The death of former ABC correspondent John McWethy came as a shock. He died this week doing something he loved–skiing in Colorado. He was 61.
I knew Jack as both a competitor and a friend. When I covered the State Department for CBS News in the mid-1980s, Jack was on the beat for ABC News. He was smart, thoughtful and persistent–unwilling to settle for the gobbledegook answers dished out at the daily briefing. I’ll bet more sound bites on the network news during those years were answers to McWethy’s follow-up questions than to any other reporter’s. He had a finely tuned “BS detector”–essential for any reporter who covers government.
McWethy’s friend Bob Steele also remembers him as “mighty skeptical of authority,” and quotes a commencement speech McWethy gave at his alma mater, DePauw University.
The word ‘why’ is, in my view, the most powerful word in the English language. It is the driving force of my profession, and it’s also the driving force and at the heart of your professors, creative sciences, honest politicians, and of good parents. Don’t stop asking the word ‘why’ just because you’re leaving DePauw. All institutions, all endeavors, all relationships are improved by a good scrubbing using the word ‘why.’ In democracy it is the question we must all constantly be asking our government and our leaders. It is not unpatriotic to question the government; it is unpatriotic not to.
Jack McWethy was passionate about getting to the truth. But that wasn’t the only example he set. He was also a fine human being–caring and kind. He was a dedicated journalist and fierce competitor, but he also made time to be a mentor to students and other journalists, including me. I’ll miss him. The news business has lost a great role model. Many of us have also lost a friend.