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Kicking Nixon: Howard K. Smith and the Commentator’s Imperative

Howard K. Smith was an influential American journalist. He reported the rise of Nazism and the Second World War, and returned to America to pioneer a new style of investigative journalism and comment.  Dr James Kates presents a vivid account of his life and times.

Posted 06-Mar-2014

by James Kates

The Specter of War. 2

A Rebellious Temperament 3

A Journalist in Exile. 4

A Place for Opinion?. 7

The stakes get higher. 7

Opportunity at ABC. 9

The Nixon reaction. 10

Epilogue: Commentary and democracy. 12

Richard Nixon appearing in front of journalists at his ‘last’ press conference in 1961To his eternal detriment, Richard M. Nixon never learned to quit when he was ahead. Such was the case on November 7, 1962, as the former vice president sat brooding in a seventh-floor suite at the posh Beverly Hilton Hotel. In the hours after midnight it became clear that California Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown had won re-election, crushing candidate Nixon’s hopes for a political comeback. At mid-morning the defeated Republican dispatched a gracious telegram to the victor. Then his darker impulses got the best of him. After first declining to meet the press, he abruptly changed his mind and walked in on a group of reporters being addressed by his press secretary, Herbert G. Klein. Asserting that the journalists were “delighted” at his defeat, Nixon scolded them for selective vision and blatant bias. At the age of 49, he pronounced his political career dead: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”[1]

A continent away, another journalist took notice. Howard K. Smith was 48, a native of Louisiana and, like Nixon, a child of undistinguished roots. But an Oxford education and years in Europe had smoothed any rough edges. Youthfully slim and prematurely grHoward K. Smithay, the veteran newsman had a keen intelligence, a subtle wit and a manner invariably described as “courtly.” He also had an influential outlet for his thoughts: a weekly program, Howard K. Smith News and Comment, in prime time on ABC Television. Smith had left CBS, his employer of two decades, a year earlier in a battle over his on-air editorializing. At ABC, however, the network and the sponsor had given him explicit free rein to speak his mind. When the Nixon story broke, Smith put aside the current week’s episode-in-progress, a Veterans Day tribute called “The American Fighting Man.” He then sat down at his typewriter in ABC’s Washington bureau and pounded out a prospectus for a different half-hour, titled “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon.” It aired four days later, on Sunday, November 11.[2]

Alger HissStitching together filmed interviews both pro- and anti-Nixon, Smith summed up by saying that the longtime politician had little to complain about: He was, after all, leaving the brutal public arena for a comfortable career in private law practice. But Smith’s remarks excited far less controversy than did another element of the program: a three-minute appearance by Nixon’s nemesis Alger Hiss. Accused of spying for the Soviet Union, Hiss had been convicted of perjury after an investigation orchestrated by then-Congressman Richard Nixon in 1948. On camera with an ABC producer, Hiss delivered a low-key and rather predictable assessment of his accuser, saying Nixon had enjoyed a “political soaring up into outer space” because of the case.[3] The public’s response, however, was anything but subtle. Word of the Hiss interview had leaked out beforehand, and some ABC affiliates had refused to air the show. Hundreds of telephone calls, many of them from members of the American Legion, jammed ABC’s switchboard in New York. As an “experiment,” one reporter adopted a false name and pretended to be calling in praise of the program. He was decidedly in the minority; ABC staffers told him that callers had been screaming at them all evening.[4] In coming days, 60,000 letters would pour in to the network and its affiliates, running heavily against the Hiss appearance. Many of them called for Smith’s head. “As for your commentator … I suggest that you set him straight or else get rid of him,” a New Jersey woman wrote.[5] Speaking to a newspaper columnist the night of the program, Smith professed to be baffled by the uproar. “I think these people are being ridiculous,” he said.[6]

In retrospect, the Nixon episode emerges as a zenith in Smith’s work, the point at which his temperament collided head-on with the limits of broadcasting under the U.S. model of private ownership. Smith’s career traced a long arc from the emergence of broadcast commentary to an era when it faded. It was shaped, first of all, by the vicissitudes of the radio industry and its competition with print, then by World War II and the Cold War, and finally by the business needs of television. Smith was generally acknowledged to be one of broadcasting’s best commentators; his survival in the genre into the 1970s testifies to his skill and tenacity as a journalist. Most crucial, however, was his iconoclastic streak, one that saw him alienate not just adversaries, but occasionally those who thought themselves allies. Anyone who pegged him as “left-liberal” would be flabbergasted by his commentary on issues such as Vietnam in the later 1960s. In time, his judgment would be directed, quite harshly, toward members of his own profession. He was, in sum, that rarest of journalists: an opinionated mind coupled with a truly independent spirit.

The Specter of War

Howard Kingsbury Smith was born in 1914 in Ferriday, Louisiana, a small town sometimes referred to as the buckle on the Bible Belt.[7] His father was a railroad conductor who later strung together odd jobs to survive the Great Depression. His mother held social aspirations but was thwarted by her husband’s lack of ambition; Smith later wrote that his unhappy family seemed to represent the long decline of Louisiana’s plantation aristocracy. The Smiths moved to Monroe and then to New Orleans, where young Howard bloomed academically and won a scholarship to Tulane University. He became a track star and president of the student body. Had he desired, he certainly could have won a prominent place in New Orleans society. But from adolescence, he had felt a certain unmooring from his family and his native South. He likened himself to a ship whose rotted planks had been replaced, one by one, until it no longer was its original self. Scorning Louisiana’s endemic corruption and racial caste system, he cut his emotional and historical ties to his birthplace. “I felt and behaved as if I … was my whole ancestry. My family tree began with me, and for several years I was all there was of it.”[8] His allegiances would be formed not by tradition, but by introspection.

Smith journeyed to Europe in the summer of 1936, working for his passage aboard a creaking freighter. He had less than $100, the remnants of a journalism prize he had won at Tulane. Figuring that his money would last longest in Germany, he studied at Heidelberg and befriended local students. At first, he was enchanted with the nation’s beer gardens, its spirit of Gemütlichkeit and its tidy streetscapes. But Germany was militarizing under Adolf Hitler, and Smith was taken aback at the sight of uniforms at every corner. Heidelberg’s great university had been conscripted in service of the Third Reich. Its curriculum now emphasized stories of Aryan supremacy and victimization by an “international cabal of Jews.” Hitler’s rhetoric, which initially had filled the German people with pride and hope, now was fueling them with resentment. An evening in a tavern full of German army officers, the air fouled with cigarette smoke and bellicose talk, left Smith with “a sense of fright that did not leave me for many years.” He returned to America convinced that Germany was mobilizing for war and that Americans were heedless of the danger.[9]

Smith learned the reporter’s trade at the New Orleans Item, a stint highlighted by a brief interview with visiting President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he yearned to return to Europe, where he felt the century’s great story was brewing. In the fall of 1937 he arrived at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Even the musty allure of the university’s quadrangles could not keep him out of Germany. Just weeks after talking with FDR, he caught a glimpse of Hitler in the opera house at Munich. Smith marveled that this “very ordinary, mild-looking person” could express “a wish for action, and all opposition would fade to nothing.” The deliberative democracy of Britain and America seemed almost impotent in comparison. Electrified with the certainty of the coming cataclysm, Smith returned to Oxford and became the leader of its Labour Club, whose members were campaigning against the “indecent charade” of appeasement. Many Oxford students still sided with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his policies of negotiation and watchful waiting. Smith, who carried his protests to Chamberlain’s doorstep at Ten Downing Street, would have none of it. His British chums were “on the brink of a wrenching change of attitude on the subject, and I was going to help push them over the edge.”[10]

Most of the push would come from Hitler himself. After a series of diplomatic betrayals, Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. A crestfallen Chamberlain announced Britain’s declaration of war on September 3. The same day, Smith went to the United Press bureau in London and secured a job based on his fluency in German. His student days were over.

