How the great network news anchor helped a cub reporter feel not so clumsy.
Posted in , Mar 15, 2021
In an editorial meeting the other day there was a suggestion I really liked: Let’s find stories about an act of kindness or empathy the person on the receiving end never forgets. Not a huge, life-changing act but a simple, decent gesture that stays with you, maybe for the rest of your life.
I hadn’t given it much thought until I heard about the passing of the great TV journalist Roger Mudd, a man whose tie I once ruined.
This was in September of 1976, and I was a young reporter on a small newspaper in Ann Arbor, Michigan. President Gerald Ford, a proud Michigan alum, was kicking off his presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter with a speech at the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena. I applied for press credentials and got them (it was a lot easier back then). There had been two attempts on Ford’s life so understandably the Secret Service was on high alert—which was why when they saw the Swiss Army knife in my satchel next to my notebook and cassette recorder, they seized it. It would be the last I ever saw of it.
The press area was crowded with national media, including all the major network correspondents. I swung my satchel over my shoulder and looked for a place to work. Except my satchel collided with something or in this case someone—Roger Mudd. Worse, it collided with the cup of coffee in his hand just as he was moving into position to do an on-air “stand up,” a quick live shot that sets up the event being covered.
As they say, if looks could kill. I was too mortified to apologize. Someone rushed over with paper towels to sop up the coffee on Mudd’s shirt. Meanwhile, he was trying to borrow a tie which elicited a round of heckling from his fellow journalists until someone came up with one. “Here’s the ugliest we could find, Roger.”
I don’t remember much about Ford’s speech. I was too busy dying of embarrassment. On the way out I tried to retrieve my Swiss Army knife from the Secret Service. It was a college graduation present from my brother the year before, and I wanted it back. While I was haggling with the agents, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around, wondering if I was about to be arrested. It was Roger Mudd. “Don’t worry about the coffee, kid. No big deal.” He smiled and walked away.
It was a classy, considerate thing to do, and it made me feel better about my blunder. It still makes me feel good to think about it, a kind word when I really needed it. RIP, Roger Mudd.