Harry Truman Reasoner (April 17, 1923 – August 6, 1991) was an American journalist for ABC and CBS News, known for his inventive use of language as a television commentator, and as a founder of the 60 Minutes program.
Over the course of his career, Reasoner won three Emmy Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award in 1967.
Reasoner was born at First Street North in Dakota City, Iowa; he and his older sister, Esther, were the children of Eunice (Nicholl) and Harry Ray Reasoner, who married in 1911. Reasoner was taught to read by his parents before entering school, gaining a strong vocabulary from his mother.
Reasoner attended West High School in Minneapolis. During his time at the school, Reasoner developed his interest in journalism. He authored a story titled "The Wench of the Week," which garnered the attention of the principal. He expelled Reasoner, but later let him return, following a plea from fellow student Chet Newby. Reasoner graduated in January 1940, having missed the 1939 class graduation ceremony. Before graduating, Reasoner went on to study journalism at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota. He served in the Army during World War II and after the war, he then resumed his journalism career with The Minneapolis Times. His novel Tell Me About Women, about a fading marriage, was written partly during his war service and was first published in 1946.
After going into radio with CBS in 1948, Reasoner worked for the United States Information Agency in the Philippines. When he returned to the US, he went into television and worked at station KEYD (later KMSP) in Minneapolis. He ran for Minneapolis city council as a Republican in 1949 and garnered 381 votes (4.4 percent). Reasoner later joined CBS News in New York, in 1956, where he eventually hosted a morning news program called Calendar from 1961 to 1963, on top of doing commentator and special news narration duties.
Reasoner took part in covering the John F. Kennedy assassination on Friday, November 22, 1963. Walter Cronkite and Charles Collingwood had been switching back and forth to report on the incident for about four hours after Cronkite initially broke the news at 1:40 p.m. EST. Reasoner took over the anchor chair after Collingwood tossed it to him at 5:49 p.m. EST and opened with the repeat of an announcement by Frank Stanton, the president of CBS, which had already been relayed by Collingwood:
Thank you, Charles. As you know, CBS has announced that there will be no commercial announcements and no entertainment programming until President Kennedy's funeral.
He later reported on the arrival of President Kennedy's body in Washington, D.C., and provided details regarding Lee Harvey Oswald, who was then accused only of killing Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit; Oswald would be accused of killing the president only hours later. Reasoner left the desk when Cronkite returned to anchor CBS Evening News at 6:35 p.m. EST. He reappeared in another studio, approximately two hours later, to narrate a special program called John F. Kennedy—A Man of This Century; he talked about Kennedy's career and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and announced the conclusion of CBS's coverage for that day. (Reasoner also anchored the final coverage of the next day, with a CBS News special, titled A Day to Mourn.)
Reasoner's next appearance came on Sunday, two days later, and as Reasoner was at the anchor desk, Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby while he was being moved in the Dallas City Jail. At that very moment, Roger Mudd was filing a report from Washington that described the President's funeral arrangements:
Tomorrow there will be a final hour for the public to pay their final respects to the President before the President leaves Capitol Hill for the last time. The last soldier, milit—
At that moment, CBS abruptly cut back to Reasoner at the newsroom anchor desk with breaking news:
We are now switching to Dallas where they're about to move Lee Oswald, and where there's a scuffle in the police station.
When CBS picked up KRLD's live feed of the city jail basement, Oswald was lying on the floor, and Dallas Police were apprehending Ruby. KRLD's reporter on the scene, Bob Huffaker, was heard to say, "Oswald has been shot, Oswald has been shot." after the ambulance carrying Oswald sped out of the jail en route to Parkland Hospital, KRLD switched back to CBS in New York, where Reasoner replayed the tape from the beginning so that viewers could see Ruby shooting Oswald. Several minutes later, he reported that the Dallas Police had released Ruby's name. (Reasoner was no longer at the anchor desk when Oswald was declared dead since he had been replaced by Cronkite.)
In 1968, Reasoner teamed up with Mike Wallace to launch 60 Minutes, a new newsmagazine series. On 60 Minutes and elsewhere, he often worked with producer and writer Andy Rooney, who later became a well-known contributor in his own right. In a farewell interview on 60 Minutes in 2011, Rooney said Reasoner was a great writer in his own right but was lazy, which gave Rooney more opportunities to show his writing skills. Rooney and interviewer Morley Safer agreed that Reasoner enjoyed drinking and was "one of the most companionable fellows" they had ever known.
To ABC and back
In 1970, Reasoner was hired away from CBS by ABC to become an anchor on the network's newly revamped nightly newscast. At the time of his hire, the network's New York-based broadcast, ABC News, was anchored by Howard K. Smith and Frank Reynolds, both former colleagues of Reasoner at CBS. Beginning in December 1970, Reasoner was moved into Reynolds' position (Reynolds thus became the network's chief Washington correspondent), and the newscast became known as ABC Evening News.
Reasoner anchored the news alongside Smith until 1975, when he took the sole anchor position while Smith moved into a commentary role. The next year, however, ABC decided to pair Reasoner with a new co-anchor, former Today Show co-host Barbara Walters; ABC had gone to great lengths to hire her away from NBC. Walters and Reasoner did not enjoy a close relationship; Reasoner did not like sharing the spotlight with a co-anchor and also was uncomfortable with Walters' celebrity status. It was also believed that Reasoner disliked the idea of a woman anchoring the network news, which he himself denied: "I am trying to keep an open mind about it." In another interview, Reasoner said, "I've worked in journalism for women and with women for years. For two years I did a CBS morning news program with a woman. I feel they're no worse than men are." There is no written account, audio recording or first hand recollection of Reasoner ever saying anything derogatory about women.
After two years of co-anchoring ABC Evening News with Walters, Reasoner departed the network after nearly eight years in June 1978 and returned to CBS, where he resumed his duties on 60 Minutes. Shortly after his departure ABC elected to scrap ABC Evening News altogether and reworked the newscast into World News Tonight.
Reasoner stayed with 60 Minutes until his retirement, on May 19, 1991.
Reasoner was married twice, to Kathleen Carroll Reasoner for 35 years and then to insurance executive Lois Harriett Weber in 1988. He had seven children by his first marriage: Harry Stuart, Ann, Elizabeth, Jane, Mary Ray, Ellen and Jonathan. Reasoner underwent two operations for lung cancer in 1985 and 1987.
Reasoner died three months after his retirement in 1991 from a blood clot in the brain resulting from a fall at his home in Westport, Connecticut. He is interred at Union Cemetery in Humboldt, Iowa.