A Rebellious Temperament

Assigned to Berlin, Smith covered the Germans’ daily press briefings, which contained varying and often indistinguishable portions of fact and propaganda. In time he came to hate the imperious little men who fed him news. (One of them, he wrote, was an “old Nazi party wheel-horse” who had been “given a natty blue uniform for having kept his mouth and head shut” in a former job.)[11] Smith rewrote the communiqués and added the “usual disclaimers,” but he was often despondent over his inability to uncover the truth. He gleaned scant clues from a handful of civilian contacts and from a few Jewish friends, who were risking death just by being seen with him. His spirits rose when British aircraft bombed Unter den Linden, the broad avenue where his office was located, one night in September of 1940. He stood in the street and cheered (“More! Bigger! More! Bigger!”) even as the firebombs threatened to incinerate him.[12]

Through it all, Smith managed to differentiate between the Nazi leaders and the broad German population, which he believed had been led into battle by an appeal to its wounded pride. Aside from the Nazis and the “evil priesthood” of elite SS troops, most Germans were not so much determined to win the war as they were terrified of the consequences of losing. The Nazis, meanwhile, were poisoning the people with a tyrannical “Anti-culture” that rejected dissent or inquiry. Germany under Hitler was “a real, direct and imminent threat to the existence of a civilization which gathers facts and discusses.” For Smith, that was the worst anathema of all.[13]

The frustrations of the Berlin beat were compounded by the notoriously poor pay scale at United Press. (“You can’t run these big news businesses without money,” David Brinkley quipped about his former employer, “but you’ve got to give it to UP – they tried.”)[14] Smith also found himself stuck in the capital while other, more experienced reporters traveled to better assignments around Europe. Seeking more money and a wider field for his efforts, he jumped ship at UP and joined CBS Radio in the spring of 1941.

Radio broadcasting was just over 20 years old at the time, but radio news was, in many ways, a new medium. In the 1930s, network and local “commentators” had offered headlines and sundry observations. For the most part, according to one assessment, these people were “mellifluous poseurs” rather than journalists. The one thing they almost never did was gather their own news.[15] Competitive jealousy from newspapers (along with talk of litigation) also had stunted the growth of radio journalism. A much-decried 1933 pact allowed broadcasters to present only brief programs after the morning and evening papers had hit the streets, as well as breaking stories.[16] Commentary was exempt, so that field blossomed as hard-news reporting withered. But even distinguished commentators such as H.V. Kaltenborn could not meet the demand for information as Hitler’s threats intensified. (Breaking the pattern for commentators, Kaltenborn would go to Europe for CBS in 1937 to report on the fascist movement firsthand.)[17]

CBS had launched its World News Roundup in March of 1938, using shortwave technology to gather correspondents’ reports on the worsening crisis. Network chief William S. Paley called it radio’s first newscast.[18] The 1933 truce between radio and the newspapers unraveled as radio executives discovered that their employees could find their own stories via shoe leather and telephone calls.[19] Edward R. Murrow had been dispatched to Europe in 1937 as “director of talks,” arranging for political figures and musical groups to perform before the CBS microphones. The war emergency put him on the air personally. Propelled to fame in the London blitz, Murrow had perfected a radio news style based on drama and immediacy. Sonorous yet urgent, his baritone voice was the perfect tonic for a public hungry for information about the widening conflict. Murrow in London and CBS news boss Paul W. White in New York assembled a global team to report on, and assess, wartime developments. In the spring of 1939 the network had just three journalists in Europe, including Murrow and William L. Shirer. Soon it would amass a dazzling roster including Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hottelet, Eric Sevareid – and Howard K. Smith, then just 26 and, like many of the new CBS correspondents, a veteran of the hard-knocks school of United Press.

The change of medium would not end Smith’s troubles. Passage of the Lend-Lease Act had obliterated any pretense of U.S. neutrality. German censors slashed Smith’s scripts to pieces. When they handed him bulletins with orders to broadcast them verbatim, he refused and was banished from the air. His colleague Dick Hottelet had been arrested and accused of espionage while working at United Press; his only crime was that he had defied authorities by bicycling around Berlin to assess air-raid damage. Now the Nazis were targeting Smith, who like Hottelet had made little secret of his contempt for the Hitler regime. Tipped off by friends, he boarded an overnight train after a boozy farewell and arrived in Switzerland on December 7, 1941.[20]

A Journalist in Exile

Had he been in Germany on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, he surely would have been arrested. As it was, he faced new challenges in neutral Switzerland. Surrounded by Axis and occupied nations, he was effectively trapped, and Berne would be his home until France was liberated in mid-1944.

Last Train from BerlinIn a frenetic six weeks, Smith produced a book about his experience in Nazi Germany. Titled Last Train From Berlin, it became a bestseller in Britain and the United States. The British translated a chapter into languages of Nazi-occupied nations and reprinted it as a tiny booklet, scattering thousands from airplanes.[21] For Smith, it was a manifesto for principles that had been simmering since his firebrand days in the Oxford Labour Club. There was no “war mentality in the mass of the German people,” he declared. “If we intend to win not only the war, but also the peace, and set up a new and better world, a lot of Germans are going to be among its best components.” A “detailed revolutionary programme for democracy” would prompt ordinary Germans to abandon the fight and starve Hitler of popular support. That scheme, in Smith’s view, had to include “the socialization of the munitions and heavy industries, the banishment of privilege” and “the placing of less developed colonies under a truly international mandate – not a British or an American mandate.” This was “Total Democracy.” The aim was to smash the alliance of political power and industrial oligarchy that had built the Nazi war machine. “We have nothing to lose but a handful of parasites, and we have the world to win.”[22] After two suffocating years in Berlin, Smith clearly was relishing an atmosphere of freedom and promise. (His elation was personal as well. As he finished the book, the young journalist married a Danish woman, Benedicte “Bennie” Traberg, who would be his lifelong companion, editor, advisor and business agent.) Smith also reveled in his newfound liberty of expression:

