SMITH, HOWARD K.

U.S. Journalist

Howard K. Smith, an outspoken, often controversial television newsman, developed a career that spanned the decades from his sober analytic foreign news reporting at CBS as one of "Murrow's Boys," to years as co-anchor and commentator on ABC Evening News. Smith's career also saw his transformation from CBS's "resident radical" to his persona "Howard K. Agnew," a sobriquet granted by critics for his support of conservative Republican Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's bitter l969 attack on TV news.

In l940 he joined United Press as their correspondent in London and Copenhagen, and in l941 joined CBS news, where he replaced William L. Shirer as CBS's Berlin correspondent. The last American correspondent to leave Berlin after war was declared, he reached safety in Switzerland with a manuscript that decribed conditions in Germany, which became the basis for his best selling book Last Train from Berlin.

During the war Smith accompanied the Allied sweep through Belgium, Holland and into Germany. He was on hand when the Germans surrendered to the Russians under Marshal Zhukov in l945, and then covered the Nuremburg trials. In l946 he succeeded Murrow as CBS's London correspondent, where he spent the next eleven years covering Europe and the Middle East.

In l949 Smith published The State of Europe, advocating a planned economy and the Welfare State for post-war Europe. Perhaps for this reason, and to some extent because of his radical past, he was named as a communist supporter in Red Channels, a McCarthyite document purporting to uncover Communist conspiracy in the media industries. He hardly suffered from these accusations, however, since both Murrow and his overseas posting protected him. Indeed in l957, Smith returned to the U.S. and in l960 was named chief of the CBS Washington Bureau, where he hosted programs such as The Great Challenge and Face the Nation, the Emmy award winning CBS Reports documentary "The Population Explosion." He served as the moderator of the first Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate.

As a Southerner, Smith was more and more drawn to the battle over civil rights, and in l961 he narrated a CBS Reports special, "Who Speaks for Birmingham?" His final commentary included a quote from Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The quote was cut from the program. In a showdown with the company chairman, William S.Paley, Smith resigned after Paley suported his executives over Smith and his so-called "editorializing."

Shortly thereafter Smith signed with ABC News and began doing a weekly news show, Howard K. Smith--News and Comment. Smith's program made creative use of film, graphics, and animation, and explored controversial topics such as illegitmacy, disarmament, physical fitness, the state of television and the "goof off Congress." The program won critical approval and generally high ratings. However, in l962 Smith was again the center of controversy over his broadcast of a program entitled, "The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon."

This program followed Nixon's loss of the California Governer's election in l962. In his review of Nixon's career, Smith included an interview with Alger Hiss, whom Nixon, as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, had investigated for his alleged membership in and spying for the Communist Party, and whose conviction for perjury in l950 had helped launch Nixon's national political career. For balance Smith also included Murray Chotiner, a Nixon supporter and campaign advisor. The result was an avalanche of telephone calls to ABC criticizing Smith for permitting a convicted perjurer and possible spy to appear on the program. Smith's sponsor quickly ended support of the show and it was cancelled. Some historians have contended that Smith's documentary enabled Nixon to regain some of the sympathy he had lost after the disastrous temper tantrum at his so-called "last press conference."

Following the cancellation of his show, Smith covered news for ABC-TV's daily newscast and hosted the network's Sunday afternoon public affairs program Issues and Answers. In l966 he became the host of the ABC documentary program Scope. Until then Scope had been a general documentary show dealing with many topics. In l966 the decision was made to devote all its programs to the Vietnam War. Between l966 and its cancellation in l968, the program dealt with seldom touched issues of the war such as the experience of African American soldiers, North Vietnam, and the air war.

Unlike many other newsman, who became progressively disillusioned with the war, Smith became more and more hawkish as the war progressed. Among other things he advocated bombing North Vietnam's dike system, bombing Haiphong, and invading Laos and Cambodia. Indeed, in one of his commentaries shortly after the Tet Offensive Smith said "There exists only one real alternative: that is to escalate, but this time on an overwhelming scale."

Smith's conservative drift on foreign affairs was also reflected in his domestic views. He was vociferous in his support of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's l969 "Des Moines speech," in which the vice president accused the TV networks producers, newscasters and commentators of a highly selective and often biased presentation of the news. Smith concurred and in salty language criticized network newsmen as, among other things, "conformist," adhering to a liberal "party line," for "stupidity," and, at least in some cases as lacking "the depth of a saucer."

In March of l969 when Av Westin took over as head of ABC News he immediately installed Smith as the co-anchor of ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds. In l971 he was teamed with the newly arrived former CBS newsman Harry Reasoner, and given additional duties as commentator. Smith's support of the Vietnam War and Vice President Agnew's attacks on TV news stood him in good stead with President Nixon, who granted him the unique privilege of an hour-long solo interview in l971 titled, White House Conversation: The President and Howard K. Smith. Despite this, when evidence grew of Nixon's involvement in the Watergate scandal, Smith was the first major TV commentator to call for his resignation.

In l975 Smith relinguished his co-anchor role on the ABC Evening News but stayed on as a commentator. Following the 1977 arrival of Roone Arledge as head of ABC News, Smith found himself being used less and less. In l979, he resigned from ABC, denouncing Arledge's evening newscast featuring Peter Jennings, Max Robinson, Frank Reynolds, and Barbara Walters as a "Punch and Judy Show." Since his retirement Smith has been inactive in television and radio. Needless to say, he was one of the last of a breed of TV newsmen who saw their role as not merely reporting the news but analyzing and commenting on it passionately.

-Albert Auster


Howard K. Smith

HOWARD K. SMITH. Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, U.S.A., 12 May 1914. Educated at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936; Heidelberg University, 1936; Rhodes Scholar, Merton College, Oxford, 1939. Married: Benedicte Traberg Smith, 1942; one daughter and one son. Worked as reporter for the New Orleans Item-Tribune, 1936-37; worked for United Press International (UPI), Copenhagen, 1939; worked for UPI, Berlin, 1940; correspondent, CBS News radio, Berlin, 1941; European correspondent, CBS News, 1941-46; chief European correspondent, CBS News, 1946-57; correspondent, Washington, D.C., 1957; chief correspondent and general manager, CBS News, Washington, D.C., 1961; reporter and anchor, ABC television and radio networks, 1961-75; ABC news commentator, from 1975; host, ABC News Closeup, from 1979. Recipient: Peabody Award, 1960; Emmy Award, 1961; Paul White Memorial Award, 1961; DuPont Commentator Award, 1962; Overseas Press Club Award, 1967; special congressional honoree for contribution to journalism; numerous other awards.

TELEVISION SERIES

1959 Behind the News with Howard K. Smith
1960-81 Issues and Answers
1960-63 Face the Nation (moderator)
1960-62 Eyewitness to History (narrator)
1961-62 CBS Reports (narrator)
1962-63 Howard K. Smith--News and Comment
1966-68 ABC Scope
1969-75 ABC Evening News (co-anchor)
1979 ABC News Closeup

FILM

The Best Man (cameo), 1964.

PUBLICATIONS

Last Train From Berlin. New York: Knopf, 1942.

The State of Europe. New York: Knopf, 1949.

Washington, D.C.: The Story of Our Nation's Capital. New York: Random House, 1967.

Events Leading Up to My Death: The Life of a Twentieth Century Reporter. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

FURTHER READING

Bliss, Edward. Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

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

Gunther, Marc. The House that Roone Built: The Inside Story of ABC News. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.

 

See also American Broadcasting Company; Arledge, Roone; Murrow, Edward R.; News, Network