David McClure Brinkley
July 10, 1920
|Died||June 11, 2003 (aged 82)|
|Resting place||Oakdale Cemetery|
|Occupation||Television news anchor|
(m. 1946; div. 1972)
From 1956 through 1970, he co-anchored NBC's top-rated nightly news program, The Huntley–Brinkley Report, with Chet Huntley and thereafter appeared as co-anchor or commentator on its successor, NBC Nightly News, through the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, Brinkley was host of the popular Sunday This Week with David Brinkley program and a top commentator on election-night coverage for ABC News. Over the course of his career, Brinkley received ten Emmy Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He wrote three books, including the 1988 bestseller Washington Goes to War, about how World War II transformed the nation's capital. His books were largely based on his own observations as a young reporter in the city.
Brinkley was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, the youngest of five children born to William Graham Brinkley and Mary MacDonald (née West) Brinkley. He began writing for a local newspaper, the Wilmington Morning Star, while still attending New Hanover High School. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, and Vanderbilt University, before entering service in the United States Army in 1940. Following a medical discharge, he worked for United Press International in several of its Southern bureaus. In 1943, he moved to Washington, D.C., looking for a radio job at CBS News. Instead, he took a job at NBC News, became its White House correspondent, and in time began appearing on television.
In 1952, Brinkley began providing Washington reporting on NBC Television's evening news program, the Camel News Caravan (the name changed over time), hosted by John Cameron Swayze. In 1956, NBC News executives considered various possibilities to anchor the network's coverage of the Democratic and Republican political conventions, and when executive J. Davidson Taylor suggested pairing two reporters (he had in mind Bill Henry and Ray Scherer), producer Reuven Frank, who favored Brinkley for the job, and NBC's director of news, Joseph Meyers, who favored Chet Huntley, proposed combining Huntley and Brinkley. NBC's top brass consented, but they had so little confidence in the team that they withheld announcing it for two months. Their concern proved unfounded.
The pairing worked so well that on October 29, 1956, the two took over NBC's flagship nightly newscast, with Huntley in New York City and Brinkley in Washington, D.C., for the newly christened Huntley–Brinkley Report. Brinkley's dry wit offset the serious tone set by Huntley, and the program proved popular with audiences turned off by the incessantly serious tone of CBS's news broadcasts of that era. Brinkley's ability to write for the ear with simple, declarative sentences gained him a reputation as one of the medium's most talented writers, and his connections in Washington led CBS's Roger Mudd to observe, "Brinkley, of all the TV guys here, probably has the best sense of the city — best understands its moods and mentality. He knows Washington and he knows the people.": 41 Most often described as "wry", Brinkley once suggested on the air that the best way to resolve the controversy over whether to change the name of Boulder Dam to "Hoover Dam" was to have former president Herbert Hoover change his name to "Herbert Boulder".
Another example of Brinkley's wryness was evinced on the third night of Chicago's infamous Democratic Convention of 1968. After continuous abuses of NBC correspondents made on the floor of the convention — namely, interference and shadowing of the media staff by supporters of Hubert Humphrey, presumably with connections to political boss Richard J. Daley — Brinkley criticized Daley's alleged interference with freedom of the press following Senator Abraham Ribicoff's stormy nomination of George McGovern. Perhaps in reply to a control room request for objectivity and alluding to Daley's refusal to be interviewed by NBC's John Chancellor earlier in the evening, Brinkley was heard over the noise of the McGovern demonstration saying, "Mayor Daley had his chance!" (i.e., "now give the McGovern people theirs").
|Booknotes interview with Brinkley on A Memoir, December 10, 1995, C-SPAN|
Huntley and Brinkley's nightly sign-off — "Good night, Chet," Brinkley would intone; "Good night, David," Huntley would reply — entered popular usage and was followed by the beginning of the second movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony as the program credits rolled. The Huntley–Brinkley Report was America's most popular television newscast until it was overtaken, at the end of the 1960s, by the CBS Evening News, anchored by Walter Cronkite. Brinkley and his co-anchor gained such celebrity that Brinkley was forced to cut short his reporting on Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 West Virginia primary because West Virginians were more interested in meeting Brinkley than the candidate.: 34 From 1961 to 1963, Brinkley anchored a prime time news magazine, David Brinkley's Journal. Produced by Ted Yates, the program won a George Foster Peabody Award and two Emmy Awards.
When Huntley retired from the anchor chair in 1970, the evening news program was renamed NBC Nightly News (not insignificantly employing the suffixes of Huntley and Brinkley's surnames for the sake of continuity), and Brinkley co-anchored the broadcast with John Chancellor and Frank McGee. In 1971, Chancellor was named sole anchor, and Brinkley became the program's commentator, delivering three-minute perspectives several times a week under a reprise of the earlier title, David Brinkley's Journal. By 1976, though, NBC had decided to revive the dual-anchor format, and Brinkley once again anchored the Washington desk for the network until October 1979. But the early years of Nightly News never achieved the popularity of Huntley-Brinkley Report, and none of several news magazine shows anchored by Brinkley during the 1970s succeeded. An unhappy Brinkley left NBC in 1981; NBC Magazine was his last show for that network.