To get facts reporters risk their health and necks. … But the canons of their profession decree that they shall only tell what they see, rather than what they learn. … [N]ow and then, by some mischance, an ordinary leg-reporter gets his hands on an opportunity and a typewriter and writes not what he has seen but what he thinks about it. That is a rare moment, and the reporter enjoys every luscious syllable of it. The foregoing is my first editorial.[23]

As CBS correspondent, Smith telephoned his reports to New York (when the lines were working) or sent them by shortwave radio. Cut off from the front, he relied on travelers’ anecdotes, interviews with diplomats, radio broadcasts and press reports. Germany itself was a “black box”; the state of the Nazi war effort had to be gauged based on facts, rumors and pronouncements that oozed through its borders. Some of that information was telling. On April 14, 1942, Smith reported that buildings all over Germany, including the giant Wertheimer’s department store in Berlin, had been confiscated for use as military hospitals. Painted with giant red crosses, they were supposed to be exempt from bombing. The aim, Smith suspected, was more than just humanitarian: All of the buildings were located near railroad stations, which were crucial to the movement of troops and armaments.[24] In accordance with CBS policy, he drew conclusions based on facts but avoided overt expression of opinion. Being overseas, and representing the Allied perspective, gave him a certain rhetorical license. On the ninth anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power, he reported that the Führer would have to account for “the failure of his personal leadership of the army” to win progress on the Russian front. In the same broadcast he took aim at a favorite target, Norwegian Nazi factotum Vidkun Quisling, who “enjoys the support of all Norwegians except a mere 99 per cent of them.”[25]

Smith admitted that his time in Berlin had infused him with the “Nazi Myth” of invincibility. But by late 1942 he saw “good grounds for a sober optimism.” Germany’s yearlong troubles on the Eastern front had proved that Russia’s resistance was more than a matter of its freezing winter. Scanning the German newspapers, Smith noted the increasing space devoted to death notices. At midyear, Hitler announced the unprecedented appointment of 135 men to the rank of general, presumably to replace those who had been killed. The wounded veterans who served as doormen and clerks in German ministries were being forced to hobble back to war, replaced by women. Treading carefully between assessment and opinion, Smith gathered isolated facts and assembled them into a coherent, meaningful whole. The “sudden gushing of German blood on the steppes of Russia” was a hopeful sign for the Allies.[26]

Smith slipped into occupied France as the Nazis’ hold faltered and hurried to Paris as soon as the city was liberated. He donned a uniform as an American war correspondent and joined the march toward Berlin. He allowed himself some on-air gloating as he crossed into Germany on November 5, 1944. The roads were jammed with vehicles the Nazis had said would never come: “lumbering, great American tanks; mobile monsters of American artillery; endless convoys of trucks carrying the endless quantities of shells we will hurl into Germany until it quits.”[27] His joy was short-lived. The Germans hit back in the Ardennes Offensive (the “Battle of the Bulge”) in mid-December. Smith reported from Brussels that the fight’s initial hours had brought “as great a scare as any American armed force has known since Pearl Harbor. … We underestimated the cunning and the power of Nazi Germany.” After that disastrous mistake, the Allied commanders “proved by composure and action that they deserved the stars they wear.”[28] He rolled into Cologne on March 7, 1945, meeting Tobias Israel Schauder, one of the handful of Jews left in the city. Schauder had spent the last year hiding in a cellar; now he “walked the streets of Cologne a free and happy man.”[29] Three days later, Smith assessed the “state of the enemy.” German civilians, he said, expressed little ill will toward the Allied conquerors but displayed “violent expressions of disillusion” toward “their brown-shirted savior.” In a final burst of domestic terror, the Nazis were still squashing dissent, but one opportunity was clear:

Hitler has left in Allied hands a malleable thing, which we can largely fashion at will. The intelligence and imagination of our guidance can largely determine whether Germany will become a force for peace or war in the next decades.[30]

Smith returned to Berlin, moving carefully amid the rubble because the city was still infested with snipers. He witnessed the German surrender to the Russians. He reopened the CBS Berlin bureau and covered the Nuremberg trials. He doubtless felt a grim satisfaction, though he did not express it, when some of the Nazi functionaries with whom he had jousted years earlier ended up swinging on the gallows.

The war experience had stamped him indelibly. The memory of Nazi Germany and the failure of appeasement would haunt him. For the rest of his career he would be suspicious of militarism and nationalism, though he would acknowledge the need to fight when the cause of freedom was threatened. He would favor international cooperation and mediation. Back home, he would support a strong central government to uplift the poor, ensure civil rights and check the potential tyranny of business power. He was “not naturally inclined to the journalistic ideal of objectivity,” especially after witnessing a global firestorm whose recurrence he believed could be prevented.[31] In wartime Europe, far removed from the CBS hierarchy in New York, he had enjoyed relative liberty to speak his mind when he thought moral imperatives demanded it. That calculation would not be so simple afterward.

A Place for Opinion?

World War II was just four days old when, on September 5, 1939, CBS Vice President Edward Klauber sought to clarify the network’s position on expression of opinion by reporters. Correspondents, he wrote, should “point out the facts on both sides” of an issue and “help the listener to understand, to weigh, and to judge, but not … do the judging for him.” They could report the opinions of others but should not offer their own.[32] Inevitably, reporters who were popular with the home office enjoyed more latitude. Murrow was a favorite of CBS owner Paley and a confidant of Winston Churchill and FDR. (Just hours after Pearl Harbor, Murrow was in the White House Oval Office, where the president gave him a somber private briefing on the damage. Who would fire a reporter with that kind of access?) “Murrow’s boys,” as the European correspondents were known, tested Klauber’s limits repeatedly. The grossly uneven moral dimensions of the war also made it possible, even quite reasonable, for reporters to side with the Allies. As Shirer put it (and Smith and Hottelet surely would have agreed), it was difficult to live with the Nazis without hating them. Klauber’s rules were eased with American entry into the war. CBS news boss White encouraged correspondents to remind listeners that the war was about “preserving democracy.” Restrictions on opinion, however, would remain perilously vague and subjective.[33]

