William J. Small, who built the Washington bureau of CBS News into a journalistic powerhouse and protected his correspondents from the grievances of President Richard M. Nixon and other government officials, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 93.
His daughter Tamar Small confirmed the death.
Mr. Small arrived at CBS News in 1962, soon after the era embodied in the work of Edward R. Murrow. That same year, Walter Cronkite became the anchorman of what would soon be called the “CBS Evening News.”
Over more than a decade, Mr. Small hired, or recruited from within CBS News, prominent correspondents like Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, Eric Sevareid, Bob Schieffer and Bruce Morton. He also championed the hiring of women, among them Lesley Stahl and Connie Chung.
With a soft voice but a steely demeanor, Mr. Small was known for his absolute control of the bureau on M Street, and for his ardent defense of his correspondents’ work — in particular that of Mr. Rather, who routinely angered President Nixon.
“When President Nixon sought to have me removed as White House correspondent during the height of our Watergate reporting,” Mr. Rather wrote on Facebook soon after Mr. Small’s death, “Mr. Small flatly refused on the spot, then repeatedly did so again, after enlisting the support of his superiors in New York.”
Mr. Schieffer recalled that early in his time as CBS News’s Pentagon correspondent, he learned that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was upset with one of his reports.
“I called Small immediately and he said, ‘I’ll take care of it,’ and he called and reamed out the chairman,” Mr. Schieffer said in a phone interview. “When anyone anywhere got mad at us, he took the criticism. If we had a problem with the government, he was right in the middle of it.”
Mr. Small hired Ms. Stahl in 1972, soon after the Federal Communications Commission included women in its equal employment rules for television broadcasters.
“There were three of us in the bureau whom Mr. Small hired and nurtured: Connie Chung, Bernie Shaw and me,” she said in an interview. (Mr. Shaw is black.) “If you have a boss who saw affirmative action as a burden, I’m not sure we would have been promoted. He didn’t hire us to see us fail.”
When Mr. Small received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2014, he recalled the negative response within CBS News to his hiring of Diane Sawyer.
“I got a lot of flak from the staff because she had worked for Nixon,” he said, “and the only one who later came to me, Dan Rather, said: ‘I was wrong. She’s terrific.’”
“He was the right man for the times we were in,” Ms. Zirinsky said in an interview. “The press was under great pressure. He became the buffer. He stood up. He was the champion we needed.”
Mr. Small was promoted to senior vice president of CBS News in 1974, making him a strong candidate for the job he wanted: president of CBS News. But four years later, after William A. Leonard was named the president-designate of CBS News to succeed Richard S. Salant, Mr. Small moved to a job outside of CBS’s news-gathering operation as the chief Washington lobbyist for the CBS Corporation.
He did not stay long. In 1979 he got the job that he coveted, but it was at a rival network: He left to become the president of NBC News.
William Jack Small was born on Sept. 30, 1926, in Chicago. His mother, Libby (Mell) Small, was a teacher, and his father, Louis, owned a bakery.
William dropped out of high school to enlist in the Army soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and served on the Philippine island of Leyte. Following his discharge, he graduated from a five-year interdisciplinary master’s program at the University of Chicago.
After working as the news director of the Chicago radio station WLS, he was hired in 1956 for the same position at WHAS-TV, a CBS affiliate in Louisville, Ky. Under his leadership the station was named the nation’s outstanding news operation by the Radio-Television News Directors Association (now known as RTDNA, or the Radio Television Digital News Association).
Mr. Small’s success at WHAS led CBS News to appoint him its assistant news director at the Washington bureau in 1962. He was elevated the next year to director and manager.
“His bureau would be the breadbasket of the CBS News operation,” Roger Mudd, a longtime CBS correspondent, wrote in “The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the Glory Days of Television News” (2008). “The appetite of the evening news and the morning news and the midday news, and later the Saturday news and the Sunday news, would be insatiable, and Small’s bureau would have to be prepared to satisfy it.”
Mr. Small’s jobs after he left CBS did not bring him as much success or renown.
He resigned from NBC News in 1982, after less than three years. He apparently had difficulty blending his experience at CBS — along with that of Mr. Mudd and Bernard and Marvin Kalb, former CBS correspondents he lured to NBC — with NBC’s news tradition, which included stars like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who teamed on the evening news for 14 years, and John Chancellor.
He was then the president of United Press International for four years. In 1986, he began an 11-year tenure at Fordham University as a professor of communications and the director of the center of communications at the university’s Graduate School of Business.
From 2000 to 2010, he was the chairman of the news and documentary Emmy Awards at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
In addition to his daughter Tamar, Mr. Small is survived by another daughter, Willa Small Kuh; six grandchildren; and a sister, Florence Small. His wife, Gish (Rubin) Small, died in 2005.
In 1978, Mr. Small brought his experience with free speech issues to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution. He excoriated a recent Supreme Court ruling that gave police officers permission to enter newsrooms if they had an easily obtained warrant, and he spoke in favor of a bill to codify newsroom protection (which Congress passed in 1980).
Predicting newsroom disruptions if the law did not pass, Mr. Small asked:
“Could you ever have another Watergate exposed? The management of The Washington Post is too tough to be intimidated, but what about Deep Throat? He was the most important element, the key lead, in the reports of Woodward and Bernstein. Would he be as forthcoming if he knew that law enforcement officials could pick their way through everything those reporters had?”