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Newscaster Howard K. Smith dies at 87

Newscaster Howard K. Smith dies at 87

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Howard K. Smith, one of the legendary CBS World War II correspondents known as "Murrow's Boys" and later a news anchor for ABC, has died. He was 87.

Smith had congestive heart disease, which led to the pneumonia that caused his death late Friday evening, a source told CNN. He died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, his son Jack told The Associated Press.

For 40 years, Smith was one of the major names in broadcast news. He began as a CBS radio correspondent from Berlin, Germany, and later moved to other outposts in Europe.

Eventually, he turned to television, first as a European correspondent, later as a commentator and documentary narrator. In 1960, he moderated the first debate between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. The debate, one of the most widely viewed television programs of its time, is believed to have contributed to Kennedy's election later that year.

Smith joined ABC News in the early '60s, covering the Cuban Missile Crisis. By 1969, he was co-anchoring the network's news, a position he held until 1975, when he became a commentator.

Howard K. Smith, a CBS World War II correspondent and later a news anchor for ABC, dies at age 87. CNN's Bruce Morton reports (February 18)

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Smith was "a passionate newsman who for nearly 40 years was one of the country's most distinguished broadcasters," ABC News President David Westin said in a statement. "He was outspoken, sometimes controversial and never afraid of taking on the powerful."

War correspondent

Howard Kingsbury Smith was born May 12, 1914, in Ferriday, Louisiana, a small Mississippi River town also known for producing musicians Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. The family left Ferriday when Smith was a child, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

There, Smith first entered journalism as a newspaper reporter for the New Orleans Item. He earned a scholarship to Tulane University and moved to Europe for a post-graduate stint at Heidelberg University in Germany.

In 1940, he joined the United Press news agency, reporting from Copenhagen, Denmark, before transferring to Berlin, Germany.

In 1941, Smith was hired by CBS as a Berlin correspondent and became part of the group of wartime correspondents -- others included Eric Sevareid, Daniel Schorr and William L. Shirer -- gathered by Edward R. Murrow. With his reports under heavy scrutiny by the Nazis, he decided to leave Berlin for Switzerland. He arrived on December 7, 1941, just as Japan was attacking Pearl Harbor, halfway across the world.

He wrote about his experiences in a 1942 bestseller, "Last Train from Berlin: An Eyewitness Account of Germany at War."

In 1946 Smith succeeded Murrow as CBS's London correspondent. He covered Europe and the Middle East for CBS until 1957, when he came to Washington as a correspondent and commentator on the network's nightly TV newscast.

'We've got action'

In 1961, Murrow asked Smith to go to Birmingham, Alabama, to finish a documentary on the racial unrest rocking the region at the time. He arrived as the Freedom Riders were approaching town.

"The head of the (local) KKK phoned me while I was having lunch in a hotel," Smith told the Naples (Florida) Daily News in 2001. "He said, 'You want action, we've got action.' "

Not long after, Smith watched as local ruffians beat the Freedom Riders in the Birmingham bus station. For the commentary at the end of the report, Smith quoted philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

The quote was cut from the program because Smith's bosses regarded it as editorializing. CBS Chairman William S. Paley backed the executives over Smith, who resigned.

"They said it was against the rules to take sides on a controversial issue," Smith said in the 2001 interview. "I said, 'I wish you had told me that during World War II, when I took sides against Hitler.' "

Smith joined ABC News soon after as a correspondent and occasional anchor. Smith generated criticism at ABC for a report in 1962 about Richard Nixon, in which an interview was featured with Alger Hiss, a possible spy whose conviction for perjury helped launch Nixon's national career.

In 1969 he became co-anchor with Frank Reynolds of "The ABC Evening News," then two years later was joined at the ABC anchor desk by his former CBS colleague Harry Reasoner.

Smith backed the Vietnam War and supported Vice President Spiro Agnew's shots at the news media. He was in President Nixon's good graces for these stances, but called for Nixon's resignation as evidence pointed to the president's involvement in the Watergate scandal.

In 1975, Smith relinquished his co-anchor role and remained as a commentator. He resigned in 1979 from ABC after denouncing a newscast format featuring four anchors --Peter Jennings, Max Robinson, Frank Reynolds and Barbara Walters.

Smith appeared in several movies, including "The Candidate" (1972), "Nashville" (1975), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982).

He published his memoir, "Events Leading Up to My Death: The Life of a Twentieth-Century Reporter," in 1996.

In his storied career, Smith won several awards, including a Peabody and an Emmy.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Benedicte Traberg Smith -- a Dane whom he decided to marry after four days' acquaintance -- two children, including ABC News reporter Jack Smith, and three grandchildren.




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