John McCullough, Milwaukee news anchor, remembered
Tom McCullough knows that his late newscaster uncle took objectivity seriously.
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.
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.