Kuralt & Dunleavy
Charles Kuralt, Steve Dunleavy,
and the Language of Television News
Dr. Matthew C. Ehrlich
Department of Journalism
College of Communications
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
119 Gregory Hall
810 South Wright Street
Urbana IL 61801
E-Mail: [log in to unmask]
Paper submitted to the Radio-Television Journalism Division
of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass
presentation at the AEJMC annual conference, Anaheim, CA, August
Running head: Kuralt & Dunleavy
Charles Kuralt, Steve Dunleavy,
and the Language of Television News
This paper qualitatively examines Charles Kuralt's "On the Road"
reports for CBS and Steve Dunleavy's reports for A Current Affair. It studies
the story types they specialized in, the traditions they drew upon, and the
audio and visual devices they employed. In so doing, the paper tries to
demonstrate the common ground shared by news genres that seem highly dissimilar.
It also illustrates both television's flexibility and its limitations as a news
Kuralt & Dunleavy/
Charles Kuralt, Steve Dunleavy,
and the Language of Television News
I have attempted to keep "relevance" and "significance"
entirely out of all the stories I send back. If I come upon
a real news
story out there On the Road, I call some real reporter to
come cover it. --
[T]he panty-waist liberal Nazis . . . want to censor news. They
want to really tell you that they shouldn't cover mass
shouldn't cover any scandals, what they really should do is
watch PBS more
and get bored to death. -- Steve Dunleavy
In many ways, they were as different as a saint is from Satan. One
was beloved; one was reviled. One represented the most celebrated broadcast news
organization in the country; the other was the right-hand man of Rupert Murdoch.
One was called "the best writer for broadcasting that ever was" and a
champion of the "uncommon common man"; his work is preserved in a
best-selling book and on home video. The other was called "a tremendously bad
writer" and "the national troubadour of sex and psycho outrage"; his work
apparently has been consigned permanently to the gutter from whence it came.
Yet they also had much in common. As their own words suggest, both
saw themselves as being outside the mainstream of "real," "respectable"
journalism. Both differed sharply in their physical appearances from that of the
typical television reporter, yet in their own ways, they were powerful presences
on screen. Both carried on journalistic storytelling traditions rooted in print,
but they also mastered the unique audio-visual language of television. Both were
"good soldiers" for their respective organizations but finally found themselves
compelled to leave television news, in turn demonstrating the corporate
pressures shaping the medium.
This paper qualitatively examines the language of Charles Kuralt's
"On the Road" reports for CBS and Steve Dunleavy's reports for the tabloid
program A Current Affair. It studies the story types they specialized in, the
traditions they drew upon, and the audio and visual devices they employed. In so
doing, the paper tries to demonstrate the common ground shared by genres of news
that on first glance are highly dissimilar. It also illustrates both
television's flexibility and its limitations as a news medium.
Background and Method
This paper adopts a cultural studies approach to journalism, which
Michael Schudson says examines news "both as a set of concrete social
institutions and a repertoire of historically fashioned literary practices . . .
set within and in orientation to political democracy." This approach seeks to
uncover journalists' commonsensical understandings of what makes a good story
and how it should be told, and how these understandings relate to our society
and culture as a whole. Scholars have used this approach to study different
genres of news and to compare television with print journalism.
For example, Darnton draws upon his own journalistic experience to
suggest that ancient storytelling conventions powerfully influence the language
of news. Manoff and Schudson similarly assert that the narrative forms of
news shape the reporting of political events. Gans argues that within these
narrative forms, news celebrates certain enduring cultural values, including
ethnocentrism, altruistic democracy, responsible capitalism, small-town
pastoralism, individualism, and moderatism. He says in this way, news helps
preserve the existing moral and social order. Ettema and Glasser
specifically examine the form and language of investigative news stories to see
how they uphold this order, while Bird does the same with a study of
Weaver argues that the language of television news differs from that
of newspapers. He says although the two media use "the same themes, formulas,
and symbols in constructing the lines of melodramatic action which give meaning
and identity to events," television news stories are focused more tightly around
single, central themes. They also are more interpretive, dominated by the
personal voice of the reporter, and they depend much more on spectacle. The
result is that in contrast to the "privatizing characteristics of print
journalism," television news promotes "a commitment to social unity and
intellectual coherence"--that is, to democratic egalitarianism as opposed to
Others similarly have suggested that television news's traditional
narrative forms reproduce social consensus and order. Fiske argues that
these storytelling forms are too restrictive, saying "[i]t is more important in
a democracy to stimulate people into making national and international events
matter in their daily lives than it is to teach them about the `truth' of those
events." He says television journalists should forfeit narrative closure in
their stories in favor of "the ongoing, unresolved narrative of soap opera."
