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.