Almost immediately, Brinkley was offered a job at ABC. ABC News president Roone Arledge was anxious to replace ABC's Sunday morning news program, Issues and Answers, which had always lagged far behind CBS's Face the Nation and NBC's Meet the Press. Brinkley was tapped for the job and in 1981 began hosting This Week with David Brinkley. This Week revolutionized the Sunday morning news program format, featuring not only several correspondents interviewing guest newsmakers, but concluding with a roundtable discussion. The format proved highly successful and was soon imitated by ABC's NBC and CBS rivals as well as engendering new programs originating both nationally and from local stations.
For a brief period after Washington-based World News Tonight anchor Frank Reynolds was diagnosed with hepatitis that ultimately claimed his life on July 20, 1983, Brinkley returned to the network anchor desk as Reynolds' substitute from Washington. This arrangement lasted until July 4; when Reynolds' eventual successor as the network anchor, Peter Jennings, was brought in from his post in London.
As part of ABC's commemoration of World War II, Brinkley and the News division produced the special, The Battle of the Bulge: 50 Years On, with Brinkley hosting and interviewing survivors of the battle, Allied and Axis. The special, which aired at Christmas 1994, was critically acclaimed and widely viewed.
Days before he announced his retirement from regular news coverage, Brinkley made a rare, on-air mistake during evening coverage of the 1996 United States presidential election at a moment when he thought he was on commercial break. One of his colleagues asked him what he thought of the prospects for Bill Clinton's re-election. He called Clinton "a bore" and added, "The next four years will be filled with pretty words and pretty music and a lot of goddamn nonsense!" Peter Jennings pointed out that they were still on the air. Brinkley said, "Really? Well, I'm leaving anyway!". Brinkley would offer Clinton an apology during a one-on-one interview a week later.
Brinkley last broadcast as host of This Week was November 10, 1996, but he continued to provide short pieces of commentary for the show until 1997. He then fully retired from television. He had been a journalist for over fifty years and had been anchor or host of a daily or weekly national television program for just over forty years. His career extended from the end of the radio age to the age of the internet.
In addition to his ten Emmys and three Peabodys, Brinkley also received the Alfred I. duPont Award in 1958. In 1982, he received the Paul White Award for lifetime achievement from the Radio Television Digital News Association. In 1988, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. In 1992, President George H. W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Bush called him "the elder statesman of broadcast journalism" but Brinkley was much more humble. In an interview in 1992, he said, "Most of my life, I've simply been a reporter covering things and writing and talking about it."
David Brinkley married the former Flora Ann Fischer in 1946 and had three sons; they divorced in 1972. Soon after, Brinkley married Susan Melanie Benfer that same year, with Benfer bringing daughter Alexis from another marriage. The second union lasted until Brinkley's death.
Brinkley died in 2003 at his home in Houston from complications of a fall suffered at his vacation home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, according to his son, John Brinkley. His body is interred at Oakdale Cemetery, Wilmington, North Carolina.
- 1951–1956 Camel News Caravan (correspondent)
- 1956–1970 NBC News/The Huntley–Brinkley Report
- 1961–1963 David Brinkley's Journal, Wednesday 10:30–11:00 p.m. EST
- 1971–1976 NBC Nightly News (commentator only)
- 1976–1979 NBC Nightly News (co-anchor)
- 1980–1981 NBC Magazine with David Brinkley
- 1981–1996 This Week with David Brinkley
- 1981–1998 ABC World News Tonight (commentator)
- 1991 Pearl Harbor: Two Hours That Changed The World with David Brinkley (50th anniversary)
- 1994 David Brinkley Reports: The Battle of the Bulge; 50 Years On
- Washington Goes to War, 1988 ISBN 034540730X
- Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion, 1991 ISBN 0345409523
- David Brinkley: A Memoir, 1995 ISBN 0345374029
- Brinkley's Beat: People, Places, and Events That Shaped My Time, 2003 ISBN 0345426797
- Severo, Richard (June 12, 2003). "David Brinkley, Elder Statesman of TV News, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
- "David Brinkley, Legendary NBC Newsman, Dies at 82". USA Today. Associated Press. June 12, 2003.
- Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991, pp. 100–102.
- "An Accident of Casting," The New Yorker, August 3, 1968.
- http://www.museum.tv/exhibitionssection.php?page=466 part seven
- Thomas A. Mascaro, "They Beat the Clock—NBC's Innovative Newsmagazine, David Brinkley's Journal (1961–1963)", Television Quarterly.
- Vick, Karl (June 21, 1983). "ABC feeling after-effects of Frank Reynolds' illness". Google News Search Archive. St. Petersburg, Florida: St. Petersburg Times. p. 1D. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
- All duPont–Columbia Award Winners Archived August 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Columbia Journalism School. Retrieved 2013-08-06.
- "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
- "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List".
- "Veteran newscaster David Brinkley dies". Houston Chronicle.
- on YouTube
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to David Brinkley.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to David Brinkley.|
- David Brinkley obituary by Richard Severo, The New York Times
- ABC News biography of David Brinkley at the Wayback Machine (archived July 9, 1997)
- Working with Brinkley by Ron Steiman (1960–1961)
- David Brinkley collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society — Over 150,000 documents covering Brinkley's career
- David Brinkley at The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- David Brinkley at Find a Grave