Arnold Eric Sevareid (November 26, 1912 – July 9, 1992) was a CBS news journalist from 1939 to 1977. He was one of a group of elite war correspondents hired by pioneering CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, and thus dubbed "Murrow's Boys". He was the first to report the fall of Paris when it was captured by the Germans during World War II. Traveling into Burma during World War II, his aircraft was shot down and he was rescued from behind enemy lines by a search and rescue team established for that purpose. He was the final journalist to interview Adlai Stevenson before his death. After a long and distinguished career, he followed in Murrow's footsteps as a commentator on the CBS Evening News for 12 years for which he was recognized with Emmy and Peabody Awards.
Sevareid was a child of the northern Great Plains, born in Velva, North Dakota, to Alfred E. and Clara H. Sevareid. Following the failure of the bank in Velva in 1925, his family moved to Minot, and then to Minneapolis, Minnesota, settling on 30th Avenue North. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1935. Of Norwegian ancestry, he preserved a strong bond with Norway throughout his life.
Sevareid was adventurous from a young age. Several days after he graduated from high school, he and his friend Walter Port embarked on an expedition sponsored by the Minneapolis Star, from Minneapolis to York Factory on Hudson Bay. They canoed up the Minnesota River and its tributary, the Little Minnesota River to Browns Valley, Minnesota, portaged to Lake Traverse and descended the Bois des Sioux River to the Red River of the North which led to Lake Winnipeg, then went down the Nelson River, Gods River, and Hayes River to Hudson Bay, a trip of 2,250 miles (3,620 km). Sevareid's book, Canoeing with the Cree, was the result of this canoe trip. The book is still in print.
Reporter in college
At the age of 18, Sevareid entered journalism as a reporter for the Minneapolis Journal, while a student at the University of Minnesota in political science. He continued his studies abroad, first in London and later in Paris at the Sorbonne, where he also worked as an editor for United Press. He then became city editor of the Paris Herald Tribune. He left that post to join CBS as a foreign correspondent, based in Paris; he broadcast the fall of Paris, and followed the French government from there to Bordeaux and then Vichy, before leaving France for London and finally Washington. He was appointed CBS's Washington bureau chief in July, 1942.
He wrote about the Plains influence on his life in his early memoir Not So Wild A Dream (1946), which covered his life in Velva, his family, the Hudson Bay trip, hitchhiking around the USA, mining in the Sierra Nevada, the Great Depression years, his early journalism and especially his experiences in World War II. This book remains in print.
World War II reporting
Relationship with Edward Murrow
Sevareid's work during World War II, with Edward R. Murrow as one of the original Murrow's Boys, was at the forefront of broadcasting. He was the first to report on the fall of France and the French surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940. Shortly after, he joined Murrow to report on the Battle of Britain. Later Sevareid would refer to the early years, working with Murrow, in fond terms. "We were like a young band of brothers in those early radio days with Murrow", he said. Later, in his final broadcast with CBS, in 1977 he would call Murrow the man who "invented me."
Rescue in Burma
On August 2, 1943, Sevareid was on board a Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando that developed engine trouble over Burma while on a Hump airlift mission. He grabbed a bottle of Carew's gin before parachuting out of the plane. The U.S. Air Force formed a search and rescue team to bring the group out from behind enemy lines. The operatives parachuted in, located the party, and evacuated them safely.
Sevareid later reported on Tito's partisans while in Yugoslavia.
After the war, Sevareid's continued to work for CBS. In 1946 he reported on the founding of the UN and then penned Not So Wild a Dream. The book, whose title comes from part of the closing passage of Norman Corwin's radio play "On a Note of Triumph", appeared in eleven printings and became one of the primary sources on the lives of the generation of Americans who had lived through the Great Depression only to confront the horrors of World War II. In the 1976 edition of the book Sevareid 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."
Sevareid always considered himself a writer first and often felt uneasy behind a microphone, even less comfortable on television. Nonetheless, he worked extensively for CBS News on television in the years following the war and the decades after. During the mid to late 1950s Sevareid found himself on television as the host and science reporter of CBS' Conquest. He also served as the head of the CBS Washington bureau from 1946–1954 and became one of the early critics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communism tactics. It was during the early 1950s that Sevareid caught the attention of the FBI in their attempts to identify and root out American Communists.
