Edwin Newman’s death at age 91 is not the end of an era. The broadcast news era that produced Newman ended long ago, as you may have noticed in most of the news programs you watch on television and, particularly, on cable. Newman worked for NBC News. He was of a generation of broadcast news people the best of whom applied the values of the wire services and newspapers where they learned the craft of journalism. He was a splendid reporter who functioned as one of NBC’s most productive, versatile and wise correspondents. He anchored newscasts, delivered commentaries and wrote and hosted documentaries. In his radio and television broadcasts, Newman often devoted segments to defending the correct use of the language and to witty, if unyielding, criticism of its butchery by those who should know better. He was disturbed by what he saw as the deterioration of the average American’s ability to be articulate. He delighted in telling about the man he once interviewed whose answer to a question was, “Well, y’know, you never know, y’know?”
A few video clips exist of Ed Newman at work. YouTube has a series of pieces from the documentary he did about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and a few audio segments of his interviews with Marshall McLuhan about language. I thought about showing you one of those lighter pieces, but decided to instead use the commentary Newman delivered on the day in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. The elegance of his language and the clarity of his thought are as vivid and pertinent now as they were 47 years ago.
Edwin Newman, RIP