National Press Club

Freedman tells Broadcast Committee the way it was

September 2, 2016 | By Bill McCloskey | bmcclos325@aol.com

Mike Freedman

Mike Freedman

Imagine being able to call on legendary CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite to do a radio broadcast when you needed to emphasize the importance of an historic event.

As general manager of CBS Radio Network News, National Press Club board member Mike Freedman had that authority and used it judiciously.

On Feb. 12, 1999, as the U.S. Senate prepared to acquit President Bill Clinton after House Republicans impeached him over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Freedman asked Cronkite if he would do the unusual for a TV anchorman and anchor the noon CBS Radio Network newscast. Cronkite agreed.

CBS Radio had a policy against extraneous chatter between an anchor and a field reporter. Cronkite intoned the start of the newscast and called for a live report from Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss. The correspondent began, "Thank you, Walter." Immediately after the broadcast, Fuss called Freedman to apologize for breaking the rule. "When am I ever again going to get a hand off from Walter Cronkite?" he explained.

Freedman spent his career "working with a number of iconic figures," he told members of the Club's Broadcast Committee during their September meeting.

He produced Cronkite's final programming at the network, including a Nov. 4, 1998, radio special report during the flight of Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, one of America's first astronauts, who made a late-career return journey into space. Cronkite was to interview the crew during a NASA 40th anniversary luncheon in Houston. The date coincided with Cronkite's 82nd birthday.

Freedman said there was one problem: NASA wanted to know the questions in advance. Sparing no blasphemy, Cronkite said "No." "If they insist on the questions in advance, **** 'em," there will be no interview." Cronkite prevailed. He ended the special broadcast with his signature close, "And that's the way it is, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1998. This is Walter Cronkite for CBS News, in Houston." It marked the last time Cronkite ever delivered the iconic phrase on the air at CBS.

The Cronkite interview with Glenn was aired on C-SPAN and is available through its archive here. You can see Freedman in the video.

Another highlight of Freedman's time at CBS was a three-hour radio broadcast he produced in 1999 called the "CBS News 20th Century Roundup," which gathered for the last time all of the surviving "Murrow's Boys," the radio journalists hired by legendary CBS News Correspondent Edward R. Murrow to cover World War II.

Among the hardest to get was Howard K. Smith, who had been fired by CBS and went on to another illustrious career at ABC. Freedman located him and called him "with some trepidation" and after getting through Smith's gatekeeper wife said simply, "This call is 38 years late in coming, but we'd like to invite you to return to CBS News." After a slight pause, Smith replied, "It would be my great pleasure."

Freedman today is executive producer of the Club-sponsored "Kalb Report," hosted by legendary CBS News reporter Marvin Kalb.

For more information on the Broadcast Committee, or to participate in its meetings, contact committee chair Mark Hamrick at hampot20854@yahoo.com