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Burt Reinhardt, 91; executive who helped launch CNN

By Jeff Martin
Associated Press / May 13, 2011

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ATLANTA — Burt Reinhardt, one of CNN’s first presidents and a television pioneer who is credited with helping to build the global news network in its formative years, died at his home near Atlanta Tuesday. He was 91.

Mr. Reinhardt suffered a series of strokes before his death in Marietta, Ga., said his daughter, Cheryl Reinhardt.

“Without Burt Reinhardt, it is doubtful that CNN would exist today,’’ said Tom Johnson, who in 1990 succeeded Mr. Reinhardt as chief of the 24-hour news network.

Mr. Reinhardt joined CNN in 1979 as the start-up network prepared to launch, his daughter said. Turner Broadcasting founder Ted Turner named Mr. Reinhardt president in January 1982.

During his tenure, he oversaw the beginning of “Larry King Live,’’ which ended its run late last year, and much of the network’s expansion.

“Burt was a good friend,’’ Turner said in a statement yesterday. “His passion and leadership helped make CNN the world’s most recognized news source. We will miss him dearly.’’

Although Turner is most closely associated with CNN, former colleagues say Mr. Reinhardt played a crucial role in the network’s success.

“Burt was Ted’s copilot, and that plane wouldn’t have taken off arguably if Burt hadn’t been there, because he gave it the steady hand,’’ said Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor, White House correspondent, and Washington bureau chief.

“Burt built CNN in many ways; he really did,’’ Sesno said. “He was a powerhouse of determination and discipline.’’

Mr. Reinhardt stayed with the network until he retired in 2003, his daughter said.

Mr. Reinhardt began his journalism career as a World War II combat photographer in the Pacific.

At CNN in Atlanta, he exercised strict fiscal discipline when money was tight during the network’s early years, Johnson said.

“He negotiated contracts with talent, purchased engineering equipment with suppliers, and watched the business side so the news side could flourish,’’ said Johnson.

Mr. Reinhardt was born in New York, his daughter said.

He leaves his wife, Diana Shaw Reinhardt of Marietta; a daughter, Cheryl Reinhardt of Chapel Hill, N.C., who has been living in Marietta since January; a son, Gary of Provincetown, Mass; and a grandson.