Labor - And A Whole Lot More

He Practiced What Others Preach
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Historian Kevin Starr once characterized George Dusheck as "the grand old man, the Wise One" of Bay Area journalists, an eminently decent man who "embodies a tradition of humane learning in newspaper work that has perhaps had its day." Starr marveled that Dusheck "actually believes in truth and in the American people - and that it is the job of a reporter to bring them together."

Dedicated to bringing truth to the people, decently and humanely. A lofty, seemingly impossible goal, still preached but rarely practiced in these times of widespread and often justified cynicism about the media. Yet George Dusheck, who died at 91 on June 2, did indeed pursue that goal. And he did so with great effect and great charm throughout his long career in newspaper and broadcast journalism.

Certainly George was one of the very best reporters I've worked with during my nearly 50 years as a journalist. I can honestly say, as I'm sure many others can, that it was a privilege to have known him.

I must also say, however, that though George had a well-developed sense of humor, he did not suffer fools, and sometimes came across as, well, a know-it-all. He normally was exceptionally courteous, but was sometimes bitingly harsh with those he judged as less than forthcoming. Extremely well-read in a wide variety of subjects, George knew an awful lot about a lot of things, and didn't hesitate to argue with those - and there were many - who were less knowledgeable than he. But his primary purpose was to ferret out the facts for readers and television viewers.

I worked with George late in his career, when we were both reporters on KQED-TV's pioneering and widely imitated nightly news program, "Newsroom," which featured reporters sitting together around a table discussing the day's most important news stories. George, one of the country's first reporters to specialize in science, covered that subject and others for the program, as he had, beginning in 1944 for the San Francisco News, for the News Call-Bulletin after the News and Call-Bulletin were merged and for the Examiner after the Examiner absorbed the News Call-Bulletin.

George helped create "Newsroom's" predecessor, "Newspaper of the Air," during the San Francisco newspaper strike of 1968 and remained with the program, retitled "Newsroom," after the strike. I went back to work as the Chronicle's labor editor, but soon joined the KQED program as its labor specialist.

George also became very much involved with labor - not as a reporter, but as a leader. He chaired the KQED employees' strike committee in the 4 1/2 month-long strike that erupted in the fall of 1974 over the station's refusal to grant basic union rights to "Newsroom" reporters and others - the first and only strike ever against a public TV station. George was here, there, and everywhere, helping plan strategy, walking picket lines, rallying strikers, winning support and raising funds for them, helping negotiate union contracts with KQED management.

Despite the extraordinary efforts of George and others, the strike accomplished relatively little, assuredly not for me. KQED's management emerged from the strike unhappy with labor and no longer interested in exploring the subject in depth. I was told to find other matters to report, I refused, and was fired for insubordination. George, bless him, came to my defense, joining with a group of KQED viewers and labor activists to demand my reinstatement.

I was not reinstated. George returned to the program, which never resumed its pre-strike quality and popularity, changing its format, and twice even its name, before finally disappearing in 1980. That was a year after George retired and moved to Albion in Mendocino County, where he often played host to neighbors and friends from the city. The conversation was special, of course - and so was the food, since among his other talents, George was an accomplished cook.

George Dusheck led a full life of great richness. How fortunate we were to have been part of it.

Copyright 2005 Dick Meister