Anchoring the New World of News

Bernard Shaw, Anchor Emeritus, CNN

Bernard Shaw didn’t need a job when Ted Turner came knocking on his door in 1980.

As a television reporter, Shaw had already had a great career working for Group W Broadcasting, CBS and ABC. But Turner’s proposition was enticing: He wanted Shaw to work as an anchor at his startup 24-hour news channel, CNN.

After weeks of stewing about it — Shaw said he lived through several sleepless nights pondering the decision — he left the cushy world of broadcast news for the new front lines of cable. Eventually, CNN would become the go-to news source for government leaders around the world — including those in the U.S. — and its coverage of events from the far reaches of the globe would change the way every outlet handled the news.

The world — and Shaw — were never the same afterward.

“The swashbuckler in me drew me to the job,” Shaw said. “Ted and I are soul mates in that regard. He was willing to risk it all for a vision.”

Shaw is the first on-air personality to be inducted into The Cable Center’s Hall of Fame, CEO Larry Satkowiak said. His contributions to the network and his coverage of the first Gulf War from his Baghdad hotel room changed the industry, he added.

Turner, founder of Turner Broadcasting System, said Shaw’s broadcast-network experience and journalistic standards were exactly what CNN honchos were looking for when they began their hiring frenzy in 1980.

“Bernie was a very reliable, experienced journalist with solid credentials, and it was a pleasure having him on board at CNN,” Turner said. “We’re friends, and I wish I saw him more regularly than I do these days.”

Shaw covered some of the biggest stories of the times. But it was his live Gulf War coverage from Baghdad in 1991 for which he is perhaps most well known. Shaw stayed in the Iraqi capital with Peter Arnett and John Holliman after other reporters scattered, as U.S. bombs began falling on the city. The audio reports from their hotel room were riveting and terrifying and changed the the face of TV news.

Although the Gulf War coverage made Shaw and his reporting teammates famous — and gave CNN a new level of respect from viewers, governments and even competitors — it wasn’t the news story that most affected Shaw during his decades-long career as a TV journalist.

He calls those that hit him hardest the “troika of tragedy”: the 1979 Jonestown mass murders and suicides in Guyana; the 1989 student uprising and demonstrations in Beijing, China’s Tiananmen Square; and the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. He said the most important story he covered was the 1985 Geneva summit between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Thirty years ago, no one would have imagined the mega-impact CNN or the cable industry would have on society,” Shaw said. “CNN changed the way news was covered, and we changed the economics of it too.”

After 37 years as a TV reporter, Shaw had traveled to 46 countries on five continents and had either seen firsthand or reported on some of the biggest stories of the latter twentieth century. He retired at age 60 in 2001.

“Working for CNN was like riding a Sidewinder missile,” Shaw said. “Sometimes it went straight. Other times it went sideways. … You had to be ready every moment.

“You didn’t know where the story was going, but my beacon — my guiding principle — was always the news itself,” he added. “The news was always the star. You had to be prepared for the unexpected and that happened a lot.”