NBC News Correspondent Edwin Newman Dead at 91

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NEW YORK -- Edwin Newman, who brought literacy, wit and energy to NBC newscasts for more than three decades, and battled linguistic pretense and clutter in his best sellers "Strictly Speaking" and "A Civil Tongue," has died. He was 91.

NBC News did not immediately say Wednesday where or when Newmanhad died, or the cause of death.

At NBC from 1952 until his retirement in 1984, Newman didpolitical reporting, foreign reporting, anchoring of news specials,"Meet the Press," "Today," "The Nightly News," midday newsand a variety of radio spots. He announced the death of PresidentKennedy on radio and analyzed the Vietnam War.

He also narrated and helped write documentaries, back when theywere an influential staple of network programming. They included"Who Shall Live?" - a 1965 study of the difficulties of decidingwhich kidney disease should receive lifesaving dialysis - and"Politics: The Outer Fringe," a 1966 look at extremism.

"I think I worked on more documentaries than anybody else in TVhistory," he once said.

Newman, with his rumpled, squinting delivery, impressed hisaudience not so much with how he looked as with the likelihood thatwhat he'd say would be worth hearing. And his occasional witty turnof phrase might be accompanied by a mischievous smile. The New YorkTimes wrote in 1966 that Newman "is one of broadcasting'srarities. ... NBC's instant renaissance man speaks with thedistinctive growl of a rusted muffler. He makes no concessions tothe charm boy school of commentator."

In his series "Speaking Freely," he had hourlong,uninterrupted conversations with notables in many fields.

"People had an opportunity to put forward ideas" he said in a1988 Associated Press interview. "You could get people to come onwho wouldn't normally have been on TV.

"NBC, and I mean this to its credit, never tried to sell aminute of commercials and never interfered with the choice ofpeople. The producer and I chose them."

His contributions to the radio show "Emphasis" won him a 1966Peabody Award; judges cited "his wit and depth of understanding,both conspicuous rarities to be cherished and honored."

He turned to writing books in the 1970s, taking on thelinguistic excesses of Watergate, sports-casting, academics,bureaucrats and other assorted creators of gobbledygook with witand indignation. Both "Strictly Speaking" and "A Civil Tongue"were best sellers.

Chapter titles of "A Civil Tongue" give an idea of histargets: "A Fatal Slaying of the Very Worst Kind," "A Real SuperPlayer with Good Compassion," "Paradigm Lost" and "Myself WillBe Back After This Message."

"A civil tongue ... means to me a language that is not boggeddown in jargon, not puffed up with false dignity, not studded withtrick phrases that have lost their meaning," he wrote.

"It is direct, specific, concrete, vigorous, colorful, subtleand imaginative when it should be, and as lucid and eloquent as weare able to make it. It is something to revel in and enjoy."

For a time, he was also a theater reviewer for NBC's New Yorkstation, drawing upon all his skills to sum up productions in oneminute flat. Of one show, he wrote, "As with so many recentmusicals, none of the principals can really sing."

In another, he wrote that "`Illya Darling' rests on the premisethat Melina Mercouri is irresistible. ... This highly unlikelypremise . ..." He raised a ruckus when a producer quoted him in anad as saying "Melina is irresistible."

Some of his less-than-kind comments about David Merrick's showsprompted the headline-loving producer to try to ban Newman from hisproductions.

After retiring in January 1984, Newman enjoyed being on

"Saturday Night Live" skits and in several situation comedies,where, he said, "I've always had the demanding job of playingmyself." (In one SNL sketch, he mans a suicide hot line and keepscorrecting the desperate caller's grammar.)

He narrated some public television programs, including the 1988

PBS series "Television."

"So much on TV over the years has been good," he said at thetime. "The question is raised, why can't there be more such good,worthwhile, deserving programs? But I have never met a payroll orhad to sell time on the air. It is easy to be critical."

Newman was born in New York City in 1919, and got his firsttaste of reporting on his high school paper. A brother, M.W.Newman, became an award-winning reporter for the Chicago Daily Newsand the Chicago Sun-Times. He died in 2001.

After studying at the University of Wisconsin and LouisianaState, Newman began his journalism career in the Washington bureauof the International News Service.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, he held variousjournalism jobs, including a stint in the CBS Washington bureau,before joining NBC in 1952 in London.

He rose to NBC bureau chief in London, then Rome, then Parisbefore returning to the United States permanently in 1961, coveringa variety of assignments for NBC.

He and his wife, Rigel, had one daughter, Nancy.

"News is a great business," Newman once wrote. "I countmyself lucky to be in it."

"I remember when the bulletin came on the AP wire that SpiroAgnew had resigned as vice president. I ran to the announcer'sbooth. There was an American League playoff game on. Whoever was incharge of operations control wanted me to wait until the end of theinning. I said, `The next time the pitcher delivers the pitch andyou see the ball in the catcher's mitt, switch to me and I'll beoff before the pitcher throws another ball."'

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