Sam Donaldson

News Correspondent & Anchor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tab

About
About this interview

Of his career as a journalist, Sam Donaldson says, "I say to people, only half-facetiously, in questioning public officials who owe an explanation to the public, 'I try to be equally vicious to all of them.'" In his two-and-a-half hour Archive interview Donaldson talks about his tenure at WTOP-TV in Washington D.C. and his move to ABC News as a Washington news reporter. He discusses his coverage of Vietnam where he served as a war correspondent in 1971. He recalls his experiences as ABC's Capitol Hill Correspondent during the Nixon era, punctuated by the Watergate scandal. He discusses his coverage of Jimmy Carter's campaign and his tenure as White House Correspondent during the Carter Administration. He talks about the impact of the Iran Hostage Crisis on the Carter presidency and the release of the hostages timed to coincide with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. He talks about covering the Reagan presidency including the assassination attempt that he witnessed first-hand. He discusses his appearance as a regular on This Week with David Brinkley and its subsequent incarnation as This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. He speaks about the creation of Primetime Live, in which he served as co-anchor with Diane Sawyer. Finally, he discusses working with such colleagues as Peter Jennings and Helen Thomas. Karen Herman conducted the  interview on September 14, 2005 in New York City.

"In questioning public officials who owe an explanation to the public, I try to be equally vicious to all of them."

Highlights
Sam Donaldson on his aggressive reporting style
00:55
Sam Donaldson on a humorous remark made to him by Jimmy Carter
00:52
Sam Donaldson on the news events early in his career which shaped his attitude on covering public figures: Vietnam and Watergate
01:48
Sam Donaldson on how political conventions have changed since the first one he covered in 1964
00:57
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early years growing up in Texas
On his education, service in the U.S. Army, and first jobs
On working at KRLD-TV in Dallas before being hired at WTOP in Washington, D.C. as summer relief announcer
On replacing Roger Mudd in the news department at WTOP and some of the stories he covered
On moving to ABC to become its Washington correspondent in 1967

Chapter 2

On his first days as a Washington news correspondent at ABC in 1967
On his reporting style and first stories covered at ABC News
On covering the Vietnam War for ABC News
On covering Watergate for ABC News and the overall news policy at ABC at the time

Chapter 3

On two examples of ABC's poor handling of his news scoops early in the late 60s and early 70s
On covering Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign (with highlights) for ABC News 
On covering Jimmy Carter's presidency as ABC's White House Correspondent
On Ronald Reagan

Chapter 4

On covering the attempted assassination of President Reagan 
On covering the Reagan administration as ABC White House correspondent
On his tenure on This Week with David Brinkley
On his work on Primetime Live and working with Roone Arledge

Chapter 5

On This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
On returning as an ABC White House correspondent to cover part of the Clinton administration; then leaving in 1995 for health reasons
On the September 11, 2001 attacks and his view of generational historical moments
On being a news commentator and advice to aspiring White House correspondents
On colleagues Peter Jennings, Tom Jarriel, producer Dorrance Smith, and Helen Thomas
On people's misconceptions about his aggressiveness and how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

ABC News Nightline

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Sam Donaldson on the origin of Nightline
01:33

Meet the Press

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Sam Donaldson on Meet the Press being competition for This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
01:38

Primetime Live

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News' Primetime Live
06:00

This Week with David Brinkley

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Sam Donaldson on working on This Week with David Brinkley
03:54

This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts

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Sam Donaldson on This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
01:38
Topics

9/11

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On the September 11, 2001 attacks and his view of generational historical moments
04:20

Bill Clinton

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Sam Donaldson on returning as chief ABC White House correspondent to cover the Clinton administration 
03:25

Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Sam Donaldson on reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall on Primetime Live
02:03

Gulf War

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Sam Donaldson on how press access changed between the Vietnam and the Gulf Wars
01:26

Iran Hostage Crisis

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Sam Donaldson on covering the Iran Hostage Crisis 
04:44

JFK Assassination and Funeral

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Sam Donaldson on witnessing Senator Ted Kennedy hear of JFK's being shot
00:17

