The legendary CBS News producer Sanford "Sandy" Socolow has died. He worked at CBS News for 32 years, during its truly golden years, four of them as Walter Cronkite's executive producer. He was a rare combination of outstanding journalist and wonderful person, beloved by all those who knew him.
Socolow participated in some of the most historic events in network news. He was there when Cronkite took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News in April 1962, replacing Douglas Edwards. Then the evening newscast aired for 15 minutes. In an interview with CNN, Socolow recounted, "The first night up, he ended the show by saying, I'm paraphrasing, 'That's the news. Be sure to check your local newspapers tomorrow to get all the details on the headlines we are delivering to you.'"
Management did not like that. "In the absence of anything else, he came up with 'That's the way it is.'" But Socolow remembered CBS News President Richard Salant's reaction, "We're not telling them that's the way it is. We can't do that in 15 minutes,' which was the length of the show in those days. 'That's not the way it is.'" But Cronkite prevailed.
Socolow was there in September 1962 when the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite became the first network newscast to expand to a half-hour. The broadcast featured a lengthy interview with President John Kennedy filmed at his family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The president would be assassinated just 81 days later in Dallas, Texas. An emotional Cronkite announced to the nation, "From Dallas, Texas, the (AP) flash, apparently official: 'President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.' (glancing up at clock) 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago."
Socolow worked with Cronkite during the tumultuous 60's, covering the Civil Rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War. When Cronkite returned from Vietnam in February 1968, where he went to get a reporter's view of the war, Socolow recalled that Salant urged him to share his opinion on the evening news. But Cronkite was reluctant to do so, "He was a purist," Socolow said. "And, a lot of people would say, to a fault, if there can be a fault in such a definition."
Cronkite agreed to share his opinion in a prime time news special, not on the evening newscast. After observing that the U.S. military was mired in a stalemate, Cronkite said, "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out (of the Vietnam War) then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could."
The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite dominated the ratings throughout the '70s, including during the Watergate crisis and the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Socolow served as CBS News' Washington Bureau Chief from Watergate to President Jimmy Carter's term in office, where he endured the contentious relationship between the Nixon White House and CBS News.
He then served as the final executive producer of The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Socolow noted that Cronkite wanted "To retire as undefeated champ, and he made his views known." On Friday, March 6, 1981, nearly 30 million people watched as Cronkite signed off for a final time, "And that's the way it is, Friday, March 6, 1981. I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night." Socolow continued as executive producer during the Rather transition before taking over as CBS News London Bureau Chief.
Socolow was born in the Bronx on November 11, 1928. He worked on the school newspaper while attending Stuyvesant High School. Socolow remembered being at New York's Polo Grounds watching the New York Giants when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. "The public address announcer was heard to say, 'All active military personnel report to their stations,'" he remembered, "and the game continued."
His parents, who were both immigrants, wanted him to be an accountant because "they will always be needed." So he attended City College, "because it was free," but dropped accounting after one semester for liberal arts. He worked at the campus newspaper and became a stringer at the school for the New York Times. North Korea invaded South Korea on the day Socolow graduated from college. He was drafted and sent to Japan where, because of his New York Times experience, he was assigned to a radio group in Tokyo.
Following the Korean War he landed a job at the International News Agency (INS), which was a news service run by Hearst. Because of his junior status at INS, he was assigned to cover Marilyn Monroe's weeklong visit to the U.S. troops in Korea.
He had made many reporter friends at CBS News during the Korean War, and they would lobby their management to hire Socolow. He was hired by CBS News in 1956 to work in the Edward R. Murrow operation for $125 a week, "before taxes." Soon Socolow would begin writing and producing for Cronkite, and their personal and professional relationship would continue until Cronkite's death in 2009, decades after they each left CBS.
Sandy Socolow is survived by his sons Jonathan and Michael, and daughter Elisabeth. As word of his death spread throughout the industry, many of his former colleagues shared their thoughts on Facebook. Long-time CBS News London correspondent Tom Fenton wrote, "Sandy was one of the best and brightest newsmen of the golden age of CBS News. He was also a warm and generous person, a great boss and a delightful friend. He will be greatly missed by all of us who knew him."
And that is the way it is.