NEW YORK – Longtime broadcast news executive William J. Small, who led CBS News' Washington coverage during the civil rights movement, Vietnam War and Watergate and was later president of NBC News and United Press International, died Sunday, CBS News said. He was 93.
Small, whose career spanned from overseeing the news operation at a small radio station to testifying in Congress about press freedom, died in a New York hospital after a brief illness unrelated to the coronavirus, the network said.
During a six-decade career, Small supervised, guided and in some cases hired generations of some of the best-known reporters and anchors in television news, among them: Dan Rather, Eric Sevareid, Daniel Schorr, Connie Chung, Diane Sawyer, “60 Minutes” correspondents Ed Bradley and Lesley Stahl and “Face the Nation” anchor Bob Schieffer.
“He was heroic and steadfast, especially during Watergate, when it seemed we were getting angry calls from the White House every night," Stahl said in a statement. "He made us want to be better — and nobody wanted to disappoint him.”
Small hired the current CBS News president, Susan Zirinsky, to her first job at the network when she was 20. She remembered Small as a “hero to journalism” and said, "every one of us carries Bill Small’s legacy with us — it’s the core to who we are as journalists.”
Small, born in 1926 in Chicago, broke into broadcasting after fighting in the Army in World War II, including stints as news director at WLS-AM in Chicago and WHAS-TV in Louisville. Less than a year after he arrived, the Kentucky station was honored in 1957 as the nation's top news operation by the organization that is now known as the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Impressed by Small's work in Louisville, CBS executives hired him in 1962 to be assistant news director of the network's Washington bureau. He was promoted to bureau director within a year and "put together a TV News bureau the likes of which Washington had never known,” reporter Roger Mudd wrote in his 2009 book, “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News.”
Early in his tenure, Small presided over the network's coverage of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, scrambling cameras to the White House and Capitol Hill and turning a station wagon into a makeshift broadcast truck so they could get live pictures from Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s home.