Morton Dean: TV News “Spiraling Down Into a Deep, Dark Ravine”

By Alissa Krinsky 

Where Are They Now? A TVNewser Series

Today, TVNewser begins a multi-week series where we’ll catch up with some tvnewsers of yesterday to learn about their lives now, and their perspectives on the industry. We begin with former CBS and ABC newsman Morton Dean. Next week: former MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour co-anchor Robert MacNeil.

People don’t forget a distinguished voice.

Just ask Morton Dean. Retired from network news for eight years, he “surprisingly” still gets stopped by people who “usually say something about my voice, in a positive way,” he tells TVNewser. “And I always answer the same way. I [joke], ‘Are you saying to me that I had a great face for radio?'”

But make no mistake, they remember him from television, even recounting specific stories he filed over the years. That pleases Dean, a journalist to the core. “Once you’re in the business,” he explains, “you never quite leave the business, and it certainly doesn’t leave you.”

Morton Dean, 74, joined CBS News in 1963 via New York’s WCBS-TV. About two years later he moved to the network, where he spent two decades before logging another 14 years at ABC. Along the way, Dean anchored weekend editions of the CBS Evening News, was news anchor at Good Morning America, and traveled the world as a correspondent, covering everything from the Iranian hostage crisis to conflict in Kosovo.

Of it all, he says, “one of the highlights was being in Vietnam, and seeing that war for what it really was. All the pain it inflicted on the people who were fighting there, the people who were living there, and certainly, those back in the States who lost loved ones.”

Throughout his career, Dean says he tried to report stories he felt were important, sometimes choosing to decline certain assignments. “I did dance to the beat of my own drum,” he reflects.

And he’s still dancing. Now a freelance journalist, he primarily writes magazine articles on subjects of personal interest, including one recently on his beloved Boston Red Sox. Another focused on his latest journey to Cuba, 50 years after his 1959 interview with Fidel Castro.

Dividing his time between homes in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Dean also just finished writing his first novel, about a fictional act of terrorism on U.S. soil and the TV reporter who covers the story. In addition, Dean does voice-overs, and has formed a consultancy — M.E. Communications Partners — with two associates, one of whom is former network exec Ed Fouhy. “I worked with some wonderful people” over the years, Dean says, describing how “dedicated and brave and committed people were to journalism.”

He worries for the current crop of committed journalists, faced with shrinking budgets and smaller staffs while being expected to produce more content than ever before. “I don’t think anyone knows where it’s headed,” Dean says about the TV news business. He particularly laments the “criminal” decline of foreign affairs coverage.

Overall, he says, the industry is “spiraling down into a deep, dark ravine from which it may — and probably will — never reemerge.”

Dean misses “old-fashioned journalism.” Like the story he did in the 1960’s in Vietnam that brought him lifelong friendships with the relatives of a soldier. “I keep in contact with a family of a kid who…I interviewed him just before he got killed, and the family has kind of become like an extended part of my family.”

It’s part of a mosaic of memorable experiences. “I was always learning something. My skills were always improving. I worked hard at it,” he says about his reporter’s life. “I’m very pleased with the career I had.”

Morton Dean anchors a CBS Newsbreak in 1977.