He Was There

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I did the first raid in which they permitted correspondents over Germany, along with Andy Rooney and Homer Bigart and a couple of others. I didn’t land on D-day—I was overhead in a bomber—but I came in on D plus four. And then I was recalled to England to prepare for an airborne operation that was going to be the greatest assignment of the war. We were to drop in Rambouillet Forest and take Paris. But, unfortunately, politics got in the way. De Gaulle insisted that the French forces go into Paris first. He took a terrible chance. It’s possible Paris could have been lost over that. The Germans had orders, as we know, to burn Paris, and they were preparing to do it when we finally got there. But we had held off for a couple of days because de Gaulle insisted that we wait for Leclerc’s forces to come in and lead the parade down the Champs-Elysées. So we didn’t drop then, but we kept getting set up for other airborne operations, and finally, in September, we were called up for what turned out to be Market Garden in the Netherlands. I stayed on the Continent and covered the Battle of the Bulge and then after the war set up the United Press bureaus in the Low Countries and covered the Nuremberg trial. And then to Moscow for two years.

“We were to drop in Rambouillet Forest and take Paris. But, unfortunately, politics got in the way.”
 

All this as a newspaperman, but you came home and went into radio. Why?

[Laughs.] Well, for the money. I had tried a little radio before the war and hadn’t been terribly impressed with it at the time. I thought it was pretty schlock. I didn’t feel it had the same principles that print did. I came home from Moscow with a plan that had been detailed to me by United Press: to return to London as General European News Manager. I loved press-service work and still think it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the news business. I was perfectly prepared to go, but we’d come home from Moscow because Betsy was having our first child, who later took some umbrage that we’d had her in Kansas City, Missouri, instead of Moscow. Thought it would be wonderful to have Moscow on her passport. But Betsy considered Kansas City the Paris of the Middle West.

Anyway, I went to UP to negotiate whatever raise I expected to get in London, and I was told not only wouldn’t I get a raise since, they claimed, I was making more than any other of our foreign correspondents at the moment, but there was actually a cutback in the cost-of-living allowance. And just at the same time, by some kind of happy coincidence, an old friend of mine who ran a radio station in Kansas City became convinced by what I was telling him about what I thought they needed to make their radio news really important to the community. I had no intention of doing it myself, but he decided he should have a Washington correspondent and he asked what it would cost to send me there. I tripled my UP salary and he said, “That’s fine.” I suddenly realized there was money in radio.

So I took the job, and they sold this Washington bureau service I rendered to ten stations in five Midwestern states. I was doing that at the time the Korean War began, and Ed Murrow called and asked if I wanted to cover it for CBS. I did, so I joined them. But I never got to Korea. While I was filling in for those who had already gone, CBS acquired a television station in Washington that they hadn’t expected the FCC would give them so quickly. They clearly weren’t prepared to take over, but the first thing Bill Paley wanted was well-done news. So I was the only person available around the bureau to do it.

You were sent in to organize CBS’s Washington broadcastnews bureau?

Just to do a television show. Nobody in the Washington bureau had any experience doing that.

Had you ever done it before?

No, no. Never seen a television camera before. [Laughs.]

What was the state of television journalism at that point?

There really wasn’t much. It had started in 1948 and this was only 1950. It was a studio presentation done with whatever newsreel they could purchase. We had slides with pictures and some film and some voice on film. But it was a very, very primitive performance compared with what we have today.

What did you do, faced with this entirely new canvas?

Well, first of all, we did the news. That was different from what developed later. I took the news of the day, and with a director I worked with all day, I would say, “What can you do to illustrate this?” The words came first, illustration came second—it was really a kind of pictorial radio news. But it was informative because we were concentrating on the story and not on the pictures. We were following the old news standards with the competitive eagerness that came from United Press, which helped a lot too.

In 1952 you covered the first televised presidential campaign.

Well, television had been there in ’48, but they didn’t have anywhere to send their pictures. There weren’t many stations linked. So in effect ’52 was the first one.