James “Jim” Herrington interviewed scores of politicians, including six U.S. presidents — every commander in chief from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.
Democrats called him a Republican, and Republicans called him a Democrat.
Viewers called him tough, knowledgeable and honest.
“He was an instinctive commentator on politics without showing his leanings,” said Warren Coville, a Bird Key resident and former co-owner of the Detroit Pistons, whose friendship with Herrington spanned more than 30 years. “He was very, very fair. He would call a spade, a spade.”
Herrington, of Longboat Key and formerly of Farmington Hills, Mich., died Jan. 3. He was 84.
His career in broadcasting spanned more than four decades, including 30-plus years with Detroit’s ABC affiliate WXYZ-TV.
“Jim was one of the greats — the unquestioned dean of political reporters in Detroit, really all of Michigan, for many years,” wrote Molly Schechter, a former Detroit resident and longtime Herrington friend, in an email.
Born July 15, 1928, in Pennsylvania, he got his start in broadcasting with the U.S. Navy’s Armed Forces Radio. He went on to attend Northwestern University on a GI Bill and worked at two Saginaw, Mich., stations, before beginning his legendary career with WXYZ.
Herrington won acclaim for his coverage of Detroit’s 1967 riots. In one infamous exchange, recounted in Tim Kiska’s “A Newscast for the Masses: The History of Detroit Television News,” Herrington stuck his microphone in the face of a looter who was stealing dresses through a broken window.
“Do you think there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing here?” Herrington asked.
“No, it’s going to burn anyways,” the woman said. “And I could use a new dress.”
Herrington was best known as a political reporter, although his story subjects ran the gamut.
In one segment called “Herrington Is,” Herrington tried out different occupations each week. He flew with the Blue Angels and appeared in a rodeo for the feature. His favorite job, however, according to Herrington’s daughter, Lauren Guzzardo, was collecting trash, because it was an “honest day’s work.”
More than 30 years ago, Herrington was the celebrity guest for the Channel 56 Auction, a fundraiser for public television.
(Courtesy of WXYZ)
He had a reputation for wandering around, so a volunteer promised to “step on the chord” so that he wouldn’t go too far.
That volunteer became his life partner, Carol Camiener — whom Herrington always said was his favorite person he met on the job.
Herrington won four Michigan Emmys and a National Headliner Award.
In retirement, Herrington became the dean of Michigan political reporters. But Herrington’s interests stretched beyond politics.
He was active in Sarasota’s Media Roundtable, according to president and moderator Irwin Starr, who said that Herrington attended a forum as recently as October.
He was an avid gardener who even played music to his orchards.
He was a board member at Temple Beth Israel and was actively involved with the Ringling College of Art and Design and Asolo Repertory Theatre. Some of his passions reflected the fact that he was an intensely visual person — a characteristic that friends say was apparent in Herrington’s attention to detail in shooting a story.
Herrington told friends recently what he never would have disclosed when he was a journalist.
“Most people didn’t know his political leaning,” Coville said. “But he did tell me that he voted for Obama.”
Herrington “was very distraught” over the direction of news and politics, according to Coville, particularly the amount of money being spent by politicians to get across their messages.
Friends still looked to Herrington for his political commentary long after he left television.
He was part of the “Slow Readers Book Club,” a group of 13 men from the Longboat Key area who meet up when they spend summers in Michigan. Recently, the group read Robert A. Caro’s “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” and enjoyed Herrington’s intimate knowledge of the Johnson years.
Longboat Key resident and fellow “slow reader” Bill Sandy, who got to know Herrington when he was still a broadcaster, recounted an incident Herrington shared with him in recent weeks dating back to a funeral Johnson attended for a high-ranking Michigan official when he was still president.
The Secret Service was concerned because Johnson insisted on leaving the presidential vehicle in front of the church, which posed security concerns. As Johnson exited the service, the press surrounded him.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” Herrington said to a Secret Service official. “You’re using our bodies as a shield.”
“He had the ability to ask very good questions, but he was also very likeable, and people trusted him,” Sandy said.
The trait that viewers saw for decades on their screens was still apparent when the Slow Readers Book Club
“Jim,” Sandy said “would tell really good stories.”
Herrington is survived by his longtime partner, Carol Camiener; daughter, Lauren Guzzardo; sons, Doug and Jim; and 10 grandchildren.
A memorial service took place Sunday at Temple Beth Israel, and a memorial service will take place in Michigan later in January.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Herrington’s name to the Ringling College of Art & Design, the William Fyfe Fund at Northwestern University, Racquet Up Detroit or the Nature Conservancy.