Answer: President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Forty-one years ago this week, NBC News juggled two huge political stories – one of them unexpected – in the same night. On January 22, 1973, anchor Garrick Utley opened NBC Nightly News reporting on the big domestic political story of the broadcast -- the ruling in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. That afternoon, the Court had handed down its historic 7-2 decision, finding unconstitutional state laws that prohibited or restricted abortion during a woman’s first trimester of pregnancy. NBC’s Betty Rollin had prepared an in-depth report for the Jan. 22 Nightly News, outlining the fierce debate and protests in Washington and across the country over the intensely divisive issue of abortion during the lead-up to the day’s ruling (don’t miss this week’s NBC story on the political implications of the Roe decision in 2014). Tuning back into NBC after a commercial break, viewers expecting to see the Roe v Wade report instead saw a slightly discomposed Uttley hanging up the phone, and interrupting the planned broadcast with a breaking news bulletin from Texas: former President Lyndon Baines Johnson had died. Before transitioning back to the Supreme Court coverage, Uttley only promised viewers more "details as we get them". In fact, he returned with “some of the scenes of the long, colorful and active life of Lyndon Johnson” – an in-depth, previously prepared NBC News obituary of the former president narrated by longtime White House correspondent Ray Scherer.
Watch the full January 22, 1973 clip below to see Uttley breaking the news of Johnson’s death, followed by the Roe v. Wade report – and don’t miss the longer NBC News obituary of President Johnson later in the broadcast (around 3:30 minutes into the clip). Video clip provided by NBC Universal Archives (www.nbcuniversalarchives.com, @NBCUArchives).
Video clip provided by NBC Universal Archives.