Consistent with these previous cultural studies of news, this paper
will examine Kuralt's and Dunleavy's news stories against the storytelling
traditions of human interest and tabloid journalism. Rather than undertake a
formal, quantitative content analysis, the paper will study the two men's
stories as what John J. Pauly calls "integrated strategies of symbolic
action." It will look at the extent to which traditional journalistic story
types and forms seemed to shape the Kuralt's and Dunleavy's work. It also will
compare the two men's work to see if certain narrative types and forms cut
across journalistic genre.
In addition, the paper will examine Kuralt's and Dunleavy's stories
against previous studies of television news. Following Weaver, it will look at
the interpretive roles each man played in his stories and how heavily each
seemed to rely on "spectacle." And it will examine the political and cultural
values that each's stories seemed to promote. Because Kuralt and Dunleavy saw
themselves as being outside mainstream news, it is worth exploring whether their
stories deviated at all from the values found by previous studies of television
and print journalism, and whether they approached the more flexible narrative
model of television news advocated by Fiske.
As already noted, Kuralt's "On the Road" stories are readily
available in print and on video. Examples of Dunleavy's work were drawn from
tapings of A Current Affair between September 1992 and January 1995 that were
gathered as part of a broader study of tabloid television news.
The seeds of Kuralt's "On the Road" career were planted early. As a
boy, he won an American Legion contest with a speech on Patrick Henry and the
"Voice of Democracy"; as a newspaper reporter just out of college, he won the
Ernie Pyle Memorial Award for human interest writing. Soon after, he went to New
York and CBS. For a time, he was spoken of as "the next Ed Murrow," but after
reporting stints in Latin America, Africa, Vietnam, and the Arctic, he decided
he needed a break from hard news. In 1967, he persuaded CBS to let him go on the
road and do feature stories. It would transform his career.
Years later, Kuralt would write: "I was a real reporter once, but I
was not suited for it by physique or temperament." Having escaped the
constraints of "real" news, he sought to emulate reporters like Ernie Pyle, who,
Kuralt said, "wrote plain pieces about plain people, never straining to find
lofty significance in their lives, rarely analyzing them or trying to make them
fit into a big picture." In short, Kuralt seemed actively to try to
contradict what Weaver says television journalists characteristically do--assume
an omniscient air in analyzing and interpreting events, and denigrate individual
differences in favor of social unity.
Still, despite Kuralt's protestations to the contrary, one can find
"significance" and the celebration of certain consensual values in his work. He
himself once said: "I read the papers every day. The front pages were full of
selfishness, arrogance and hostility toward others. The back roads were another
country." This contrast between the "front pages" and the "back roads" is at
the heart of his brand of journalism.
Story Types. The chapter headings and tape titles within the
collections of Kuralt's work show the types of stories he favors: "Unlikely
Heroes," "Different Drummers," "Seasons of America," "Small Towns," "The
American Heritage," "Unforgettable People," etc. One Fourth of July story
combines many of these types, showing a small town celebrating American heritage
in the middle of summer with down-home fun. "Since everyone else at CBS is busy
covering wars and scandals and Senate hearings, they leave the greased pig
contests pretty much to us," Kuralt says in the story.
Reportorial Presence. Kuralt contrasted himself to "real" reporters
in terms of his physical appearance: "People take one look at me on their
television sets and know I'm not an anchorman. On the Road, there's an advantage
to being fat and bald." Indeed, he is most often a friendly, rumpled
presence, smiling and laughing and dressed informally in a khaki jacket or
short-sleeve shirt. Yet like other television reporters, he is almost constantly
on screen. He plays the tourist role which Richard Campbell has said 60 Minutes'
reporters often play--"acting as our surrogate" in "searching for authenticity
by trying to recover the past [and] the natural." Kuralt's benign appearance
masks a powerful authority, which is most apparent when he reports on a subject
which he feels demands a certain gravity. In a 1976 report from Philadelphia's
Independence Hall, he delivers an eight-minute monologue reenacting the debate
on independence, reciting from memory John Adams' "I have crossed the Rubicon"
speech. Reports like these which show off Kuralt's voice and dramatic
abilities demonstrate why he was once spoken of as "the next Murrow."
Video/Audio. Unlike other television reporters, Kuralt is not
concerned with events "which are spectacular and spectacularly filmed."
Still, his reports show careful attention to pictures and sound, and he has
frequently praised his camera and sound operators for their contributions to his
work. One story shows an elderly farmer helping local children fly kites.
Kuralt and his crew hired a fifty-foot cherry picker so that the camera could
look down the string of the kite at the farmer and children below as they looked
up at the sky. This showed the meticulous, artful contrivance that could go
into deceptively simple stories about simple folk.
