from Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary Event

Trying to Part the Iron Curtain

As part of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary initiative current and former fellows discuss the stories that have had the most impact and present ideas for sustaining serious international journalism. Former fellow Morrie Helitzerrecalls an anecdote of him trying to penetrate the Iron Curtain of the Soviets soon after World War II. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.

October 20, 2009

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

As part of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary initiative current and former fellows discuss the stories that have had the most impact and present ideas for sustaining serious international journalism. Former fellow Morrie Helitzerrecalls an anecdote of him trying to penetrate the Iron Curtain of the Soviets soon after World War II. For more on the initiative, visit cfr.org/murrow.

What is one international story or topic (of your own reporting) that you believe had the greatest impact and why? Explain why you chose to report it.

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I was an INS correspondent in Berlin during the 1948-1949 Blockade when my boss, Joe Smith, (J. Kingsbury Smith) sent four questions to Josef Stalin that paved the path for lifting the Blockade. I played no role in this event, but it triggered a "Gee why don’t I do something like that?"

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Not long afterwards, INS posted me to Vienna. On the anniversary of the October Revolution, honoring the formation of the USSR in 1917, I was invited to a feast of food and drink, where I got involved in conversation with a Soviet colonel. When he admired my ballpoint pen, I promptly gave it to him, whereupon we celebrated with more drinks

"If there was anything I can do for you?" he said.

I was eager to get to Eastern Europe to do a series of interviews with Communist leaders there. Except there was the Iron Curtain

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"Well, I would like to get to Eastern Europe," I said. No details.

"No problem, Tovarich. It will be done."

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With his newly gifted pen he wrote a telephone number on the back of his business card. A few more drinks and off we went.

The next day- hangover pushed aside-I telephoned the number on the carefully saved card, and was connected finally to someone who spoke English.

"No colonel by that name," he grunted. Bang went the phone.

A phony number? A case of the colonel having been observed swilling them down with me and placed incommunicado? I never discovered.

As for me, not too long afterwards I was posted to Yugoslavia, where my phones were tapped, my Yugoslav assistant routinely reported on my comings and goings, and made a half-hearted, unsuccessful attempt at seducing (me for what purpose, I don’t know). All because of the inspiration of Joe Kingsbury-Smith’s journalistic coup? It is a puzzle.

 

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