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This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at

Remembering Harry Reasoner:
A Different Kind of 'News Light'

"All prayer books ask for protection from sudden death. It is nice to think we will have a warning, time to think things out and go to bed, in honor and in love. Somebody dies in an unprepared hurry and you are touched with a dozen quick and recent memories: the sweetness of last evening, the uselessness of a mean word or an undone promise. It could be you, with all those untidy memories of recent days never to be straightened out."

This is part of an essay by Harry Reasoner, written in 1962 about the death of comedian and TV pioneer Ernie Kovacs. Reasoner was anchorman for both CBS and ABC and one of the original reporters of '60 Minutes'; his style and point of view were usually called 'wry' or 'gentle.' Critics called him 'too soft,' but this softness was, in fact, why Don Hewitt chose him to do '60 Minutes' with Mike Wallace. Hewitt cast the show with two great talents; 'white hat' Reasoner and 'black hat' Wallace. The rest is TV history.

I'm writing about Harry Reasoner because he contributed something to journalism that is in short supply right now; gentle wit and a reassuring tone. Reasoner did radio commentary and essays at CBS from 1961 until he left to go to ABC in 1970. He anchored "The CBS Sunday Night News," a 15 minute show that he often ended with an essay, a light kicker or a commentary. (We recall the days, back when their founders still ran the networks, when commentaries were a regularly scheduled thing.) He also wrote and hosted a series of TV specials devoted to such things as chairs-( yes, really- a show with one guy musing about chairs), that had a spare style and a charm which would probably be out of place in today's whiz bang TV world. Why is his work worth contemplating now?

Because nearly all of it was set against the backdrop of a time when tumult, both foreign and domestic, was the everyday norm. Daily life in the '60s and '70s was framed by the Vietnam War and the protests against it, the civil rights movement, political assassination, hijackings, the 6 Day War in the Middle East ... in other words, a breathtaking amount of serious news. Reasoner's contribution in this time was to remind us that life was still good, still normal, and still continued in all its' small, sweet detail. He helped to give context to the madness swirling around us, a sense of micro-scaled balance to the overpowering sweep of events. His work had a personal touch, an Iowa-raised American voice that had an edge when it needed to, but which had a quality of reassurance at its' heart. At least 20 years before the Soviet Union collapsed, Reasoner commented that there was never a danger of America going Communist because, he said simply, "...Communism is boring."

It's weird to sit here now and long for anything associated with the political world of the 1960s. We are facing, however, a period which may resemble the '60s in some important ways. Once again we find that the world around us is uncertain and frightening.

Today, with a 24 hour news cycle being beamed into the country's consciousness, the need to balance the scariness has never been greater. What is the source of reassurance now? Perhaps, as time moves along, we will simply find ourselves reassuring one another... *

The last of Harry Reasoner's three books was published in 1981, "Before the Colors Fade," his memoir. It is elegantly brief, and gives a peek into the broadcasting personalities of the time. He wisely included some of his essays in it; if you can find it somewhere it is well worth owning.

About the Author

Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at