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Eye on the Media CBS Channel 2's Antonio Mora
by David R. Guarino
2003-07-23

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On March 18, 2002, the News Department at CBS 2 Chicago was graced by an exciting new presence. Nationally known Peabody Award-winning journalist Antonio Mora joined the CBS 2 Chicago Newsteam fresh from a successful tenure at ABC's critically acclaimed Good Morning America. Mora has the distinction of being the first Hispanic to serve as a lead anchor at a network-owned station in Chicago. Mora's vast and diversified background coupled with his warm and convivial personality have already made him a favorite among discriminating Chicago-area news watchers.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Mora received an L.L.M. degree from Harvard Law School in 1981 and began a career as a corporate attorney for Debevoise and Plimpton. He earned his J.D. degree Summa Cum Laude from The Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas, Venezuela in 1980. Honorary degrees from Ursinius College and Our Lady of Holy Cross were also bestowed on Mora. But the roots of Mora's career in broadcasting began with a position as sports anchor and reporter for WXTV in NY in 1989. This position segued into an anchor/producer slot with Telemundo's WNJU-TV in New York City. Later, Antonio would move on to become an announcer for ESPN, handling international transmissions from 1991-'92. 'I'm really not much of a sports person anymore,' Mora told me when I interviewed him in his office. 'My whole life I was involved with sports and I played virtually everything, and actually I got my start in this business as a sports announcer. But you know I was so focused on sports for a while that I sort of burned out on it and got tired of it. I mean I follow it, but I don't follow it as closely as I used to. Golf is the sport I follow the most.'

In 1992 NBC beckoned the ambitious journalist and Mora earned a slot as one of the original anchors for the network's overnight news broadcast, Nightside. Fast forward to Miami, where Antonio landed a position with WTVJ-TV as an anchor/reporter. This spot lasted from 1992-'93. Expanding upon his increasingly impressive resume, Mora moved to Los Angeles in 1993 where he became co-host of a popular local broadcast aired on KTTV-TV known as Good Day, L.A.

1994 was a pivotal year for Mora—he joined ABC News and reported for nearly all of the network's 'signature' news programs, including Nightline and 20/20 hosted by Barbara Walters and, at that time, Hugh Downs. His initial assignment was as a co-anchor of Good Morning America Sunday while also serving as a contributor on Good Morning America from 1994-'95. Mora's on-the-mark presentations were broadcast from all over the world and his talents have earned him many prestigious awards, including the Edward R. Morrow award, an Emmy for his acclaimed coverage of the Millennium, and the coveted Peabody Award, one of the highest honors a journalist can achieve.

Some of Mora's most ambitious and outstanding reports include his coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, his up-to- the-minute documenting of the Olympic bombing in Atlanta and his powerful yet sensitive portrayal of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

From 1996 to 1998 Antonio was a featured correspondent on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. From 1998-2001, Mora served as a regular substitute anchor for the weekend edition of World News Tonight. 1998 marked another milestone for Mora—he began a stint as news anchor for Good Morning America and also served as a substitute anchor.

In March, 2002, Mora moved to the Windy City and became a high-profile member of the CBS 2 Chicago team. Today he co- anchors the 4:30 p.m. news with veteran anchor Mary Ann Childers. He also co-anchors the 5 and 10 p.m. news with Tracy Townsend. Mora is proud to be host of a CBS news-public affairs program Eye on Chicago, which premiered April 6. It features Mora interviewing the top newsmakers and examining the important news issues of the week. The conversations generated on Eye on Chicago cover a broad range of issues and events, and include news makers and pundits from the fields of entertainment, sports, government, media, and politics and civic affairs. Each show concludes with a roundtable discussion lead by Mora and featuring some of CBS 2's leading reporters and community representatives.

Mora is an active member of The Council on Foreign Relations and for 10 years has been the vice president of broadcast for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

The witty, highly intelligent and likeable Mora loves living in the Chicago area with his wife Julie and two children.

DAVID GUARINO: You are hosting this interesting program on CBS 2 Sunday mornings called Eye on Chicago. What are some of your goals for this production and how does it differ from a show like Meet the Press or WTTW's Chicago Tonight?

ANTONIO MORA: We are trying to cover all aspects of Chicago with this new show. (So far) We've interviewed everyone from the Mayor to Iraqi Americans who live in Chicago and who were thrilled with what happened in Iraq. We've interviewed Jim and Brenda Edgar when he announced that he wasn't running for the Senate. We've looked at the state of the theater in light of The Lion King, then we followed up with an interview about the state of Chicago theater (in general). So we're doing everything, David, from politics to theater to movies to sports. I end the show with a commentary almost every week. So we're going to try take a look at as many of the serious newsmakers around Chicago that we can every week. As far as differences go, what this show is intended to be is a local show that combines a Face the Nation, Meet the Press, This Week, etc. It's a local version of those shows with the exception that we also throw in a little bit more of a morning show sensibility in the sense that we're doing some things that are a bit more feature in nature. So you're going to have the politicians and the big newsmakers being interviewed but you're also going to have some softer things that you might not see—like having Roeper talk about the movies—that's something that you would more likely see on Good Morning America or the like. So we're going to be a bit of a hybrid. But we will certainly be different from any of the public affairs shows that are being done by any of the other broadcast stations. I guess we would most resemble Chicago Tonight, but no other broadcast (commercial) station is doing anything similar.

DG: How does it feel to be the first Hispanic serving as a lead anchor here at a network owned station in Chicago?

