Irving R. Levine by
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Prompted By Broadcast News

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Once upon a time the pre-teen me thought Meet the Press, Face the Nation and Firing Line were top television fare. Some years later I added business news to the menu. The workings of the U.S. and world economies intrigued me.

The guy with the bow tie was the best in the business.

Enter PBS’s Wall Street Week (“from Owings Mills, Maryland”), which went on the air in 1970. On Friday nights I ran with the bulls and the bears and their odd wrangler Louis Rukeyser. Then a year later bow-tied Irving R. Levine debuted on NBC’s Nightly News as the first full-time economics reporter on television. I had found my guy.

The problem was, Irving R. Levine didn’t have his own show. He didn’t report every night. So whenever I heard his trademark monotone I dropped whatever I was doing and tuned in.

Why did I like him? His analysis was smart and succinct. Smart for sure. He had been the first American correspondent to live in and report from Moscow, where the Soviets tried to recruit him as a spy. He also had been NBC’s bureau chief in Rome. I didn’t know any of this at the time.

Some lampooned his slow, flat, formal delivery, but this and other qualities helped make complex issues accessible to the average viewer (that would be me). If Irving R. Levine said it was so, it was so. I learned a lot from him.

Not surprisingly, Irving Raskin Levine’s signature style provided material for late night comedians. His 2009 Los Angeles Times obituary noted this Johnny Carson quip during a national economic slowdown: “Things are so bad (how bad are they?) that Irving R. Levine was spotted today next to the freeway with a sign saying Will Work for Bow Ties.” Another story held that when NBC News producers asked him to save air time by eliminating his middle initial R when signing off, he replied that he “would rather delete the B from NBC.” According to the same obit he even made it into a storyline on the sitcom Murphy Brown. “Murphy” was mortified that her colleagues would think she had “the hots” for Irving R. Levine. All was gentle ribbing rooted in respect for a reporter admired by peers and viewers alike.

Today’s news broadcasters have clothes consultants and hair stylists. AP and Reuters editors allow the use of adjectives and adverbs. The truth in reporting sometimes is hard to discern. Looking back, Irving R. Levine may have been an unlikely object of anyone’s news crush, but he was mine.

 

Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.



Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Love this Susan. I go for the brainy ones too. I confess to a slight crush on David Brinkley as a kid (my parents watched The Huntley Brinkley Report, not Uncle Walter, until H-B went off the air in 1970). I never miss Meet the Press (I record and come back to it later in the day, if I’m in the gym when it’s on). For a while I watched MTP and Face the Nation, but too much redundancy. I do NOT love Chuck Todd, but am stuck with him.

    Your anecdotes about Irving make me miss the days of serious journalism. The worst thing that happened was making the news part of CBS’s bottom line. And don’t get me started about Fox and their BS. People no longer understand the difference between fact and opinion and we are all in trouble as a result.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Yes, Betsy, I don’t know where it all went wrong, but I suspect is had something to do with the news business becoming “corporate.”

      What a smart little girl you were to crush on David Brinkley. Apropos of nothing, I had a DB sighting in the ’80s at the Ritz (that sounds terrible, but that’s where it happened). He appeared in the doorway of an open room, looking for someone. All eyes turned his way. He was SO tall, Abe Lincoln-esque, actually. Couldn’t miss him. How terrible it must be to go through life being “recognized”!

  2. Marian says:

    That is cool, Susan. I don’t recall much about Irving R. Levine, but often watched Wall Street Week. Today there wouldn’t be someone like Louis Rukeyser anchoring that show!

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Didn’t you love that clock chime in the opening credits?
      Yes, LR was a rare one. For several years I worked at an economics consulting firm, and over that time several of the top economists guested on the show. They confirmed that LR was rather eccentric in person. But who doesn’t like a good mystery? Thanks, M.

  3. Thanx Susan, Levine was not in my radar , but if I had to name a news anchor crush, mine was certainly Dan Rather – who may not know I exist but is nevertheless now my Facebook friend.

    I remember once teasing my husband when I said Dan Rather could put his reporter’s notebook on my night-table any time.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Ha! His news anchoring aside, Dan was a handsome man for sure.
      One of these days he may friend you back. How does that work? I’ve never done FB or Twitter or any of them.

      • Susan, Despite it’s detractors I like FB, I’ve connected and re-connected with old friends and colleagues.

        And one can “follow” individuals, groups, news outlets, and organizations – that’s actually what I do with Dan Rather, and I actually find Charles Blow appealing and follow him too!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Thank you for reminding me about Levine. He was the genuine article.

  5. Suzy says:

    Thanks for this fascinating look at Irving R. Levine. He was not someone who was on my radar (as Dana said), but glad to know about him. I have to admit I’ve never had a crush on a newsman!

  6. My gawd, Susan, you’ve resurrected two names from the deepest recesses of my memory. Irving R. Levine! Louis Rukeyser! Next, you’ll be recalling I.F. Stone!

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Glad to oblige, Charles. I disappoint myself and you, however, for not knowing who I.F. Stone was. So I looked him up. He lived a good, long life and I’m sure from my cursory investigation he had plenty to say. There’s a documentary about him on YouTube. I will check it out. At least we have a memory of a generation of pro’s.

      • I.F. Stone’s weekly go-to newsletter for lefty/progressive folks during the Cold War. He turned to publishing his own newsletter after decades of Capitol Hill reporting and journalism and could be both factual and a gadfly in the same issue. A great character and great journalist. On our coffee table every week when I was a kid in late 50s early 60s.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Interesting insight into Irving R Levine’s journalism. The name is familiar, but I never got into the business news. My parents were also Huntley-Brinkley fans, and apropos of nothing, one of my favorite Tom Lehrer lines involves a clever rhyme with their names (from a song about WWIII–“While we’re attacking front-ily, watch Brink-ily and Hunt-ily, describing contrapunt-ily the cities we have lost….”)

  8. Susan Bennet says:

    Yes, H-B were icons in black and white TV news. Clever Lehrer lyrics, thanks for sharing!

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