Gordon Manning; From Print to TV News Pioneer

Gordon Manning, 89, a former chief news executive at CBS and NBC, was known for landing interviews with newsmakers such as Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gordon Manning, 89, a former chief news executive at CBS and NBC, was known for landing interviews with newsmakers such as Mikhail Gorbachev. (Cbs News)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 8, 2006

Gordon Manning, 89, who had a significant role in shaping television news for four decades as a news executive at CBS and NBC and arranged the first interview between Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and an American correspondent, died Sept. 6 at Norwalk Hospital, near his home in Westport, Conn. He had congestive heart failure.

A former executive editor at Newsweek magazine, Mr. Manning took over the "hard news" operation at CBS in 1964. He was a leading inside player at "CBS Evening News" with anchor Walter Cronkite and helped direct coverage of the Vietnam War and the Watergate crisis.

Mr. Manning was credited with urging a two-part Cronkite special on Watergate that brought national attention to what had largely been a Washington Post story.

In television, Mr. Manning was skilled at nabbing exclusive interviews with newsmakers, among them Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, just after the Nobel Prize-winning writer was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974.

Earlier, Mr. Manning scored an on-camera interview with the Chinese representative to the United Nations, Huang Hua, after President Richard M. Nixon's groundbreaking attempts to forge diplomatic relations with China.

Huang had initially resisted Mr. Manning's efforts and once ordered a door slammed in the newsman's face. But Mr. Manning knew Huang was planning to fly to New York from Paris, and Mr. Manning purchased all available first-class tickets on the Air France flight. He encouraged an airline attendant to serve unlimited champagne to the ambassador. At a decisive moment, Mr. Manning approached a gregarious Huang, Cronkite and cameraman in tow.

The in-flight interview contrasted vividly with the terse statement Huang issued to reporters on the ground after the plane landed.

"It was one of those moments in journalism when this is a little boys game and you're delighted," he told the New Yorker. "I'm coming off that plane with the film that those other guys all wanted."

Mr. Manning's most-cited "get" came in 1987 after years of lobbying Gorbachev associates. Mr. Manning, then with NBC News, bombarded the Communist Party Central Committee with telex messages, befriended a series of Soviet ambassadors and liquored up Soviet delegations visiting New York.

When the hour-long program aired, it provided a forum for Gorbachev to address U.S. audiences before his summit meeting with President Ronald Reagan. It also gave anchor Tom Brokaw what was considered a coup in broadcast journalism.

Mr. Manning received a George Polk Award for the Gorbachev interview as well as for live reports from China shortly before the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

John Gordon Manning Jr. was born May 28, 1917, in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Lancaster, Pa., where his parents worked in a watchmaking factory.

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