Jimmy Carter

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Sam Donaldson on covering Jimmy Carters presidential campaign for ABC News
07:35
Sam Donaldson on covering Jimmy Carter's presidency as ABC's White House correspondent
14:02

John F. Kennedy

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Sam Donaldson on President Kennedy's appeal to his generation
01:41

Lyndon B. Johnson

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Sam Donaldson on covering the 1971 Fulbright Hearings on Vietnam 
01:48

Media Bias

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Sam Donaldson on criticism of his aggressive journalistic style
02:49

Richard M. Nixon

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Sam Donaldson on almost getting an interview with President Nixon at the 1972 Republican National Convention
01:12
Sam Donaldson on covering Watergate for ABC News
06:52
Sam Donaldson on losing a scoop during Watergate
02:04

Ronald Reagan

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Sam Donaldson on the differences in how the Carter and Reagan administrations treated the press
00:48
Sam Donaldson on Ronald Reagan
02:05
Sam Donaldson on covering the assassination attempt on President Reagan as ABC White House correspondent
06:34
Sam Donaldson on President Reagan lying about Iran-Contra
01:14
Sam Donaldson on battles with Reagan White House spokesman Larry Speakes
02:00

Television Industry

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Sam Donaldson on his coverage of Watergate and how the later growth of cable fragmented news audiences
02:15

Television and the Presidency

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Sam Donaldson on how political conventions have changed since the first one he covered in 1964
00:57
Sam Donaldson on how Leonard Goldenson's budget cuts affected ABC news coverage of the 1968 political conventions
02:56
Sam Donaldson on the differences in how the Carter and Reagan administrations treated the press
00:48

Vietnam War

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Sam Donaldson on covering the Vietnam War for ABC News
10:26

We Cried

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Sam Donaldson on questionning Ronald Reagan about the failure of O-rings in the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy
01:04
On the September 11, 2001 attacks and his view of generational historical moments
04:20

World War II

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Sam Donaldson on being a child during WWII
00:45
Professions

Correspondent

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Sam Donaldson on returning as an ABC White House correspondent after serving as anchor of Primetime Live  
00:51
Sam Donaldson on his advice to aspiring White House correspondents
04:24

Journalists & News Producers

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Sam Donaldson on his initial reluctance to join ABC news in 1967
01:16
Sam Donaldson on his aggressive reporting style
00:55
Sam Donaldson on the competitive nature of ABC News in the 1970s as they tried to scoop CBS or NBC
01:03
Sam Donaldson on the visual aspect of TV news coverage
00:35
Sam Donaldson on the magazine news show format (Primetime Live)
01:14
Sam Donaldson on becoming a commentator on roundtable programs
03:09
Sam Donaldson on criticism of his aggressive journalistic style
02:49
Genres

News and Documentary

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Sam Donaldson on his initial reluctance to join ABC news in 1967
01:16
Sam Donaldson on his first days as a Washington news correspondent at ABC in 1967
03:23
Sam Donaldson on how Leonard Goldenson's budget cuts affected ABC news coverage of the 1968 political conventions
02:56
Sam Donaldson on the competitive nature of ABC News in the 1970s as they tried to scoop CBS or NBC
01:03
Sam Donaldson gives two examples of ABC's poor handling of his news scoops early in the late 60s and early 70s
04:15
Sam Donaldson on the visual aspect of TV news coverage
00:35
Sam Donaldson on the magazine news show format (Primetime Live)
01:14
Sam Donaldson on This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
01:38
Sam Donaldson on criticism of his aggressive journalistic style
02:49
People

Roone Arledge

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Sam Donaldson on crediting Roone Arledge for turning ABC News around
00:45
Sam Donaldson on Roone Arledge's showmanship and the origin of Nightline
01:33
Sam Donaldson on working with Roone Arledge and Arledge's legacy
03:44
Sam Donaldson on Roone Arledge backing him up when the White House was upset with Donaldson's questioning 
01:14

