From veteran TV newsman and foreign correspondent Utley, a memoir of life in the newsgathering business.
Utley, the son of a noted radio announcer, is here more intent on describing the changes he has witnessed in television than offering confessional details of his private life. He joined NBC in 1963 (after college and military service) as its stringer in Brussels, where his boss was John Chancellor—a useful contact and good friend. Posted next to Vietnam, he was able to witness the war escalate firsthand as the US presence increased. During the years that Utley covered the war, television became an important player in shaping public opinion, and it was clear to him then that the visual reporting was in large part responsible for America’s losing the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese. He suggests that 1963 (when polls found for the first time that a majority of Americans got their news from TV) was the year that the US finally became a television society, and he sees the years that followed as a golden age of television news programs—when Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite became revered national icons. But he also observes that “if in the 1960s the news on television was the reporting of events, in the 1970s it was increasingly about how to attract viewers and a mass audience.” He recalls how these changes affected his career, describes interviews with such notables as Anwar Sadat and Albert Speer, relates his experiences covering overseas wars, and includes such “soft” news stories as a Club Med ski trip to Switzerland. Although realistic about the end of television as he once knew it (and the networks’ current preference for stories that entertain or invite empathy), Utley is optimistic that cable stations like C-SPAN will provide a niche for serious new broadcasts.
A thoughtful record of the days when the going was good—and television was both informing and entertaining.