News & Politics

Carol Joynt and Roger Mudd Recall Working at CBS News and Walter Cronkite

The Washingtonian published a short excerpt in April from a book by former CBS newsman Roger Mudd. One of the people mentioned in the excerpt, Carol Ross—now Carol Joynt, owner of Nathans restaurant in Georgetown—suggested we run her e-mails to and from Mudd last July to make clearer what happened between them when both worked for CBS News. Here are the e-mails.July 19, 2007, 9:30 a.m.:

Good morning, Carol: It’s been so many years that I hope you remember me from our time on the Cronkite show. I’m finishing a book – a memoir told through a history of the great CBS Washington Bureau 1960-80 – and need your help. My memory is that Cronkite met you during the Calley trial, that you were working for UP at the time, he hired you as one of his evening news writers, that during the summer of ’73 when I was his substitute we did not get along, that you fought me on every suggested re-write, that it wasn’t because you couldn’t write because you could but that you thought I couldn’t, that it became contentious, that I asked Socolow to re-assign you whenever I substituted and that he did to the 12:24 p.m. My questions are these: Does that narrative square with your memory? Did you call Cronkite at the Vineyard to complain? If you did, what did you tell him? Did he respond? Did he call Socolow to find out what was going on? I can’t tell from your impressive web site whether you are gone for the summer or just your weekly q&a’s but if you get this e-mail I would love an answer before my deadline catches up with me. With kind regards, ROGER MUDD

July 19, 2007, 11:26 a.m.:


Of my many memories about The CBS Evening News, among some of the clearest are those that have to do with you. We've probably both learned in life its the bumpy experiences that give a memory texture, and our relationship was all about bumpy. It's worth noting, though: I liked your writing. I was in awe of the way you wrote in a voice that was entirely your own. You had a down to earth, cut through the BS, both barrels loaded style that was, in the genre of TV news writing, a thing of beauty. Right now I can take myself back to my little chair and wedge of desk on the back corner of the anchor slot and see you sitting there in your collegiate, buttoned-down, DC mufti (your suits were a refreshing departure among the NY/CBS Savile Row culture), Merriman worried as you'd drum your fingers and scan a piece of my copy. What usually happened is that you'd set my version aside brusquely, stick a copy book in the typewriter, and do your own version, and it would be in a voice that was yours and it would be perfect. Merriman would gesture to me to get on with my work. Sadly, and with frustration, I could not get your voice in my head.

If there were times we argued I don't recall them. I think I was too scared of you to argue. If I did argue it shows a little bravery (or stupidity) that has faded from memory.

When I came to the CBS Evening News I'd already worked 4 years for United Press International in Washington and one year at Time Magazine. I'd covered the protest movement, politics, the space program and some back of the book stuff. I'd been in the middle of violent street demonstrations, on the McGovern campaign bus, at rocket launches and at movie premieres. I was also only just 22 years old. A lot of people assumed I worked some special angle to get the job, but it's not true. In my own way, I probably begged for it.

When I was at UPI, Walter appeared on the cover of "Look" Magazine. In the interview he called UPI "one of the finest vineyards in journalism." It made me so proud I sat down at my portable Hermes typewriter and wrote him a "thank you" fan letter. In it I mentioned my job, some of my assignments and that I hoped we'd meet someday. Three weeks later a letter came in for me in a CBS envelope. I almost fainted. It was from Walter Cronkite. He thanked me for my letter and said "if we're ever in the same place at the same time be sure to let me know."

A few months later we were both at Cape Kennedy for the Apollo 13 launch and I begged a CBS pr suit to "let Walter Cronkite know I'm here," as we stood outside the CBS News quonset hut studio. He was all "you're nuts, I can't do that," until my begging overwhelmed him. He went in and a few minutes later Walter himself walked out onto the gravel tarmac, his hand extended, smiling. He invited me in to watch the show, bought me a Coke after, sat on a curb and talked journalism with me, and said "keep in touch." When I moved to NY to work for Time, we had lunch. After that meal he said, "keep in touch." At the Apollo 17 launch, when I visited with Walter and Betsy at the CBS hut and told them I planned to quit Time "to travel cross country and find myself" (we talked that way back then), he said, "No. Call me when we all get back to NY. I may have an opening on the show and I'd like to get a person with wire service experience."

I called on a Monday, met with Socolow the next day, and was hired on the same Friday Michelle Clark was killed in a plane crash outside Chicago. My job would be "all else" writer. I was over the moon. My last day at Time I wanted to go to Hurley's to celebrate with friends, but that morning Time Inc announced they were folding Life Magazine, and I kept my mouth shut. It was impossible to be among those people and celebrate my going to the very industry that was the assumed murderer of Life.

Everyone on the show was suspicious of me. Who is she? Where did she come from? She's so young! On the other hand, I thought my being there made sense. Given my background, I didn't see me as unqualified. John Merriman, thankfully, felt the same way. He said, "I can show you the ropes and you'll make it, or I can ignore you and you'll sink like a rock. I'm going to help you." We became best friends.

That's how I started at The Evening News. A few crash and burn leads, a few living tel-ops written with seconds to go before air, and the staff began to embrace me. With the exception of Jimmy Clevenger, who would get drunk at The Slate and shout, "I know you're sleeping with Cronkite," but I'd ignore him. I'd tell Walter about the rumors. He'd laugh and say, "Do me a favor. Don't deny them."