Narration. One critic likened Kuralt's talents at combining pictures
and "exquisitely simple, minimalist narrations" to "the shapes-and-colors
perfection of a Matisse. Everything just fit." A story about the Battle of
Little Big Horn shows no living person other than Kuralt himself. Over video of
tall grass waving in the wind, a river, and rows and rows of gravestones, he
says: "There is melancholy in the wind, and sorrow in the grass, and the
river--weeps." He invokes primordial American themes in eulogizing national
heroes and triumphs as well as tragedies, using repetition: "The Oregon Trail is
a faint path through the sagebrush, leading westward toward the mountains. It is
a hard climb over rocks, westward. It is deep ruts in soft stone carved by wagon
wheels, rolling west." He also celebrates seemingly trivial (yet uniquely
American) things via rhyme, delighting in the names of gumballs--"Purple Poppers
and Orange Chews, Powies and Zowies and Puckeroos." In a story about a birch
canoe maker, he recites from Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha." And sometimes
he lets others read "verse"--in his book, a chapter titled "Poets and Others"
features those singing the praises of steam engines, trout fishing, and
Formulas. Robert Darnton, writing of his own days as a reporter, says
he learned to "manipulat[e] stock sentiments and figures" in his stories.
Kuralt does the same, putting new spins on old formulas. Much like Darnton, who
received his first byline with a story about a boy and his bike, Kuralt tells of
an elderly man who checks out bikes to neighborhood youths who cannot afford to
buy them. He tells mystery stories, for example one about English settlers
who landed on the North Carolina coast in 1588, only to disappear without a
trace. Sometimes Kuralt acknowledges that he is following a timeworn script,
as when he introduces "the story of Frank DelVecchio, the Italian immigrant who
worked hard and saved for his two sons so they could go to college and become
successful so they wouldn't have to do what he does for a living. You know the
story. What Frank DelVecchio does for a living is sell balloons." It turns out
that his sons, both of whom have graduate degrees, are now balloon sellers
Stories with an ironic tone or twist are a Kuralt staple. Irony is a
common rhetorical device in news, and is particularly pointed in investigative
journalism. In Kuralt's stories, the irony is typically gentle and
life-affirming, as with the DelVecchio story. Sometimes, though, it is more
melancholy. In a story about the likely demise of an old mill which Kuralt
clearly loves, he says: "Of course, there really can't be a mill like this in
mid-twentieth-century America . . . [o]f course, such a place cannot exist."
And he comes close to the bitter irony of investigative reporting in a story
about a federal highway inexplicably built through the mountains. Over video of
blizzard conditions and cars in ditches, he says: "The signs up there say
`Interstate 80: Your Taxes at Work.' At a million dollars a mile, we thought
you'd like to know how your taxes are working."
Values. Gans specifically cites Kuralt's stories as examples of
"small-town pastoralism" and "individualism" in journalism, promoting tradition,
nature, smallness, and goodness in contrast to the "moral disorder" stories
which make up so much of the news. One can find other, related values in
Selflessness. Kuralt is attracted to those who give of themselves and
ask little in return. He constantly shows us people who declare themselves
rich--in friends, family, knowledge, etc.--even though they have little money.
He thus portrays material wealth as being unimportant.
Reconciliation. Kuralt seeks happy endings even to tragic stories.
Sometimes he acknowledges that no such ending can be found, as with the Battle
of Little Big Horn (in which Custer's fall led to the genocide of Native
Americans). Other times, he finds the proverbial silver lining: The murder of
Martin Luther King prompts a white woman to organize a racially-integrated group
to build a park. A white man's rape of a slave woman leads, eventually, to a
granddaughter who becomes the first black woman priest in the Episcopal Church.
("Let's admit we [all] are related and let's get on with the business of healing
these wounds," she says in the story.)
