William W. Headline; Led CNN's Washington Bureau
Thursday, October 23, 2008
William W. Headline, a veteran broadcaster who helped establish the CNN cable network as its Washington bureau chief for 12 years and later headed the Voter News Service exit-polling organization during the contested 2000 presidential election, died Oct. 20 at Suburban Hospital after a fall at his home in Bethesda. He was 76.
Mr. Headline was a longtime CBS News executive before arriving at the fledgling CNN in 1983. As bureau chief in Washington, he was pivotal in helping the network establish itself as a credible news source in the nation's capital.
Before his arrival, there were six Washington bureau chiefs in three years. Mr. Headline remained in the demanding role until 1996, when he became a CNN vice president managing special projects and pool assignments in which networks collaborate on news coverage.
As bureau chief, he was responsible for expanding the staff from 80 to 350 to cover Washington news and events. He also served as chairman of the Radio-Television Correspondents Association in Washington.
"When Bill came to CNN, it had to claw its way into acceptance. He brought stature with both broadcasting and Washington experience," said Frank Sesno, Mr. Headline's successor as bureau chief.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said Mr. Headline was "a decent person who understood the problems that journalists have and dealt with them in a compassionate way. As we used to say it, the best name in news."
William Wentworth Headline, whose fitting name was Americanized by a Swedish ancestor, was born in Cleveland and raised in East Aurora, N.Y. He was a geology graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and a Navy intelligence officer before starting a journalism career.
In the early 1960s, he gathered polling information for Louis Harris and Associates in New York. He was hired by CBS in New York to help direct coverage of the 1964 presidential election and promoted to a senior vice president of the network before moving to Washington in 1974 as assistant bureau chief.
He held that position for nine years, organizing coverage of political conventions, overseas presidential trips, papal visits and other Washington events. He was a network pool producer during President Richard M. Nixon's resignation.
Nearing his retirement from CNN, Mr. Headline said he was "happy as a clam. I've had a lot of fun with this job." He left the network in 1998 and spent two years as the executive director of the New York-based Voter News Service, a primary source of exit polling used by news organizations during the 2000 presidential election. That year, VNS data led networks to prematurely project Vice President Al Gore as the president-elect. Mr. Headline blamed faulty technology for inaccuracies in the group's data.
"We were aware some of the computer hardware we have was antiquated," he told a Florida reporter in 2001. "But when you go back and look at the number of races called correctly, it was actually a good night."
In January 2003, the service was shut down because it failed to fix its problems. Mr. Headline said then that "two years was too little time to rebuild the news service."
After leaving VNS, he kayaked above the Arctic Circle and went river rafting in the American West. He was a member of the Washington Canoe Club and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
His marriage to Barbara Teegarden ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Katherine Cole Headline of Bethesda; three daughters from his first marriage, Erica Holmes of Canton, Ga., Alison Feld of Brookeville and Amy Stiewig of Fort Collins, Colo.; two stepdaughters, Caroline Pence of Summit, N.J., and Amy Sabel of Venice, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.