It was another CBS war correspondent, Cecil Brown, who became the first casualty of that imprecision. Brown had won instant fame just after Pearl Harbor, reporting from aboard a British battle cruiser, HMS Repulse, that was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in the South China Sea. Brown scribbled notes and snapped pictures even as he slid into the oily water. CBS gave him a thousand-dollar bonus for the story. He returned to New York with a “swelled head,” according to Shirer, and was given a plum evening time slot for his own program, Cecil Brown and the News. White had already admonished Brown for the “crusading” tone of his war reports; now the two men clashed repeatedly over Brown’s “editorializing.” CBS editors were told to delete any expressions of opinion from his scripts. Brown’s sponsor, Johns-Manville, dropped the show in August of 1943 after Brown praised Mission to Moscow, a pro-Soviet film. About the same time, Brown scolded FDR and Churchill for failing to “dramatize what we are fighting for.” He also reported that the American people’s “enthusiasm for this war is evaporating into thin air.”[34] White had heard enough. Brown protested that his assertion was based on dozens of interviews, but to no avail. He resigned in a huff, and a predictable howl went up from his supporters.[35] Arthur Robb of Editor & Publisher, the trade journal for the newspaper business, wondered if broadcast news was becoming an “intellectual eunuch.”[36] But radio was not like newspapers, White asserted; the limited number of channels made it very dangerous for a handful of national commentators to become “pulpiteers” for a cause. “The threat of such unbalanced power is inimical to a democratic and free radio and to democracy itself.”[37]

The stakes get higher

Smith navigated the battle adeptly. He moved to London as chief European correspondent for CBS as Murrow returned to New York. Big stories awaited: the Marshall Plan, the partitioning of Europe, the beginning of the Cold War. In time he would report for television. Like most of the Murrow boys he distrusted the new medium but adapted quite well to it. In addition to reporting, he did a weekly 15-minute radio commentary (CBS preferred to call it “analysis”).

Liberal commentators had seen tough times since the war ended. One author counted two dozen who had been fired or had their hours cut by 1947. It might not be long, this observer wrote, before broadcast executives hired smooth-voiced announcers with no newsroom experience, so the headlines could be dispatched without bothersome journalistic scruples.[38]

Smith drew considerable flak for his support of the Soviet Union. “He appears to be a Russia-Firster and a Red,” one listener wrote. “Does Moscow own your radio chain?”[39] Letters of support reflected stark polarization on the issue; one couple applauded Smith for standing up to the “fascist” American press.[40] Smith’s left-liberal views crested in 1949 with the publication of his book The State of Europe. In it he proclaimed that “The market must be replaced by planned economy as the main distributor of our worldly goods. The profit motive must be replaced by the incentives of the Welfare State.” Corporate oligarchy was inimical to democracy, he asserted. He was not altogether laudatory of the Soviet Union. Soviet economic ideals had to be coupled with Western-style political freedoms, because Russian leaders were blind to “the value of liberal democracy and civil rights.”[41] Still, one otherwise admiring reviewer wondered whether Smith had carried “his liberalism a little too far, perhaps even into the field of romanticism.”[42] In time he would greatly temper his assessment of the Soviets, though his views did land him a place in Red Channels, the 1950 booklet purporting to expose communist influence in broadcasting. (His real offense, he believed, was that he had fanatically opposed the Nazis before it was fashionable to do so.) He signed a loyalty oath at CBS, but he was “not happy about it.”[43]

Smith’s troubles would deepen as he got closer to corporate headquarters. He moved to the Washington bureau in 1957 to do one-minute commentaries (he called them “rhymeless sonnets”) for the network’s flagship television program, Douglas Edwards With the News. He was dispatched to Arkansas, where troops sent by President Eisenhower were enforcing desegregation at Little Rock Central High School.[44] Smith did several straight-news television reports from the scene and a Sunday radio commentary. In a harbinger of things to come, his analysis made enemies. One accused him of being complicit in giving “our Military Dictator the right to use Military Troops to force the State of Arkansas to begin the mongrelization of the white race.”[45] For a time, Smith would prove skilled at going “as far as he can without ruffling any executive feathers,” noted Jack Gould, the New York Times TV critic. But “In his nightly Washington observations, Mr. Smith would hardly qualify as a sterile pussyfooter.”[46]

Other issues – such as Sputnik and the 1960 presidential race – would intervene, but the civil-rights struggle would be Smith’s undoing at CBS. Complaints about his commentaries were piling up in the CBS corporate suites, and editors sometimes “mangled” his scripts on orders from New York.[47] He left the Edwards program in January of 1961, then returned cautiously in June. “I want to speak with freedom,” he told a reporter.[48]

Even then, he knew such liberties would not last. In May he had been to Birmingham, Alabama, where he witnessed the beating of a group of Freedom Riders. Thirty to forty men staked out the Trailways station and grabbed white and black passengers as they emerged from a bus. The activists were beaten with pipes and fists. One man’s face was reduced to “a bloody pulp.”[49] Smith reported the facts for TV and radio, but he saved his strongest words for his Sunday radio commentary. “The script almost wrote itself,” he recalled. “I had the strange, disembodied sense of being forced by conscience to write what I knew would be unacceptable.” He laid blame squarely on Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor, whose officers had looked the other way during the attack. And he declared that the “rule of barbarism in Alabama” must bow to the “rule of law and order – and Justice – in America.” Film from Birmingham was edited for a CBS Reports documentary. An army of network executives and lawyers crowded into a screening room to see it. They insisted that Smith cut his closing comment, a line from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” An hour-long shouting match ensued, and Smith lost his case. In October, he was summoned to New York, and Paley fired him.[50] Given his temperament, his 20-year CBS tenure was something of a feat. “Anybody but Howard would have been fired a long time ago,” a colleague remarked. “He was just so good they couldn’t let him go.”[51]

Opportunity at ABC

After a few weeks of under-employment (during which he narrated an industrial film, among other tasks), Smith was picked up by ABC.[52] It was a propitious move for both sides. ABC, a perennial also-ran in the network news business, was looking for a prominent hire. Smith would further the network’s goal of presenting “informed analysis and interpretation” of the news.[53] In a poke at CBS, ABC took out a double-truck ad in Variety to announce that, “Starting Feb. 14, at 7:30 p.m., Howard K. Smith will speak his mind.”[54] The Valentine’s Day reference was to Smith’s new prime-time program, Howard K. Smith News and Comment.

 James C. Hagerty, ABC news boss and former press secretary to President Eisenhower, had promised Smith autonomy equivalent to that of a newspaper columnist. Perhaps more important was a similar pledge from the program’s sole sponsor, Nationwide Insurance Companies. Nationwide chief Murray D. Lincoln was a “famous liberal,” in Smith’s words, who had risen in the farm cooperative movement.[55] An avowed internationalist, he regularly sent Nationwide agents to New York to tour the United Nations.[56] Smith promised that his approach would be “rational rather than liberal or conservative,” but with half of Nationwide’s entire ad budget riding on the program, a few agents undoubtedly were nervous. In Lincoln’s view, Smith’s values were aligned with those of Nationwide and its policy-holders. The commentator’s knowledge, integrity and courage were “virtues that Nationwide as an institution would also like to be known for.” Smith assured agents that he was “keenly aware” of the perils of controversy and would plumb delicate issues “responsibly.”[57]

