Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bad day at Black Rock: Harold Dow dies

Personally, he looked to be an ebullient teddy bear of a man. Professionally we knew him to be a tireless seeker of what happened, what went down, even when whatever happened happened half a planet away.

And when Harold Dow of CBS News died early Saturday, of an apparent asthma attack behind the wheel of his car at the age of 62, black American journalists lost another rare voice and presence in an industry that already didn’t have enough of them. Dow's jones was the news.

Like his colleague, the late Ed Bradley, Dow brought another kind of substance to television journalism. He was present at the start of some of the CBS programs that have since become institutions. Dow contributed to “48 Hours on Crack Street,” the 1986 documentary that was the kernel for the “48 Hours” franchise that’s been a part of CBS since 1988.

In Dow’s 37 years at CBS, there was nothing the man couldn’t do. Starting as a reporter at the CBS News Los Angeles bureau, from 1973 to 1977, Dow worked his way up the food chain of broadcast journalism, becoming a correspondent from 1977 to 1982, and a co-anchor on CBS News early-morning Nightwatch from 1982 to 1983. He also reported for the Dan Rather iteration of the CBS Evening News, and worked on the “Sunday Morning” program.

The business was in his blood. "He covered many of the most important stories of our times,” CBS said in a statement, “including 9/11 where he barely escaped one of the falling Twin Towers, the return of POW's from Vietnam and the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, with whom he had an exclusive interview in December 1976, the movement of American troops into Bosnia and the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster. He also conducted the first network interview with O. J. Simpson following the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.”

It’s fair to say, too, that on top of everything else, Harold Dow was a barometer of black male fashion, too. Back in the day, brother Harold sported an Afro with the best of them; watching videos of him through the years, we’re witness to a man whose sartorial and personal style evolved right in front of us.

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Count on Richard Prince’s Journal-Isms, an extension of the Maynard Institute for minority journalists, to get comments no other mainstream media outlet could — some of them from the black TV journalists who can thank Harold Dow for making a crooked path straight, or at least straighter.

"We r all together tonight on assignment," "60 Minutes" correspondent Byron Pitts told Journal-isms late Saturday via e-mail. "We all raised a glass for our friend," Harold Dow. "Harold was one of the funniest men I've ever known. Always welcoming, always willing to share his wisdom with those of us coming along. All of us owe him a debt of gratitude. He was a credit to our profession. As a journalist of color, he along with Ed Bradley is a cornerstone of my Mt. Rushmore."

"We, at CBS NEWS, are saddened and shocked,” said Randall Pinkston, the longtime New York TV reporter now with CBS Newspath, told Journal-isms an hour after he heard the news. “He was a trailblazer, a great journalist, a great friend and mentor. I shall miss him enormously."

And CBS national correspondent Russ Mitchell, anchor of the Sunday "CBS Evening News," jumped in. "I would only add … Harold was my Angel. The go-to-guy who had done it, seen it, survived it. A man who took his role as a pioneer seriously and always had a smile and great advice. Yeah, he was a remarkable journalist but he was an even more incredible human being. I loved him and already miss him."

It’s hard work being a minority journalist in this country, work made more challenging, psychologically anyway, by the relative rarity of faces in the newsroom that look like you. Harold Dow was a force in journalism, and that business — not just the TV news business but the whole news business — is different today without him: poorer for his absence, richer just for his having been around.

Image credits: Harold Dow, CBS eye: CBS Inc.

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