George Will writes a eulogy for David Brinkley, whom he terms Journalism’s Gentleman Giant.
To have worked alongside David Brinkley on television is to have experienced what might be called the Tommy Henrich Temptation. Henrich, who played right field for the Yankees when Joe DiMaggio was playing center field, must have been constantly tempted to ignore the game and just stand there watching DiMaggio, who defined for his generation the elegance of understatement and the gracefulness that is undervalued because it makes the difficult seem effortless.
Indeed, Brinkley’s grace is the theme that runs throughout the piece, along with the remarkable evolution of journalism itself:
In 1949 John Cameron Swayze’s “Camel News Caravan,” for which young Brinkley, who had joined NBC in 1943, was a reporter, was carried for 15 minutes five nights a week. NBC’s network consisted of four stations, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. The sponsor required Swayze, who always wore a carnation in his lapel, to have a lit cigarette constantly in view. Not until 1963 did Cronkite’s “CBS Evening News” become the first 30-minute newscast.
In 1981, after 38 years with NBC, Brinkley became host of ABC’s “This Week.” He understood a fundamental truth about television talk shows: What one does on them one does in strangers’ living rooms. So, mind your manners; do not make a scene. Those thoughts guided Brinkley as he provided adult supervision to others on “This Week,” the first hour-long Sunday morning interview program.
How anachronistic the maxim “mind your manners” seems in the harsh light cast by much of today’s television. How serene, even proud, Brinkley was about becoming somewhat of an anachronism.