The Man in Black & White
By J. Max Robins -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/26/2006 7:00:00 PM
When I took the reins at Broadcasting & Cable nearly three years ago, I hadn't been on the job four days when John Higgins saved my newbie-editor-in-chief ass. I recall that now as we mourn the loss of Higgins—always Higgins—our dear friend and business editor, who died of a heart attack last week at 45.
Comcast had made a hostile bid to buy the Walt Disney Co. Higgins was so wired into the deal that top Comcast executives were calling him from their corporate jets as they crisscrossed the country to rally support from the investment community.
Higgins sensed, even before those at Comcast ultimately would, that the gambit would fail, and his prescient story that graced the cover of my first issue made us all look very smart. It was the first of many times.
I knew of Higgins long before we came to be colleagues at B&C, where he predated me by seven years. He was the utterly fearless guy who would ask anybody the tough questions, no matter how lofty their title—anytime, anyplace.
He was the guy who'd gleefully uncovered corporate malfeasance at FNN, the precursor to CNBC. The guy who asked Barry Diller, during an investor conference call, where he and fiancée Diane Von Furstenberg were registered. (“Florida!” Diller barked back.)
Powerful CEOs visibly tensed up when they saw Higgins coming at them, wearing his trademark uniform: black blazer, black jeans, black sneakers and white oxford shirt. He once asked ABC News President David Westin if he thought Diane Sawyer had been “passive aggressive” in her unsuccessful play for the World News anchor job. I didn't have to prod him to ask Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes if he actually believed Hannity & Colmes was a fair fight.
Higgins both loved and loathed the spotlight. Along with B&C Executive Editor Mark Robichaux, a longtime friend of his, I cajoled him for nearly a year before he agreed to write the column that would become “Money Talks.”
He was contemptuous of most pundits and didn't want to be one more guy who “just gassed.” But we knew we weren't the only ones who prized Higgins' sage wisdom. Top media analysts routinely joked that Higgins would put them out of work if he ever decided to cross over from journalism.
The night before Higgins died, he and I were supposed to meet for a post-party after the International Emmys. I was too tired and called him on his cell to tell him I couldn't make it. “C'mon, I need a wing man,” he said. “You don't need me to protect you,” I said. “That party is always a target-rich environment; you'll have a great time.”
Just as well, he said: “I always drink more when I'm with you.” We laughed, and I asked him about his column for this week's issue. Late, as usual. “It'll sail through,” he assured me. “Just like last week's. See you bright and early.”
Few reporters I know have the chops—or the charm—to get away with that kind of cockiness and contempt for deadlines. Driven to exasperation, I once told him, “I have better luck getting my kids to listen to me!” Higgins just flashed that devilishly cherubic smile and said, “Your kids have to love you. I don't.” My 11-year-old son, Jack, loves to tell that story. (C'mon, John. You did, though, didn't you? Just a little?)
Higgins was a true partner in running this magazine and upholding its mission. Only two weeks ago, we were camped in my office, working the phones to nail down who would be the new CEO of Discovery. When we determined that it was David Zaslav, Higgins beamed and said, “You and I have the most fun of anybody here. We're out there. We get to write. We're in the mix.”
It won't be nearly as fun without Higgins. He was a guide and guardian to us all at B&C. Truly irreplaceable. Truly loved. So deeply missed.
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