CBS News veteran Roger Mudd, who derailed a Kennedy with one question, dead at 93

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Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman
·3 min read
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By Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - Roger Mudd, the longtime CBS News political correspondent who famously helped sink Edward Kennedy's White House ambitions by asking in an interview why the senator wanted to be president, leaving the candidate flustered, died on Tuesday at age 93.

Mudd, who covered politics and national affairs at CBS for two decades before working at NBC News, PBS and the History Channel, died at his home in McLean, Virginia, of complications from kidney failure, according to a CBS News statement.

Mudd reported on some of the biggest stories in Washington, his hometown, during the 1960s and '70s, including passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination, the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

But he became best known for his 1979 interview with Kennedy in an hour-long profile of the prominent liberal senator from Massachusetts as Kennedy prepared to announce his bid to challenge Democratic President Jimmy Carter for their party's 1980 presidential nomination.

Kennedy, then heir to one of the most prominent U.S. political dynasties, appeared awkward and unsure through much of the interview but came off as flummoxed when Mudd posed a simple, straightforward question: "Why do you want to be president?"

The senator's halting, rambling reply was later seen as pivotal to dooming his presidential prospects. Carter defeated Kennedy for the nomination before losing the general election to Republican Ronald Reagan. Kennedy, who died in 2009, never ran for the White House again.

Mudd, who also covered the 1968 presidential campaign of Kennedy's older brother Robert F. Kennedy, was one of the last to interview him at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments before the senator was fatally shot there on June 5 after winning the Democratic presidential primary.

President John F. Kennedy, elder brother to Robert and Edward, was himself assassinated in Dallas in 1963.

AMONG CRONKITE'S 'HORSEMEN'

Mudd, born in Washington, began his career in the 1950s as a newspaper and radio reporter in Richmond, Virginia, and later went to work at WTOP News, then the CBS affiliate in Washington.

Joining CBS News as a congressional correspondent in 1961, in an era when most American television viewers tuned into one of the three major networks' nightly newscasts, he went on to gain national recognition covering the two-month Senate filibuster that preceded passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Mudd also became well-known for in-depth CBS News special reports, including a documentary titled "The Selling of the Pentagon," which exposed extravagant Pentagon spending to promote its pursuit of the Vietnam War.

The segment ignited a furor on Capitol Hill and earned Mudd a Peabody Award.

A frequent weekend anchor for the "CBS Evening News" and stand-in for regular weeknight anchor Walter Cronkite, Mudd became known as one of Cronkite's "lead horsemen" in an era when CBS led the Big 3 broadcast networks in the news ratings.

But Mudd left CBS for rival NBC News after the weeknight anchor chair was awarded to Dan Rather - a move CBS said it made to keep Rather from accepting a big ABC News contract - following Cronkite's retirement in 1981.

Mudd served briefly as co-anchor with Tom Brokaw of "NBC Nightly News" before Brokaw took over as sole anchor of the broadcast in 1983. Mudd then joined PBS' "The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour" in 1987 as a political commentator and reporter.

In 1992, he began teaching at Princeton and Washington and Lee universities while going to work for the History Channel, retiring in 2004 after 10 years as its principal on-air host.

Mudd was distantly related to Dr. Samuel Mudd, a Maryland physician imprisoned as a conspirator in the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln after treating John Wilkes Booth's broken leg hours after the actor fatally shot the president.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)