Death of a language cop

There was a time in the broadcast news business when an editor could earn a lot of respect by preventing a wayward reporter from splitting an infinitive. Those days are gone, so maybe even people in newsrooms won’t know who Edwin Newman was.

Newman, a long-time NBC TV reporter, has died, NBC announced today. I admit I had no idea he was still alive, but I do remember that his post-broadcast career influenced those who hated the assault on the English language. He did it with one book, Strictly Speaking, which outed the torturers of English and adopted the premise that America will be the death of it.

Newman was entirely old school. He not only cared about proper use of English, he was a frumpled sort and he wasn’t very pretty, a requirement to get on TV these days. He was a curmudgeon. He was NBC’s drama critic in the ’60s, but hated the plays because he said they were directed at younger people. He warned journalists that the day of the “talking head” was coming. He was right, of course.

He occasionally provided commentary and read the news at the same time. It wasn’t entirely uncommon for TV anchors to do that then, although that, too, would come as a surprise to most people in newsrooms today.

  • JackU

    I admit I had no idea he was still alive…

    I too was unaware that he was still alive. What I remember growing up in the NY area was watching the news on Channel 4 (WNBC). I’m not sure why but I’ve always liked NBC’s network news more than CBS. I’m too young to remember Chet Huntley very well. I liked John Chancellor more than Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw more than Dan Rather.

    I don’t remember the precise media reactions on 9/11/2001 but I would be surprised if we had anything close to a statement like the one in the clip. And that is probably something else to be mourned this day.

  • Henny

    Too bad NBC had to waste 4:15 of airtime on this commentary back in 1963. Luckily today, if something as reflective as this piece were to be done at all, the network could issue it as staccato tweets. Much more geared to “new school” attention spans.