The 31st Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards were good to Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero pilot of U.S. Airways flight 1549.
Sullenberger's dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River in January 2009 was the subject of multiple Emmy award-winning pieces at the annual news industry honors, held Monday (Sept. 27) at New York's Rose Hall.
They included "Saving Flight 1549," Katie Couric's 60 Minutes interview with Sullenberger and the crew of the jet, for outstanding interview; and two breaking news Emmys, one for Dateline NBC for "Miracle on the Hudson" and one for NBC Nightly News.
On stage with the 60 Minutes producers and editors, Couric said, "It was such an honor for all of us to be involved in this story and to deliver a story with a happy ending."
Brian Williams, who accepted Nightly's award for coverage of a breaking news story in a regularly scheduled newscast, noted the surreal quality of the initial reports of a plane ditching in the freezing and swiftly moving waters of New York's Hudson River.
"I have a weird habit of listening to the FDNY scanner in my office," said Williams, "and would you believe that I heard a report about a quote, small plane in the river."
The inauguration and presidency of Barack Obama also was a popular subject. ABC News won the live coverage of a news event Emmy for its coverage of the inauguration of President Obama. And NBC's "Inside the Obama White House" was recognized for writing and "quick-turnaround" editing.
CBS News took home the most awards with seven followed by NBC News (six) and PBS (five).
The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric won three Emmys: investigative journalism for Armen Keteyian's report "Rape in America"; business and economic reporting for "Financial Family Tree"; and best story for David Martin's report "The Battle of Wanat."
Frontline and Frontline World took home three of PBS' five Emmys.
Frontline, which is produced at WGBH in Boston, won for continuing coverage of a news story for "A Death in Tehran" and investigative journalism for "The Warning," about the tide of financial industry deregulation that led to the 2008 collapse. Frontline World also took home an investigative Emmy for "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground."
America's wars in the Middle East were also the topics of Emmy winning coverage. CBS' 60 Minutes took home the Emmy for continuing coverage of a news story in a news magazine for "War in Pakistan." And Richard Engel's report "Unlikely Refugees" for Nightly News, about Afghan women who are treated as criminals for attempting to leave abusive marriages, was awarded the Emmy for continuing coverage in a regularly scheduled newscast.
Accepting the Emmy, Engel explained that he visited one such woman who was serving a five-year sentence for attempting to leave a husband who beat her, while a female suicide bomber in the same prison was serving a three-year sentence.
"And this is not under the Taliban regime," said Engel. "This is under the regime of President Hamid Karzai, which is supported by the Obama administration and the U.S. military. It is food for thought."
HD Net's Dan Rather Reports was nominated for multiple Emmys and won for business and economic investigation in a news magazine for "Iran's Manhattan Project," about that country's nuclear program. Mark Cuban's network also took home an Emmy for feature story for the HDNet World Report on human trafficking, "South Africa's Shame: Modern-Day Slavery and the World Cup."
Rather, who was also a presenter, delivered a characteristically impassioned plea to the ideals of journalism in an ADD-plagued country.
"Do we still believe that an independent press is the fierce, beating heart of democracy," Rather rhetorically asked the audience, asserting that journalism serves as a "parallel justice system" by "exposing wrong-doing."
These ideals, he continued, "are being threatened today. The country needs you and your work now more than ever."
PBS' NewsHour, and its previous incarnations, was awarded the Chairman's Award. Roger Mudd, former correspondent for CBS News, NBC News and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, presented the award.
Mudd invoked FCC chairman Newton Minow's infamous 1961 "vast wasteland" speech.
"In 1975, Minow's speech needed a re-write," said Mudd, noting that the program was an anecdote to the "anchor happy talk" and "in-depth reports that lasted 1 minute and 20 seconds."
After 35 years, said Mudd, NewsHour anchors and correspondents continue to uphold the show's core mission. "Their principles of journalism are in-tact and shall remain so," said Mudd. "The main one: they are not in the entertainment business."
The Lifetime Achievement Emmy went to renowned vérité documentarian Frederick Wiseman, who pioneered the use of hand-held, off-the-shoulder recording of life as it happens. Noting Wiseman's "very specific style," including the lack of narration, Bill Small, the chairman of the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, observed: "I assume that does not endear him to the anchor men in the audience."
Wiseman, the father of observational documentary whose oeuvre includes Titicut Follies, his 1967 tour de force about the criminally insane at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts, and Near Death, about dying patients at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital, said, "I really had a good time making these movies. It was like having an adult education course where I was the alleged adult."
When he was finished with Near Death, he said, he made a point of seeking out all of the caregivers and workers at Beth Israel who opened up their work-a-day lives to his cameras. He spent a lot of time in the morgue, he said. But he had difficulty locating the coroner in order to thank him. "When I finally found him in the cafeteria," said Wiseman, "he shook my hand very warmly and said, ‘See you soon.'"
Taking the stage after Wiseman's acceptance speech, Small quipped: "I believe that morgue keeper in now a network executive."