Investigated by FBI
Internal FBI documents, declassified in 1996, show that the agency took an active interest in Sevareid's reporting and activities during the 1940s and early 1950s. A March 1953 document, titled "Security Information", is one of several that chronicle Sevareid's activities during the 1940s. It refers to unsubstantiated reports that while Sevareid attending the University of Minnesota in 1941, he was alleged to have associated with Communists. The files also alleged that while working for the school newspaper at the university Sevareid participated in an active campaign against theROTC. It also noted his involvement in an awards banquet held by the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which had been designated a Communist organization by Executive Order 9835. The FBI files noted a May 17, 1945 report in the Daily People's World which stated Sevareid was a scheduled speaker at the Committee's banquet. The FBI called the Daily People's World the West Coast communist newspaper and said that Sevareid was identified as a radio commentator in its reports.
Other information in the FBI files noted a May 19, 1945 "newspapermen's forum" titled "The Free Press" held at the California Labor School in which Sevareid participated. In two separate 1948 reports Attorney General Tom C. Clark called the California Labor School "a subversive and Communist organization." The files included information that Sevareid's name was listed as one of those who was willing to raise funds to help support Hollywood celebrities appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. The information the FBI received about Sevareid's purported Communist activity was provided by "a representative of another governmental agency" and was never confirmed by their investigations.
The information contained in the bureau's files was circulated during March 1953 while Sevareid anchored a CBS news program, A Report to the Nation. The FBI was specifically interested in his March 8, 1953 broadcast during which he interviewed Harold Stassen, then Director for the Mutual Security Agency. The FBI developed information documenting what they alleged was his "disloyal" activities.
By April 1953, the FBI documents show that the bureau found no reason to open a more extensive investigation into Sevareid's activities.
Sevareid wound up the 1950s as CBS' roving European Correspondent from 1959–1961. He contributed stories to CBS Reports during this time and served as moderator on a number of CBS series. Those include, Town Meeting of the World, The Great Challenge, Where We Stand and Years of Crisis. Sevareid also appeared in or on CBS coverage of every presidential election from 1948 until 1976, the year before his retirement.
Final interview with Adlai Stevenson
One of Sevareid's biggest scoops from this time period was his 1965 exclusive interview with Adlai Stevenson, shortly before Stevenson's death. Oddly enough, the interview was not broadcast over CBS but instead appeared in Look magazine. However it was Sevareid's familiar "think-pieces" which familiarized him with viewers worldwide.
CBS Evening News appearances
On November 22, 1963, Sevareid joined Walter Cronkite on television with a commentary about John F. Kennedy's assassination and the road ahead for Lyndon Johnson. From 1964 until he retired from CBS in 1977 Sevareid's two-minute segments on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite inspired those who endeared him to dub him "The Grey Eminence." During his long run as a commentator, his segments earned both the Emmy Awards and the Peabody Awards. In 1984, he was honored as an inductee into the Academy's Fourth Hall of Fame. Those who disagreed with his views nicknamed him "Eric Severalsides." Sevareid recognized his own biases that caused some to disagree with him vehemently. He said that as he had grown older he had tended to become more conservative in foreign policy and liberal in domestic policy.
His commentary touched on many of the day's important issues. Following a 1966 trip to South Vietnam he commented that prolonging the war would be unwise and that the United States would be better off pursuing a negotiated settlement. He also helped keep alive another Murrow tradition at CBS that began with the interview show Person to Person. On Conversations with Eric Sevareid he interviewed such famous newsmakers as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, novelist Leo Rosten and others. In somewhat of a spoof of this tradition he also had a conversation with King George III, portrayed by Peter Ustinov, titled The Last King in America.
In 1983, Sevareid hosted a 5-part documentary series on PBS, entitled Enterprise, which profiled how America portrays business.
Eric Sevareid died of stomach cancer on July 9, 1992, aged 79. Dan Rather gave a eulogy at his funeral. He was survived by his wife, two sons from his first marriage, and a daughter from his second marriage.