Bernard Shaw: TV News Anchor Who Turned CNN into Powerhouse, Dies at 82

First Chief News Anchor, Dies at 82

The TV journalist helped turn the cable network into a powerhouse.

Shaw died Wednesday from pneumonia not related to COVID-19, his family said.

Based in Washington, D.C. when CNN launched, Shaw, known as Bernie to friends and colleagues, was the cable news channel’s lead anchor for two decades until his retirement in 2001.

During his tenure, Shaw anchored major breaking news events, like the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, the Tiananmen Square student revolt in 1989 and every presidential election.

“The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated; we are seeing bright flashes going off all around the sky,” Shaw reported during the U.S. air campaign.

“The walls were shaking, the windows were vibrating, the concussions were blowing us against the wall,” he recalled in a retrospective interview for CNN.

While newspapers were providing updates on the war the day after the events happened, and broadcast programs like the evening news broadcasts provided daily updates, CNN’s coverage, led by Shaw, showed the grim reality of war in real time and cemented CNN’s status as a dominant player in global news.

Shaw was also a savvy political journalist, anchoring the channel’s political talk show Inside Politics from 1992 until his retirement.

Shaw served as debate moderator in both the 2000 vice presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman and in a 1988 presidential debate between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.

A question posed to Dukakis about the death penalty caused an uproar and became one of the most memorable debate moments in history.

“What I strove for was perfection, which was impossible to achieve,” he told NPR in 2014. “If I’m covering a story that’s of particular interest to African-Americans, I want to be certain that I cover that story as thoroughly as possible, as I would any other story. And being African-American, I would be the critic most critical of me if I failed to do the best job possible with that story.”

Shaw was born May 22, 1940, in Chicago to Edgar Shaw, a railroad employee, and Camilla Shaw, a housekeeper. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps. from 1959-63 and received B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1966.

Shaw’s journalism career began as a local reporter in Chicago before he joined CBS News’ D.C. bureau in 1971. He left for ABC News in 1977, becoming the network’s Latin America correspondent.

He moved to CNN for its launch in 1980.

A trailblazing Black journalist, Shaw was inducted into the NABJ hall of fame in 2014.

“Bernie was a CNN original and was our Washington Anchor when we launched on June 1, 1980. He was our lead anchor for the next 20 years from anchoring coverage of presidential elections to his iconic coverage of the First Gulf War live from Baghdad in 1991,” CNN chair and CEO Chris Licht said in a statement.

“Even after he left CNN, Bernie remained a close member of our CNN family providing our viewers with context about historic events as recently as last year. The condolences of all of us at CNN go out to his wife Linda and his children.”

Shaw is survived by his wife of 28 years, Linda Allston, and their children. It was his family that spurred on his retirement in 2001.

“I will never know the sacrifices they made so that I could do what I did,” he told NPR. “The countless weeks away from them, the missing of so many precious moments in a child’s and a wife’s lifetime, experiences. And it began to gnaw at us more, more, more. And I decided it was time to walk off the field when I was approaching my 61st birthday.”