Self-Improvement. Kuralt is an avowed liberal and even said in a
nationally-televised interview: "What on earth did conservatism ever accomplish
for our country?" Yet his stories are deeply conservative in their
optimistic faith in the American Dream. He introduces one story this way: "We've
noticed [on the road] that while there are classes in America, there isn't much
of a class system. The rich are always willing to move over, make room for one
more." Another story shows us an African-American sharecropper's family
reuniting for Thanksgiving; the nine children left "a one-room shack in a cotton
field" to become college professors, city officials, etc. When Kuralt asks how
they did it, one of the children responds simply: "We worked." Kuralt ends by
saying: "There are probably no lessons in any of this, but I know that in the
future whenever I hear that the family is a dying institution, I'll think of
them. Whenever I hear anything in America is impossible, I'll think of
Kuralt's style of news does not adhere to the model of objective
journalism. Rather, it falls within what Daniel Hallin has called the "Sphere of
Consensus," which he says "encompasses those social objects not regarded by the
journalists and the rest of society as controversial" and within which "the
journalist's role is to serve as an advocate or celebrant of consensus
values." While racial and class differences are obviously highly
controversial, Kuralt celebrates the consensual belief that Americans can smooth
over such differences through hard work and mutual understanding. He is canny
enough to recognize that we often do not live up to our highest ideals, whether
it is due to historical shortsightedness, bureaucratic indifference, or plain
greed and selfishness. In such cases, the melancholy and irony is most
pronounced in his work. Yet he never ceases to be an advocate for these same
ideals and for the common folk who embody them. In the words of one observer,
Kuralt "too often causes your eyes to mist up, because the people in [his]
stories are the way we want to be all the time but so rarely are: generous and
Kuralt thus makes the lessons of his stories very clear even as he
denies that he is offering any. As such, he assumes the omniscient role which
Weaver says is characteristic of television journalists, and occasionally he
verges on what Weaver describes as "intellectual and political hubris." (One
critic--a Kuralt admirer--nevertheless once called him "our national
windbag.") Kuralt shows that television news can celebrate individual
differences, eschew spectacle, and accommodate literate and stylish prose (and
verse). Yet his storytelling formulas and devices are wholly consistent with
journalistic tradition, as are the values his stories celebrate: They support
the existing social and political order.
Dunleavy is not nearly so well-known as Kuralt. Still, his reputation
is formidable enough that he served as the model for the scoop-crazed tabloid
television reporter in Oliver Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers.
Dunleavy was born in Australia, the son of a tabloid photographer, and he became
a tabloid reporter himself while still in his teens. (Allegedly, he once slashed
a car's tires to keep his father from scooping him; his father retaliated by
locking him in a shed during a subsequent story.) He moved to New York in 1966
and worked for Rupert Murdoch's Star, writing a column which one colleague said
"lashed out every week at the Commies and pinkos and pimps and perverts he just
knew were scheming to take over." He then served as metro editor of
Murdoch's New York Post, producing classic headlines like "Headless Body Found
in Topless Bar." In 1986, he moved to Murdoch's new syndicated television show,
A Current Affair.
Just before that move, Dunleavy had declared of the Post: "We don't
cater to taste, we serve taste." He carried the same philosophy to A Current
Affair, asserting that "traditional television over the years did not really in
any way, shape or form approach what life is all about." In contrast, he said:
"We in so-called populist television try to take a person through whatever
emotions they may go through in twenty-four hours . . . disdain for their fellow
man, fear of a particular situation whether it be bombings or terrorists or
violence in the streets, laughter, and sometimes even sadness." Dunleavy
thus brought Murdoch-style tabloid news to American television.
Story Types. Murdoch himself has said he likes stories centering
around "soap opera" and "high society," and fueled by what one Murdoch executive
calls the "Fleet Street attitude of rebellion against social pretense."
These elements combine in stories like the O.J. Simpson trial--which Dunleavy
declared to be the best story he had ever seen--as well as in other Dunleavy
reports. He recounts Howard Hughes's final, pathetic days ("the story of a man
who turned into a subhuman"), excoriates Prince Charles for a taped
conversation with an illicit lover ("some king he'll make!"), and mocks the
marital troubles of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen ("the gonzo intellects of a hip
culture"). Dunleavy does other stories featuring crime and sex, with titles
like "Brotherhood of Blood" and "Murder, He Spoke." He sometimes engages in
celebrity gossip of a kinder, gentler sort, profiling the likes of Willie Nelson
and Joe Pesci. And he makes news himself, gaining his greatest notoriety for
wrestling a bear named Caesar.
Reportorial Presence. Dunleavy does not fit the cosmetic mold of a
television reporter; it has been said that he carried a spare front tooth and
Krazy Glue in his pocket to fill a gap in his teeth whenever he appeared on
camera. But he makes a strong impression with his Australian accent and his
"graying pompadour, cork-tipped filter cigarettes and pinch-waist `European'
suits." Like Kuralt, he is a constant narrative presence in his stories. For
example, Kuralt introduced his report on the sharecropper family by strolling
down the road to their house and casually resting an elbow on their mailbox.
Dunleavy introduces a story in much the same way--only he strolls through a
graveyard and rests his elbow on a tombstone. And he tells us not about a loving
sharecropper family, but "a cruel Mafia gang called the Murder Machine . . .
whose wretched victims could never, ever know the true meaning of Rest in
Video/Audio. Dunleavy does not report on spectacle; he creates it--or
rather, recreates it. In the story about Prince Charles' phone call to his
alleged lover, Dunleavy and A Current Affair reenact the entire conversation
using actors, elaborate sets, and even a dog eyeing "Charles" as he whispers
into the phone. In the Howard Hughes story, an actor portrays Hughes as he
supposedly looked in his final days, complete with fake beard and a needle
dangling from his arm. The story about the "cruel Mafia gang" is punctuated by
"Godfather"-like music and close-ups of a revolver being fired. When we see a
shower where the gang drained its victims' blood, the video appears to be tinted
Narration. The story titled "Murder, He Spoke" shows Dunleavy
standing on a Key West street. "It was a blazing hot morning when the body of
Fred Butner crashed in the grisly heat, right here at La Concha Hotel," he says.
