Monday, October 22, 2012

Writing assignment #9: Find one letter to Howard K. Smith that interests you. Find out some more about the issues addressed in the letter, the actual broadcast, some kind of background. (250-350 words; 4-5 secondary sources).


  1. I found a letter written to Howard K. Smith from Dr. Darrell Dunham of Denton, Texas on August 22, 1973. The reason I chose this letter is because in the letter Darrell Dunham says that he started to watch Smith’s broadcast while his son was serving with the 3rd Marines in Vietnam. After reading through many letters it was the only one I read that mentioned a person’s son at war. Also, this letter was written about a month after it was revealed that President Nixon was secretly taping conversations in his office and was attempting to cover it up. I can just think and imagine to myself just how much society is changing at this point in time and to think my son is in Vietnam while the president nears his resignation date… this is definitely an extremely important time in American history.

    The letter continues to say that Dunham appreciates Smith’s reports and that they are “to be given with dignity, clarity, honesty, and in soundness of judgment.” In other words, Dunham is very thankful that Smith is a strong and honest voice for the American people in a time of need. Dunham also says in the letter that it is a rarity that he would write to a television personality but he felt it necessary because Smith holds a “high standard of quality and dignity.”

    Even with Nixon and his problems there was the Vietnam War, which was on its way to an end. Society was turning more and more against the war and to getting soldiers home. August 1973 was a troubling time for a father with a son in Vietnam that’s for sure.

  2. While digging through the piles of letters addressed to Howard K. Smith, I noticed a Congressional letterhead with the date, December 22, 1970. It came from James T. Broyhill, a Congressman from the state of North Carolina. He served the state’s 10th district. But it was not addressed to Howard K. Smith, but to Mr. B. E. Sweatt, Jr., President of Incommunicado, Inc.
    I’m not sure what Incommunicado, Inc. is or was, but it was probably a business, and one that was based in Congressman Broyhill’s district. Congressman Broyhill responded to Mr. Sweatt’s letter concerning drug control. Broyhill agreed with Mr. Sweatt’s beliefs and talked with other Congressmen about this man’s beliefs. He goes on to say Congress passed a law with similar ideals to Mr. Sweatt, and enclosed a report on the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee’s report on the bill.
    Mr. Broyhill is so enthralled with the person’s letter, he personally signs the letter. I assume he included the report along with this response letter.
    I can imagine the reason this letter was found in the letters addressed to Howard K. Smith was simple human error. Going through thousands upon thousands of artifacts, one will slip up on occasion, such as this example. However, it was a fascinating find and personally I’m rather fortunate this accident happened.

  3. The letter I found addressed to Howard K. Smith was pretty abnormal. It was a desperate plea from an abandoned wife to Howard K. Smith, asking him to broadcast a coded message to her estranged husband in hopes that he would hear it and be persuaded to come home.

    I have not watched much old footage of a HKS broadcast, but he seems to be a pretty stoic character from the bit I've seen. His bio on the Museum of Broadcast Communications' website describes him as "sober, hawkish" and one prone to "temper tantrum." Yet, this woman, Margery Herliby of Waterville, Maine, wrote Howard K. Smith in hopes that he would be "the kind human person" that he appeared to be on TV and that she could "appeal to his sense of humanity."

    I could not find much on the actual broadcast, I assume that he never read the following message in hopes of finding Mr. Mickey Herliby: "Mickey, Please call me immediately. It is urgent! I love you. (signed) Boo"

    This woman is really something else. She asks him to read it, not once, but for a few days at at the end of his commentary in hopes that her husband would call her and maybe come back home as she is "50 years old, and he is her whole life. [She] is going through more anguish than if he had died."

    I feel for the woman, I really do. She even signs the letter as "a desperate wife" and promises that if Smith does oblige her plea she would "immediately write to thank [him]." But it is a wildly desperate plea to the figurehead of ABC, seems unlikely this ever transpired.

    I think the craziest part is that she admits that she will not go through the police for fear of the publicity of her sudden estrangement. Instead, she wants a message broadcast to the entire nation by one of the most well known TV news anchors in history? I don't know. She begs him to keep her identity a secret as well. To me the whole scheme seems a little half baked. Although, I will admit that it is admirable that Howard K. Smith was able to elicit such a powerful sense of trust and admiration from his audience that they would appeal to him even in the hour of their greatest desperation.


  4. The letter I read was critical of Howard K. Smith for sharing his personal opinions on the air. "We both feel that your personal opinion has no place over a national television network. WHAT RIGHT MR. SMITH, DO YOU HAVE TO PLAY GOD?" They go on to say that no commentator has the right to share their opinion, and suggest that a legislation should be passed against it. This brings up a good discussion, and one that is constantly addressed in journalism ethics classes: Should journalists be able to share their personal opinions on something?

    While I dont feel that any type of legislation should be made to constrain someones freedom of speech, I do feel like broadcasters need to take special care in what they state their opinions on. Howard K. Smith was notorious for sharing his opinions on air.

