It took a large team of producers, reporters, cameramen, sound men, editors and fixers to provide coverage when the Evening News anchored overseas. The logistics were complicated, and the set up was challenging. But all was ready when Gorbachev arrived in May.
I remained in the CBS New York control room most of the time, coordinating coverage and network break-ins. On a Friday night a Chinese official came to our office and demanded that we shut down our live satellite. Dan Rather and Lane Venardos, the producer in charge in Beijing, negotiated with the official. I ordered that network programming be interrupted during the 10pm ET hour so all of America could watch as Venardos and Rather negotiated with the official.
It became clear to me that to defy the Chinese government would put the CBS News team at risk. Many could be arrested and even harmed. I decided that CBS News would comply with the request to shut down the satellite. ("Dan Rather Remembers" video.)
As11pm ET approached, I instructed Venardos to tell the official we would comply with the government's order. But I asked that we be able to shut down the satellite at 11:25pm, during the late local newscasts, which were airing in most of the country. The official agreed.
I then had a programming alert sent out to all of our affiliates so that they would inform their viewers about our upcoming special report. I also asked our press department to inform other news organizations. As it turned out the delay allowed us to air graphic new footage of the carnage.
At the appointed time Dan Rather appeared live from Beijing, across our network, and explained to viewers that CBS News had been ordered to shut down its live Satellite. With a handful of CBS News staff watching, he then signed off, "this is Dan Rather reporting live from Beijing," turned to the satellite operator and instructed him to kill the satellite.
In the days that followed, hundreds, perhaps thousands of Chinese students and supporters, were massacred by Chinese troops. (Video by Brian Robbins, CBS NEWS) Tiananmen Square was emptied. The full force of Marshall Law was being imposed on everyone. Citizens lived in fear for their lives. The elation and hope of the democracy movement had been crushed in a bloody siege by China's authoritarian regime.
The Chinese government may try to erase the events at Tiananmen Square from history, but it will never be forgotten by those of us a CBS News who covered the tragedy.