The one function TV news performs very well
is that when there is no news
we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.
David Brinkley was born July 10, 1920 in Wilmington, North Carolina. His father passed away when he was only 8, but Brinkley was not one to let tragedy bring him down. After graduating high school, he began attending the University of North Carolina, where he majored in English. He also worked as a reporter for the Wilmington Star-News during his early years in North Carolina. However, he didn't like the school, and transferred to Emory in 1941, and then to Vanderbilt in 1943, where he continued to major in English, but never graduated. During his formative years at Emory and Vanderbilt, Brinkley was active in the United States Army as a press correspondent. He also held a job with United Press (later United Press International) as a bureau manager in Nashville, Atlanta, and other Southern cities.
Brinkley immediately got a job working for NBC Radio, writing the news and occasionally delivering reports on the hour. Here he traveled with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, even having an informal interview with Winston Churchill during his visit to the States in 1945. In 1946, he met and married Ann Fischer. That same year he moved to the newly developed NBC TV News department, where he continued to serve as one of the main newswriters. In 1951 he was dispatched to Washington, D.C., to serve as the main correspondent to John Cameron Swayze's "Camel News Caravan" newshour. In 1956, as the show was dying down, Brinkley met a man who would change his life, another reporter named Chet Huntley.
Both he and Huntley recognized that television would soon become the most important form of media in American lives. They both petitioned NBC to give them a night time broadcast of 15 minutes, dubbed "The Huntley-Brinkley Report". The segment was so popular it was soon expanded to 30 minutes. In particular, their coverage of the party conventions were particularly insightful and enlightening, and at one point in 1964, they garnered a whopping 85% of the television ratings in a week! In 1959, the duo won Emmies for their journalistic efforts, and in 1960, they repeated the feat. In 1961, he and Huntley were recipients of the Peabody Award for journalism. 1962 saw the end of his first marriage. Together with Ann he had 3 children, Alan, John, and Joel. 1963 brought Brinkley his third Emmy.
Brinkley's style was erudite and witty, and he was a master at juxtaposing images with words. Frank Reuven, head of NBC's News Department, famously said of Brinkley: "(He) writes silence better than anyone else I know." The show continued on for 15 years, covering some of the most important news of the 20th century: the Kennedy assassination, the moon walk, and the Vietnam War. In 1967, a strike was held by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Brinkley refused to cross the line, and Huntley did the show alone. Viewers were divided against both of the men, and by the time Brinkley returned on-camera, the two had lost their prominence to Walter Cronkite. Finally, in 1970, Chet Huntley decided to retire, and the show was taken off the air.
Brinkley, however, remained on NBC, taking a job as a lead commentator for NBC's "Nightly News." In 1976, he took over as a co-anchor. But Brinkley wasn't happy: his house and his wife (Alexis, whom he had married in 1972, divorced in 1975) were in Washington D.C., but he had to be in New York City to do the tapings. NBC didn't have a dedicated force in the capital, and Brinkley decided to look for greener pastures. He found some in Roone Arledge, who signed him to ABC in 1980.
At ABC, Brinkley was the host of his own show, "This Week With David Brinkley," along with co-hosts George Will and Sam Donaldson. They had a coveted Sunday night slot, filled with rigorous discussion and interesting guests from the political circuit. The show was very opinionated, and often times filled with insider references the audience simply couldn't understand, but it brought the politics and bureaucracy of Washington, D.C. into the American home as almost no program had done before.
In 1992, Brinkley received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the most prestigious civilian awards in America. In 1995, he released his autobiography, David Brinkley: a Memoir, which presented a touching and humorous look back on his years inside the Beltway. Brinkley continued to do his program until 1998, when retired for health reasons. He then produced an amazing professional autobiography on how the television news departments of today came to be, David Brinkley: 11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television. He later moved to Houston, Texas, where he made an impromptu appearance at an Astros game I was attending to throw out the first pitch. In all honesty, I had no idea who he was at the time, but everyone over 40 around me seemed to be duly impressed and reverent.
David Brinkley, NBC and ABC newscaster and the stuff all bright good men are made of, passed away June 12, 2003, due to complications from a fall. He was 82.
Good night, David.