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TV news executive Gordon Manning dies

NBC exec arranged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s first interview
/ Source: The Associated Press

TV news executive Gordon Manning, who helped guide coverage of some of the 20th century’s most significant events and arranged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s first interview on U.S. television, has died. He was 89.

Manning suffered heart failure at his home in Westport and was taken to Norwalk Hospital, where he died Wednesday, said his son, Doug Manning.

Manning started his journalism career in Boston as a reporter for United Press. He later went on to jobs as managing editor of Collier’s magazine, executive editor of Newsweek and vice president of both CBS News and NBC News.

Gorbachev’s one-hour exchange with NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw was aired in November 1987, shortly before his summit meeting with President Reagan. Manning had visited Moscow regularly for two years, cultivating contacts in the Kremlin, in his effort to land the interview.

Brokaw recalled at the time: “Gorbachev said the other night, ’Yes, Mr. Manning, I’ve read all your telexes,’ and he said, ’I finally just said, ‘Enough. We’ll do the interview.”’

The interview and another major NBC project from 1987, “Changing China,” won Manning a prestigious George Polk Award in Journalism in 1988.

Saw TV news as an adventureEarlier, as an executive at CBS, Manning led the news team that covered President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972.

That same year, Manning was a key backer of the decision to run a detailed report on Watergate on the “CBS Evening News,” according to the book “The Powers That Be” by David Halberstam.

The unprecedented length — 14 minutes — of the first segment of Walter Cronkite’s report in fall 1972 helped ensure national attention to the then-emerging scandal. “Gordon Manning was very enthusiastic about the piece, he had become the executive force behind it,” Halberstam wrote.

Manning joined NBC in 1975 and directed its political coverage in 1976, leading it to become the first network to use the now-common method of displaying a color-coded map to indicate candidates’ election night victories state by state, his son said.

Manning returned to China in 1989 to help direct NBC’s coverage of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square.

In a 1988 New Yorker profile of Manning, fellow news executive Steve Friedman said: “Is there anybody who doesn’t like him? Yeah — the same people who think of television news as a business. Gordon thinks of it as an adventure.” Another friend, novelist Richard Condon, created characters named Gordon Manning in several of his books, The New Yorker wrote.

Manning’s wife of 47 years, Edna, died in 1989. He is survived by four sons, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.