Marya McLaughlin, CBS News' first female on-camera reporter, died Monday in Falls Church, Virginia, of respiratory failure after a bout with meningitis. She was 68.
McLaughlin, who retired from CBS in 1988 after 25 years with the network, was one of the small group of pioneering women reporters who broke the gender line in broadcast news.
McLaughlin and reporters like NBC News' Nancy Dickerson and ABC News' Marlene Sanders formed the vanguard of female television reporters who, in the 1960s, paved the way for today's female television journalists.
She was first exposed to the lure of network news in the late 1950s as a researcher and assistant to NBC's David Brinkley and eventually worked on that network's evening newscast, The Huntley-Brinkley Report. CBS News hired her as an associate producer for its Election Unit in 1963.
Her "big break" came in the spring of 1965, when she was named a general assignment reporter and desk editor in CBS News' New York bureau -- the network's first female reporter.
In an era when men held just about all the important jobs before the women's movement had taken hold, The New York Times used a headline that would raise eyebrows today to announce the then-35-year-old McLaughlin's and another female reporter's promotions. The headline in the May 7, 1965 story read: "C.B.S. Network and WNBC-TV Get Their First Girl Reporters."
McLaughlin's first live on-camera appearance came only weeks later when she covered the Gemini 4 astronauts' wives. The television reporting done by McLaughlin and a few other women for the other networks during the Gemini 4 story was national news in itself, rating a two-photo story in Newsweek's June 21, 1965 issue.
In that Newsweek piece, McLaughlin was quoted as saying she wanted to cover politics. Shortly thereafter, her wish came true -- to the extent that it could in those days.
She was sent to Washington to cover politics, but it was almost always the wives and family members of politicians she had to focus on when not covering breaking news.
She covered the Johnson and Nixon families and other Washington news then considered "women's stories" between 1966 and 1971, such as first family weddings and Nixon's inaugural ball and parade in 1969. She also continued reporting on astronauts' wives, including those of the men involved with man's first steps on the moon.
When McLaughlin, a hard-driven news reporter with a sense of humor, was asked by CBS News if she would consider covering cooking, she is said to have responded, "Oh, now I understand. If a 707 crashed this afternoon, you want me to take my camera crew to the pilot's house, and when his wife comes to the door, you want me to ask her what she would have cooked for dinner if he were coming home. Is that right?"
While McLaughlin remained in her general news assignment, she still mnaged to find big stories while covering Washington's women. Her exclusive interview with Martha Mitchell, then-Attorney General John Mitchell's wife, in which Mrs. Mitchell was quoted as saying Vietnam protesters should be sent to the Soviet Union, made headlines around the world.
In 1971, McLaughlin was promoted to CBS News correspondent from general assignment reporter and began covering politics and politicians as she had always wanted.
Out of the Washington bureau, she covered that beat for the next 17 years, especially Congress and its many newsmaking hearings, including those concerning Watergate.
She appeared on CBS News television programs that included the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, Face The Nation and the CBS Morning News.
"Marya McLaughlin was there before I and most of the other women who came into television news," said 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl, who worked with McLaughlin for many years. "She was a magnificent writer, understood the workings of Washington and had one of the best senses of humor of anybody at CBS News. She also had enormous heart and a kind spirit."
"It's difficult for today's up-and-coming broadcast journalists of either gender to imagine the obstacles Marya and her fellow pioneers had to overcome" said Andrew Heyward, President of CBS News. "However, Marya staked her claim not just as a female journalist, but as a first-class writer and reporter, period. She was an example not just to women, but to all who aspire to the highest standards of broadcast news."
McLaughlin was born and raised in Baltimore, Md., and attended Catholic University's School of Speech and Drama in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y. in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in political science and economics.
Before she joined CBS News, she was a researcher for the BBC.
McLaughlin resided for most of her life in Washington. She is survived by her sister, Patricia McLaughlin Morgan, of Bethesda, Md., and eight nieces and nephews.
Copyright 1998 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff