How does one go from being called Americas sweetheart to being labeled a
shameless tabloid whore (Revah 10)? Connie Chung knows. Co-anchoring the CBS
Evening News with Dan Rather and hosting her own Eye to Eye, she was once on top of
the broadcast journalism world, yet all good things must come to an end. Connie Chung
had a glorious rise and a dramatic fall.
Connie Chung began her career as an assignment editor and on-the-air-reporter at a
local Washington, D.C. television station WTTG. But her big break came in 1971, when
the Federal Communications Commission began pressuring television networks to hire
more minorities and women. Chung applied at CBSs Washington bureau. She once told
Daniel Paisner, They had only one woman at CBS News at the time, and I think they
wanted to hire more. So, they hired me, they hired Leslie Stahl, they hired Michelle
Clark, and they hired Sylvia Chase…. In other words, a Chinese woman a black woman, a
nice Jewish girl, and a blond shiska. And so they took care of years of discrimination.
Chung covered George McGoverns presidential campaign in 1971 and accompanied
Richard Nixon on trips to the Middle East and the Soviet Union in 1972. In 1976, she
became a news anchor for KNXT, the local CBS television station in Los Angeles.
There, her salary went from about $27,000 a year to an estimated $600,000, making
Connie Chung one of the countrys highest-paid local news anchors in 1983. She
received many honors, including an award for best television reporting from the Los
Angeles Press Club in 1977 and Local Emmys in 1978 and 1980. (Moritz 108)
In 1984, Chung, eager to return to reporting national politics, was asked to anchor
NBC News at Sunrise. Of course, she did not let this opportunity pass her by. Chungs
new job….also included serving as a political correspondent for the NBC Nightly News
program, anchoring the networks Saturday evening news, and doing three prime-time,
ninety-second news casts a week (Moritz 108). Chungs status as a rising network star
was reaffirmed when, in November 1983, she made the first of many appearances on the
Today show as a substitute for anchorwoman Jane Pauley (Moroitz 108).
Connie Chung announced in March 1989 that she would rejoin CBS after her NBC
contract expired in May. She was to anchor a revamped West 57th Street and the CBS
Sunday Night News, and to be one of the main substitute anchors for Dan Rather on the
CBS Evening News. This agreement was worth nearly $1.5 million a year. (Moritz 108)
On September 23, 1989, Saturday Night with Connie Chung made its CBS debut. The
hour-long show, however, was not well received by critics. Chung was criticized for the
shows shifts from documentation to re-creation— it was too confusing for the audience.
Her show was not considered real journalism. (Brunsdon 329)
In 1993, to raise the Evening News ratings, CBS paired Connie Chung with Dan
Rather as his co-anchor. Reuven Frank, who was once a network executive for CBS, said
in his article Connie Chung at the Circus:
I was repeatedly advised by station managers to improve my news ratings as they
had: Give them a good-looking girl to look at…..If Im right, then Chung was
chosen co-anchor because she is an attractive woman….I do not mean to deny that
she is an established journalist with more than 20 years experience. But that is
not why she was picked. Sexism got her the job (21).
This was the first step to Connie Chungs downfall.
Controversy arose after the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. Rather was
vacationing in Texas at the time, so Chung, unskilled in the ways of field reporting, was
sent to cover the tragedy. During her coverage, Chung managed to offend some
Oklahoma viewers by questioning the citys fire chief about the communitys ability to
handle the crisis. After only three days, CBS brought Chung back to New York. Steve
Wulf, a reporter for Time magazine made the remark that, The only good thing to come
out of her assignment was that the proceeds from T shirts asking WHO THE HELL IS
CONNIE CHUNG? went to the disaster relief efforts (83).
Not long after returning to CBS, Chung hosted her own show, Eye to Eye with
Connie Chung. On this program, Chung interviewed sensational subjects, such as Tonya
Harding. This network news magazine is what ultimately led to her downfall, involving
only a simple five-letter word.
In a television interview with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrichs mother, which
was to be edited into a profile of the incoming Speaker, Connie Chung is said to have
violated all journalistic morals. Under lights and cameras, Mrs. Gingrich was coaxed
into revealing what she thought would stay between Chung and her:
CHUNG: Mrs. Gingrich, what has Newt told you about President Clinton?
MRS. GINGRICH: The only thing that he ever told me is that hes smart. That
hes an intelligent man. That hes not very practical, but hes intelligent. [Pause]
I cant tell you what he said about Hillary.
CHUNG: You cant?
MRS. GINGRICH: I cant.
CHUNG: Why dont you whisper it to me, just between you and me?
MRS. GINGRICH: Shes a bitch. About the only thing he ever said about
her… (Frank, Celebrity 20)
Gingrich was outraged at the way Chung had set his mother up. Had Connie Chung
violated journalistic rules by deceiving the Speakers poor old mother? In reporting on
her interview on CBS Evening News the day after, Chung pointed out that during the
interview Mrs. Gingrich frequently broke into a stage whisper, indicating she knew her
remarks would be used. Many journalistic authorities and critics agreed with the
Speaker, saying that Chung had violated her off-the-record record understanding by using
her quote on-the-record. (Hurley 13) Though CBS aggressively publicized the
comment, the network was somewhat tepid in her defense (Wulf 83).
Not long after the Gingrich interview, ratings for both the Evening News and Eye to
Eye began to slump. Research showed that viewers were still angry with Chung over the
Gingrich incident, and the affiliates were demanding immediate action. (Green 52) What
else was there to do but let the anchorwoman go? She was brought in to raise ratings, yet
because of her, they only suffered.
Thus, that was the end of Connie Chungs career. She had survived on top for what
was a surprisingly long time for television—over 20 years—but it was all too good to be
true. Her warm personality, charm, and good looks could only get her so far. In the end,
she was no longer seen as Americas sweetheart, who had worked so hard to cover
political campaigns and other important issues. She was merely a shameless tabloid
whore, who would trick sweet little old ladies into revealing their own personal secrets
just to get a story.
Brunsdon, Charlotte, Julie DAcci, Lynn Spigel, eds. Feminist television Criticism: A
Reader. Oxford University Press: New York, 1997. 329.
Frank, Reuven. Celebrity Journalism. The New Leader v78. 30 January 1995. 20-21.
Frank, Reuven. Connie Chung at the Circus. The New Leader v78. 8-22 May 1995:
Green, Michelle. Anchor Away. People Weekly v43. 5 June 1995: 50-52.
Hurley, Deborah. The Whisper Heard Round the World. The Quill (Chicago, Ill.)
v83. March1995: 13.
Murowitz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1989. The H.W. Wilson Company:
New York, 1989, 1990: 106-110.
Revah, Susan. Its a Jungle Out There in Cyberspace. American Journalism Review
v17. March 1995: 10-11.
Wulf, Steve. Weighing Anchors. Time v145.15 May 1995: 83.