Smith had begun plotting the new program even before the contracts were signed. It should be “dominated by the script,” not by pictures. After a review of the week’s major stories, it would expound on one or two timely topics with interviews and commentary. “For the sake of integration and unity, I should like to write the whole thing myself.” He quoted a former colleague, Fred Friendly at CBS, as saying that the best TV often consisted of “a man who knows what he wants to say and feels an urgent necessity to say it.” The commentator, Smith added, “should not fear to come to conclusions when the arguments point clearly to one. For example, the argument is overwhelming that racial segregation cannot endure.” The program would be high-minded but not monotonous. Smith even sketched out a potential studio layout and camera movements to allow the use of rear-projection graphics, still photos and live or filmed interviews.[58]

News and Comment took shape much as Smith had envisioned it. At the Washington bureau, he lined up the interviews with help from two researchers and wrote the first draft of each week’s script. Production moved to New York each Tuesday. On Tuesday nights, Smith rewrote the scripts to accommodate visual materials and to update the news. The program was videotaped in real time each Wednesday, half an hour before air time at 7:30 p.m. (The program’s time slot later was switched to Sunday.) The resulting product was smooth and polished, but responsive to changing events.[59] The Philadelphia Bulletin called it “a stimulating, sorely needed beachhead on the early evening monotony of escape entertainment.”[60]

In the program’s first episode – dealing with the Cold War – Smith invoked the precedent of World War II-era radio commentary as grounds for his new “experiment” in television: Radio’s “American forum of the air” had helped Americans to make “the rapid transition from being an isolationist nation, indifferent to the outside world, to being a responsible world leader.” Murrow, now head of the U.S. Information Agency, was a guest.[61]

From there, the weekly menu was highly eclectic. The program’s second installment endorsed President Kennedy’s call for a cabinet-level Department of Urban Affairs but criticized the president for having “failed” with Congress. (In one sense the script was prophetic: Smith complained that rural areas held vastly disproportionate influence in selecting members of Congress. That imbalance would be overturned weeks later by the Supreme Court, whose decision in Baker v. Carr laid the groundwork for the “one person, one vote” doctrine.)[62] On March 21, Smith vented his growing frustration with the “paradox” of John F. Kennedy’s presidency: A capable, charismatic and popular leader seemed to lack the passion needed to push his plans though Congress.[63] JFK’s “New Frontier,” he noted about the same time, “is running like a dry creek.”[64] The April 11 installment probably irked millions of viewers, though not in a political context: It asked why baseball was the nation’s pastime when the game was so incredibly boring. Even Jackie Robinson conceded that it was “a real dull sport.” To illustrate his point, Smith set a ticking metronome before a film of a baseball game. It stopped ticking only when something happened. Smith concluded that about nine-tenths of the game consisted of waiting.[65]

The special effects were considerably more high-tech on July 11. Five minutes into the program, ABC broadcast the first Europe-to-U.S. television feed from Telstar, a beach-ball-sized communications satellite. French entertainer Yves Montand sang a song in a seven-minute transmission relayed to AT&T’s “earth station” in Maine. Smith predicted that Telstar would help solve TV’s “crisis of subject matter” – its tiresome reliance on cowboy shows and inane comedies – and inaugurate “a vast, possibly limitless future” for the medium.[66]

Nationwide was pleased with the program’s first weeks, noting many favorable comments and a respectable 10 percent audience share. (The program competed with the hugely popular Wagon Train and the animated Alvin Show, featuring talking chipmunks.)[67] Still, Smith was not aiming just to please Nationwide, despite his presumed ideological kinship with Murray Lincoln. On September 30, Smith assessed the Soviet arms build-up in Cuba and declared that “Castro’s satellite government has to be removed.” He castigated liberals for “a pacifist policy – the kind of attitude that encouraged Hitler to all his costly aggressions.”[68] Nationwide’s top public-relations executive telephoned to say that the program “smacked of imperialism, and all at Nationwide were deeply displeased.”[69] The Cuban missile crisis erupted shortly afterward. Newsweek noted that, despite the newsman’s liberal leanings, “Just as often, Smith startles and stings his allies.” Smith told the magazine that “Television has a terrible tendency to try to please everybody.”[70] Clearly he didn’t count himself in that camp.

The Nixon reaction

2.	Howard k smith and Nixon “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon” was a minefield from the start. Nixon was a polarizing figure – “nobody is neutral about him,” Smith stated in the program’s opening minutes.[71] Nixon’s defeat in California had opened old wounds from the 1960 presidential campaign and long before. For Nixon and his detractors, the Alger Hiss case would resonate for decades. The Hiss drama was the first chapter in Nixon’s book Six Crises, published a few months before the “Obituary” program. Nixon recalled how his investigators had cornered Hiss with evidence of his duplicity: “With a look of cold hatred in his eyes, he fought like a caged animal.” Hiss’ defenders had clothed themselves in a “cloak of liberalism” while denying the man’s obvious crimes. The case, Nixon wrote, had left “a residue of hatred and hostility toward me … among substantial segments of the press and the intellectual community.”[72] (There was some truth to that. On the program, Smith admitted that many reporters, in grudging admiration of Nixon’s diplomatic missions as vice president, tended to say, “I hate the guy, but. …”) Besides Hiss, the other Nixon opponent on the program was Jerry Voorhis, the five-term congressman whom Nixon had unseated in 1946. Speaking for Nixon were Murray Chotiner, who had managed his first and last campaigns, and Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan. Smith’s closing assessment was negative, suggesting that California voters had weighed Nixon’s “great services” against the memory of his unsavory tactics in past campaigns. Nixon had “buried” Voorhis with unsubstantiated charges of communist ties, then had used the word “traitor” in 1952 in references to Adlai Stevenson, Dean Acheson and President Truman. Such talk “not only damages good men; it damages our national life,” Smith concluded.[73]

“Protests began to pour in well before I finished writing the program,” Smith recalled. Voorhis wanted his interview out; Smith said it was too late. The John Birch Society distributed a script for members to read in calls of protest. Even Nationwide, whose chief presumably wouldn’t mind a program critical of Richard Nixon, was fretting about a possible libel suit.[74] ABC’s Hagerty was at home Sunday morning when he got a call from his former boss, Dwight Eisenhower. The ex-president had heard rumors that Hiss would get a full half-hour to expound on his hatred of Nixon. Hagerty set Eisenhower straight, and both men denied that Ike had tried to quash the program.[75]

Press reaction was swift and scathing. In an editorial headlined “Witch-Burning,” the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner called the Hiss interview “an obscene fraud on the U.S. public.”[76] It is “a shocking assumption that a traitor is a fitting witness against the American patriot” who exposed his “treachery,” said the Chicago American. Would every “convicted robber, rapist, or murderer” now be given air time on ABC to denounce his prosecutor?[77] In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, novelist Ayn Rand condemned the Hiss appearance as “typical of the hooligan extremes to which certain ‘liberals’ permit themselves to go.” It was absurd for Smith’s defenders to whine about “censorship,” she asserted. Free speech “does not demand that private citizens provide a microphone for the man who advocates their destruction.”[78] Letter-writers, too, kept up the pressure. A World War II tail-gunner wrote: “While I was so foolishly risking my neck for this country, your buddy, Alger Hiss, was busy selling out this country to the Commies. … Your defection would be most welcome.”[79]

