David McClure Brinkley (July 10, 1920 - June 11, 2003) was an American television newscaster for NBC and later ABC. From the 1956 through 1970 he co-anchored the Huntley-Brinkley Report news show with Chet Huntley.
Brinkley was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he began writing for a local newspaper, the Wilmington Morning Star, while still attending New Hanover High School. He attended the University of North Carolina, Emory University, and Vanderbilt University before entering service in the United States Army. Following his discharge in 1943, he moved to Washington, DC looking for a radio job at CBS News. Instead, he took a job at NBC News and became its first White House correspondent.
1952 had seen the birth of a electronic journalism star when Walter Cronkite anchored CBS's political conventions coverage. In 1956, NBC News executives were looking for their own breakout newsbiz star. In trying to determine which one of two would make the best anchor for NBC's political convention coverage, a impasse arose. Half of NBC's news executives wanted Chet Huntley as solo anchor; the other half wanted Brinkley. According to Reuben Frank, a brainstorm happened: why not have two anchors instead of one? That insight led to Brinkley's paring with Huntley to cover the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
The match worked so well that the two took over NBC's flagship nightly newscast, with Huntley in New York and Brinkley in Washington, DC, for the newly christened Huntley-Brinkley Report. Brinkley's dry wit offset the serious tone set by Huntley, and the program proved popular with audiences turned off by the incessantly serious tone of CBS's news broadcasts of that era. The Huntley-Brinkley Report was America's most popular television newscast until it was overtaken and the end of the 1960's by the CBS Evening News, anchored by Walter Cronkite.
When Huntley retired in 1970, the show was renamed NBC Nightly News, and Brinkley co-anchored the broadcast with John Chancellor. Later, he became the program's commentator. However, the show was never as popular as it had been with Huntley. For its part, NBC attempted to launch newsmagazine shows during the 1970's with Brinkley as anchor. None of them succeeded. An unhappy Brinkley left NBC in 1981.
Almost immediately after leaving NBC, Brinkley was offered a job at ABC, where he began hosting a Sunday morning talk show, This Week with David Brinkley, which featured several correspondents and interviews with a guest newsmaker, followed by an opinionated roundtable of discussion. The format proved highly successful and soon spawned imitators.
Brinkley stepped down from This Week on November 10, 1996. He had been an electronic journalist for over 50 years and had been anchor or host of a daily or weekly national television program for just over 40 years, longer than anyone else.
The full title of Brinkley's 1995 autobiography sums up what he had seen during his legendary broadcasting career: "David Brinkley: 11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television and 18 Years of Growing Up in North Carolina."
During his career, he won 10 Emmy Awards, three George Foster Peabody Awards and, in 1992, President George H. W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Bush called him "the elder statesman of broadcast journalism," but Brinkley was much more humble. In an interview in 1992, he said, "Most of my life, I've simply been a reporter covering things, and writing and talking about it."
Brinkley died at the age of 82 in his home in Houston, Texas from complications from a fall.