I think I was about nine when I visited a newspaper office for the first time. It was the editorial department of the Wapakoneta Daily News, my hometown paper. I can’t recall the occasion, but I clearly remember the scene—a small office bay crammed with standard desks. It was an off-hour when one shift was over and the new one had not yet begun. The desk-tops were littered with notes and typed sheets as well as paper cups stained with black coffee, some still half-full, the coffee gone cold and oily. There were ashtrays jammed with butts on some desks. Utilitarian manual typewriters were the centerpieces of each work post, some with pages still in the roll. Windows at the back let in slats of light through Venetian blinds, and the stagnant coffee and stale tobacco combined with the all-pervasive and pungent smell of printer’s ink to create what was, for me, a fragrance more delightful than that of any fine Parisian parfum. It was instinctive. A very clear thought that this was where I wanted to be.
|On assignment with Argentina's Coast Guard, 1987|
Even before I started delivering newspapers when I was twelve, I had been reading them for several years—the WDN and the Sunday edition of The Lima News, published in the nearby industrial city of Lima, Ohio. I was also delighted when our teachers introduced the Weekly Reader into our school curriculum as a current events aid to our social studies courses. This was a news magazine for children in glossy newspaper-like format—an Ohio invention, as it turns out—designed to open a window to the world for kids through compelling stories developed for a variety of age groups.
I eventually would read the papers that I delivered—first the Dayton Journal Herald, and later, The Lima News. On Sundays I was treated to the weekend editions of some of Midwestern America’s most traditional dailies—The Toledo Blade (for which, as fate would have it, I would write op-eds about South America for a couple of years in the 1980s), The Columbus Dispatch, and the Chicago Tribune among others—as a member of a motley crew of newsboys working for Russell McLean, who owned Wapakoneta’s only newsstand (which, because of its unique nature in town, was called just that, The Newsstand). I would read a few pages while stuffing supplements in the backroom of The Newsstand before starting my Sunday route, and finish my perusal of this paper or that sitting on the porch steps of one or another of my customers’ houses, when I knew the family to be away at church.
My interest was piqued still further by the fact that, from the time I was nine until I was twelve, we lived on the west end of Wapakoneta’s main drag, Auglaize Street, and our big old turn-of-the-century house in the seven hundred block was cattycorner across from another large house from about the same period, half of which was rented by the then-managing editor of the Wapakoneta Daily News, Mr. Summers. His daughter Mitzy was friends with my sister Darla, so if I accompanied Darla across the street to see her friend, I might see Mr. Summers coming or going (he always seemed to be working). But although I wanted to be able to corner him and ask him what it was like to earn a living writing and reporting, I was too shy to ask—a problem I would have to overcome even as an adult when I actually got my first job in big-city journalism. And Mr. Summers was, himself, a quiet, rather taciturn man who limited his response to a perfunctory greeting whenever I waved and said, “Hi, Mister Summers!” Plus the fact that Mitzy mostly came over to our house rather than the other way around.
Despite my shyness, it wouldn’t have been above me to make friends with older people. Already from a very young age, I had gathered a collection of friends from my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ era, like a septuagenarian couple called John and Pearl who had moved to town but still lived a country lifestyle in their little house across from the place where we had lived before moving to West Auglaize Street, or an elderly retired justice of the peace whom everyone knew as Judge Kent, or another lady in that neighborhood whose name was Bonnie, and who, so I thought, was as beautiful as movie actress Loretta Young and just as distinguished. They were all adults with whom I could while away hours asking endless questions and listening to their anecdotes of other times, since I was always a sucker for a good story, which made me a natural for writing and reporting.
But when, delighted by her drawling Southern accent, I once got “talky” with Mrs. Summers on the phone when she called to talk to my mother about something and I thought maybe that would give me an in with the editor, she later asked my sister who the yackety person was whom she’d gotten on the phone when she called.
“My little brother Danny,” Darla told her.
“Brother?” she said to my sister. “Huh, he sounds like a little girl with mush in her mouth!”
So scratch that contact. However, I did end up inheriting a typewriter from Mr. Summers. What the circumstances were, I have no idea, but my mother, Reba Mae, who was a really deft typist and perhaps wanted to practice so as not to lose her skill, bought a used Smith Corona portable that Mr. Summers was selling for five dollars, and I almost immediately commandeered it to write stories on. I was still using that bulky “portable” typewriter in high school and my first and only year at Ohio State before I joined the Army and, only after Basic Combat Training, bought myself a more modern Olivetti because I needed a much more portable-portable to drag around the States and Europe with me.From the outset, I was a news junky. From that tender age, when we lived on Auglaize Street, I was already hooked not only on papers and magazines but also on TV news. My two TV news heroes of those times were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, both of CBS Television. Although most of us never knew it, my two idols—and those of just about every other would-be newsman—were also bitter rivals for most of their lives.
