Bernard Shaw Credit: Contributed photos

As we waited to be inducted into the National Association Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014, there was an exchange of pleasantries and congratulations, and then we both fell into silence. It appeared to me that Bernard Shaw was not one for small talk, his words resonated on the airwaves, particularly on CNN where he was the network’s first chief anchor. Shaw joined the ancestors on Wednesday, Sept. 7, succumbing to pneumonia. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by CNN and was unrelated to COVID-19. He leaves behind his wife, Linda, and two children.

“Bernie was a CNN original and was our Washington anchor when we launched on June 1st, 1980,” said Chris Light, CNN chair and CEO. And for the next 20 years that was Shaw’s seat, his commanding voice and full afro reporting the latest news, especially from abroad or covering presidential elections. Most viewers became familiar with his incisive live reportage on the First Gulf War from Baghdad in 1991. “Even after he left CNN, Bernie remained a close member of our CNN family providing our viewers with context about historic events as recently as last year,” Light continued. “The condolences of all of us at CNN go out to his wife Linda and his children.”

Shaw was born May 22, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois. His father was a railroad employee and house painter, and his mother a housekeeper. He attended the University of Illinois at Chicago from 1963 to 1968. As a U.S. Marine, he served two stints—one in Hawaii and another in Cherry Point Air Station in N.C., where he was a specialist in the “Message Center.” There he increased his passion for print media, amassing a sizable collection of clippings and traveling to the nation’s capital. Along the way he cultivated a relationship with Walter Cronkite. 

Before joining CNN, Shaw was a reporter and anchor for WNUS in 1964, Westinghouse Broadcasting, CBS News, and ABC News where he was Latin Correspondent and bureau chief before becoming the Capitol Hill’s senior correspondent. 

One of the first big stories he covered at CNN was the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, working in concert with Daniel Schorr. Together they gave the new station added ballast and credibility.

Shaw gained further recognition when while moderating a presidential debate in 1988, he asked Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, a known opponent of the death penalty, would he hold to that position if his wife was the victim of rape and murder. Dukakis said he would not, and the question ignited a firestorm of reaction. During his 1991 coverage of the First Gulf War, he secured shelter under a desk while reporting on missiles flying past his window. “Clearly I’ve never been there, but this feels like we’re in the center of hell,” he stated.

From 1992 to 2001, he co-anchored CNN’s “Inside Politics,” which was his last position at the station before retirement. Even so, there were numerous appearances with Judy Woodruff and Erin Burnett. 

Besides his NABJ honor, Shaw was the recipient of a bevy of awards, including the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism in 1994; the Paul White Award, Radio Television Digital News Association in 1996; he was inducted as a laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the state’s highest honor) by the governor of Illinois in the area of communication.

Upon departure from CNN, he said: “My best time has been simply being here, helping to do what attracts you, our viewers, your demand to be informed instantly with knowledgeable context and insight. And to you around the world and across our great land here in the United States, more than your praise I have valued your criticism and your suggestions. Scrutiny can be instructive,” he told viewers. “Harder than entering this business, is leaving it, and leaving CNN, especially after 20 years here. But you know, some roses are so fragrant. And as a gardener, I want to grow and smell them more—when I’m not writing.”

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