Wilson Center Experts

Sam Donaldson

Wilson Council

Affiliation:
News Anchor and Correspondent, ABC News

Sam Donaldson, a 42-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News from January 1998 to August 1999 and from 1977-1989, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Mr. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live" from August 1989, until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. From October 2001 to May 2004, he hosted "The Sam Donaldson Show -- Live in America," a daily news/talk radio program broadcast on ABC News Radio affiliates across the country. In the three-hour show, Mr. Donaldson tackled the day's top stories and important issues - getting comment from newsmakers, engaging listener calls and, of course, inserting his own unique experience and opinion.

Most recently, Mr. Donaldson hosted the 20-minute show "Politics Live" on ABC News Now, the ABC NEWS digital network. "Politics Live" is an unscripted dialogue with numerous guests and commentators discussing the top political news stories of the day.

From 1999 to 2001, Mr. Donaldson also hosted SamDonaldson@abcnews.com, the first regularly scheduled Internet webcast produced by a television network. On it, he interviewed former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George Bush, along with such diverse personalities as actor Sean Connery, comedian Janeane Garofalo, tech company CEO Jeff Bezos, and sports great Willie Mays.

On "PrimeTime Live," Mr. Donaldson covered breaking news events, reported on a wide range of topics, and conducted scores of timely interviews with newsmakers -- including President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first primetime interview with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell and the first primetime interviews with George W. Bush when he ran for Governor of Texas and when he ran for president.

Mr. Donaldson also reported from Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989 as part of an hour-long, award-winning "PrimeTime Live" investigation of the Pan Am 103 bombing. And in June 1997, along with Diane Sawyer, he co-anchored a special edition of "PrimeTime Live" dedicated to the mystery of TWA Flight 800, which exploded shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy airport in New York the year before.During the 1997-98 season, Mr. Donaldson co-anchored a special edition of "PrimeTime Live" with Judd Rose, in which the two men shared their personal experiences with cancer.Mr. Donaldson was also anchor of "World News Sunday" for ten years (1979-1989) and a regular interviewer on "This Week with David Brinkley," from the program's inception in 1981 until Mr. Brinkley retired in 1996. Since joining ABC News in 1967 as Capitol Hill correspondent, Mr. Donaldson has covered many major news stories, including the Vietnam War, Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee impeachment investigation in 1974 and the Gulf war in 1991. Two days after the Gulf war ended, he co-anchored a special edition of "PrimeTime Live" from Kuwait City.

Mr. Donaldson has covered every national political convention since 1964 with the exception of the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston. He reported on the presidential campaigns of Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Eugene McCarthy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, President Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan and Governor Michael Dukakis. He also reported as an eye-witness on Spiro Agnew's no contest plea in a Baltimore courtroom that forced Agnew's resignation from the Vice Presidency.

In 2008 Mr. Donaldson received the AFTRA Media and Entertainment Excellence Award as well as the RTNDA Paul White Award. In 1998 Mr. Donaldson received the Broadcaster of the Year Award from the National Press Foundation. The Washington Journalism Review named him the Best Television White House Correspondent in the Business in 1985 and the Best Television Correspondent in the Business in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989. Mr. Donaldson has won many other awards, among them four Emmy Awards and three George Foster Peabody Awards.

As a college student, Mr. Donaldson began his career in broadcasting at the age of seventeen by working for local radio stations in El Paso, Texas, and has enjoyed reporting on the radio ever since. An eye-witness to the shooting attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life in 1981, Mr. Donaldson delivered the first report on any broadcast medium of that event on the ABC radio network.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Mr. Donaldson received his Bachelor's degree from Texas Western College and did graduate work at the University of Southern California. His 1987 autobiography, "Hold On, Mr. President," was an international bestseller.Mr. Donaldson served on active duty with the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1959, rising to the rank of Captain, USAR. After resuming his broadcasting career at KRLD-TV in Dallas in 1959, he joined WTOP-TV in Washington, DC in 1961, where, along with local and regional news, he covered such national stories as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President Kennedy's funeral in 1963, passage of the Civil Rights Act in the Senate in 1964 and Senate hearings on the Vietnam war in 1965. He also anchored the station's weekend news broadcasts, and produced and moderated a weekly interview program. Mr. Donaldson joined ABC News in 1967.

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