The storm was so intense that Hagerty felt compelled to answer it personally on the following week’s program. “I’m against Hiss and everything he stands for,” Hagerty said. But “that doesn’t alter the fact that he did play an important part in the political career of Richard Nixon.” Despite his conviction, Hiss was a newsmaker, and ABC would not bow “to prior censorship and the pressures of personal attack and economic boycott.”[80] Smith told reporters that Hiss had asked to be allowed to declare his innocence on the program. “We said no. The subject was Nixon.”[81] Nixon himself, perhaps chastened by the debacle of his “last press conference,” made a simple statement: “What does an attack by one convicted perjurer mean when weighed on the scale against thousands of wires and letters from patriotic Americans?”[82] The uproar put a spotlight on Smith’s unusual contract, under which Nationwide forbade the network from “any interference in the program” that would compromise Smith’s “independence of mind and spirit.” ABC executives, who had agreed to the clause drafted by Nationwide’s ad agency, naturally felt a bit defensive. Asked whether he had veto power over Smith’s scripts, Hagerty replied: “You bet your life I do.”[83]

The dispute was not entirely about money. News and Comment, like most network news programs, was a poor business proposition. After paying ad-agency commissions and sharing revenue with affiliates, ABC was left with about $19,000 a week to cover salaries, production costs and all other expenses.[84] The network and the sponsor had to weigh the intangible “goodwill” generated by the program against the headaches caused in producing it. Nationwide commissioned a study that pointed to one telling fact: The people who had yelped most loudly about the Hiss interview were not the ones who routinely watched the program. Regular viewers were more likely to cite Smith’s “objectivity” and to applaud Nationwide’s “honesty” and “courage” as sponsor. Perhaps Smith was preaching to a small congregation of the converted.[85]

After the tumult, News and Comment died peacefully. Its last episode, titled “JFK and the Presidency,” was June 16, 1963.[86] “Although denied staunchly by ABC, it seems fairly obvious that Smith is the victim” of the Hiss controversy, one columnist wrote.[87] Smith was uncharacteristically quiet about the matter. Nationwide’s sponsorship had ended, but Smith remained on the payroll at ABC.[88]

Epilogue: Commentary and democracy

After News and Comment, Smith moderated the panel show Issues and Answers. He covered the Kennedy assassination, the 1964 election and the civil-rights movement. Even those epochal stories could not fully utilize his talents for writing and commentary. He returned to the commentator’s chair in 1969, co-anchoring the ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds, then Harry Reasoner until 1975. Nearing retirement age, he resigned from ABC in 1979 after network executive Roone Arledge cut his commentary to “lighten” the newscast. “Money and freedom to say what I wanted have never been a problem at ABC,” Smith said. “But I didn’t want a job without a function.”[89]

Howard K Smith reporting on Nixon’s 1968 election campaign

Many observers were astonished by his turns on some of the most volatile issues of the day. Smith was an all-out hawk on Vietnam, believing that the war was a proxy fight for the superpowers. In March of 1968 he called for a massive escalation of the fighting, the destruction of Haiphong harbor and a commitment of 400,000 more U.S. troops.[90] Campus uprisings against the war did not impress him. He took a dim view of student activists, calling them “the most self-centered and indulgent” generation in American history. What were a few protest marches when measured against the defeat of Hitler, the rebuilding of Europe, and the bloody battle for civil rights?[91] He marveled at the media’s adoration of a few self-appointed protest leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, whom he called a “natural-born failure.”[92] When Spiro Agnew hammered the press for elitism and leftist bias, Smith rejected the vice president’s bullying tone but endorsed the substance of what he had said. Reporters did not slant the news deliberately, Smith said, but journalists’ clubbiness and cultural like-mindedness led them to present a distorted picture of events. “I am left-of-center myself,” he told an interviewer, but no ideology should preclude a reporter from making “a simple attempt to be fair.”[93] Smith mended his relations with Richard Nixon, winning praise from the president’s chief speechwriter, James Keogh, as a “tower” of “balance and independence and frankness.”[94] (Nonetheless, in October of 1973, Smith became the first network commentator to call for Nixon’s resignation. The nation, he said, had been “put through too much.”)[95] He even did some writing for the conservative National Review, which after the Hiss interview had run a piece lambasting Smith’s “anti-capitalistic sentiment, much of it bordering on the pathological.”[96]

What to make of this puzzle? Smith, who took to the lecture circuit and was active until shortly before his death in 2002, would have said it was no puzzle at all. He was simply taking the measure of the day’s news and telling viewers what he thought about it. The news changed; so, too, did the context and the political environment in which daily events would be placed. He reserved the right to change his mind. What could be said of his long intellectual journey if, after decades of reporting and reflection, he remained predictable in his views?[97]

He rejected the idea that a journalist should be a mere cipher. Objectivity did not mean “balancing each thought or statement with its opposite.” Instead, “Objectivity means judging each case or story or situation on its own merits” and “applying a powerfully schooled and disciplined judgment.”[98] The journalist should feel no compulsion “to give equal space to what he thinks is not right” – such as the merits of Nazi Germany or those of the American segregationist movement. A “false notion of balance” would enfeeble journalism, making it bland and boring. If the audience tuned out, journalism’s key mission – that of creating an informed, active citizenry – would fail. “Hell-raising” was indispensable to self-government. “I have raised as much as I can, with the result that I have almost run out of networks,” Smith joked after the cancellation of News and Comment.[99] Fortunately for his audience, he always found a voice.


[1] Gladwin Hill, “Nixon Denounces Press as Biased,” New York Times, November 8, 1962.

[2] Howard K. Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Reporter (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 291.

[3] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, Sunday, November 11, 1962,” transcript in Box 43 of the Howard K. Smith papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison (hereinafter referred to as Smith papers); Peter Kihss, “Hiss Holds Nixon Was Opportunist,” New York Times, November 12, 1962.

[4] Tony Davenport, “A Look at Television,” Hartford Times, November 13, 1962; Earl G. Talbott, “Hiss on TV – Uproar,” New York Herald Tribune, November 12, 1962; Richard Severo, “One Favorable Phone Call Brings Happiness to ABC,” New York Herald Tribune, November 12, 1962, clippings in Box 52, Smith papers.

[5] Jill White to ABC, November 13, 1962, Box 42, Smith papers. The estimate of 60,000 letters came from Smith in an interview with New York University journalism students. Roberta Brandes, “In a Bold New Role, Howard K. Smith Brings Comment and Controversy to TV,” News Workshop 14:3 (April, 1963), 1-2, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[6] Bob Williams, “On the Air,” New York Post, November 12, 1962, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[7] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 3-4.

[8] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 57.

[9] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 28-30.

[10] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 50-51, 59, 68.

