Eric Sevareid's CBS Commentaries, 1964-1977

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Eric Sevareid, one of the original Murrow boys, was a highly influential CBS correspondent and best known for his provocative television commentaries which he delivered almost every night on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. From 1964 until his retirement in 1977, Sevareid’s commentaries reflected elegant language in an eloquent style and offered serious thoughts that entered the homes of many Americans, giving them the opportunity to weigh his words and thoughts and make up their own minds on important issues facing the nation. During this turbulent period in American history, Sevareid offered commentaries on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, the presidency of Richard Nixon and Watergate and the important role of mass media in a democratic society. Easily one of the most influential television journalists, Sevareid understood very well that his role as a commentator was not to advocate, but simply to inform and enlighten. His goal was not to persuade his viewers to adopt a particular viewpoint, but to tell them what he had learned in a lifetime of reporting. His professional perspective should serve as an instructive model for the new generation of broadcast journalists. This study examines Sevareid’s commentaries and offers an historical perspective on the tumultuous events which prompted them.


“Readers expecting a hagiographic account of a giant who strode among other giants in a golden age of journalism will not find it in these pages. They will find something better: a true tale, sparely and forthrightly told, of a smart and thoughtful man who tried his best to make sense of his times, and to share his thinking with the world. This engaging account of three tragedies from America’s past, and of one superb journalist’s reactions to them, reminds us that journalism and journalists have always been, because of the nature of their work, imperfect and unperfected. Yet we are also reminded that a journalist at the top of his game can, however incomplete the data, however contradictory the interpretations of them, bring us closer to truth ... In a work that I think the subject would have admired for its honesty and directness of presentation, Dr. Allen has captured both Sevareid and his age. The book is good history as well as good journalism biography. It takes us back through the events and the issues of three overlapping and interacting components of U.S. history—the civil rights movement, the war in Indochina and the Watergate scandal. Dr. Allen neatly sums up the seemingly simple Sevareid goal: “a desire to think through a complex issue by exploring the evidence, setting aside the overblown rhetoric and reaching a thoughtful conclusion.” – (from the Foreword) Dean Mills, Missouri School of Journalism

“This book is a combination of history and journalistic biography, utilizing Eric Sevareid as a lens for exploration of complex issues. This text is a welcome scholarly addition, for there is not a similar work available. Although many of the events [in the book] are vague historical events to current students and young adults, readers will note the striking similarities between the discussion of historical crises of several decades past and current political upheaval and debates surrounding media coverage ... Sevareid is a unique exemplar of a responsible journalist, one of the most influential commentators of his time. The treatment of the subject, both historical and the role of Sevareid, is direct and succinct, in many ways a reflection of the style of the journalist himself ... The book utilizes succinct writing with startling supporting quotations that exemplify the style of Sevareid’s own writing. The book is well organized and integrated, with extensive documentation. Dr. Allen writes in an accessible manner for students of journalism, political science and communication, or for any reader interested in presentation of news and information-sharing in a democratic society.” – Professor Kathryn Greene, Rutgers University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dean Mills
1. Sevareid the Commentator
2. Civil Rights Commentaries
3. Vietnam
4. Watergate

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