- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Gordon Peterson marked his 35th anniversary at WUSA-TV (Channel 9) yesterday, but let’s pause for a moment to consider the achievements of one of the CBS affiliate’s other stalwarts, Bruce Johnson.

As some folks see it, the fates of both men are inextricably linked.

Revered news director Jim Snyder hired Mr. Johnson and Mr. Peterson when he assembled the dream team — other members included J.C. Hayward, Maureen Bunyan and the late sports anchor Glenn Brenner — that made Channel 9 the “one and only” choice for most local news viewers in the 1970s and 1980s.

The men are friends and admirers of each other’s work, though their styles differ. The graceful Mr. Peterson is one of Washington’s master political reporters; the scrappy Mr. Johnson tells stories from the city beat.

Mr. Peterson doesn’t plan to retire as WUSA’s chief anchor anytime soon, but when he does, most staffers at Channel 9’s Broadcast House studios believe Mr. Johnson should succeed him.

“I hear it all the time. It’s nice, it’s flattering, but I’m convinced it will never happen. I’m convinced they are looking elsewhere for Gordon’s replacement,” Mr. Johnson said.

WUSA managers won’t discuss their plans, but the station is expected to bring a marquee name in from outside the area and groom that person as Mr. Peterson’s heir apparent.

If that happens, Mr. Johnson won’t be another Roger Mudd, who complained bitterly when CBS passed him over and tapped Dan Rather as Walter Cronkite’s successor in 1981. “If my career ended tomorrow, it’s still been a great ride,” Mr. Johnson said.

The ride won’t end soon: Mr. Johnson just signed a deal that will keep him at WUSA for at least four more years.

The St. Louis native has worked the District beat since Mr. Snyder hired him in March 1976, but he has split his time between weekday reporting and weekend anchoring in recent years. He remains one of Channel 9’s most reliable news breakers.

Last year, Mr. Johnson had several exclusives during the Washington Teachers’ Union scandal.

This month, he assembled six Ballou Senior High School seniors in front of the camera and had them open up about the violence that has kept the troubled school in the news lately.

The students spoke movingly about their struggle to keep their grades up while preparing for graduation.

The challenges of growing up in the District’s poorest neighborhoods trouble Mr. Johnson, a D.C. resident who holds a master’s degree in urban affairs from the University of Cincinnati.

“I have gone home and broken down and cried over some of these kids. They don’t have a chance,” he said.

If he does become WUSA’s main anchor, Mr. Johnson wants to follow in Mr. Peterson’s footsteps and continue to report.

“That’s where you really earn your money. I don’t see how you can come to work and every day and just anchor. Boring.”

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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