Dave Marash was a celebrated anchor-reporter in New York TV and network news for 40 years. Then, after a brief run at Al Jazeera — preceded by a distinguished 16-year one at “Nightline” — ended in 2008, he took his leave. Marash, now 74, and his wife, Amy, also a former TV producer, have lived in New Mexico for the past few years, but far from being entirely off the grid, Marash now hosts a near-daily podcast, “Here and There With Dave Marash” — available at http://davemarash.com The interview series is a thoughtful and deeply serious exploration of the world by someone who spent the better part of a career doing some serious exploring himself. I spoke recently by phone with Marash. Below is an edited version of our chat:
What did you do after the Al Jazeera run ended?
In 2009, Amy was the producer-videographer and I was the writer/correspondent for a series of reports on the — alas — all too short-lived “World Focus” for PBS . . . [then] I went to China and taught for a semester, and . . . in 2012, we moved to New Mexico. In 2014, I became the co-news director of public radio station KSFR, then gave that up to start the program “Here and There.”
Why New Mexico?
By 2012, it seemed pretty definitive that the television news business had left me and there was no professional need to be in the New York / Washington ambit. My wife had lived there for most of the ’90s and . . . I said, “Let’s try it.” I haven’t regretted it for one minute.
You’ve had a beard your entire career — the only TV newsman for many years who indeed had one. Why?
I was a radio guy (at 1010 WINS, and Newsradio 88), never expected to work in television, but back then, the only person — except for Santa Claus — who had a beard on TV was me. I didn’t enjoy shaving and I guess you could say it grew on me. I think I look better with it.
You were indeed a unique hybrid — a bearded reporter and anchor who also covered sports and serious news. Explain that unusual twist:
I was always a sports fan and back in the ’60s and ’70s when I did a lot of shuffling between news and sports, they were done exactly the same way. There was no stylistic or professional issue. If you remember the great New York newsman Jim Gordon [radio voice of the Giants, who died in 2003] . . . I went up to him and said, “You are my hero, and doing what I want to do. How do you get away with doing both news and sports?” He said, “It’s very simple. Just make sure you know what you are talking about, then you . . . will have credibility with” listeners and viewers.
You were also at “20/20” for a few years back in the ’80s. Why did you leave?
Because I couldn’t fit myself into the industrial pattern of “20/20,” which wanted its correspondents to do 25 stories a year and do them in a way in which the producer actually did all of the reporting and so much of the writing. I always insisted on writing my own material and report my own material. My byline meant something to me. Even back when I was anchoring [at WCBS/2] I insisted that I be able to do real reporting.
Local TV news has changed dramatically. Why?
The commitment to serious coverage has declined. My God, over the 45-year period we’re talking about, there was a time early on when during the legislative session in Albany, all three network-owned stations had an Albany correspondent who went to Albany and stayed there for the duration and covered the legislature and state courts as intensely as I and my colleagues were covering city politics. My guess is that 25 years since, New York stations haven’t spent a nickel to have an Albany bureau. It’s a loss because what happens in Albany matters in New York City and the suburbs.
In many ways the transformation of television news occurred when “60 Minutes” demonstrated you could make a lot of money doing news, and because of “60,” it became an imperative for all of the news divisions and local news — which had been carried as loss leaders — to make money, too. It was easier to make money if you lighten up your news and make it into what we now called click-bait news.”
Your own style and approach fit perfectly at “Nightline.”
It was by far professionally the best thing that ever happened to me, and “Nightline” under Ted Koppel was an incomparable program. Because of our small staff of four correspondents, I was the only one who had a real palate for international reporting and became de facto the international correspondent covering some of the most interesting stories of our time, and covering them in the serious longform way that was the hallmark of “Nightline.”
I spent a lot of time in the Balkans covering wars and a lot of time in Israel — the West Bank — and eventually went to Iraq and covered that war; also HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, where Ted allowed me three consecutive taped programs — 51 minutes of content — to show a society that had been completely redefined by the overwhelming presence of AIDS.
What did “Nightline” mean to network news?
Ted Koppel was probably the smartest man and certainly the best and toughest interviewer in American television history going back to Edward R. Murrow, and “Nightline” was a show that only did real and significant news stories and only did them in a way that gave respect to their seriousness and complexity.
The most satisfying story in your long run there?
The story of a Kosovar girl, Ibadete Thaqi, who lost both her legs, one below and one above the knee, to a Serbian booby trap. We found her in the hospital in Kosovo, and we were doing a story on war crimes, and she was the victim of a war crime and, at the time, 13 years old. She projected such dignity and sincerity and intelligence that three weeks later when I got back to the states and “Nightline,” I was asked, “Have you checked your mail?” Most was about “how can we help this girl?” . . . Eventually these people paid to bring her to the United States to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, one of the best in the world, and which treated her gratis and fitted her for prosthetics. Eventually she trained as a prosthetist and still works at the Hospital for Special Surgery. I usually see her once a year in New York, and watch her move on her prosthetic legs up and down subway stairs and on crowded sidewalks and think, you can never know what she’s gone through . . . By far the most satisfying story of my career.
Al Jazeera hired you to gain credibility in the U.S. market — also to prove that it wasn’t anti-Semitic, as some early critics charged. But the relationship quickly soured — why?
They were and are a serious news channel, and I was there for two years, but there were great changes between when I was hired and left. I was the senior anchor in Washington, autonomous from headquarters in Doha [Qatar], and could claim complete editorial responsibility for reporting the Western Hemisphere, but over the two-year period, reporting control shifted entirely to Doha. . . . To say I resisted would be an understatement. It became a point of continued conflict to where I felt I had to leave, and they happened to agree with me.
And so, your podcast.
People might say I had left network news, but I always felt it had left me. The consequences were the same. But I have to tell you, I’m having so much fun and get so much satisfaction from doing a 50-minute conversation with some of the best reporters and analysts in the world about significant news stories, and doing it here in New Mexico and the American West.