SEVAREID, ERIC

U.S. Journalist

Eric Sevareid was one of the earliest of a group of intellectual, analytic, adventurous, and sometimes even controversial newspapermen, hand-picked by Edward R. Murrow as CBS radio foreign correspondents. Later Sevareid and others of this elite band of broadcast journalists, known as "Murrow's Boys," distinguished themselves in television. Indeed from l964 until his retirement from CBS in l977, he carried on the Murrow tradition of news analysis in his position as national correspondent for The CBS Evening News. There his somber, eloquent commentaries were either praised as lucid and illuminating, or criticized for sounding profound without ever reaching a conclusive point.

Sevareid's image as a scholarly commentator on the CBS Evening News was belied by an early career in which he was something of a swashbuckler. Sevareid was working at the New York Herald Tribune's Paris office when his writing caught the eye of Edward R.Murrow, who offered him a job. Later Sevareid would say of those early years, "We were like a young band of brothers in those early radio days with Murrow." Indeed in his final l977 CBS Evening News commentary, Sevareid referred to Murrow as the man who "invented me."

As one of "Murrow's Boys" during World War II, Sevareid "scooped the world" with his broadcast of the news of the French surrender in l940, joined Murrow in covering "The Battle of Britain," was lost briefly after parachuting into the Burmese Jungle when his plane developed engine trouble while covering the Burmese-China theater; he reported on Tito's partisans; and he landed with the first wave of American troops in Southern France, accompanying them all the way to Germany.

In l946 after reporting on the founding of the United Nations, Sevareid wrote Not So Wild a Dream, which appeared in 11 printings and became a primary source on the lives of the generation of Americans who had lived through the Depression and World War II. For the l976 edition of the book he wrote, "It was a lucky stroke of timing to have been born and lived as an American in this last generation. It was good fortune to be a journalist in Washington, now the single news headquarters in the world since ancient Rome. But we are not Rome; the world is too big too varied."

Always considering himself a writer first, Sevareid felt uneasy behind a microphone and even less comfortable with television; nevertheless he did such early Sunday news ghetto programs as Capitol Cloakroom and The American Week, and served as host and science reporter on the CBS series Conquest. As head of the CBS's Washington bureau from l946-54 Sevareid was an early critic of McCarthyism and in one of the few even mildly critical comments he ever made about Murrow, observed that he came to the issue rather late.

Serving as CBS's roving European Correspondent from l959-61, Sevareid contributed stories to CBS Reports as well as serving as moderator of series such as Town Meeting of the World, The Great Challenge, Where We Stand, and Years of Crisis. In addition, he also appeared in every presidential election coverage from l948 to l976. However, one of Sevareid's scoops of those years, his l965 exclusive interview with Adlai Stevenson shortly before his death, for which he won a New York Newspaper Guild Page One award, was not broadcast over CBS, but instead appeared in Look magazine.

From l964 until his retirement Sevareid appeared on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. During that period his Emmy and Peabody award-winning two-minute commentaries, with their penchant to elucidate rather than advocate, inspired those who admired him to refer to him as "The Grey Eminence." On the other hand those who were irked by his tendency to overemphasize the complexity of every issue nicknamed him, "Eric Severalsides." Sevareid himself said that as he had grown older his tendency was toward conservatism in foreign affairs and liberalism in domestic politics. Despite this, after a trip to South Vietnam in l966 he commented that prolonging the war was unwise and a negotiated settlement was advisable. His commentary on the resignation speech of President Richard M. Nixon ("Few things in his presidency became him as much as his manner of leaving the presidency") albeit magnanimous was hardly as perceptive.

Beside keeping alive the Murrow tradition of news commentary at CBS, Sevareid, in keeping with another Murrow tradition, interviewed noted individuals such as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, novelist Leo Rosten, and many others on the series Conversations with Eric Sevareid. Indeed in something of a spoof of this tradition he also did a conversation with King George III (played by Peter Ustinov) entitled The Last King in America.

After his retirement Sevareid continued to be active as a CBS consultant and in narrating shows such as Between the Wars (Syndicated, l978), a series on American Diplomacy between l920-41, Enterprise (PBS,l984),a series on American business, and Eric Sevareid's Chronicle (Syndicated, l982). His final appearance, before his death in l992, was on the l991 CBS program Remember Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, Sevareid's presence at CBS was a link to the Murrow tradition, long after Murrow himself and many of his "Boys" left the network, and after that tradition ceased to have significant practical relevance at CBS News.

-Albert Auster

 


Eric Sevareid

ERIC SEVAREID. Born in Velva, North Dakota, U.S.A., 26 November 1912. Educated at the University of Minnesota, B.A. in political science 1935; studied at London School of Economics and Alliance Franšaise in Paris. Married: 1) Lois Finger, 1935 (divorced, 1962); two sons; 2) BelÚn Marshall, 1963; one daughter; 3) Suzanne St. Pierre. Worked as teenager as copy boy for the Minneapolis Journal; worked during college as freelancer for the Minneapolis Star; served on staff of the Minneapolis Journal, 1936-37; reporter, Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune, 1938; recruited to join CBS radio by Edward R. Murrow, 1939; traveled with French army and air force for CBS, 1939-40, became first to report France's capitulation to Germany; assigned to CBS News Bureau in Washington, D.C., 1941-43; served as war correspondent in China, 1943-44, London, 1945; served as chief Washington, D.C., correspondent for CBS, 1946-59; worked as European correspondent, 1959-61; moderator, numerous CBS News programs, 1961-64; served as commentator for The CBS Evening News, from 1963; national correspondent, CBS News, from 1964; hosted interview series, Conversations With Eric Sevareid, from 1977; consultant, CBS News, from 1977; reported on numerous presidential conventions. Received numerous honorary degrees. Recipient: Peabody Awards, 1950, 1964, and 1976; three Emmy Awards; two Overseas Press Club Awards; Harry S. Truman Award, 1981; numerous other awards. Died 10 July 1992.

TELEVISION

1957-5 Conquest (host and science reporter)
1963-77 Commentator, CBS Evening News
1964-77 National Correspondent, CBS Evening News
1977 Conversations With Eric Sevareid

TELEVISION SPECIAL

1959 CBS Reports: Great Britain--Blood, Sweat and Tears         Plus Twenty Years

PUBLICATIONS

Canoeing With the Cree. New York: Macmillan, 1935.

Not So Wild a Dream. New York: Knopf, 1946.

In One Ear. New York: Knopf, 1952.

Small Sounds in the Night. New York: Knopf, 1956.

Candidates 1960, editor. New York: Basic Books, 1959.

This is Eric Sevareid. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

FURTHER READING

Fensch, Thomas, editor. Television News Anchors: An Anthology of Profiles of the Major Figures and Issues in United States Network Reporting. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1993.

Gates, Gary Paul. Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS News. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

McCabe, Peter. Bad News at Black Rock: The Sell-out of CBS News. New York: Arbor, 1987.

Schoenbrun, David. On and Off the Air: An Informal History of CBS News. New York: Dutton, 1989.

Schroth, Raymond A. The American Journey of Eric Sevareid. South Royalton, Vermont: Steerforth, 1995.

 

See also Columbia Broadcasting System; Cronkite, Walter; Murrow, Edward R.; News, Network