January 27, 2015

1954. CBS on the Lookout for Scoops in the Middle East

Leads in Israel
From Bill Downs' passport in 1954

Edward P. Morgan wrote this letter to Bill Downs while Downs headed CBS' Rome bureau.

October 12, 1954

Dear Wilbur:

As a good soldier and a gullible fellow, I have okayed your expense account, but, as the Senator says, I have, sir, some questions (isn't it amazing how quickly even a rogue can begin to feel his oats in a swivel chair?). $120 a month for a secretary?--Is that the going rate for same, even assuming in advance that she is both bilingual and beautiful? Three other items intrigue me: 102 bucks for transportation; 201.26 for meals; and 120 for rent? These may all be imbedded in the long tradition of foreign operations, and perfectly justifiable, but as things go here I am going to be questioned about them from time to time, and it will be well to have the explanation for same on hand.

So far as bunching your operational charges under extraordinary expenses, continue to do it until somebody squawks, is my theory.

A little background on the amorphous cable I sent you Friday: Eddie Warburg, a wonderful guy, a close friend of Murrow and myself, not to mention Paley, is heading a delegation of United Jewish Appeal people selected for wide geographical representation around the country for this Israel junket. Their main concern is the threatened necessity of evacuating some 30,000 Jews a year from North Africa and absorbing them in Israel. This in itself is a major story, but a highly delicate and explosive one. If and when we cover it on the scene, we will have to do it on our own and outside their auspices, although some members of their delegation are going to North Africa on this trip for a swift inspection. Warburg makes two points: First, that if we send someone he would include him in classified three-day briefings by the Joint Distributing Committee in Paris, which should provide some rather invaluable background for current and future operations. And, second, that although the movements of the delegation itself have no particular news value, the fact that you would be going with them would virtually guarantee an open sesame to almost any place we found worth reporting. Warburg thinks he can all but guarantee an interview with Ben Gurion. He also suggests that there is a natural story in what he calls the Fort Dix of Israel, the former military center at Sarafand where Jews speaking some sixty different languages are recruited into the Israeli bi-sexual Army. The hassle with Egypt could be examined at a closer range, and you might also be able to accumulate some stock footage on various holy places for Christmas use, although naturally the delegations couldn't very well accompany you to Bethlehem.

By the time you get this letter it may already be determined whether we attempt a kind of joint operation, sending McClure with you. This will raise some inevitable jurisdictional dispute with SIN, and they naturally will want to grab the Ben Gurion footage first. We will have to play this by ear as closely as possible. If McClure does not go and we finally determine that it is worthwhile to spring you, you can utilize our Israeli stringer. (It might even be profitable to use him as an auxiliary if McClure does go.)

My old and dear UP friend, Eliav Simon, writes me that his alert and intelligent wife, Steffi, wants to be our stringer in Israel. I don't believe this could be very practicable, particularly in view of the combined operations necessary, and if we need to nail down a stringer, which we probably ought to do if we can do it without financial encumbrance and embarrassment, my offhand choice would be Harry Zinder.

If it jells, it would seem to make more sense for you not to think about your returning with the UJA delegation, but continue on your own and touch base wherever else the eastern end of the Mediterranean you think would be most valuable. If you went to Cairo, I would like to have a closer look at this guy, Kearns, who is one of the most prolific letter writers on record. After having "resigned" as stringer and receiving my acknowledgment of same and explanation for a lot of the jumble of the early summer, he is in resignation if we can do a lot of things about making him a stringer, none of which I think we could do. Above all, if he is an agent of some kind, I don't think we want any part of him.

We are having a helluva time, but kind of an interesting one, I confess, in trying to figure out just what a television news broadcast is. Nobody seems to know, and that makes me just as much of an expert as the next guy. One thing that we are trying to get away from is footage for footage's sake. Another thing we are trying to do is to impress on cameramen the need for a flexible approach to a subject that does not produce a phony gimmick shot, but real originality such as you would expect to get in stills from a Life photographer. But I don't need to recite all this stuff to you. You're already more of an experience expert than I am, and besides Sig will have briefed you. How was his visit?

If you beat Roz, tell her to communicate with me immediately on the cue channel.