"Cops who raced to the scene were stunned. What was behind the ugly death of
this upstanding member of the community? They searched his body and they found a
tape recording. Later they would play it. And then they would hear Fred Butner's
voice from the grave. And that voice screamed: Murder!" Small wonder, perhaps,
that a critic asked: "Has Dunleavy read too much Raymond Chandler or too much
Sidney Shelton, or is he just a preposterously bad writer?"
Formulas. Dunleavy's purple prose and tales of crime, sex, and
celebrity gossip closely follow tabloid news's traditional storytelling
formulas. (Indeed, they also follow the formulas of pulp fiction, as the
critic quoted above suggests.) But Dunleavy's standard techniques also can be
found in more respectable genres of journalism. He tells stories of innocent
victims and guilty villains, for example about a boy who had been set on fire by
his father. Such tales of innocence and guilt are also characteristic of
investigative journalism. In addition, Dunleavy serves up liberal dollops of
sentimentality. The story about the boy who had been set on fire shows Dunleavy
drinking milkshakes with him, helping him with his skateboard, and closing by
saying: "God bless you, David." This sentimentality is not far removed from
that in many of Kuralt's stories. And like Kuralt, Dunleavy suffuses his reports
with irony. But it is much harsher and more extreme than that found even in
investigative news, as when he says of Prince Charles: "Some king he'll make!"
Values. Dunleavy's flag-waving newspaper columns, his attacks on
"liberal panty-waist Nazis," and his ties to Murdoch give a fair idea of his
political views. Contemporary tabloid news is typically politically
conservative. Dunleavy's stories reflect these values, although sometimes in
Evils of Wealth. Certainly, a reporter who excoriates wealth would
not seem to be preaching conservative philosophy. But Dunleavy does it in such a
way as to squelch dissatisfaction with one's lot and hence any possible
challenge to the status quo. While showing us Howard Hughes's wretched last
days ("he would stay in a chair or his bed for months at a time--with extremely
infrequent trips to the bathroom"), Dunleavy also tells us what the lesson of it
all is: "It might make you feel better about yourself, and make you bless the
God above you still have to struggle for your mortgage. In other words: Thank
God you're not rich!" In this, Dunleavy again follows tabloid tradition; Bird
argues that "tabloids consistently preach the lesson that there is little anyone
can do to change the world except hope for a miracle."
Evils of Smut. Dunleavy is quick to attack sexual misconduct,
particularly among those who hold an exalted place in public life. Hence he
tears into Prince Charles for the taped phone conversation with the prince's
alleged lover: "Frankly, the tape sounds like a disgustingly smutty conversation
between two dopey adolescents. . . . And yet these are the people who think
they're better than you and I!" He is similarly self-righteous in his treatment
of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, not to mention Michael Jackson. But like other
tabloid reporters, he is much more gentle when it comes to a country music star
like Willie Nelson, an icon of conservative populism rather than liberal
elitism. Dunleavy fawns over Nelson's womanizing: "Women? They virtually
"Ironic Knowingness". Dunleavy's moralizing appears to mask a certain
cynical detachment, or what Ettema and Glasser call "ironic knowingness." He
revels in sordid wealth and randy celebrity even as he heaps damnation upon
them. And he uses irony not just to evoke outrage, but also as a source of sick
humor. For example, he follows the red-tinted video of the apartment shower
where the Mafia gang bled its victims with a soundbite from a current resident
of the apartment, complaining about how they had "messed up the plumbing."
Although Dunleavy claimed to practice "populist television," he does not appear
in his stories to be motivated by a sincere faith in people, as Kuralt is. He
seems motivated merely by a desire to produce what the market will bear, to
shape the raw materials of his stories into standard molds. "It's not a
profession," he said of journalism. "It's a craft. We're the same as carpenters
Dunleavy does show that television news can make room for
unconventional faces, voices, and demeanors. ("At least Dunleavy's no goddamn TV
clone," said Jimmy Breslin. "He's got that `fuck you' attitude, and I love
it.") Furthermore, in embracing elements of soap opera and allowing "ironic
knowingness" to undercut the "hubris" of his work, he perhaps approaches the
more open and less didactic model of television news called for by Fiske--at
least, that is what one could argue.
