Talk with Roger Mudd; Network news rating battles: viewers are the losers
New York — The reason you don't read many timely quotations from Roger Mudd, the new co-anchor man of the ''NBC Nightly News'' with Tom Brokaw, is that he believes ''the anchor of the evening news should confine himself to the evening news. . . .''
''One of the problems with broadcast journalists,'' he says, ''is that we have been convinced, sometimes against our better judgment, that we are not reporters but show-business people.''
But now that he is about to begin his new chore as NBC co-anchor, he's willing to talk a bit more. On the phone from his office at NBC headquarters in Washington, Mr. Mudd derided the current tendency to compete for larger audiences by ''jazzing up'' the news.
''You would think that the competition between networks would produce stronger, more thoughtful reporting,'' he says. ''But instead, the competition has resulted in a hype that's very disturbing and a tendency, as people start to switch their dials, to try to grab them with electronic tricks and 'glitzy' news that really doesn't have much to do with journalism.
''You begin to get awfully close to changing reality. You get so absorbed in technology that you forget you're really covering news. I just think you need good, strong reporting.''
Many industry insiders think Mr. Brokaw and Mudd may end up competing with each other on air.
''I have no fears about that at all,'' says Mudd. ''Tom and I have known each other professionally and socially for 10 years. I don't feel threatened by him and I don't believe he feels threatened by me. We have spent long hours talking about our on-air relationship and the division of labor.''
Might the Mudd-Brokaw partnership result in another Huntley-Brinkley hyphenated identity?
''We are different people, who think differently and have a different relationship than Huntley-Brinkley as I know it. But there's no way of knowing how the American public will perceive us.''
Would Mudd like to see the ''NBC Nightly News'' extended to an hour?
''Only when we are ready for it -- and I am not sure that NBC is ready for it yet. I think it would be a mistake if all we do is add a couple more film crews and one or two extra reporters and try to stretch. I think it would be a good idea if we are prepared to give it an all-out commitment. I don't think anybody has sat down and thought out precisely how we would use the added half hour.''
Some people believe that Mudd's famous award-winning ''CBS Reports'' documentary ''Teddy'' played an important part in the Sen. Edward Kennedy's withdrawal from the last presidential race. How does Mudd feel about that in perspective?
''Well, I guess it was a notable broadcast and it alerted many people to the fact that Kennedy was not ready and had not thought through carefully why he was running, what his goals were. But I think probably that would have been discovered in the course of the campaign anyway. But the program pulled it all together in one hour.
''If damage was done to Ted Kennedy, I think as much damage was done by what was written about the broadcast than the broadcast itself.''
What would Mudd consider to be success on the ''NBC Nightly News''?
''I think, aside from the ratings, and I'll put them aside, professional success would come when all of us at NBC News as well as our viewers knew when we finished watching the NBC news that we had seen a serious, informative, accurate piece of television journalism which was as close to the truth as it could come, within the limits of the technical and time restraints of the medium. If our viewers believe that . . . I'd be pleased. And if all that got us into first place, that would be terrific. But I hope we will never abandon our standards just to win the ratings race.''
Mudd refuses even obliquely to fall into a personality shoot-out with Dan Rather, the man who got the anchor job at CBS, causing Mudd to switch networks.
The professional shoot-out starts officially in most cities at 7 p.m. on Monday, when NBC's Mudd-Brokaw team (with commentary by John Chancellor) faces CBS's Rather team (with Bill Moyers commentary and Charles Kuralt 'On the Road').
May the best newsmen win.