Murrow already had a reputation as the unofficial “dean of American newsmen” by the time he reached television due to his high profile as a war correspondent during World War II. His first glimpse at fame was largely a fluke since until the outbreak of war, he was not on-air personnel. His job at the time was to develop contacts for the CBS Radio news division that was trying to expand its influence in competition with NBC. He had been doing this job since 1937, when, in March of 1938, Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany’s annexation of his native Austria.
|Edward R. Murrow during World War II|
In the meantime, Murrow chartered a plane on CBS’s dime and traveled from Warsaw, where he had been working, to Vienna and there found a way using short-wave technology to make a live broadcast. In a style that was novel for its day and immediately popular, Murrow’s first lines from Vienna were: “It’s now nearly two-thirty in the morning, and Herr Hitler has not yet arrived.”
From that point on, and based in London, Murrow, Shirer and the rest of the Murrow Boys newsmen would provide some of the most dramatic coverage of the major events of World War II. Murrow would begin his broadcasts with, “This...is London...” and ended them with what was to become his signature sign-off, “Good night, and good luck,” something Londoners often said to each other in the days of Hitler’s blitzkrieg on that city, since with constant bombings they never knew if they would see each other again once they parted.
|Pulitzer Prize-winner Marguerite Higgins|
But when I was fantasizing about my future as a writer growing up, those who reached national stardom were indeed “newsmen” and while “journalist” would have been a far more politically correct and inclusive a term, those who ran the show still clung to Mark Twain’s alleged dictum that “a journalist is a newspaperman who’s out of work.”
|Veteran war correspondent Martha Gellhorn|
Walter Cronkite also first made his name as a World War II correspondent. Not, however, in broadcast journalism. He was a writer—a fact that shone through when he later wrote the scripts for his documentary programs, You Are There and The Twentieth Century. Throughout the war he was a correspondent for United Press International (UPI). And it was during this time that he and Murrow had their falling out.
It seems that Murrow had become aware of Cronkite’s extraordinary skill as a reporter and craft as a writer and decided to try and recruit him for the Murrow Boys. He offered Cronkite considerably more money than he was earning at UPI and, at first, the reporter agreed to join the CBS team. But the UPI management wasn’t willing to give up a reporter of Cronkite’s talent and stature without a fight. They offered him a raise, not equivalent to the CBS offer but apparently the best that a news agency could do, and Cronkite, a writer at heart, backed out of the deal with Murrow and decided to stay at United Press. Murrow never forgave him for it. Even less so when, after the war, Cronkite finally came into the CBS fold and became Murrow’s rival for the top billing among the network’s viewers. Their clashes are legendary among broadcast historians.
Nevertheless, both men had similar reputations and styles—paragons of truth, ethics and right-mindedness. Although I was quite young, I remember watching Murrow’s deadpan yet drama-charged editorials and his grave delivery. It was radio-turned-television, austere, honest, bereft of props. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to understand the issues he talked about, Murrow’s See It Now show was already suffering from slipping ratings as TV turned to entertainment over information in the post-war years and a quiz show called The Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question started knocking his prime time slot for a loop.
|Murrow in the fifties.|
But I never missed documentary re-runs of his best reporting and found him the quintessential newsman. As soon as I was old enough to understand the phenomenon of McCarthyism, I gained even greater respect for Murrow, since, at a time when everyone in the media was terrified of being touched by the “red scare” and being branded a “communist” by the then-all-powerful Un-American Activities Committee, Murrow did what was right and systematically opposed political and ideological persecution as being against everything that the United States stood for.
Although many brave people took a stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy and his political witch-hunt that ruined the lives of so many Americans, and particularly of those in the arts, no one did it more effectively than Edward R. Murrow. He hammered away at the topic and at McCarthy until he was able to swing the tide of American sentiment from an unreasonable degree of fear of a “communist takeover” toward an even greater and entirely logical fear of the loss of civil liberties in the face of Orwellian state intervention in people’s right to freedom of conscience and expression. Murrow saw it for what it was—a modern-day version of the Salem witch trials. And he had the moral authority to take McCarthy down.