Still, it is a stretch to call a tabloid traditionalist like Dunleavy
an original or a visionary. His work falls within what Hallin describes as the
"Sphere of Deviance," in which the journalist "plays the role of exposing,
condemning, or excluding from the public agenda those who violate or challenge
the political consensus." While it is true that Dunleavy rarely if ever
covers politics per se, his stories do play a political role. Shoemaker and
Reese argue that the "media help maintain the boundaries of social order by
showing what is approved and not approved. Deviant people and events may be
trivialized or shown as dangerous." Hence, in telling sensational (if
ironic) stories of the rich and smutty, Dunleavy shows himself to be a political
reactionary, belying cultural conservatives' charges that tabloid television is
As of this writing, Charles Kuralt is planning an epic poem about
Lewis and Clark, and Steve Dunleavy is writing fiery newspaper columns calling
the New York Times "`the Scarlot Harlot of Times Square.'" Both apparently
have departed television news for good. Kuralt left voluntarily in 1994. He
compared his tenure at CBS News to a love affair, saying: "I woke up one morning
and realized I didn't love her anymore." Dunleavy was forced off A Current
Affair the following year as the show fought vainly to upgrade its image, boost
its ratings, and save itself from cancellation. Rupert Murdoch sent Dunleavy
back to the New York Post.
Kuralt's and Dunleavy's departures illustrate the corporate pressures
on television news. In large part, Kuralt was allowed to produce his "On the
Road" pieces because they helped CBS's image. Their gentle, all-American
lyricism counterbalanced the stories of foreign and domestic strife that
dominated the news in the 1960s and 1970s, and helped blunt charges that the
network was too negative and too liberal. Kuralt remained at CBS News
through more than a decade of massive layoffs and budget cuts, a time during
which he was unceremoniously dumped from a couple of anchor jobs. It is
perhaps no surprise that he finally "fell out of love."
Dunleavy originally was sent to A Current Affair to help Murdoch
establish himself in the American television market. Once that mission was
accomplished and the program had outlived its usefulness (i.e., had stopped
generating big ratings), Dunleavy was booted back to a much lower-profile
newspaper job. He apparently went quietly. "The only bosses are the public," he
once said. "That's who runs my life, next to Rupert Murdoch." The lesson of
Kuralt and Dunleavy seems to be that idiosyncratic voices are tolerated in
television news only so long as they help turn a profit or otherwise serve
The purpose of this paper has not been to argue that Charles Kuralt
and Steve Dunleavy were equals in terms of journalistic quality or ethics.
Simply put, Kuralt took the high road and Dunleavy took the low, which makes it
entirely appropriate that we honor Kuralt and dishonor Dunleavy. Nevertheless,
this paper has tried to show how the language of news is always shaped and
limited by storytelling traditions and institutional constraints, and how this
is especially true of television news.
Weaver argues that television news is potentially "far more flexible
and intellectually accommodating" than newspaper news, in that it is "more
`interpretive,' less constrained by the daily flow of events, and less committed
to the newspaper's narrow, one-day-only perspective in time." Both Kuralt
and Dunleavy demonstrated that flexibility, literally straying from the beaten
path of daily journalism to present dramatically contrasting visions of American
life--Kuralt with his tales of simple decency, Dunleavy with his tales of
depraved debauchery. Both men responded creatively (if not always ethically, in
Dunleavy's case) to television's demand for arresting pictures and sound. In a
largely homogenous world of pretty faces and voices, they stood out.
Still, both were bound by tradition and by the institutions for
which they worked. They drew upon a common set of what Schudson calls
"assumptions about narrative, storytelling, human interest, and . . .
photographic and linguistic presentation." Both followed familiar formulas
and used irony and sentiment. Both were conservative voices calling for
adherence to traditional values. Both were ultimately beholden to corporate
interests. In the cutthroat world of television news in the 1990s, both ended up
Neither fully realized Fiske's vision of a truly popular brand of
television news, popular in the sense of making the news genuinely matter in
people's daily lives. However, they did call attention to the promise and peril
of that vision--the promise that distinctive, individual voices can find places
in television, and the peril that such voices will give way to a pseudo-popular
news offering nothing more than flash and sleaze. As such, Charles Kuralt and
Steve Dunleavy bear remembering as television news struggles to define itself in
the coming century.
Kuralt & Dunleavy
 Charles Kuralt, On the Road with Charles Kuralt (NY:
Ballantine, 1986), xvi.
 The Charlie Rose Show, WNET-TV, 15 February 1994.
 Jeff Greenfield, "Goodbye to Best Writer in Broadcasting,"
Dayton Daily News, 18 March 1994, p. 10A.
 Quoted in Kuralt, On the Road, ii.
