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Fresh Air Remembers Newsman Edwin Newman
We listen back to excerpts from a 1988 interview with the NBC broadcaster, whose fascination with linguistic excess led to a series of books about the English language. During his long news career Newman covered President Kennedy's assassination and the Six-Day War. He died on Aug. 13 at age 91. Fresh Air from WHYY Play

Portions of this interview were originally broadcast on Nov. 23, 1988.

Edwin Newman, the NBC broadcaster whose fascination with gobbledygook and linguistic excess led to a series of books about the English language, died on Aug. 13. He was 91.

Newman started his career in broadcast journalism working for the wire services, after which he moved to CBS News Radio and later NBC. Between 1952 and 1984, he reported for a variety of shows, including Meet the Press, Today and The Nightly News. Among the stories he covered: the funeral of King George VI, the assassination of President Kennedy and the cease-fire that ended the Vietnam War.

In a 1988 interview with Terry Gross, he described how he conveyed the news of President Kennedy's death on the day of the assassination in 1963.

"I have heard recordings of myself announcing the president's death and obviously my voice was grave and it was somber," he says. "It was not necessary to put that on. It was how [I] felt, as [I] sat there, dealing with this information. You couldn't help asking yourself 'Is this really happening?' Then, because you are in the news business, you say to yourself, 'If this is really happening, I'm glad I'm the one they've chosen to deal with it because, in a way, it's a mark of confidence.' "

For many years, Newman also hosted a program on NBC called Speaking Freely, where he conducted hourlong interviews with leading political and cultural figures, including filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, boxer Muhammad Ali and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

But he was most well-known for a series of books he authored, Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? and A Civil Tongue, which analyzed the jargon, bloated phrases and obfuscation present in prose.

Newman said it was his career in news that made him want to understand and protect the nuances of the English language.

"I thought that it was the business of anybody in the news business to examine what he or she was told," he said. "And you cannot do that -- you cannot examine what is being told and judge its veracity -- unless you understand language, particularly unless you understand when language is being used in an attempt to mislead you. I took that very seriously."

Newman received a Peabody Award in 1966. He is survived by his wife and a daughter. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.