Maurice “Reese” Schonfeld, who helped found CNN with Ted Turner and created the early breakout show Crossfire but later had a well publicized falling out with the controversial billionaire, died Tuesday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.
His death was announced by CNN, widow Pat O’Gorman and daughter Juliette Reverand. O’Gorman told the cable news network: “He loved CNN. He was very proud of it. It was a good time for him.”
Born in Newark, NJ, Schonfeld began his own business in 1975 providing news footage to local TV stations, and in 1979 joined Atlanta businessman Turner to launch a nationwide news endeavor to be called CNN, combining his TV experience with Turner’s deep pockets.
According to CNN, Schonfeld was responsible for hiring many of the new network’s news anchors who would quickly become the channel’s first generation of well-known journalists: Bernard Shaw, Kathleen Sullivan, Lou Dobbs, Mary Alice Williams, Daniel Schorr and Peter Arnett.
He also chose the anchors of a new opposing viewpoints-talker called Crossfire, liberal Tom Braden and conservative Pat Buchanan, and fired CNN’s night-time talk show host Sandi Freeman. Turner hated both decisions, Schonfeld would later reveal in a 2001 memoir, and quickly re-hired Freeman and by 1982 fired Schonfeld.
“Ted Turner did not like to share glory,” Schonfeld wrote in Me and Ted Against the World: The Unauthorized Story of the Founding of CNN.
Schonfeld next worked as vice president of Long Island’s Cablevision, where he launched a 24-hour local news channel in the mid-1980s.
In 1992, Schonfeld was among the founders of The Food Network, though he would admit that, unlike the news business, food was never a personal preoccupation. He left in 1995, and sold his lucrative stakes in 1999.
Later in life, Schonfeld would express disappointment in the national news organization he helped launch, decrying its emphasis on personalities over breaking news. According to the New York Times, Schonfeld told the TV Academy that CNN had become “half the Wolf Blitzer network and half the Anderson Cooper network.”
In addition to O’Gorman and Reverand, Schonfeld is survived by daughters Ellen Schonfeld and Ida Schonfeld; sons Alex, Orrin and William Schonfeld; a brother; 12 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
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