 Pope Brock, "Steve Dunleavy: Quick with a Buck and a Fist, A
Current Affair's Nervy Aussie Never Met a Story Too Lurid to Love," People, 7
June 1993, 124, 120.
 Michael Schudson, The Power of News (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1995), 2. See also James W. Carey, "Editor's Introduction:
Taking Culture Seriously," in Media, Myths, and Narratives: Television and the
Press, ed. James W. Carey (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988), 8-18.
 Michael Schudson, "The Sociology of News Revisited," in Mass
Media and Society, ed. James Curran and Michael Gurevitch (London: Edward
Arnold, 1991), 151-155; Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge (NY: Basic Books,
1983), 73-93; Richard Campbell, 60 Minutes and the News (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1991), 9-13.
 Robert Darnton, "Writing News and Telling Stories," Daedalus
104 (spring 1975): 175-193. See also S. Elizabeth Bird and Robert W. Dardenne,
"Myth, Chronicle, and Story: Exploring the Narrative Qualities of News," in
Media, Myths, and Narratives: Television and the Press, ed. James W. Carey
(Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988), 67-86.
 Robert Karl Manoff, "Writing the News (By Telling the
`Story')," in Reading the News, ed. Robert Karl Manoff and Michael Schudson (NY:
Pantheon Books, 1986), 197-229.
 Schudson, Power of News, 53-71.
 Herbert J. Gans, Deciding What's News (NY: Random House,
 James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser, "Narrative Form and
Moral Force: The Realization of Innocence and Guilt Through Investigative
Journalism," Journal of Communication 38 (summer 1988), 8-26; Theodore L.
Glasser and James S. Ettema, "Investigative Journalism and the Moral Order," in
Critical Perspectives on Media and Society, ed. Robert K. Avery and David Eason
(NY: Guilford, 1991), 203-225; James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser, "The
Irony in--and of--Journalism: A Case Study in the Moral Language of Liberal
Democracy," Journal of Communication 44 (spring 1994), 5-28.
 S. Elizabeth Bird, For Enquiring Minds (Knoxville: University
of Tennessee Press, 1992).
 Paul H. Weaver, "Newspaper News and Television News," in
Enduring Issues in Mass Communication, ed. Everette E. Dennis, Arnold H. Ismach,
and Donald M. Gillmor (St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1978), 224, 231, 232.
 See for example Robert Rutherford Smith, "Mythic Elements in
Television News," Journal of Communication 29 (winter 1979), 75-82; Richard C.
Vincent, Bryan K. Crow, and Dennis K. Davis, "When Technology Fails: The Drama
of Airline Crashes in Network Television News," Journalism Monographs 117
(November 1989); Campbell, 60 Minutes and the News.
 John Fiske, Reading the Popular (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989),
 John J. Pauly, "A Beginner's Guide to Doing Qualitative
Research in Mass Communication," Journalism Monographs 125 (February 1991), 4.
 Kuralt, On the Road; The Best of On the Road with Charles
Kuralt, prod. CBS News, three videocassettes, 60 min. each ("The American
Heritage," "Seasons of America," "Unforgettable People"), CBS Video/Fox Video,
 Biographical notes are drawn from Charles Kuralt, A Life on the
Road (NY: Ivy Books, 1990); see also Charles Kuralt, "Foreword," in Ernie's
America: The Best of Ernie Pyle's 1930s Travel Dispatches, ed. David Nichols
(NY: Random House, 1989), xi-xii; Gary Paul Gates, Air Time: The Inside Story of
CBS News (NY: Harper & Row, 1978), 173-177.
 Kuralt, On the Road, xv.
 Kuralt, "Foreword," xi.
 Weaver, "Newspaper News."
 Kuralt, A Life On the Road, 167.
 Kuralt, On the Road; Best of On the Road.
 Best of On the Road, "Seasons of America."
 Kuralt, On the Road, xvi.
 Campbell, 60 Minutes, 96.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 305-308; Best of On the Road, "The
 Weaver, "Newspaper News," 230.
 See for example Kuralt, A Life on the Road, 173-187.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 249-252; Kuralt, A Life on the Road,
 Howard Rosenberg, "A Toast for Kuralt and One for the Road,"
Los Angeles Times, 1 April 1994, p. F1.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 321-323; Best of On the Road, "The
 Kuralt, On the Road, 318; Best of On the Road, "The American
 Kuralt, On the Road, 121.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 57-59; Best of On the Road,
 Kuralt, On the Road, 85-130.
 Darnton, "Writing News," 191.
 Kuralt, "On the Road," 9-13; Best of On the Road,
 Best of On the Road, "The American Heritage."
 Kuralt, On the Road, 280-282.
