George Will

In 1949 John Cameron Swayze's ``Camel News Caravan,'' for which young Brinkley, who had joined NBC in 1943, was a reporter, was carried for 15 minutes five nights a week. NBC's network consisted of four stations, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. The sponsor required Swayze, who always wore a carnation in his lapel, to have a lit cigarette constantly in view. Not until 1963 did Cronkite's ``CBS Evening News'' become the first 30-minute newscast.

In 1981, after 38 years with NBC, Brinkley became host of ABC's ``This Week.'' He understood a fundamental truth about television talk shows: what one does on them one does in strangers' living rooms. So mind your manners; do not make a scene. Those thoughts guided Brinkley as he provided adult supervision to others on ``This Week,'' the first hour-long Sunday morning interview program.

How anachronistic the maxim ``mind your manners'' seems in the harsh light cast by much of today's television. How serene, even proud, Brinkley was about becoming somewhat of an anachronism.

Evelyn Waugh's novel Scott-King's Modern Europe (1947) concludes on what can be called a Brinkleyesque note. The protagonist, Mr. Scott-King, a teacher at an English boys' school, is warned by the school's headmaster that the boys' parents are only interested in preparing their boys for the modern world.

``You can hardly blame them, can you?'' said the headmaster. ``Oh, yes,'' Scott-King replied, ``I can and do,'' adding, ``I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.''

Brinkley's backward-looking gentility made him regret, among much else, the passing of the days when it was unthinkable for a gentleman to wear other than a coat and tie when traveling by air. It is, then, an irony of the sort Brinkley savored that he was not merely present at the creation of television as a shaper of the modern world, he was among the creators of that phenomenon. Like the Founders of this fortunate Republic, Brinkley set standards of performance in his profession that still are both aspirations and reproaches to subsequent practitioners.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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