Was ABC’s 1960 Election Day Coverage So Bad That Their Most Famous Newsman Quit the Network?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: John Charles Daly resigned from ABC News because of ABC’s rather…odd coverage of Election Night in 1960.

John Charles Daly was one of the most respected newsmen in television history (he was also a proud supporter of his high school, the famous Tilton School, where he served as President later in his life – the portrait below is in recognition of his service of Tilton).

Daly first broke on to the scene as a radio newsman.

He was the first reporter to announce two major news stories – the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945.

His greatest legacy, though, even more than his career as a newsman, was his 17 year tenure as the host and moderator of the game show What’s My Line?

In any event, while working on What’s My Line?, he continued to work for CBS News.

However, in 1953, he took a job at ABC, becoming the Vice President of ABC News and the anchor of their evening news broadcast (where his sign off was “Good night, and a good tomorrow”)

ABC in those days was very much considered the black sheep of the three major networks. It did not have as much programming as CBS and NBC, and what programming it DID have was solely on the entertainment side of the equation – its news division was pretty much a shambles compared to the larger output of NBC and CBS.

That, naturally, was their plan in hiring Daly, one of the most well-respected newmen out there.

However, even with Daly (and the equally well-respected Chet Huntley) on their team, ABC’s News was a bit of a joke. For instance, while the other two networks were covering the Army-McCarthy hearings (the hearings that helped bring down McCarthyism) in 1954, ABC not only did not cover it, they specifically counter-programmed it!

In 1958, NBC and CBS delivered nearly TWICE the amount of news coverage than ABC! Roughly 96 hours compared to 49!!!

It came to a head in 1960, though, when even Daly had had enough of the empty promises of ABC to clean up their news coverage.

The 1960 Presidential Election between Vice-President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy was one of the most highly-contested elections in years, and it was also one of the first elections where television played a major role in election coverage (as radio was the predominant source for election coverage in previous elections, even up to 1956).

So when results began to come in on Election Night 1960, NBC and CBS, naturally, were reporting on them.

ABC?

They decided to air the Bugs Bunny Show (then a prime-time program)

and The Rifleman…

Yup, ABC decided to counter-program the freakin’ election of the President of the United States of America (obviously, eventually ABC DID cover the election, just an hour and a half into prime time).

That was the final straw for Daly, and he resigned the next day.

ABC’s treatment of the news was a major factor in the FCC taking time away from the networks in the early 1970s, as mentioned in the previous installment of TV Legends Revealed.

ABC continued to be a disgrace in the news department until the 1970s, when Roone Arledge took over as head of ABC News in 1977.

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

2 Responses to “Was ABC’s 1960 Election Day Coverage So Bad That Their Most Famous Newsman Quit the Network?”

  1. I think I’m gonna start a new legend after reading this one:

    In 1960, ABC put Bugs Bunny on the air instead of the election of John Kennedy.

  2. It’s pretty damn embarrassing, right?

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