DAVID BRINKLEY 1920-2003
Brinkley and Shakespeare share equal
place on bookshelf and history
“A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her.” — David Brinkley
“Numerous politicians have seized absolute power and muzzled the press. Never in history has the press seized absolute power and muzzled the politicians.” — David Brinkley
“Washington D.C. is a city filled with people who believe they are important.” — David Brinkley
“For there never was a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently.” — William Shakespeare
“Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.” — William Shakespeare
“O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” — William Shakespeare
“I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking: I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment.” — William Shakespeare
David Brinkley and William Shakespeare still live in books, next to each other on Vinman’s bookshelf.
One day, that will not mean a thing more than a microspec of dust in a windstorm. But you heard it here first that David Brinkley and William Shakespeare are equals as storytellers and reporters of world events. And often with similar eloquence. Both will still be explaining history millenniums from now.
‘Twas a sad day for me when Brinkley passed yesterday for he was a mentor of sorts to me. I came upon this Earth as his career in television was born and grew. Indeed, television news was a babe as I was in 1960 and it grew as I did. It learned to walk when Kennedy was assassinated. We both saw for the first time a war presented in living color in my living room as well as rooms across the nation. And when a man first stepped on the moon, Brinkley and a 9-year-old Vinman shared the moment with equal awe. I’m quite certain that he and I, and millions, knew then that anything is possible.
Brinkley was the one who told Earth about what was happening on the Moon.
As David Brinkley once said of the Huntley/Brinkley report and its impact on television news, “I did not invent anything, I just came upon the scene early.” But anyone who has dissected Brinkley and his ability to say things in such concise eloquence with a major sprinkle of cleverness and opinion thrown in recognized what a master chef of words he was. TV news before Huntley and Brinkley was a combination of dull film reports, similar to movie theater newsreels of the 1940s, and a radio reporting style similar to the World War II era. But Huntley and Brinkley took TV news into a new age of electronic journalism.
Similar to Shakespeare’s impact on theatre, Brinkley defined what television news was to become.
As George Will said in his syndicated column today of Brinkley, “To have worked alongside David Brinkley on television is to have experienced what might be called the Tommy Henrich Temptation. Henrich, who played right field for the Yankees when Joe DiMaggio was playing center field, must have been constantly tempted to ignore the game and just stand there watching DiMaggio, who defined for his generation the elegance of understatement and the gracefulness that is undervalued because it makes the difficult seem effortless. ”
Thus, Brinkley was a major factor in my desire to become a journalist. I saw myself one day presenting clever, yet astounding little snippits of irony and reporting.
Okay, onto the Vinman’s bookshelf and history angle. As some of my colleagues can tell you, I arrange nothing in my office by accident. Every mess has it’s method and every book in the picture above was placed in its location for a reason. These books are among the hundreds I own and are the few I have chosen to reveal to others my interests and spend what little free-time I have perusing on a lunch break.
“As Time Goes By” is the written sequel to Casablanca the movie. It is fabulous, the voices of Rick and the Inspector ring in one’s ears as the questions to what happened after the plane left the airport on that rainy night are answered.
What more needs to be said about a book titled “1,911 Best Things Ever Said?”
There is a Michigan Trail Guide for biking and hiking and a couple of freebie from the newspaper books about the Detroit Red Wings’ recent Stanley Cup Seasons.
Then there are the top-level books, the books I consider on the highest level and each is meaningful to me. Two are by Shakespeare and one is by Brinkley. Fortunate enough to have seen the Royal Shakespeare Company (THE RSC from Britain, the one Richard Burton and many other great actors considered it an honor to be in) in Ann Arbor several times during their rare United States visits I can tell you there is NOTHING like Shakespeare. In high school, I couldn’t get it. In college I didn’t have the time to get it, too hard to read and listen to. But as an adult, the history, humor, and unbelievable ability of Shakespeare to transport a soul from 2003 to the 16th century is simply not of this normal Earth.
What Shakespeare did is nothing less than chronicle history for millions to see year after year after year, likely for eternity as his plays are not only the only true history of those times. In addition to that, the language and its use is spectacular. And this is where Brinkley and Shakespeare, seemingly incongruous people meet in a dimensional point of the universe few will be privileged to be.
Brinkley, too, began as a writer — in radio. But he wrote so well that few voices could do his words justice. So he segwayed into print journalism and eventually television in 1956. There, he became the master of words and silence. One of the first thing Brinkley brought to television was the ability to let the film of the stories do the talking. He was a master of saying what he needed in few words, using emotion and enunciation as tools of his trade.
Brinkley transformed television news into something that needed to be seen every night. Eventually, he was able to expand his cleverness to the hour-long “This Week With David Brinkley” which became a Sunday morning must.
At the end of those shows, Brinkley originated the 30-second personal observations that later made Andy Rooney so famous on 60 Minutes. But Brinkley used that time to impart thoughtful, funny and amazingly packed observations into a mere half-minute.
“Everyone is Entitled to My Opinion” is a collection of those shorts published in 1996. It was a new York Times Bestseller and is undiluted Brinkley. In the book, he marvels at government regulations that require paint cans to bear labels reading “Do Not Drink Paint.” he reminisces about a White House that once welcomed casual picnickers on its lawn and he observes that “If we can put a man on the moon, we could put Congress in orbit.” As the cover notes, he skewers lawyers, bureaucrats, Washington insiders and hypocrites of all stripes. “He commemorates absurdity — and hence suffers fools gladly.”
Brinkley left the television stage with a bang on election night 1996. It was about 12:30 a.m. when fellow journalists gathered around him to wish him well on his retirement. His last “This Week” show was about a week or two away. Thinking he was off-camera, Brinkley commented that “We all look forward with great pleasure to four years of wonderful, inspiring speeches, full of wit, poetry, music, love and affection – plus more goddamned nonsense,” Brinkley said.
Jennings broke in: “You can’t say that on the air, Mr. Brinkley.”
“Well, I’m not on the air,” Brinkley said. The conversation continued after Jennings reminded him twice more that cameras were rolling.
Brinkley called Clinton’s Tuesday night speech after winning the election “one of the worst things I’ve ever heard.” He said the speech was “totally unnecessary.”
The commentator praised his ABC colleagues for their creativity and said it was not a quality shared by the president.
“He has not a creative bone in his body,” Brinkley said. “Therefore, he’s a bore, and will always be a bore.”
Clinton later visited one of Brinkley’s last shows and paid him tribute after a Brinkley apology for calling him a bore. Clinton told Brinkley that one should be judged on their total works and not one uncomfortable moment. No matter what you think of either of these men, that’s quite a tribute to have the President-elect pay tribute after such remarks.
And so, in the thousands of years to come, Shakespeare will be remembered for is theatrical historical plays and treatment of language. When humans in the future look at film of Mankind’s first moon landing and many others, they will hear Brinkley. When they review broadcasts of news about the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan they will see and hear Brinkley as their modern day Shakespeare. His voice, his words, his images.
Future millions will know much about the works of both these men. Vinman’s bookshelf will be long gone, but not the longevity of his favorites.
For more on David Brinkley, here’s a brief Bio link: Brinkley, David