Barely a month after the death of Walter Cronkite, CBS News has lost another legend. Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes and one of the leading pioneers of television news, has died at age 86. He had been reported to be undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Over the course of more than half a century at CBS, Hewitt served as Cronkite's producer, directed coverage of Queen Elizabeth's coronation, and produced the first televised presidential debate, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, an event seen by historians as pivotal to that election.
In 1968, Hewitt launched 60 Minutes, which would become perhaps the most commercially successful and critically lauded program in TV history -- as well as one of the most widely copied. The hour-long format, divided roughly into three feature reports (plus "A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney"), has remained largely unchanged since its inception.
Despite its proud record of exposing corruption and wrongdoing, 60 Minutes experienced some less distinguished moments under Hewitt's direction. The darkest moment in his tenure occurred in 1996, when the network pressured Hewitt into suppressing a report on tobacco-industry practices based on the revelations of whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. That episode was made into a movie, The Insider, starring Russell Crowe.
Less than two years later, the show was again enveloped by controversy when it broadcast footage of Dr. Jack Kevorkian administering a lethal injection, a move that led to Kevorkian's imprisonment and charges that CBS had made itself an accessory to illegal euthanasia.
Hewitt stepped down as executive producer of 60 Minutes in 2004 and had no role in Dan Rather's 60 Minutes II report in October of that year on President Bush's National Guard service record. Hewitt said later that he thought Rather should have been fired over the report, based on documents whose authenticity quickly came into question.
Hewitt was among the TV news giants who attended a memorial service for Cronkite held last month at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan.
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