Gwen’s Take: The first 47 years

Posted: Thu, 02/27/2014 - 5:56pm

Top right: John Davenport was the first moderator of Washington Week; Bottom left: Paul Duke was the longest-running host of the show.

My producer alerted me earlier this week that Washington Week is celebrating its 47th birthday.

Forty-seven does not seem to be particularly noteworthy, so I looked it up. Halle Berry, John Cusack and Janet Jackson are 47. So are Adam Sandler and Benicio del Toro.

They are all accomplished people, and I am sure they all watch Washington Week.

But here’s why this anniversary is worth noting. Television shows don’t generally live this long. It probably helped that 1967, when our weekly roundtable began airing, was chock full of interesting news. Lyndon Johnson was president, struggling under the burden of Vietnam that would eventually cripple his chances for re-election.

In a tragedy that stunned the space program and the nation, a fire killed three astronauts on the Apollo 1 launching pad in January. There was a coup in Greece in the spring and a string of race riots all summer long that spread from Tampa, Cincinnati and Buffalo to Newark, Detroit and Milwaukee.

Israel won the six-day war. Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice, and Edward Brooke as its first elected black U.S. Senator after reconstruction.

Also, Aretha Franklin recorded “Respect.”

I’m guessing the sober minded men (and they were men) at the Washington Week table did not get to the Aretha news, but there was plenty else to discuss.

Paul Anthony, who has been our announcer since the show went on the air, contributed to the show, live, every week for 25 years until we switched to tape. That’s his voice you hear saying: “Covering history as it happens…” at the top of the program.

Hear him tell his story here.

Paul Anthony has been the Washington Week announced since the show first started.

That’s 47 years of presidential elections, congressional standoffs, scandals, wars and debates.

John Davenport, who dreamed up the idea of a Washington Week reporters’ roundtable, could not have known how many imitators would come and go in the next half century. But we’re still here.

It’s a privilege every week to carry on the tradition. Reporters love to come to the table to unload what they know and provide behind-the-scenes expertise.

And as other programs have gravitated toward opinion and conflict, we have hewed toward the straight and narrow with analysis and insight -– light rather than heat. A key question we raise every week as we assemble the table is: why does this matter, and what role does Washington play?

So you’ll have to turn elsewhere for Justin Bieber news. And if 47-year-old Halle Berry has another baby, you’ll have to find that elsewhere too. We have other stuff to focus on. 

But we do plan to cut the rug at 50. You’re invited.

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