John McCullough, Milwaukee news anchor, remembered

Tom McCullough knows that his late newscaster uncle took objectivity seriously.

By - Jul 25th, 2013 04:00 am
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Tom McCullough with his uncle, newsman John McCullough, in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of the author.

This week marks the second anniversary of the death of John McCullough, my uncle and a TV news icon in Milwaukee.

If you watched the news in Milwaukee from 1967 to 1988, you’ll recall him anchoring the evening news on WTMJ4.  Whether you knew him as a family member, a co-worker, or as a newsman, you trusted John.  I have enjoyed many family memories with John and haveto courtesy of the author.  always been impressed with his integrity.

I guess you could say that such a good relationship was natural since I was his nephew and Godchild.  I’m not talking about just a simple, straight talker, who occasionally took me to the ball game   When I came to Milwaukee in 1980, as a freshman at Marquette, there were three television stations.  The Internet had not been invented and the local papers did not need to publish a “Truth-o-Meter.”  The news at that time appeared to be more about avoiding bias and less about ratings.  The four inch snow storms were not forecast to be Snowmageddon.  A TV news station would not  leave out titles and refer to the President on a last-name-only basis.   Trust, not spin, sold audiences.  For his 20 year career, viewers trusted John McCullough on Channel 4 news.

John never mixed his private opinion with public news.   Co-workers approached me at his funeral, after offering polite condolences, would say  “You know, John was an expert on political coverage, but  I never knew his politics.” At family gatherings he made certain opinions known, but he only expressed them when it was appropriate to do so.

Objectivity was John’s brand. He came from the same mold as Walter Cronkite, “The most trusted man in America.”  Mr. Cronkite once said:  “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.”

I’ve never known anyone with John’s ability and discipline when it came to separating opinion and factual news. To ensure this integrity, it was important for John to research and write his own news stories. John McCullough retired in 1988 from Channel  4.  He lived his life and career dismayed by dishonesty. No raised eyebrows, no frowns tacitly commented on stories.  It’s no wonder that  John sponsored scholarship foundations for the promotion of ethics in journalism at both Notre Dame and Marquette University.

John did not make appearances at charity balls, award events, or seek photo ops with politicians.  He felt such activities would compromise his objectivity.  The one notable exception: He agreed to let his 12-horse hitch pull a large antique wagon in the Great Circus Parade each year.

He “retired” into Public Broadcasting, where he produced a show called Emphasis Wisconsin. John liked this gig. He told me he was able to devote more time to in depth issues that affect the state, which he was proud to call home.  Yet he often said that his college years at Notre Dame in South Bend were the most formative.  (Likewise, Marquette  University formed my values.  In the picture, shot in the 1980s, we’re sporting our college jackets.)

Today, I pinch down repeatedly on the remote button and flip among the hundreds of “news” shows.   I find it hard to trust any of our local or national shows.  Should I watch FOX news and then MSNBC  to get both sides?  I miss my uncle.

0 thoughts on “John McCullough, Milwaukee news anchor, remembered”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for writing about your wonderful uncle, a public figure who so many people followed and loved!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    I just did a search for John and this came up. I grew up watching him on channel 4.Sorry for you loss.

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