Menachem Begin

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Sam Donaldson on President Jimmy Carter's role in the Camp David Accords
03:42

David Brinkley

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Sam Donaldson on David Brinkley
02:23

Jimmy Carter

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Sam Donaldson on his interactions with President Jimmy Carter
02:36

Lillian Carter

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Sam Donaldson on covering Jimmy Carters presidential campaign for ABC News
07:35

John Chancellor

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Sam Donaldson on John Chancellor being arrested on the Republican convention floor in 1964
00:44

Jerry Falwell

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Sam Donaldson on Jerry Falwell's remarks that incoming President Reagan was a "true Christian"
00:55

Charlie Gibson

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Sam Donaldson on Charlie Gibson working with Diane Sawyer
01:11

Leonard H. Goldenson

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Sam Donaldson on how Leonard Goldenson's budget cuts affected ABC news coverage of the 1968 political conventions
02:56
Sam Donaldson on Leonard Goldenson's resistance to ABC's Roone Arledge hiring David Brinkley (who was then 61)
00:58

Jim Haggerty

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Sam Donaldson on Jim Haggerty being hired by ABC to form its news department
00:48

John S. Hayes

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Sam Donaldson on Washington Post Executive in charge of TV, John S. Hayes, who hired him at WTOP
03:15

Tom Jarriel

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News colleague Tom Jarriel
00:29

Peter Jennings

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Sam Donaldson on the competitive nature of ABC News in the 1970s as they tried to scoop CBS or NBC
01:03
Sam Donaldson on ABC News colleague Peter Jennings
01:16

Robert F. Kennedy

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Sam Donaldson on getting the unaired scoop that Robert F. Kennedy would run for President
01:56

John F. Kennedy

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Sam Donaldson on President Kennedy's appeal
01:41

Ted Kennedy

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Sam Donaldson on witnessing Senator Ted Kennedy hear of JFK's being shot
00:17

Ted Koppel

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Sam Donaldson on going to Asia to cover the Vietnam War and being picked up by ABC bureau chief Ted Koppel on a motorcycle
01:22
Sam Donaldson on the competitive nature of ABC News in the 1970s as they tried to scoop CBS or NBC
01:03

Elmer Lower

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News president Elmer Lower
02:43
Sam Donaldson on how Leonard Goldenson's budget cuts affected ABC news coverage of the 1968 political conventions
02:56

Jody Powell

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Sam Donaldson on Carter White House press secretary Jody Powell breaking it to Carter that he would lose his reelection bid
02:54

Nancy Reagan

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Sam Donaldson on battles with Reagan White House spokesman Larry Speakes
02:00

Ronald Reagan

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Sam Donaldson on Ronald Reagan
02:05
Sam Donaldson on covering the assassination attempt on President Reagan as ABC White House correspondent
06:34

Frank Reynolds

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Sam Donaldson on working with news anchor Frank Reynolds on ABC News' Watergate coverage
02:15
Sam Donaldson on the origin of Nightline
01:33
Sam Donaldson on covering the assassination attempt on President Reagan as ABC White House correspondent
06:34

Cokie Roberts

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Sam Donaldson on having covered Hale Boggs, his later-colleague Cokie Roberts's father
00:38
Sam Donaldson on working with Cokie Roberts
01:28
Sam Donaldson on This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
01:38

Tim Russert

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Sam Donaldson on Meet the Press being competition for This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts
01:38

Anwar Sadat

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Sam Donaldson on President Jimmy Carter's role in the Camp David Accords
03:42

Diane Sawyer

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News' Primetime Live
06:00

Dorrance Smith

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News producer Dorrance Smith
00:46

Larry Speakes

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Sam Donaldson on battles with Reagan White House spokesman Larry Speakes
02:00

Helen Thomas

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Sam Donaldson on fellow White House press corps member Helen Thomas
04:13

David Westin

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Sam Donaldson on ABC News president David Westin asking him to cover the Clinton White House
00:51

George Will

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Sam Donaldson on George Will
00:41
Sam Donaldson on sparring with George Will on roundtable shows
03:09

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