Edward Joyce, who was president of CBS News during a turbulent period in the 1980s and who later wrote a juicy memoir describing an atmosphere of palace intrigue at the network, died Aug. 2 at his home in Redding, Connecticut. He was 81.
He had throat cancer, said his son, Randall Joyce.
Edward Joyce, who began his career as a radio announcer and reporter, spent more than 20 years moving up the CBS ladder, leading local radio and TV affiliates in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York before becoming vice president of CBS News in 1981.
That was the year that Walter Cronkite, the longtime anchor of the network’s evening news broadcast, was replaced by Dan Rather. CBS still had the nation’s top-ranked evening newscast, but the “Tiffany Network,” which had been the home of Edward R. Murrow and other broadcasting giants, was beginning a long slide into turmoil.
Joyce assumed the presidency of CBS News in 1983, when his boss, Van Gordon Sauter, took another job in the corporate hierarchy. Almost from the start, he was beset by a series of unprecedented problems.
The news department had long been immune to financial pressures, but under increasing demands to turn a profit, Joyce had to cut 125 positions.
Perhaps more threatening to the network’s reputation, CBS News was sued for $120 million by retired Army Gen. William Westmoreland over a 1982 documentary that alleged that he took part in a “conspiracy” to understate the number of enemy forces in the Vietnam War.
After a four-month trial that sapped the network’s morale, Westmoreland withdrew his lawsuit in February 1985, before the jury reached a decision. Asserting that the network harbored an irremediable liberal bias, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and other commentators called for conservative investors to buy up the company’s stock and “become Dan Rather’s boss.”
“There is abroad in the land,” Joyce told The Washington Post in 1985, “this new mindset that the mechanisms exist to bring an ‘errant’ press under control. These things represent a collective pattern that I find worrisome.”
Meanwhile, CBS was fending off outside bids from broadcasting mogul Ted Turner and others. Inside the network, several CBS stalwarts, including Rather, Mike Wallace, Morley Safer and “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt, launched a plan to purchase the news department and restore its glory. In the end, financier Laurence Tisch bought a substantial portion of CBS stock, preventing a hostile takeover.
Joyce sought to restore a measure of journalistic stability by airing more prime-time documentaries. But he also introduced a number of ideas, apparently endorsed by Sauter, that had the network’s old guard reeling.
The “CBS Evening News” placed greater reliance on pictures, flashy graphics and stories about popular culture. The network’s faltering morning show loosened its focus on hard news in favor of features on cooking and celebrities.
Joyce approved the appointment of Phyllis George, a onetime Miss America and football pregame-show host, as co-anchor of the “CBS Morning News.” When George said she would like to interview “that Gandhi woman,” Joyce recalled in his dishy memoir, “Prime Times, Bad Times,” she was told that Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated.
In December 1985, Joyce was replaced as CBS News president by Sauter.
Edward Matthew Joyce was born Dec. 13, 1932, in Phoenix. His family moved often before Joyce completed high school in New York City. He dropped out of the University of Wyoming to become a radio disc jockey in Cody, Wyo., and began working for CBS in Chicago in 1954.