You or Rather would show up sporadically to fill in for Walter and we'd all shift in our seats and get into the appropriate gear. Dan would show up all smiles and glad-handing, remember the names of every techs grand-kids, flirt with the Hinda Glasser posse, and was basically adored. You would arrive stern, serious, all business, somewhat aloof, friendly only with a few, and most people grumbled. They thought you were full of yourself, but still good at your job. It would be extreme to say no one liked you. Probably better to say they didn't know how to like you. They respected you, but the connection was not warm and fuzzy.

We didn't hit it off from the beginning. Hughes Rudd, a dear friend, would console me but was also direct. "Roger does not like you," he would tell me again and again. "He's not comfortable with you. He never will be." Merriman would say something similar but more diplomatically. Together Merriman and I would focus on the journalism and the writing and hope that would carry us along. Paul Greenberg and John Lane were of the mind that I just "try to get through it." But face it: you and I were oil and water. There was chemical imbalance. Nothing could bring us together.

My getting kicked off the show by you happened in the summer of Watergate, 1974. Walter announced he would be off for a huge chunk of the summer and you, not Rather, would be the anchor. At the outset of your tour of duty, on a routine afternoon, Merriman called me into a back office where the producers had their desks. He took me into a room and shut the door. "Roger wants you off the show," he said, "effective immediately." Too young to know better, I burst into tears. "Why?" I sobbed. "It's just not working," he said. "There's nothing I can do." He sat with me until I was well enough composed to return to our desks in the studio.

That evening I phoned Walter at home on Martha's Vineyard. He said, "Roger is doing this to you just to get at me." Again, of course, I sobbed. "Do you want me to get you back on the show?" he asked. "I can talk to Socolow." My heart was broken. "No," I said. "I don't want to do it that way. No. Roger doesn't want me, so be it." Again, I was too young to know how to play this game, and maybe that's for the better. Probably the only way to play it would have been to confront you directly and have it out, but I was scared of you.

I took off for the Outer Banks to lick my wounds. This is why I think it was during Watergate, because I was called back to Washington for the resignation. In fact, CBS had a plane held for me at Norfolk airport to get me to Washington. It was the first time I was reunited with Walter since being kicked off the show. Again, he said, "do you want me to do something?" Socolow may have asked me the same thing. I said, "No." After Nixon resigned, Walter returned to his holiday, you took the anchor chair, and I wrote the 12:24 or 12:25 for Douglas Edwards. Guess what? I got into it. I was working with a legend and I got folded into the mix of the newsroom. (They usually had a them/us attitude about the Cronkite show). I made friends. I had fun. Summer passed quietly. When summer ended, just like that I was back at my old desk, in my old job; back on the show.

The worst part of this whole story is that after John Merriman kicked me off the show for you, I didn't speak to him again. I blamed him. He was one of my best friends and I cut him out. Before that we talked constantly across our TV version of a "partners desk." We went to plays and concerts together. Had dinner together. Ate hotdogs from the Sabrett's wagon together. Argued and made up and argued some more. I adored him. On September 11 1974, his Eastern flight crashed on approach to Charleston airport. He was on his way home to see his mother in Marion. I still feel heartache over losing John without having made up. Later I drove to Marion to visit with his mother and to share some memories.

For the next year, whenever it was announced that Walter would be off and you would be the substitute, I would march into Greenberg's office. "You have to get a pool writer to fill in for me." He'd ask, "Why?" I'd say, "Cause Roger's coming." He'd nod his head. For however long you were subbing, I'd be rotated out to the Edwards show. Doug would look up, "Oh, you again? Roger must be here." Then one day it went down differently. Greenberg and John Lane were crashing the show. It was late. Walter's departure the next day was something sudden. I said to both men, "Roger's coming tomorrow. You have to get a pool writer." John Lane barked, "Why?" I said, "Roger's coming." Greenberg said, "Fuck Roger. You're doing the show."

After that I was never exiled again and somehow you and I resumed working together.

This is what I remember. No doubt there are holes. We mellow with age. I've always admired your work. Sometimes I find myself wishing we'd found a way to be friends.


July 19, 2007, 3:15 pm:

Carol: I've just returned from our monthly Ink-Stained Wretch lunch -Jack Nelson, Bill Kovach, John Herbers, Pat Furgurson, John Mashek, Ron Ostrow and none of us has the memory you have. I'm indebted to you for such a fine piece of remembering and for your generosity in sitting down to do it. Thank God I asked you. It fills in and rounds out a chapter about my in-and- out relationship with Cronkite, dating back to 1964 when Trout and I unseated him at the Democratic convention, to a speech highly critical of tv news I gave in 1970, to "The Selling of the Pentagon" a few months later in which we (I) refused his demand that we remove a propaganda film he did for the DoD, to my semi-public complaint about his plug for Pan-Am in one of his radio commnentaries. Then comes the Ross/Mudd shootout. He really must have thought I was gunning for him. Little did I know but should have that my unhappiness with you spread throughout the office. Little did I know that it was Greenberg who broke the impasse. Again, I'm in your debt for lifting what easily could have remained a life-long grudge. Molto grazie and I'm sorry for your tears. ROGER

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