Bernard Shaw, CNN’s first chief anchor, dies at 82


FILE – CNN anchor Bernard Shaw poses in his office at the CNN bureau in Washington February 15, 2001. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Bernard Shaw, a former CNN anchor and pioneering black journalist remembered for his direct question during a presidential debate and for calmly reporting on the start of the 1991 Gulf War from Baghdad as she was attacked, died. He was 82 years old.

He died Wednesday of pneumonia, unrelated to COVID-19, in a Washington hospital, according to former CNN chief executive Tom Johnson.

A former CBS and ABC reporter, Shaw took a chance and accepted an offer to become CNN’s chief anchor when it launched in 1980. He then reported in front of a hastily set up camera in a newsroom. after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Regan in 1981.

He retired at age 61 in 2001.

As moderator of a 1988 presidential debate between George HW Bush and Michael Dukakis, he asked the Democrat – an opponent of the death penalty – if he would support the sentence for someone convicted of the rape and murder of Dukakis’ wife, Kitty.

Dukakis’ coldly technocratic response was widely seen as damaging to his campaign, and Shaw later said he received a flood of hate mail for asking.

“Since when does a question hurt a politician? Shaw said in a 2001 interview aired by CSPAN, “That wasn’t the question. It was the answer. »

Shaw memorably reported, with correspondents Peter Arnett and John Holliman, from a hotel room in Baghdad as CNN broadcast stunning footage of airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire at the start of the US invasion to liberate Kuwait.

“I’ve never been there,” he said that night, “but it feels like the middle of hell.”

Reporting was crucial in establishing CNN when it was the only cable news network and broadcasters ABC, CBS, and NBC dominated television news. “He put CNN on the map,” said Frank Sesno, CNN’s former Washington bureau chief and now a professor at George Washington University.

Shaw, who grew up in Chicago wanting to be a journalist and looking up to legendary CBS reporters Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, recognized it as a pivotal moment.

“Through all the years of preparing to be the anchor, one of the things I strived for was being able to control my emotions in the midst of the bursting hell,” Shaw said in a 2014 interview. with NPR. “And I personally think I passed my rigorous test for that in Baghdad.”

Shaw covered China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, signing that authorities told CNN to stop broadcasting. While at ABC, he was one of the first reporters at the scene of the Jonestown Massacre in 1978.

On Twitter, CNN’s John King paid tribute to Shaw’s “soft but booming voice” and said he was a mentor and role model to many.

“Bernard Shaw exemplified excellence in his life,” Johnson said. “He will be remembered as a strong advocate for responsible journalism.”

Current CNN general manager Chris Licht paid tribute to Shaw as a CNN original who made appearances on the network as recently as last year to provide commentary.

So protected from any appearance of bias that he did not vote, Shaw asked tough questions of several politicians. He asked George HW Bush’s choice for vice president, Dan Quayle, if “fear of being killed in Vietnam” led Quayle to join the National Guard in 1969.

As a member of the US Marines, Shaw took an angle for an encounter with one of his heroes, Cronkite, in Hawaii in 1961.

“He was the most persistent guy I’ve ever met in my life,” the late Cronkite told the Washington Post in 1991. “I was reluctantly going to give him five minutes and ended up talking to him for a half hour. He was just determined to be a journalist.

He got a radio job in Chicago, where an early assignment was covering a Martin Luther King appearance. Shaw recalled for CNN King saying, “one day you’re gonna make it. Just do good.

Retiring at a relatively young age, Shaw recognized the toll on his personal life that came with being a successful journalist. Because of all the things he missed with his family while working, he told NPR that “I don’t think it was worth it.”

His funeral will be private, with a public memorial scheduled for later, Johnson said. He is survived by his wife, Linda, and two children.


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