By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
Ed Joyce, a former president of CBS News whose brief, turbulent tenure in the 1980s was marked by threatened corporate takeovers and settlement of a damaging libel lawsuit from Gen. William Westmoreland, has died. He was 81.
His death Saturday at his home in Redding, Conn., was confirmed by his son Randall Joyce, a producer with CBS News.
Ed Joyce, who retired at 55 and spent most of the years since as a horseman and civic leader in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, died as a result of throat cancer, his son said.
Joyce was the storied news operation’s president from 1983 until he was squeezed out in 1986.
The immediate cause of his departure, he said in his 561-page, 1988 memoir “Prime Times, Bad Times,” was his long-running conflict with newsman Dan Rather. Joyce had criticized Rather’s high salary, his mercurial personality, his stiff news delivery, and his agent, whom he called a “flesh-peddler.”
Shortly before Joyce was fired from the news division’s top job, his boss Gene Jankowski, head of the CBS Broadcast Group, gave him a signal of his imminent demise.
“There are lots of presidents,” Joyce quoted Jankowski as telling him. “There’s only one Dan Rather.”
Joyce rose to the top amid problems that have since become endemic to the news business.
With shareholders demanding more profits from news operations, Joyce instituted layoffs on an unprecedented scale in his division. Some of the 74 employees who were fired were given only 48 hours to clear out — a gaffe Joyce later explained by saying that he wanted to disrupt news gathering as little as possible.
Joyce also had to contend with pressures to craft stories defined by a single compelling moment.
Van Gordon Sauter, a former CBS News president who was promoted to a higher executive position, was a forceful advocate for an emotional connection with viewers — a philosophy that Joyce described as “the kind of articulate drivel we had often listened to, admired, and then ignored.”
But Joyce did not always resist the force of fluff. In his book, he acknowledged that it was a mistake to hire Phyllis George, a former Miss America, as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” in 1984.
George once announced her desire to do a news-making interview with “that Gandhi woman,” according to Joyce.
When she was told that Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, had been assassinated months earlier, George responded: “Oh … well, somebody like her.”
In 1985, CBS News and Westmoreland settled the lawsuit brought by the general after a 1982 documentary accused him of manipulating figures to deceive the American public about progress in the Vietnam War.
“The trial convinced the Far Right that CBS was the Great Satan,” Joyce wrote.
Questions about news ethics even prompted a suggestion from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), that fellow conservatives buy CBS stock to change the direction of its news coverage.
The idea fizzled, but CBS did have to fend off Ted Turner, Ivan Boesky, and others. Billionaire Laurence Tisch was credited with saving CBS from a hostile takeover in 1986 but was later criticized for layoffs that were larger than those imposed by Joyce.
Born in Phoenix on Dec. 13, 1932, Edward Matthew Joyce grew up in various spots around the United States, following his jack-of-all-trades father from job to job. Joyce said he attended about 20 schools in 10 years.
His father gave him his first taste of the media business. During the Depression, the elder Joyce worked as a wrangler on a dude ranch and put out a tourist magazine called “The Last Frontier.”
Faced with sagging circulation, he sometimes bartered stacks of magazines for Indian jewelry at desert trading posts.
Graduating from high school in Manhattan, Joyce attended the University of Wyoming, dropping out after his wife, Maureen, became pregnant. He worked at radio stations in Cody, Wyo., Utica, N.Y., and Schenectady, N.Y., before landing a jazz show at WCBS in New York.
After he left CBS, Joyce and his wife settled in Santa Ynez and, later, Buellton, Calif. He became president of a local Rotary Club and was active in the Santa Ynez Historical Society. A team penner at rodeos, he was a member of various equestrian groups.
“I’m living proof that it’s never too late to have a childhood,” he told Variety in 1994.
The couple moved to Connecticut, their previous home, in 2007.
In addition to his wife, son Randall and daughter Brenda Hauser, Joyce is survived by five grandchildren.
Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT
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