Hal Bruno, former ABC News political director, dies at 83

Hal Bruno, 83, the retired political director of ABC News who moderated a contentious vice presidential debate in 1992, died Nov. 8 at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

He died of atrial arrhythmia, his son Harold R. Bruno III said. He lived in Chevy Chase.

(Gerald Martineau/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Democratic Chairman Robert Strauss , left, greets Hal Bruno and his wife at his annual chili supper for members of the media on Dec. 11, 1975.

Mr. Bruno was a foreign correspondent and political editor for Newsweek before joining ABC in 1978. He had a radio show on the network called “Hal Bruno’s Washington” and occasionally appeared on television as a political analyst.

He spent much of his career at ABC behind the scenes, coordinating the network’s political coverage by on-air correspondents such as Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.

“Hal was unbelievably thorough in his political judgment and knowledge,” Roberts said Thursday. “There was not a county chairman anywhere in the country he didn’t know.”

On Oct. 13, 1992, Mr. Bruno had a rare turn in the spotlight as the moderator of a vice presidential debate among the Republican incumbent, Dan Quayle, Democrat Al Gore and independent James B. Stockdale, the running mate of H. Ross Perot.

The format allowed the candidates to question one another directly, but the event had a strange beginning, then turned into a political theater of the absurd.

When Mr. Bruno asked Stockdale for an opening statement, the retired Navy vice admiral and Medal of Honor recipient said, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

As Quayle and Gore argued and took turns interrupting each other, Mr. Bruno tried to steer the debate toward civility. When partisan members of the Atlanta audience hissed at the politicians, Mr. Bruno stepped in and said, “There’s no call for that . . . so knock that off.”

Asking a question about negative campaign tactics, Mr. Bruno said, “Admiral Stockdale, it’s your turn to go first.”

“You know,” Stockdale answered, “I didn’t have my hearing aid turned on, tell me again.”

As Quayle and Gore bickered, Stockdale delivered the evening’s most trenchant comment: “I think America is seeing right now why this nation is in gridlock.”

The Washington Post reported that the event was “the most combative debate in the 32-year history of the televised forums.”

Harold Robinson Bruno Jr. was born Oct. 25, 1928, in Chicago, where his father sold household wares.

He graduated in 1950 from the University of Illinois, where he worked on a college newspaper with Robert Novak, the future columnist; Gene Shalit, who became a critic on NBC-TV; and cartoonist Shel Silverstein.

After serving as an Army intelligence officer during the Korean War, Mr. Bruno studied in India on a Fulbright fellowship, then began working for Chicago area news services and papers. He covered the Suez crisis in 1956 and a fire at a Chicago elementary school in 1958 in which 92 children and three nuns died.

By early 1959, he was in Havana, covering the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro. He joined Newsweek in 1960 and later served as the magazine’s Chicago bureau chief and Washington-based political editor.

Mr. Bruno died four days before his 52nd wedding anniversary. Survivors include his wife, Margaret Christian Bruno of Chevy Chase; two sons, Harold R. Bruno III of Denver and Daniel Bruno of Avon, Colo.; a sister; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Bruno’s father often took him to fire stations as a boy, and the young Mr. Bruno became a volunteer firefighter in the 1940s. Throughout his life, he had an emergency scanner and firefighter’s helmet, coat and boots in his car.

After retiring from ABC in 1999, he was chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation until 2008. He received many awards for his service to firefighting.

“It was not unusual for him to work late into the night in journalism,” his son Harold said Thursday, “then he would come home and get a call at 10 or 10:30 and be out fighting a fire until 2:30 a.m.”

Mr. Bruno was among the first rescue workers to reach the Pentagon after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. He stayed at the scene for hours.

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