Bill Monroe died yesterday at the age of 90. You may remember him as the moderator of NBC’s Meet The Press. He was noted for the toughness and fairness of his questioning in the years when that Sunday morning program influenced millions of Americans’ thinking about government and politics.
I remember him as the man who built the news department of WDSU-TV in New Orleans into a pioneer in early television news and a moderating force when the south was riven by the hatreds and tensions that accompanied the civil rights movement. By the time I joined WDSU in the 1960s, Monroe had moved on to be the Washington, DC, bureau chief for NBC, but WDSU’s news operation continued in the tradition of integrity and professionalism that he established. When he came back to visit, I was privileged to get to know him.
In later years when I moved from reporting and anchoring to running news departments, Bill’s example and occasional advice helped guide me. In this clip from the Emmy archives, he talks about one aspect of his early days at WDSU.
For an account of Monroe’s career and contributions, see his obituary in The New Orleans Times-Picayune. This is the conclusion of his obituary in today’s Washington Post:
Throughout his career, he was critical of the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcast media – a first step, he said, toward abridging the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and free press.
“The effect of government control on broadcast news is to make it bland, to inhibit it, to make it somewhat less courageous, less inclined to initiative than the print media,” Mr. Monroe said in a 1980 interview. “The whole regulatory system is a monster that has done the public much more harm than good.”
Let us hope that latter-day Bill Monroes—if we are fortunate enough to have some—continue to insist on preservation of that constitutional guarantee