[11] Howard K. Smith, Last Train From Berlin (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942), 85.

[12] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 97.

[13] Smith, Last Train From Berlin, 15, 166, 192.

[14] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 84.

[15] Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson, The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 13.

[16] “Radio News Plan in Effect Today,” New York Times, March 1, 1934.

[17] Robert R. Smith, “The Origins of Radio Network News Commentary,” Journal of Broadcasting 9:2 (Spring, 1965), 113-122.

[18] Donald G. Godfrey, “CBS World News Roundup: Setting the Stage for the Next Half Century,” American Journalism 7:3 (Summer, 1990), 164-172.

[19] Paul W. White, News on the Air (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1947), 48. The Press-Radio Bureau, formed under the 1933 agreement, supplied wire news to radio in limited quantities with restrictions on sponsorship. Broadcasters banded together to form their own news services, notably Transradio Press, which prompted United Press and the International News Service to sell their reports to radio without sponsorship limits starting in 1935. The Associated Press, a cooperative owned by its member newspapers, would not follow suit until 1941. White, News on the Air, 44.

[20] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 99, 115. Hottelet was held for nearly four months before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Richard C. Hottelet, “Guest of the Gestapo,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 1941.

[21] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 123-124.

[22] Smith, Last Train From Berlin, 331-342.

[23] Smith, Last Train From Berlin, 343.

[24] Typewritten script, April 14, 1942, Box 10, Smith papers.

[25] Undated, typewritten script (c. February 1, 1942), Box 10, Smith papers.

[26] Typewritten memo for CBS editors, August 24, 1942; “Ten Reasons Why Germany Will Lose the War,” typewritten manuscript, November, 1942, both in Box 10, Smith papers. These detailed background materials were somewhat more forthright than Smith’s broadcast reports, but they also served as support for statements he would make on the air. The “Ten Reasons” manuscript may have been published as a print article.

[27] Typewritten script, November 5, 1944, Box 10, Smith papers.

[28] Typewritten script, December 30, 1944, Box 10, Smith papers.

[29] Typewritten script, March 7, 1945, Box 10, Smith papers.

[30] “Report From Overseas,” typewritten script, March 10, 1945, Box 10, Smith papers.

[31] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 8.

[32] Craig D. Tenney, “The 1943 Debate on Opinionated Broadcast News,” Journalism History 7:1 (Spring, 1980), 11-15.

[33] Cloud and Olson, The Murrow Boys, 57-60, 142-145.

[34] Cloud and Olson, The Murrow Boys, 146-152, 167-172.

[35] “Cecil Brown Quits CBS,” New York Times, September 23, 1943; “Dispute Renewed on CBS Censorship,” New York Times, September 24, 1943.

[36] Tenney, “The 1943 Debate on Opinionated Broadcast News,” 14.

[37] “Why Neither CBS News Broadcasters Nor CBS Sponsors ‘OPINIONATE’ the News,” full-page advertisement in New York Times, September 20, 1943. In 1954, by which time White was writing editorials for a San Diego television station, he told Newsweek that he had dropped his earlier opposition to editorializing. Cloud and Olson, The Murrow Boys, 174. For one thing, the legal landscape had changed: The Federal Communications Commission’s Mayflower decision, which in 1941 prohibited station owners from editorializing in news broadcasts, was modified in 1949 to permit identified statements of owners’ opinions. The Fairness of Doctrine of 1949 also required broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints on controversial issues. On White’s bold editorializing in the 1950s, see William Sommers, “White Caps on San Diego’s Air Waves,” The Nation 177:15 (October 10, 1953), opposite 281.

[38] Bryce Oliver, “Thought Control – American Style,” New Republic 116:2 (January 13, 1947), 12-13.

[39] T. Burns to WCBS, January 5, 1947, Box 1, Smith papers.

[40] Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Motiska to Howard K. Smith, June 16, 1946, Box 1, Smith papers.

[41] Howard K. Smith, The State of Europe (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 398-401.

[42] Herbert L. Matthews, “A Plea for European Planning,” New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1949.

[43] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 224-225.

[44] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 240-248. Smith also did a 1959 public-affairs series at CBS, Behind the News With Howard K. Smith, and worked on documentaries for CBS Reports. He moderated the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate in 1960.

[45] Charles M. Baxter to Howard K. Smith, September 29, 1957, Box 1, Smith papers.

[46] Jack Gould, “TV: Role in Mobilizing Public Opinion,” New York Times, January 10, 1958.

[47] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 264-267.

[48] Val Adams, “Howard K. Smith in CBS Dispute,” New York Times, January 12, 1961; Val Adams, “Howard K. Smith Resumes TV Role,” New York Times, June 22, 1961.

[49] “Bi-Racial Buses Attacked, Riders Beaten in Alabama,” New York Times, May 15, 1961.

[50] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 268-276; Val Adams, “Howard K. Smith and CBS End Tie,” New York Times, October 31, 1961. Even as edited, the documentary was so powerful that the CBS station in Birmingham disaffiliated from the network. Whether Smith resigned or was fired is a matter of interpretation. At their tense lunch meeting in New York, Paley never dismissed him directly, but “Smith correctly concluded that he was out” and left the table. Sally Bedell Smith, In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 417-418.

[51] “Smithless,” Newsweek 58:20 (November 13, 1961), 69.

[52] The film was for Denison Engineering Co. of Columbus, Ohio. Hank Harvey, “Top News Analyst, Lima Visitor, Sees No Berlin War if U.S. Firm,” Lima (Ohio) Citizen, December 28, 1961, clipping in Box 51, Smith papers. During his brief hiatus, Smith also helped make a documentary about the Nuremberg trials to accompany the release of the feature Judgment at Nuremberg. Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 280-281.

[53] “Award-Winning Newsman Howard K. Smith Joins ABC News,” ABC press release, December 28, 1961, Box 51, Smith papers.

[54] Advertisement in Variety, January 3, 1962, clipping in Box 51, Smith papers.

[55] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 290.

[56] “Nationwide Knows What It Wants,” Broadcasting, September 17, 1962, 44-46, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[57] “Nationwide Will Sponsor Howard K. Smith on TV,” The Dividend, January 4, 1962; “We’ll Go Into Controversy in a Responsible Way – Smith,” The Dividend, January 18, 1962, clippings in Box 51, Smith papers; “A Great Opportunity for You,” flyer for Nationwide agents, n.d. (January, 1962), Box 51, Smith papers. The Dividend was Nationwide’s employee newspaper.

[58] Proposal prepared for Nationwide Insurance, November 27, 1961; “Dear Bill,” memo for Sackheim ad agency, December 19, 1961, both in Box 51, Smith papers.

[59] “Nationwide Knows What It Wants,” 44, 46.

[60] “Late Reviews of H.K. Smith TV Show Solidly Favorable,” The Dividend, March 1, 1962, clipping in Box 51, Smith papers.

