Veteran News Exec Manning Dead at 89

Sep 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Gordon Manning, an influential producer and executive at CBS News and NBC News through three significant decades for TV news, died Wednesday in Westport, Conn. He was 89 years old.

Perhaps Mr. Manning’s most lasting legacy is his contribution to TV news coverage of “red” and “blue” states in the political context. For election night 1976, when he was executive producer of NBC’s political coverage, he ordered up a large map with state electoral results indicated by red or blue. The color-coded shorthand for state leanings has been part of political lexicon ever since.

During his vice presidency at NBC News, Mr. Manning landed one of young anchor Tom Brokaw’s defining “gets,” the 1988 interview with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. That would earn him a George Polk Award.

In 1972, when he was at CBS News, Mr. Manning led the team covering the trip with which President Nixon would reopen relations with China after 20 years of silence. In 1997, Mr. Manning had negotiated access for NBC News to do a week’s worth of programming division-wide from China. Two years later he would go back to help direct coverage of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square.

At CBS News, he was integral to the network’s coverage of the U.S. space program. He also helped certify Washington Post coverage of the Watergate break-in as a story to be taken seriously outside Washington by working with Walter Cronkite on two consecutive editions of “CBS Evening News” devoted to the story.

To network news veterans, his death registered as the passing of a man who had been a real power as TV news was growing up. He understood how to foster believability and intimacy and urgency.

“He also taught me the three most important questions to ask about a story: Who cares? Why [do they] care? Why [do they] care NOW? I’ve been lecturing off that scrap of paper he threw at me in 1967 ever since,” recalled Jeff Gralnick, a veteran of CBS News, ABC News, CNN and NBC News, for which he now is a consultant.

Mr. Manning had been a writer and editor of Colliers magazine and Newsweek before he joined CBS News in 1964. Over the next few years he would rise to become senior VP of CBS News, his influence being felt on the “CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite” and the network’s coverage of the U.S. space program and war in Vietnam. He joined NBC News in 1975.

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Ave. in Westport.

The family also plans to hold a memorial in New York City in the near future.