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Whitworth Fights the Good Fight Off-Camera for CNN

Mar 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Wendy Walker Whitworth lands some of the highest-profile, exclusive television interviews as CNN executive VP and senior executive producer of “Larry King Live,” but that’s only part of the reason why she is considered something of a cable news hero. The main reason is she fought early on for cable news to receive the same amount of respect the broadcast networks’ news divisions enjoy.

On March 10 she will receive the First Amendment Service Award from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, recognizing her work as a journalist in an off-air management capacity.

Among her battles in the name of cable news, she had to vie for a work space at the White House, she said. “I remember going up to Michael Deaver [advisor to President Reagan] and saying, ‘I am a White House producer for CNN and I wish you would include us,'” Ms. Whitworth said.

It wasn’t until the Gulf War and the first Bush administration that CNN was treated with the respect it was due, she said.

Ms. Whitworth has landed exclusive interviews with Tony Blair, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, numerous Hollywood stars and every living U.S. president. In 2004 alone she secured 70 exclusive interviews for “Larry King Live,” which she has shepherded since 1993.

Ms. Whitworth started at CNN in March 1980, about three months before the seminal news network went on the air.

She said the educational role of the RTNDF is critical since journalism is a field where the teaching occurs largely on the job.

“If you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school. If you want to be a doctor, you go to medical school and you have a degree … and really you don’t have to go to journalism school,” she said. “So you really do rely on your instincts of what’s right and what’s wrong, and hopefully [you] find teachers along the way.”