Mudd died Tuesday of kidney failure at his home in McLean, VA, according to CBS News.
With a to-the-point style, Mudd was a familiar face for decades on network television, starting on CBS in the early 1960s, as he reported on Congress, politics and government. He became a star correspondent and filled in for Walter Cronkite in the anchor chair in the late 1960s and early 1970s and on the weekend CBS Evening News broadcasts.
But no moment stood out more in Mudd’s career than an interview he did in 1979 with Sen. Edward Kennedy, readying a challenge to President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination. Mudd’s question was short and a bit of a softball — “Why do you want to be president?” — but Kennedy’s answer was all over the map. Kennedy went on to lose the nomination to Carter.
After a pause, Kennedy said, “Well I’m…were I to make the announcement to run, the reasons to run was because I have a great belief in this country that there’s more natural resources than any nation of the world…”
Mudd won a Peabody Award for his work on the special, CBS Reports: Teddy.
He later recalled that Kennedy’s answer was “almost a parody of a politician’s answer.”
In his memoir, Kennedy wrote that he had yet to announce his presidential run, and “had no intention of announcing my candidacy in this interview with Roger Mudd.”
He added, “My displeasure with Roger Mudd unfortunately spilled over into my interview performance. I regret that. If I had already declared my candidacy, I suppose I would have a more polished answer to Mudd’s question, but the essence would have been the same.”
Mudd was in contention to succeed Cronkite when he retired in 1981, but Dan Rather won the spot, signaling a new era of highly paid “star” anchors on the network newscasts. Mudd then left the network for NBC News, where he was teamed with Tom Brokaw to co-anchor NBC Nightly News, in what seemed like an effort to replicate the chemistry of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. But the pairing didn’t work, and Brokaw the next year became sole anchor. Mudd later served as a moderator of Meet the Press and as host of two NBC attempts to launch a newsmagazine.
In a statement, Brokaw said that Mudd “was one of the most gifted journalists of my lifetime. An astute political reporter and guardian of the highest standards. Roger’s dedication to fundamental journalistic practices remains a marker for future generations.”
Later in his career, Mudd became a correspondent and occasional anchor for MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, and was an anchor on The History Channel. He also taught at Princeton and Washington and Lee universities.
Mudd was born on Feb. 9, 1928, in Washington, D.C., and got his undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University in 1950, and his masters in American history from the University of North Carolina in 1951. Before joining CBS News, Mudd worked at WTOP, a CBS radio and TV affiliate, and for WRNL Radio in Richmond, VA.
He joined CBS News in 1961, and three years later covered the landmark battle to pass the Civil Rights Act, spending 67 days reporting on the Senate debate and earning a nationwide recognition. By 1964, he was already one of the network’s premiere correspondents, and that year was teamed with Robert Trout to anchor CBS News coverage of the Democratic National Convention, in a slight to Cronkite. But the network was angling to overtake Huntley and Brinkley in the ratings. But the experiment fizzled, and Cronkite returned to convention coverage in 1968.
That year, Mudd was at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mudd was one of the last to interview the senator and presidential candidate.
In an interview with the Television Academy, Mudd recalled that the interview actually was a bit light hearted, as Kennedy playfully admonished him for the way he phrased some of his questions. He said that after Kennedy went down to the ballroom to speak to the crowd of his supporters, after winning the California primary, he was standing off to the side. He heard the sound of “pops” of a gun, and went to Kennedy’s wife, Ethel, to help her get through the crowd to her husband, stricken in the hotel’s pantry.
“I remember our cameraman just broke down and wept. He had been with him the whole time,” Mudd recalled.
Mudd also contributed to the network’s much praised documentaries, under the title of CBS Reports. A 1971 investigation into the way that the military was using taxpayer money to “sell” the Vietnam war, called The Selling of the Pentagon, also won a Peabody. The furor over the documentary led to a standoff with a congressional subcommittee which subpoenaed the outtakes from the project. CBS President Frank Stanton testified but refused to turn over the clips under threat of being held in contempt. The House ultimately voted not to do so.
Mudd wrote a 2009 memoir, The Place To Be: Washington, CBS and the Glory Days Of Television News, in which he recounted his days working for a network earning its status as the gold standard of broadcast journalism.
Rather wrote on Twitter about his former rival, “Roger Mudd was a journalist of the highest standard. His storied career was a credit to his talent and a service to the country. The crucible of newsrooms can be competitive, but I always admired Roger. I enjoyed reminiscing with him in later years about the journeys we traveled.”
Susan Zirinsky, the president and senior executive producer of CBS News, said in a statement that Mudd was “a hero in the CBS News Washington bureau.”
“He was a journalist of enormous integrity and character,” she said. “He would not budge if he believed he was right and would not compromise his ethical standards. He was an inspiration to all of us in the bureau. On a personal note – I sat directly across from him in the D.C. newsroom – Roger was big, not just in his physical presence but he was larger than life.”
A+E Network President Paul Buccieri also remembered Mudd.
“All of us at A+E Networks mourn the loss of Roger Mudd. Roger was our first on-air anchor in the early days of The History Channel. We will be forever grateful for his leadership and enormous contributions which helped build The History Channel brand. He had a remarkable, award-winning career in television and we are very proud to be a part of his legacy. Our deepest sympathies are with his family.”
Mudd’s wife of 54 years, Emma Jeanne Spears Mudd, a poet and writer, died in 2011. He is survived by their four children, with Daniel, Maria Mudd-Ruth, Jonathan and Matthew, along with 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.