Richard C. Hottelet spent 14 months in a German prison, witnessed the D-Day invasion firsthand and dove out of the path of a crashing plane, all before his four decade career at CBS radio began.
More than 150 people gathered in the School of Media and Public Affairs building Thursday evening to hear GW Vice President for Communications Mike Freedman interview the CBS radio veteran.
“It’s an honor and a thrill. He’s a hero of mine,” said Freedman, former general manager of CBS Radio Network News. “Seeing someone like Dick Hottelet is seeing journalism in its purest form.”
Hottelet was one of the “Murrow Boys,” a group of 11 reporters who worked under legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow from 1938 to 1946.
Murrow was a reporter for “CBS World News Roundup.” The show was the first of it kind, broadcasting numerous reports from different locations through one central bureau. It is the longest running radio program still on the air, and most other network news shows are based on its format.
“Murrow showed a word is worth a thousand pictures,” Hottelet said.
The idea of “watching the radio,” as Freedman put it, was a theme of the evening as the audience listened to vivid accounts of Hottelet’s experiences in Europe, just as families all over the country did almost 60 years ago.
Hottelet recounted some of his reporting experiences, including riding in U.S. military planes.
Hottlet described the sound of Germans shooting at the U.S. military plane in which he was riding as “somebody pounding on the plane with a sledgehammer.”
“Jumping out of an airplane is not what you’d expect,” he explained. “The air is like a featherbed, very reassuring.”
“We did what we had to do, what we were able to do,” Hottelet said. “We had no sense of being Columbus, innovators.”
Hottelet also reflected on the changes in war journalism since the Vietnam war. Before the war, the U.S. government censored material and journalists worked in “total cooperation,” but the two have since split, he said.
Hottelet said military officials no longer believe that allowing reporters full access to the field “serves their purposes.”
He said he fears that only a “spin account, the Pentagon’s authorized version,” will be available during the next potential American conflict in Iraq.
“The press is part of American life. It’s the only part mentioned in the Constitution . but it’s still kept at arm’s length,” Hottelet said.
GW and the Smithsonian Associates hosted the event, which was part of a series commemorating the 75th Anniversary of CBS. Cheryl Taylor, senior program coordinator of the Associates, said the goal of the night was to provide an opportunity “to hear from the best and . also speak to the needs of students.”
However, the crowd consisted mostly of other adults, and most of the students present were from Freedman’s radio journalism class.