William J. Small: “The press was under great pressure. He was the champion we needed.”

From the New York Times obit by Richard Sandomir headlined “William J. Small, Key Official During CBS News’s Heyday, Dies at 93: As the network’s Washington bureau chief, Mr. Small built a journalistic all-star team that included Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl and many others.”

Mr. Small arrived at CBS News in 1962, soon after the era embodied in the work of Edward R. Murrow. That same year, Walter Cronkite became the anchorman of what would soon be called the “CBS Evening News.”

Over more than a decade, Mr. Small hired, or recruited from within CBS News, prominent correspondents like Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, Eric Sevareid, Bob Schieffer and Bruce Morton. He also championed the hiring of women, among them Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung.

With a soft voice but a steely demeanor, Mr. Small was known for his absolute control of the bureau on M Street, and for his ardent defense of his correspondents’ work — in particular that of Mr. Rather, who routinely angered President Nixon.

“When President Nixon sought to have me removed as White House correspondent during the height of our Watergate reporting,” Mr. Rather wrote on Facebook soon after Mr. Small’s death, “Mr. Small flatly refused on the spot, then repeatedly did so again, after enlisting the support of his superiors in New York.”

Mr. Schieffer recalled that early in his time as CBS News’s Pentagon correspondent, he learned that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was upset with one of his reports.

“I called Small immediately and he said, ‘I’ll take care of it,’ and he called and reamed out the chairman,” Mr. Schieffer said in a phone interview. “When anyone anywhere got mad at us, he took the criticism.”. . .

Mr. Small hired Ms. Stahl in 1972, soon after the Federal Communications Commission included women in its equal employment rules for television broadcasters.

“There were three of us in the bureau whom Mr. Small hired and nurtured: Connie Chung, Bernie Shaw and me,” she said in an interview. (Mr. Shaw is black.) “If you have a boss who saw affirmative action as a burden, I’m not sure we would have been promoted. He didn’t hire us to see us fail.”. . .

He also hired Ed Bradley, Rita Braver, Susan Spencer and Martha Teichner, as well as Susan Zirinsky, now the president of CBS News, who started there in 1972 as a weekend desk assistant

“He was the right man for the times we were in,” Ms. Zirinsky said in an interview. “The press was under great pressure. He became the buffer. He stood up. He was the champion we needed.”


  1. Barnard Collier says

    Dear Jack,

    One morning Bill Small was speaking on the telephone (while I was in his office) with somebody who sold studio TV cameras and supplies.

    “I want to see them,” Bill said.

    The person must have said, “I’ll send you some photographs.”

    “No you won’t,” Bill said. “You’ll deliver the actual [device] so we can see how it works and how it fits in. At CBS were don’t make buying decisions based only on photographs. We have to see the actual thing.”

    Likewise, Bill also insisted that his reporters must “be there” and there was little room for gossip, hearsay, or second hand.

    Bill was the straightest talking and straightest shooting TV editor I’d ever met.

    Afterwards, the elfin Bill Small stood on my shoulder at each interview and never allowed me to be satisfied with a “picture” when the actual evidence was available to see and to touch.

    Best, Barney

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