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 VOL. 23, NO. 18MARCH 27, 1998 

Fred Friendly, Broadcast Giant, Media Conscience and Columbia Professor, Dies at Age 82


A relaxed Fred Friendly, pictured at one of his Media and Society Seminars, which he began in 1974.

Fred W. Friendly, broadcast giant, Columbia professor and conscience of the media, died Mar. 3 in his Riverdale home after a series of strokes. He was 82.

  He was well known as producer of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” in the 1950s and as the courageous president of CBS News in the 1960s. Later he created and hosted the Fred Friendly Seminars on Media and Society, broadcast on PBS when he was a professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. The popular programs challenged leaders—including prominent journalists, judges and presidents—to grapple with national issues and media ethics.

  He was also a tireless instructor on the value and pertinence of the U.S. Constitution to contemporary American life. His 13-part public television series “The Constitution: That Delicate Balance” aired in 1984, and he often offered visitors a compact copy of the Constitution from his jacket pocket.

  He was regarded widely as an exemplar of integrity in television news who encouraged a fledgling industry at mid-century to excel in informing and educating society.

  “Fred was the founder of television journalism,” Joan Konner, former dean and now professor in the Journalism School, said. “Some people are defined by their organizations; he defined his organization and journalism ever after.”

  “He was the professional godfather of so many in the field; his signature is on every news program and he is the byline of the very best in journalism,” continued Konner, who is publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review and who knew him closely for more than 30 years. “He was a generous, open, giving teacher.”

  Friendly was the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Journalism at Columbia from 1966 to 1979 and continued at the school as a special lecturer until 1990. He was Murrow Professor Emeritus at the time of his death. He was the author of five books, including Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control (1967, Random House), which described his career at CBS and its culmination in 1966 when he resigned as president of CBS News on principle after network executives overrode his authority by replacing a scheduled broadcast of Senate hearings on the Vietnam War with more lucrative sitcom reruns.

  In 1994, when he was awarded the Gold Baton, the highest honor of the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards in radio and television journalism, President George Rupp praised him for “not only changing television news, but also holding all the media to the highest standards of excellence and public service.”

  Friendly was born Oct. 30, 1915, in New York City and was educated in New York and Providence, R.I., public schools, Cheshire Academy and Nichols College. He began his broadcasting career on radio in Providence in 1937, writing, producing and narrating a series of five-minute biographies titled “Footprints in the Sands of Time.”

  In 1948 he began a close, 12-year collaboration with Edward R. Murrow by producing an oral history of the period 1932 to 1945, a record album titled “I Can Hear It Now,” which led to the CBS network series “Hear It Now.” That developed eventually into the television series “See It Now,” which won 35 awards. Famous among those programs was a penetrating revelation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist excesses.

  Later, Friendly became executive producer of the acclaimed “CBS Reports,” which included such memorable documentaries as “Harvest of Shame” and “The Other Face of Dixie.” He was named president of CBS News in 1964. When he resigned in 1966 he became the Murrow Professor at Columbia and an adviser on communications to the Ford Foundation.

  He was chairman of the broadcast program in the Journalism School and creator and for six years director of its Michele Clark Program for minority journalists.

  In 1974 he began a series of conferences to engage journalists, judges, lawyers, business executives and government officials in dialogues over how the media and newsmakers interact. The initiative soon became the Columbia University Seminars on Media and Society, broadcast nationwide on public television. In them, Friendly asked well-known news anchors, politicians and others to make excruciating ethical decisions in hypothetical, real-life conflicts.

  Eighty-three of the 600 seminars he conducted across the country over the next 17 years were broadcast by PBS. They included programs on invasion of privacy, grand jury secrecy, protection of confidential sources, investigative reporting, libel, terrorism, drugs, the Presidency and other headline issues, and legal, medical and personal ethics. They eventually became better known as the Fred Friendly Seminars. When he retired from the series in 1992 at the age of 76, he repeated on air the familiar words that defined his purpose: “...not to make up anybody’s mind, but to open minds and to make the agony of decision making so intense that you can escape only by thinking.”

  Friendly’s first marriage, to the former Dorothy Greene, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Ruth Weiss Mark Friendly; three children, Andrew of Los Angeles, Lisa of Los Altos and David of Brentwood, Calif.; three stepsons, Jon Mark of Scarsdale, Michael Mark of Valley Cottage, N.Y., and Richard Mark of New York City, five grandsons and five granddaughters. A funeral service was held Mar. 6 in the Riverdale Temple in Riverdale. A memorial service will be held at Columbia at a time to be announced.