Bill Cunningham, CBC reporter who covered Vietnam War and coined The National, dead at 91 | CBC News


Bill Cunningham, the Canadian broadcast journalist who covered the Vietnam War for the CBC and helped name its flagship program, has died. He was 91.

An obituary posted on Saturday said he passed away peacefully in Toronto on Jan. 31.

A native of Yarmouth, N.S., Cunningham began working as a correspondent for the CBC in the mid-1950s.

In 1966, he became the executive producer of CBC’s national news program, The National, whose name he coined.

“Bill decided more than 40 years ago that the show needed a title with more oomph and half the verbiage of The CBC National News,” his obituary reads.

A person is seen in a closeup.
After leaving the CBC in 1974, Cunningham worked at Global and CTV before returning to the national broadcaster to finish his journalism career. (CBC)

When the United States invaded Vietnam in 1965, Cunningham served as the CBC’s foreign correspondent in the war zone.

“The Americans were spending a fortune out there. They had huge news bureaus and a number of correspondents. Their spin on the story was obvious; it was coming in every night on the American nets [networks],” Cunningham told CBC News in 2002.

“I saw my role as to try to almost counter-punch their coverage, to say what’s going on here, why it’s happening, where’s it going, how it’s going.”

Cunningham recalled to the Ryerson Review of Journalism the time he, a camera operator and an American reporter were detained by North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia.

A person wades through chest-high water in this black and white photograph.
Cunningham went on patrol with the 199th Infantry Brigade of the U.S. army during the Vietnam War. (CBC)

“I took out my passport, told my American friend to shut up and told the officer that we were all Canadians. I deliberately lied because if my buddy was exposed as an American, they would kill him and then have to kill us.”

After leaving the CBC in 1974, Cunningham worked at Global and CTV before returning to the national broadcaster to finish his journalism career.

Cunningham won multiple awards for his work, including a Gemini lifetime achievement award and an honorary doctorate from Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University), according to his obituary.

He is survived by his wife Agi, brother John Cunningham, son Tim Cunningham, daughter Kathy Cunningham McPherson and grandchildren Carter and Lexi McPherson.


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