When I was about ten, Murrow resigned from CBS. I didn’t know it then, but President Kennedy offered him a job that he considered “a timely gift”. This was in January of 1961, as soon as JFK took office and the post was as the head of the United States Information Agency (USIA), which would later be renamed the United States Information Service (USIS). Kennedy had first offered the job to the president of CBS, Frank Stanton. Stanton turned it down and suggested the president offer the post to Murrow. In the Cold War era, it was a smart suggestion and a smart move to have a tried and tested newsman at the head of the agency instead of a corporate executive, and may well have been the difference between having a government news agency that was really about news gathering and having one that was merely an American version of the Soviet Union’s Tass, which at the time served merely as a propaganda mill.
The USIA had gotten a bad reputation during the McCarthy era of persecution and false patriotism, and Murrow was seen as a breath of fresh air to get it back on track. To show that he knew why he was there, one of the first things he did was to re-hire veteran journalist and writer Reed Harris, who had been sacked during the McCarthyite purges. His passage through the USIA was clearly transformational and long-lasting. His “regal” reputation in the world of journalism additionally gave the agency a higher profile and garnered it more government funding for improved coverage.
But Murrow’s stay was short-lived if durably influential. A chain-smoker who had averaged three packs a day throughout his career, he was already suffering the symptoms of lung cancer, and although Lyndon Johnson asked him to stay on at the agency following JFK’s assassination, he was already too ill to continue, resigning in 1964 and dying in 1965, two days after his fifty-seventh birthday.
I had the good fortune to work on several occasions as a special correspondent for the now-defunct USIS in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties. The influence of Murrow and other news professionals who followed him was still in evidence. When I was first approached about an assignment, it was by Andrew Lluberes, who accumulated a four-decade long career in state communications under presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. But despite his long government service, Andrew was more newsman than bureaucrat and it showed in his treatment of the reporters who worked for him.
Lluberes said that I had come highly recommended by a former boss, the award-winning journalist and editor, Robert Cox. He understood that I’d left my post as managing editor of the Buenos Aires Herald and was now free-lancing. Would I be interested in doing some work in South America for the USIS? I told him that I appreciated the call but that I didn’t do government work. A guy who was nothing if not straight-forward—he began the conversation by asking if Cox “had taught me to drink”, to which I answered that, after three years in the Army, I had come to Cox with an already well-developed elbow—Lluberes asked me why the hell not?
“Because I’m a newsman, not a government agent,” I said.
“Dan,” he said, “take my word for it. It’s just like working for any other news agency.”
I was dubious. “You mean, if I write a story that might put the country or the administration in a bad light, you guys won’t censor it?”
“As long as you’ve got your facts straight and are doing the assignment we sent you to do, your story will stand. We don’t do censorship,” he said.
The per diem rate that the agency paid was better than any private media firm had ever offered me for free-lance reporting, so I decided to believe him. It was good money. Mostly it was very straightforward reporting: a press conference by some US dignitary in Buenos Aires, an inter-American drug-enforcement conference in Montevideo hosted by the president of Uruguay, and so on. It was only on my last assignment for the USIS that I got to test what Lluberes had told me. At an international conference of defense ministers, held in 1994 at a luxury hotel, just across the lake from the home I had just moved into in Patagonia, I asked US Defense Secretary William Perry about news that had recently broken regarding a chapter on torture—and how to perform it—that was included in a training manual at the country’s military School of the Americas. This facility was already known in South America as “dictator school” since many of the leaders of coups in the region had, at one time or another, trained there.
Perry was taken by surprise, especially since the question came from a conference-accredited USIS correspondent. He said that he had only recently heard reports about this and that the matter was being investigated. (Subsequently, both the manual and the training program were revamped under the Clinton administration). I wrote a terse, facts-only news story, quoting Perry and detailing the nature of the controversy, and submitted it, figuring that it would never go on the wire. I was wrong. Just as Lluberes had promised, the story ran. And the only reason that it was my last reporting assignment for the agency was because Lluberes was tapped to run its radio operations at Voice of America, and no longer was assignment editor for the print division.
|Walter Cronkite as UPI war reporter|
His career at CBS began in 1950, when he took a job reporting for the network’s affiliate TV station in Washington DC. From 1951 to 1961, he anchored a fifteen-minute Sunday night newscast that followed the wildly popular quiz show, What’s My Line, hosted by John Charles Daly.
