The evening news

Eric Sevareid delivers his nightly news analysis on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

During his short stay in Nationalist-held territory in China during World War II, Eric Sevareid observed that Chiang Kai-shek, was nothing more than a despot, ruling over a feudal system where the peasants were starving, members of his own Nationalist Army were starving, Army officers and greedy businessmen were war profiteers causing hyper-inflation and that American monies sent to support the Nationalist Chinese were being mismanaged and pilfered by the same Army officers and businessmen. 

When Sevareid returned to the states at the end of 1943 he wrote a report of what he had seen and confirmed in China, but it was censored by the War and State departments. Sevareid re-wrote the report omitting sensitive materials only to be rebuffed a second time. His articles on Nationalist China were never printed for the American public to see.

In the early 1950s Sevareid was caught up in the McCarthy hearings and was investigated by the FBI as being a Communist. This came about because of some of his associations while attending the University of Minnesota. Some of his professors were touting Communist ideas during this Depression Era to impel the American workers in starting labor unions to give them a voice and leverage against their bosses. Sevareid attend these meetings as an idealistic college student, but he was not a Communist and the charges were eventually dropped. 

Also in the early '50s Sevareid’s wife Lois started to suffer with bi-polar disorder. This exact diagnosis was not known at this time and unfortunately she was institutionalized for a while and received electroshock therapy. Lois’s condition coincided with Eric’s working abroad and his admission that he had been having an affair. After their divorce in 1963, Sevareid married his mistress at the time.

Starting in the fall season CBS paired Eric Sevareid with Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News and also lengthened the show from 15 minutes to a half-hour. Imagine that, a mere 15-minute evening news broadcast. I suspect it would have been quite succinct. 

Sevareid’s stint came at the end of the show and his bosses instructed him to act as a news analyst rather than a commentator to give more depth to his monologues. He lasted in this two and a half minute slot for 14 years until 1977. Surprisingly, Sevareid found writing these monologues very difficult as he expressed to writer Kurt Vonnegut that he felt like he was trying to compose the Gettysburg Address everyday and to another friend he mused, “do you know what it’s like trying to be profound for two minutes everyday?” Nevertheless Eric Sevareid pulled it off in regal style night after night, after night.

The words he employed and arranged seemed to me as though they could have been etched in stone at the base of a stone monument in any town public square, chiseled by his diction and his delivery, his thoughts standing as universal truths for his viewers to sup upon and enjoy. 

Once again Eric became a foreign correspondent for CBS in 1966, covering the Vietnam War from April 25 until May 25, reporting from Saigon, Bangkok, and the front lines. His analysis included the question, should the United States “try to renovate the economies, the institutions, the ways of life of distant and alien societies?” 

In the early '70s Watergate hit the front pages of our nation’s newspapers, creating political turmoil, and was described by Sevareid as being unprecedented in American history and that the men involved “are not interested in destroying their opponent’s arguments: but in destroying their opponents, personally. Mr. Nixon himself talks of using the FBI and other agencies to do this.”

And again in the interest of fair-mindedness, Sevareid stated that reporters should not ask hardball or softball questions during interviews but that they should only ask substantive questions. Sevareid also complained about instant analysis, usually pertaining to an address to the nation by a sitting president or some other high ranking political officer but that rather a reporter should inspect and perhaps even investigate what was being said thoroughly before reacting hastily.

Eric Sevareid retired from CBS in 1977 and died July 9, 1992.

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