A TV news producer who was a pioneer in the industry, who spent four decades at CBS News and produced more than 600 hours of news and cultural programming, has died. The New York Times reports that Perry Wolff, remembered for taking viewers inside the White House for a tour with Jacqueline Kennedy in 1962, died Feb. 17 in Portland, Ore. He was 97.
“His broadcasts won 17 Emmy Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards in broadcast journalism and an Academy Award nomination for best documentary short film, for writing and directing ‘An Essay on Matisse’ in 1996 for PBS,” The Times reports. “His 1954 program ‘Genetics I,’ which used dance and early films to explain science, was featured in a 1963 retrospective called ‘Television USA’ at the Museum of Modern Art.”
The Times adds: “Mr. Wolff’s documentaries drew audiences and drove public policy. His ‘Hunger in America’ for CBS in 1968 prompted an outcry from Washington officials over whether it had overstated the problem and was unfair in portraying the federal government’s response. But the broadcast also drew a commitment from the Nixon administration and Congress to expand the food stamps program as well as nutrition programs for women, children and the elderly.”
Wolff was at the center of a conflict with the White House in 1971 over his documentary “The Selling of the Pentagon,” about military propaganda in support of the Vietnam War. The Times notes that the program prompted Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to declare that the news media were guilty of a “credibility gap.”
“When the government demanded unedited footage of interviews conducted for the program, CBS refused,” The Times reports. “The network was credited with helping to clarify the supremacy of the First Amendment over the Fairness Doctrine, which required stations licensed by the government to provide balanced reporting.”
Wolff’s most-watched program may have been “A Tour of the White House,” a 1962 special that he produced and wrote that featured first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. “Shown on all three major networks, the broadcast drew a record audience of more than 80 million as the first lady guided Charles Collingwood of CBS through the newly restored Executive Mansion,” The Times reports.
Here’s a clip of Wolff talking about “A Tour of the White House” …