[61] Typewritten script with Smith’s notes and drawings, February 14, 1962, Box 43, Smith papers; Richard F. Shepard, “TV: Howard K. Smith,” New York Times, February 15, 1962. Shepard found the program “informative but bland,” but predicted that Smith would generate “thought and excitement” in future episodes. Other program topics would include race relations, the automobile industry (Smith concluded that safety was being neglected), congressional ethics, foreign students’ views of the U.S., and the arms race.

[62] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, February 21, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[63] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, March 21, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[64] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, February 28, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[65] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, April 11, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[66] Typewritten script for “Telstar,” Howard K. Smith News and Comment, July 11, 1962, Box 49, Smith papers; Richard Witkin, “Europeans Beam First Television to Screens in U.S.,” New York Times, July 12, 1962.

[67] Nationwide Insurance, Office of Public Relations, “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, Evaluation Report – March 6, 1962,” Box 43, Smith papers.

[68] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, September 30, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[69] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 290.

[70] “Tough Mind, Clear Talk,” Newsweek 60:18 (October 29, 1962), 82.

[71] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, Sunday, November 11, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[72] Richard M. Nixon, Six Crises (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962), 34, 67, 69.

[73] “Howard K. Smith News and Comment, Sunday, November 11, 1962,” transcript in Box 43, Smith papers.

[74] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 292.

[75] “Say Ike Didn’t Try to Get Hiss off Air,” New York Mirror, November 14, 1962, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[76] “Witch-Burning,” Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, November 13, 1962, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[77] “Broadcasting Hiss’ Hate,” Chicago American, November 13, 1962, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[78] Ayn Rand, “Hiss Affair Poses Morals Question,” Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1962, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[79] Leroy Hauf to Howard K. Smith, November 19, 1962, Box 42, Smith papers. There were a few pro-Smith letters amid the deluge. Hiss “is a citizen and has suffered greatly,” a Chicago dentist wrote. “He is intelligent and has much to say. … Don’t be upset by the flood of letters from the super-patriot, 110% americans (with a small ‘a’).” Alfred T. King to Howard K. Smith, November 15, 1962, Box 36, Smith papers.

[80] ABC transcript of November 18 Hagerty statement, dated November 19, 1962, Box 51, Smith papers. The maker of Hawaiian Punch soft drinks canceled a planned spot-advertising campaign on ABC after the Hiss appearance, and the Kemper Insurance Companies and Schick Safety Razor Company tried to cancel existing contracts with the network. Schick relented, but Kemper fought a protracted legal battle, which it eventually lost. Murray Illson, “Network Rejects Protest Over Hiss,” New York Times, November 15, 1962; “Kemper May Quit A.B.C. News Show,” New York Times, November 16, 1962; “Sponsor Drops Ads on A.B.C. Over Hiss,” New York Times, December 1, 1962; “A.B.C. Wins Case in Supreme Court,” New York Times, November 8, 1966.

[81] “How Dare You … ?” Newsweek 60:22 (November 26, 1962), 56.

[82] Ronald Sullivan, “Hagerty Defends Hiss TV Interview,” New York Times, November 19, 1962.

[83] Jack Gould, “A.B.C. Pact Gives Smith Free Hand,” New York Times, November 17, 1962. Under federal law, ultimate responsibility for program content rested with station licensees, such as WABC-TV in New York. Lawyers who talked to Gould wondered whether, given this fact, it was wise to allow an advertiser to forbid network interference with content.

[84] Gould, “A.B.C. Pact Gives Smith Free Hand.”

[85] ARB Surveys, “Attitudes Toward the Howard K. Smith Show and Its Sponsor,” January, 1963, Box 43, Smith papers.

[86] Those who considered Smith a predictable liberal might have looked harder at his views of JFK. After initial optimism, bordering on euphoria, over the new administration, Smith found the president overly cool and strikingly ineffectual. He wondered whether “being a man of tremendous wealth,” Kennedy had not understood the nation’s needs “with his whole spirit.” Howard K. Smith, “A Modest Demand for Hell-Raising,” Chicago Daily News, July 20, 1963, clipping in Box 52, Smith papers.

[87] Hal Humphrey, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, “ABC Buries Smith to Please Enemies,” June 28, 1963, manuscript in Box 51, Smith papers.

[88] News and Comment must be viewed as product of Murray Lincoln’s vision and values; without him it would not have happened. The Nationwide leader fell ill in 1964 and retired that year; he died in 1966.

[89] Richard F. Shepard, “Howard K. Smith Resigns From ABC,” New York Times, April 20, 1979.

[90] Jack Gould, “TV: A Hawk Takes to A.B.C. Airwaves,” New York Times, March 14, 1968; “Escalating Opinion,” Newsweek 71:13 (March 25, 1968), 97. Smith’s son, Jack, was wounded in Vietnam in 1965; his father later interviewed him on the air.

[91] Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 345.

[92] Howard K. Smith, “The Changing Challenge to Journalism,” in Festus Justin Viser, ed., The News Media – A Service and a Force (Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1970), 1-19.

[93] Edith Efron, “There Is a Network News Bias,” TV Guide 18:9 (February 28, 1970), 6-11.

[94]James Keogh, President Nixon and the Press (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1972), 152.

[95] Edward Bliss Jr., Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 414.

[96] Edwin McDowell, “The State of Howard K. Smith,” National Review 13:26 (December 31, 1962), 511-512, 523. In a guest editorial for the magazine, Smith criticized Harrison Salisbury’s stories from Hanoi for the New York Times, saying that the newspaper was “abandoning pretenses of balanced reporting.” Editor William F. Buckley Jr. applauded Smith’s writing on Vietnam, but not without dredging up the Hiss affair: “Mr. Hiss is about as qualified to discuss the shortcomings of Mr. Nixon as Mr. Oswald would have been to discuss those of Mr. Kennedy.” Still, Smith may have been unique in having written for both National Review and The Nation, which occupied an entirely different political galaxy. Howard K. Smith, “Credibility and the Times,” National Review 19:3 (January 24, 1967), 73-74; William F. Buckley Jr., “The Departure of Mr. Smith,” National Review 20:12 (March 26, 1968), 311. “Departure” referred to Smith’s decision to quit writing a syndicated newspaper column.

[97] In his 1996 autobiography, Smith considerably revised his economic views, praising Margaret Thatcher for having “whipped the British trade unions that had become almighty and irresponsible.” He noted the power of tax cuts to stimulate the economy under Lyndon Johnson (much as would happen under Ronald Reagan). But the market economy still required “rules enacted and enforced from the center” to help the poor and prevent abuses by the wealthy, he wrote. Smith, Events Leading Up to My Death, 306, 385-386.

[98] Howard K. Smith, “Television in the Nation’s Service,” Vital Speeches of the Day 32:3 (November 15, 1965), 79-81.

[99] Smith, “A Modest Demand for Hell-Raising.”


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