 Theodore L. Glasser and James S. Ettema, "When the Facts
Don't Speak for Themselves: A Study of the Use of Irony in Daily Journalism,"
Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10 (December 1993): 322-338; Ettema and
Glasser, "The Irony in--and of--Journalism."
 Kuralt, On the Road, 268-269.
 Best of On the Road, "Seasons of America."
 Gans, Deciding What's News, 48-51, 56-62, 156; see also
Campbell, 60 Minutes, 137-157.
 See for example Kuralt, On the Road, 1-38; Best of On the
Road, "Unforgettable People."
 Kuralt, On the Road, 292-295.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 31.
 Charles Kuralt: One for the Road, CBS, 4 May 1994.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 66.
 Kuralt, On the Road, 350-353; Best of On the Road,
"Unforgettable People." Kuralt told an interviewer that this story moved him and
his crew to tears (Charles Kuralt: One for the Road).
 Daniel C. Hallin, The "Uncensored War" (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1986), 116-117.
 Quoted in Kuralt, On the Road, back cover.
 Weaver, "Newspaper News," 229.
 Tom Shales, "Charles Kuralt, Into the Sunset; After 37 Years,
the CBS Veteran Packs His Bags," Washington Post, 2 April 1994, p. B1.
 Biographical notes come from Marc Fisher, "The King of Sleaze,"
GQ, April 1990, 185-198; Brock, "Steve Dunleavy," 119-124.
 Peter Johnson and Alan Bash, "Dunleavy's Scoop About Natural
Born `Stupidity,'" USA Today, 1 September 1994, p. 3D.
 James Brady, "Now Stand By, America: Here Comes Steve
Dunleavy," Crain's New York Business, 31 July 1988, 9.
 Michael Leapman, Arrogant Aussie: The Rupert Murdoch Story
(Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1985), 238.
 Reliable Sources, CNN, 26 June 1993.
 Ken Auletta, "The Pirate," New Yorker, 13 November 1995, 89.
 Peter Finney, "At O.J. Trial, Media Circus in Force," New
Orleans Times-Picayne, 28 September 1994, p. D1.
 A Current Affair, 7 September 1992.
 A Current Affair, 1 February 1993.
 A Current Affair, 18 November 1992.
 A Current Affair, 10 September 1992, 19 November 1992.
 A Current Affair, 13 November 1992, 17 November 1992.
 Brock, "Steve Dunleavy," 120.
 Maury Povich with Ken Gross, Current Affairs: A Life on the
Edge (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1991), 61.
 "Transitions," Providence Journal-Bulletin, 20 June 1995, p.
 A Current Affair, 10 September 1992.
 Tom Shales, "Fox's Ridiculous `Reporters,'" Washington Post,
30 July 1988, p. C1.
 See Simon Michael Bessie, Jazz Journalism: The Story of the
Tabloid Newspapers (NY: E.P. Dutton, 1938); Helen M. Hughes, News and the Human
Interest Story (1940; reprint, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1981); Mitchell
Stephens, A History of News: From the Drum to the Satellite (NY: Viking, 1988);
Bird, For Enquiring Minds.
 Fisher, "King of Sleaze," 196-197.
 Ettema and Glasser, "Narrative Form and Moral Force."
 Fisher, "King of Sleaze," 198.
 Bird, For Enquiring Minds, 67-78.
 Bird, For Enquiring Minds, 207.
 Bird, For Enquiring Minds, 69.
 Ettema and Glasser, "The Irony in--and of--Journalism," 5.
 Auletta, "The Pirate," 90.
 Fisher, "King of Sleaze," 192.
 Indeed, one scholar has argued just that; see Kevin Glynn,
"Tabloid Television's Transgressive Aesthetic: A Current Affair and the `Shows
That Taste Forgot,'" Wide Angle 12 (April 1990), 22-44.
 Hallin, The "Uncensored War," 117.
 Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese, Mediating the
Message (NY: Longman, 1991), 225-226.
 Chris Welsch, "On the Phone with Charles Kuralt," Minneapolis
Star-Tribune, 26 November 1995, p. 1E; "Media Notes: NY Post Denounces O.J.
Simpson Interview," Media Daily, 13 October 1995, no. 198, vol. 3.
 Charles Kuralt, Charles Kuralt's America (NY: G.P. Putnam's
Sons, 1995), xv.
 Gates, Air Time, 177; David Halberstam, The Powers That Be
(NY: Laurel, 1979), 839.
 Peter J. Boyer, Who Killed CBS? (NY: Random House, 1988),
105-108, 174-178; Ed Joyce, Prime Times, Bad Times (NY: Doubleday, 1988),
 Povich with Gross, Current Affairs.
 Fisher, "King of Sleaze," 196.
 Weaver, "Newspaper News," 226.
 Schudson, "The Sociology of News Revisited," 154.