CNN will lose its most defining figure in February, as longtime anchorman Bernard Shaw leaves a job that has made his face recognizable across the world.
When he joined Ted Turner's nascent Cable News Network in 1980, Shaw provided a wellspring of network experience from his years at CBS and ABC. Since then, his influence has been evident in the evolution of CNN as an authoritative source of breaking news.
"He is the Rock of Gibraltar for CNN," said Judy Woodruff, Shaw's co-anchor on two CNN evening programs. "For all of the major news events of the last two decades, he was there."
The operation that once thrived on seat-of-its-pants ingenuity now relies more heavily on in-depth reports and has lured respected correspondents, such as Woodruff from PBS and Jeff Greenfield from ABC. But no one is as closely identified with CNN as Shaw, who is also considered the nation's most prominent African-American journalist.
"I think I've been viewed as a permanent fixture at CNN," Shaw, 60, said in a conference call with reporters. "Many of our viewers had the same impression."
His retirement comes as CNN is struggling a bit to find its feet. The network recently sacked Rick Kaplan, a key news executive, and overhauled "Newsstand," a signature show. But, Shaw said, he had planned for several years to leave television in 2001, to spend more time with his wife, Linda, and their children. He also said he would write an autobiography.
CNN officials did not announce any replacement. Woodruff will become the sole anchor on two evening news shows, "Inside Politics" and "World View."
Two journalistic moments stand out for Shaw. In 1988, he posed the infamous presidential debate question to Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, asking the liberal governor if he would still oppose capital punishment were his wife to be raped and murdered. While Shaw was denounced for his bluntness, some journalists said the CNN anchor had found a refreshing way to ask Dukakis this question: Did he have enough passion to be president?
In 1990, Shaw interviewed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, then returned to Baghdad in 1991 with CNN correspondents Peter Arnett and John Holliman to cover the Persian Gulf war. While some criticized them for providing legitimacy to a foe, the CNN newsmen were celebrated by peers for offering news coverage not smothered by American military censors.
During his remarks to reporters, Shaw was dismissive of the challenges facing his network in the new landscape of cable news, where a pair of cheekier 4-year-olds, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, are chafing to become the chief cable rival to CNN.
"Don't talk to me about ratings," Shaw said. "I know that we are also a business - but journalism comes first."
In interviews, peers said his steadying presence lent credibility to CNN, which has become a worldwide force in news.
"Bernie took from CBS News a seriousness that he always carried with him and a sobriety about the news business," said Brian Williams, the anchor for MSNBC's chief news program. "I suspect Bernie could have seen it through to the third generation" of cable news.
"He's at a forefront of a new relationship between anchors and television viewers. It's more personal. They are touchstone, post-Cold War stories. They have to do with [Princess] Diana, they have to do with plane crashes," Williams said. "When we're on in people's homes as much as we are now, we have CNN to thank for that. And he was a pioneer there."