But already in 1952, his face and voice were connected with major US events. He anchored coverage of the 1952 presidential election for CBS. And he handled election coverage for the network for the next decade. In the 1964 elections, CBS decided to try some new faces and handed coverage over to a team formed by Roger Mudd and Robert Trout, but ratings proved it to be an error of judgment. People trusted Cronkite and he was once again the iconic face of CBS coverage for many elections to come.
I vaguely recall—just flashes of scratchy black and white images—some episodes of Cronkite’s You Are There, which ran until 1957, when I turned eight. And I remember how at the end, he would always say, “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there.” But that’s about it. What I recall much better was his Sunday evening program called The Twentieth Century. It was an historical series made up almost entirely of documentary film footage with Cronkite scripting and narrating the stories. It was a hit for nearly a decade, and I tried never to miss it, unless it meant fighting Whitie for control of the TV because he was watching some sporting event. If Jim Brown was Whitie’s favorite quarterback, Cronkite was mine, but the TV belonged to the ol’ man.
Over the years from the fifties to the eighties, it was Cronkite’s voice that announced major historical events to a majority of Americans. He anchored the first trans-Atlantic broadcast that hosted a collage of video images from the US and countries throughout Europe. He reported on the first manned flights to outer space from Cape Canaveral Florida. We Ohioans listened to him to know how our state’s native son John Glenn had faired when he became the first astronaut to orbit Earth. And we Wapakonetans were glued to the TV screen as Cronkite covered our hometown boy Neil Armstrong’s first step on the surface of the moon.
|Cronkite announces JFK's death|
|Cronkite reporting from Vietnam|
Wayne was a former dance band drummer who had later become a WHIO Radio personality. When James Cox Jr. (son of the former Ohio governor) first opened WHIO TV in 1949, his news team was headed up by an anchor who insisted on reading the news with a pipe in his mouth, thinking, perhaps, that, like Murrow’s ever-present Camel cigarette, this prop was his trademark. The management told him that viewers were having trouble understanding him and that he would have to lose the pipe during newscasts. The anchor refused and Cox fired him and his team. Don Wayne’s increasingly popular radio personality made him a shoo-in.
So at the turn of the decade, Wayne found himself being the “entire team” at WHIO TV News, Dayton. And he would continue to be the sole representative of the TV station’s news department for nearly a decade. Like all newsmen of old, Wayne wasn’t a “news reader” but a jack of all news trades, reporting, writing and delivering the news to his audience.
|Don Wayne on WHIO Radio|
Cheryl McHenry, who would years later be part of the WHIO news team—by then well-established under Wayne’s leadership—once said that Don Wayne’s voice was “equal to Cronkite’s” in the minds of local viewers. “Just the way he carried himself, there was something very reassuring while being very credible,” McHenry said. “He asked questions when he felt something wasn’t clear and he wanted to make sure his delivery was clear.” Wayne’s pioneering honesty and straight-forward delivery helped mold WHIO’s news team into one of the most respected in the state and the region.
I remember when I was about ten or eleven my father coming home from work at the Teddy Bear restaurant that he and two of his brothers owned and saying, “You’ll never guess who came in for lunch today. Don Wayne!”
We couldn’t have been more surprised if he had said Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. It was as if he had served lunch to royalty, and I was upset that I hadn’t been there to witness it and was only getting the story second-hand.
Wayne was WHIO’s news department until 1958, when the station started building a full news team. Wayne was first accompanied by Chuck Upthegrove, with whom he covered not only local stories but also traveled to Europe and Vietnam on special assignments. Upthegrove became another veteran of the WHIO team, remaining at the station for thirty-eight years.
|Don Wayne (left) hosting a visit from Cronkite|
For two years, Don Wayne was accompanied on the WHIO news desk by Phil Donahue, who would later go on to boast a long career as one of network television’s most popular daytime TV talk show hosts. Wayne retired in 1988 after nearly forty years as the face and voice of WHIO News.
Over the long years of my own career as a journalist and writer, in which I’ve had the honor of writing for some major US and British publications and reporting for national network radios in both countries as well, the lessons that these and other great newspeople have shared by their example have helped me to forge my own code of ethics and my own democratic principles. They’ve imbued me with an insistence on putting facts before “beliefs” and the story as it is above the story as I might rather it would be. Thanks to them, and to other great journalists that I’ve met along the way, doing the right thing as a news professional has never been hard. You either do what’s right in describing current events to your readership or audience, or you find something else to do with your life.
In a broadcast that was to prove the death knell for the McCarthy era, Edward R. Murrow left Americans with this thought:
“We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”
That was his credo, and as a journalist and writer, I’ve always made it my own.
Never has that been truer than it is today.