January 27, 2021

Harry Reasoner and the meaning of living

Harry Reasoner was one of the finest television journalists and commentators from the 1960s through the 1980s. He was a mainstay at CBS, where he backed up Walter Cronkite for years, was one of the founding hosts of 60 Minutes, helmed news specials written in conjunction with Andy Rooney, and was known for his droll observations on life, the universe, and everything. (To coin a phrase.) In the 1970s he moved to ABC, where he anchored the evening news with Howard K. Smith and, later, Barbara Walters, before he returned to CBS to end his career. (He also grew up in Minneapolis and started his journalism career here, which doesn't hurt.) 

I always admired Reasoner's use of language and his astute insight into human nature. He had the ability to communicate a story to viewers with eloquence, warmth and humanity; kind of a combination of the gravitas of Chet Huntley and the wit of David Brinkley. Of his many quotes, one that's always stayed with me is a comment from essay he did on—well, not exactly the meaning of life, but the meaning of living. Reasoner himself had engaged in a long battle with both cigarettes and booze, refusing to give either of them up despite the effects on both his health and his career, and while the essay wasn't about him, it did reflect his outlook on things, the feeling that living just for the purpose of checking days off of the calendar wasn't really living at all. Here, he expresses a philosophy that ought to give one pause, especially in these days.

I think those are words to live by—and I do mean live—don't you? I wonder what Harry would think of our outlook on things today? TV  


  1. As the evening anchorman, it usually fell to Harry Reasoner to do the very brief obituaries for those who passed on close to air time.

    Here's one Reasoner did in October 1975:

    The news today was as usual full of politicians and other movers and shakers.
    But the odds are overwhelming that when historians look at the bright blue late October of 1975, the only thing that they will keep about the 27th is that it was the day that Rex Stout died and the 28th was the day the death was reported.
    Rex Stout was a lot of things during his eighty-eight years, but the main thing he was was the writer of forty-six mystery novels about Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
    A lot of more pretentious writers have less claim on our culture and our allegiance.

    Just thought I'd pass that along ...

  2. Addendum to the above:
    My source is John McAleer's biography, Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life, as full a biography as anyone could wish for.


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