Don Hewitt, 1922-2009

I felt no need to say something nasty or snarky (or much of anything) yesterday when syndicated columnist Robert Novak died. He was, in essence, a minor figure, and he probably would have agreed with that assessment. I do think his sins have been exaggerated over the years, especially with respect to the Valerie Plame Wilson case. As Jack Shafer observed in Slate, it appears that Novak didn’t even realize the value of what he had.

On a strictly personal basis, Novak appears to have been well-liked, despite his reputation for prickliness. I once did a brief telephone interview with him for a profile I was writing of someone who’d worked with him. He was charming and generous with his time. I found his column to be a hodgepodge of indeciperable bits of insiderdom, but I enjoyed his glowering “Prince of Darkness” television persona. Late in life, Novak found his true calling.

Now we learn that Don Hewitt (photo), a longtime CBS News producer and the creator of “60 Minutes,” has died at the age of 86. Hewitt was a great journalist — among the greatest of his generation. No, “60 Minutes” has never been all that it could have been. But Hewitt was forced to work within the constraints of a commercial television system that put more and more emphasis on profit during the course of his long and productive career.

I think it was Hewitt himself who once said that, in one respect, “60 Minutes” was the worst thing that ever happened to network news. Why? Because it was the first time network executives realized they could make money from what had previously been regarded as a public-service obligation.

As with Walter Cronkite, Hewitt’s death’s is an enormous loss, bringing us back to a time when television news was better than it is today.

4 thoughts on “Don Hewitt, 1922-2009

  1. cavard

    Hewitt worked at 60 Minutes up until his death. My first exposure to Hewitt came when I saw his face in front of the camera during the televised Kennedy-Nixon debate. He was producing the broadcast, barking orders, and smoking a cigarette in his hand. I'm sure you've seen the clip. I would've liked to meet him.

  2. George F. Snell III

    Sad indeed. Hewitt did some fantastic TV journalism and always had his eye on quality. He will be missed.

  3. Doug Shugarts

    One small counterpoint — Hewitt did indeed work within the CBS corporate structure, but he and the 60 Minutes team could not have produced their signature investigative reporting without network support, financial and legal.I wonder if investigative journalism efforts like Pro Publica et al will yield meaningful reporting without resources of similar scale.

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