AM: It's incredibly exciting. I'm very grateful that CBS is willing to take the risk. I guess in this day and age it's probably still seen as a risk, when you choose any minority, in particular minority males. Minority males have had a much rougher go of it in national news and in local news. In the big jobs you do see the occasional minority female but it's much more rare (in the main roles) to see minority males. So I feel honored and I also feel humbled that I've had that chance. I was very fortunate that I had that opportunity at the network level. I believe I was the first Latino male to have a regularly scheduled network news broadcast. There are few women who have had that role ... really there are not that many Latinos (in top TV positions) on a national basis, and it's really shocking how few of the major cities in this country that have huge Latino populations, have any Latinos in the principal broadcast roles, be they male or female. So I take it very seriously and I try as much as I can to be a good role model. I do what I can to help out with Latino community organizations here in Chicago. And I still get asked to do national things fairly frequently because there are not that many of us.

DG: As an interviewer you have tackled some major public figures ...

AM: I interviewed (Bill) Clinton when he was a candidate (for president). Yes, I've covered politicians of all stripes—I covered the Dole campaign for a while, I've interviewed many U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Rudy Guiliani a bunch of times, so I've done my share of them—(Antonio laughs) I also interviewed Margaret Thatcher and she was phenomenally interesting.

DG: You now have Joe Ahern and Fran Preston at the helm here and both are high-profile veterans of WLS-TV (ABC 7 Chicago). Can you give us an idea of life at CBS 'before' and 'after' this change in top brass?

AM: I think that while I have tremendous respect for Walt deHaven (former VP and general manager at CBS 2 Chicago), I feel that Joe and Fran have come in with a knowledge of Chicago and its people that is tremendously important. They've also come in with incredible energy and I think with an even stronger mandate to do everything possible to make this station No. 1 again. And they started by making a lot of decisions that I'm not sure the prior administration would have been able to do. A lot of them are really important decisions—about talent; maybe even more ... is that they have really (with tremendous energy) come at focusing this station again on the community. On going out there and hosting parades and going out and having town hall meetings with leaders of communities in the city and in the suburbs. And one of the things Joe managed to do is to forge ahead at high speed to fix our signal, which has been an issue for ...

DG: Forever.

AM: (Antonio nods) Forever! Which I think is one of the reasons this city turned against Channel 2, and stopped watching. A full quarter of the people in the Chicago area couldn't see Channel 2 well! So that's a long time; you're basically inviting viewers to go see the people whom they can see well. That's one of the great challenges that we face now, to make people who have gotten used to watching other stations, to start turning back to us. It will take a while. People think that it's one of those things where there's a magic bullet and you can turn something around overnight—it just doesn't happen in television. I think CBS 2 has allowed people to leave us for a long time now.

DG: Rumor has it that Diann Burns (formerly lead co-anchor of the ABC 7 News at 10 p.m.) is being courted by Joe Ahern as your new co-anchor of the Channel 2 News at 10. Can you comment?

AM: Well I'm not one of the people who (ultimately) makes that decision. I will tell you that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Diann, as she and I have gotten along very well since she helped me out before I even came to Chicago. I had a long conversation with her about kids' schools and things as we have friends in common.

DG: Among the other changes we've seen at Channel 2 was the departure of your co-anchor at 10 p.m., long-time anchor and reporter Linda McClennan. Was this an amicable parting of the ways ...

AM: I think that Linda left on her own terms. She was moving into a new house, she had just moved in and management really wanted to expand her hours; they wanted her to work longer days and that was not the deal she had cut with the prior administration. And because of her children and all of the other things that she had to deal with outside of work, she decided it really wasn't what she wanted. And so she made a personal decision to not continue to work here.

DG: How important do you personally feel viewing habits are here in Chicago?

AM: Viewers want to get comfortable with the people they watch. I just think Chicago is very different from a New York or a Los Angeles. People here really care, they just care more about local news. And as a result tend to become more attached to the people they are used to seeing. I mean, every bit of research that's ever been done tells us that in local news, people watch the team that they're comfortable with.

DG: As a Catholic how do you feel about the media coverage of the on-going crisis in the Roman Catholic Church?

AM: I think it's an important story that deserves to be covered and I think by putting it out there, if there are people who are suffering from any kind of sexual abuse right now it might encourage them to know other people are out there and it might help them with their problems now. So I hope that we (the media) are performing a valuable service. Have we done too much of it? Maybe, but again it is an important story that has stayed in the news for a variety of reasons, one being that the bishops have come up with new policies in Rome which later had to be rewritten. So the Catholic Church itself has kept the story in the news ... . And unfortunately there have been more and more and more of these terrible stories popping up. You're talking about a tremendously powerful institution with people who are tremendously powerful within their communities. And if those powerful people are committing crimes, we've got to cover it, no matter how distasteful it might be to some people.

DG: What do you miss the most about working on Good Morning America, Antonio?

AM: I miss the people. I loved working with Charlie (Gibson) and Diane (Sawyer). And there's a certain excitement about a morning show where you've got such incredible traffic through your studio where every kind of newsmaker comes through. From the President of the United States to the most recent beautiful starlet. You get a little bit of everything from every walk of life. Whoever people care about at that moment in the United States is likely to come through our studio—and that is fascinating. I mean, I can't even begin to describe the people (I've met). In no way am I bragging, but it's incredible the amount of people that I've had the chance to have some exposure to, more often than not it's minimal, but I did get to observe them more as people as opposed to on a TV screen or on a movie screen. And sometimes when I got to host I was able to interview them and got to connect with them a little bit more. So that was a lot of fun. And I do miss those things. (Antonio smiles) But it's surprising how infrequently I think about missing it. I'm very very happy that I made this change (coming to Chicago). It's really the right thing for me at the right time.

Eye On Chicago hosted by Antonio Mora airs at 10 a.m., each Sunday on WBBM-TV Channel 2, immediately following Face The Nation, with a repeat broadcast airing at 10:35 p.m., every Sunday.

E-mail: david.ronald@earthlink.net


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