    "Smith became more and more hawkish as the war progressed. Among other things he advocated bombing North Vietnam's dike system, bombing Haiphong, and invading Laos and Cambodia. Indeed, in one of his commentaries shortly after the Tet Offensive Smith said "There exists only one real alternative: that is to escalate, but this time on an overwhelming scale."

    Statements like this are in clear violation of almost every ethics code known out there. In fact, the RTDNA's ethics code suggests that Present analytical reporting based on professional perspective, not personal bias."
    I believe that journalists should not express personal opinions on things that they cover. It is more permisible to offer opinions on subjets that fall outside the reporters coverage, or show equal bias towards all subjects, for example, Poynter suggests that "is it OK for journalists to post personal information and opinions? If they “like” one politician on Facebook, should they like them all?"

    Howard K. Smith was fortunate in the sense that twitter was not around while he was voicing his opinions. In todays age, if he would have tweeted something like that, it would have been a fireable offense, take for example a CNN reporter who was fired for tweeting the following“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon.” I couldn't imagine the firestorm Smith would have faced if he made those comments on something as powerful as social media.

  5. I found a very interesting letter from a man ironically named Daniel R. Snyder, who addressed a letter to Howard K. Smith requesting his commentary of the potential possible decreasing food supplies due to overpopulation. This letter was sent out August 14th, 1973 being years past the baby boom age. I was hard pressed to find very much research on this subject because this was more of a speculative piece more than anything by Howard K. Smith, at least on the part of the United States. I did find some research that showed a steady decline in the nutrition pretty much all over the world, whether it was in Asia, or Africa and the Latin American countries. This was written from the Division of Health Science Resources from Yale University School of Medicine so I would imagine they have some sort of weight and know to some degree what they are talking about. The letter states that the United States has ignored the problem due to the recent reduction in population growth after the whole baby boom era, but the letter goes on to say that we shouldn’t ignore, as this is still a relevant problem. He praises and Smith for calling it “early warning signs” but he thinks he should go into more detail on the nightly news because he feels this is an issue that isn’t being paid enough attention.

  6. A letter that really spoke to me was written in Acton, California by Meryl G. Adams on October 5th 1973. It immediately stood out because it was very respectful and commended Smith on his fairness on presenting both sides in controversies. He went so far as to say that both CBS and NBC have biased reporting. His problem had to deal with Smiths comment on reporters with confidential sources. He believed that “Anyone who reveals information on anything and refused to let his name be used, in my opinion, in in the same category as one who writes an anonymous letter—a sneak and a coward.” In Adams mind, reporters should never use nameless sources because it harms the credibility of their information.

    I think that having confidential sources are very important. Some of the biggest journalism stories have come out of nameless sources. The most famous is Woodward and Bernstein’s research during the Watergate scandal with Deep Throat. If Deep Throat would have publically come out and said who he was, he probably would have been harassed and the story would have never taken off. Without that nameless source, chances are Nixon would have been able to get away with his crime.

    I think confidentiality is very important because you may not be able to publish the story without it. As journalists, anonymous sources are a part of our job and it is important to respect the wishes if those sources wish to remain anonymous. Sometimes they may face harm if they come out and admit who they are, but they still have valuable information that must be made public. It is all about building a trust between you and the public so they will be honest in what they have to say.

    For this I disagree with what Mr. Adams has to say because I think that anonymous sources can still be very credible and helpful to a story.

  7. I picked up a letter written on October 2, 1973 by someone named Nelda Nash. Having sorted through many a HKS letter, I was used to seeing scribbled rants with questionable grammar but this letter stood out thanks to the eloquent language employed by the letter’s author. For example she writes, “The press is a superimposed government wielding its devastating power over anyone it decides to cut down to size”. First of all, how interesting it is to think of a time when the nightly news was so powerful that it could take down anyone. And secondly, how remarkable that there’s a dissenting letter to criticisms of Spiro Agnew. Agnew was Nixon’s vice president and was convicted of tax fraud in October of 1973. And while the intensity and veracity of language of the letter would normally be perceived as extreme, the author actually espoused fairness and restraint in media coverage, writing of how the media can do irreparable harm to the characters of men before they even get the chance to be tried in court. So often the media takes a figure and because it sells well, paints a caricature of the subject as good or evil.
    Unfortunately, I could not find I did find the original broadcast but I did find that according to the archives, “Smith's career [ ] saw his transformation from CBS's "resident radical" to his persona "Howard K. Agnew," a sobriquet granted by critics for his support of conservative Republican Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's bitter l969 attack on TV news.”. While in retrospect Nixon and his administration became synonymous with corruption and underhanded practices, perhaps the author was correct in asking the media to take a step back. Then again, this was before the watergate scandal, so maybe her opinion was later changed by those events.
    While I do not agree with Howard K. Smith’s or the author’s support of Agnew I am left with the important reminder that I must not condemn people before they are even tried. I am also reminded that in covering a story, to never dehumanize a subject. To do so creates an unholistic representation of a subject and ignores the nuances, complexities of character.