losing the perch he once dominated could have been the blow that felled him. (CBS News historian Gary Paul Gates, in Air Time, suggested Edwards at one point lapsed into heavy drinking as he saw his once-formidable evening newscast faltering against the Huntley-Brinkley onslaught.) Remarkably, however, he refused to let it destroy him.

Aside from his classy reaction to Cronkite’s entreaty, Edwards picked up by anchoring the evening news on New York WCBS-TV for several years. Then, he returned to radio, anchoring The World Tonight until his retirement in 1988. During those years Edwards kept a small television presence as well, anchoring five-minute newscasts at midday and, after 1980, a minute-and-a-half midday newscast known as CBS Newsbreak.

Edwards’ aftermath following his dismissal from his network’s flagship newscast was remarkably distinct from that of his one-time rival John Cameron Swayze. Swayze’s manic style was the antithesis of Edwards’s no-nonsense style, and by 1956 Swayze—whose catchphrase “Let’s go hopscotching the world for headlines” had become a national gag—was pushed aside in favour of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

Once an actor as well as a radio newscaster, Swayze tried one more stab at news anchoring, on ABC, then gave up and settled for becoming a pitchman. That contrast to Edwards’s subsequent career was summed up somewhat cruelly, according to Gates, in a conversation between a CBS News worker and a counterpart from NBC. “Goddammit,” the NBC worker snapped, “at least your guy had the grace and dignity to stay in the business. I mean, he didn’t become a fucking watch salesman.”

Eleven years Swayze’s junior, Edwards died a year and a half after his final (1988) CBS broadcasts. He ended up outlasting most CBS News legends, perhaps even becoming a quiet legend in his own right. Sometimes accused of being a reader more than a reporter, Edwards’s cool anchoring of World News Today and his later eyewitness television reporting of the Andrea Doria disaster belied the accusation.

Swayze—whose son, John Cameron, Jr., once anchored weekend newscasts on New York WCBS radio, billing himself Cameron Swayze—died in 1995. It was debatable whether he was remembered more for hopscotching the world for headlines than for pitching the wristwatch that took a licking and kept on ticking.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:

CBS European News: More German Raids on England (CBS, 1940)

And, the heaviest British counterattacks upon Berlin, which prompts the Third Reich to declare their latest raids against England retaliatory.

Also: Heavy bombardment against Dakar, a holding of the breakaway Vichy French government; and, considering an economic boycott against Imperial Japan.

Correspondents: Larry LeSeuer (London); Edwin Hartridge (Berlin); Alfred Warner (Washington). Anchor: Larry Elliott.

World News Today: Pressure Above the Dutch Rhine, but Advances on the Euro Front Otherwise (CBS, 1944)

The British Second Army fights across the Dutch Rhine bidding to open breathing room for key airborne troops marooned on the Rhine’s north banks; Charles DeCaulle arrives on the French front amidst a government re-organisation; the American Eighth Army plunges along the Po River pushing the Nazis back and building for a second major plunge in southern Europe; anticipated Bulgarian restitution of some pre-war Greek territories captured by the Nazis; the Soviet Army cuts off Nazi troops in Estonia; an eyewitness report of U.S. Marine pilot timing training; a Marine push through the Palao Islands; and, Washington reaction to the Dutch Rhine airborne situation—including three American airborne troops who partook in major European campaigns . . . including D-Day.

Correspondents: Larry LeSeur (London); Winston Burdett (Rome); Lee White (Chicago Daily News;Moscow); Bill Slocum, Jr. (Carolina coast); Tim Lemurk (Pearl Harbour); Joe McCaffrey (Washington). Anchor: Douglas Edwards. Announcer: Warren Sweeney.

Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Harold Peary Show: A Plan to Rename Boomer Park (Comedy; CBS, 1950)

The Jack Benny Program: The Gold Rush of 1949 (Comedy; CBS, 1950)
Our Miss Brooks: Bronco Dismissed (Comedy; CBS, 1950)
Gunsmoke: Indian White (Western; CBS, 1955)
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Grand Motel (Improvisational comedy; Hmmmm, 1959)

 

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