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William L. Shirer

William L. Shirer 1961

William Lawrence Shirer (February 23, 1904 ' December 28, 1993) was an American journalist, war correspondent, and historian, who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich a history of Nazi Germany read and cited in scholarly works for more than 50 years. Originally a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Shirer was the first reporter hired by Edward R. Murrow for what would become a team of journalists for CBS radio. Shirer became known for his broadcasts from Berlin, from the rise of the Nazi dictatorship through the first year of World War II. With Murrow, Shirer organized the first broadcast world news roundup, a format still followed by news broadcasts. Shirer's other books include Berlin Diary (published in 1941), The Collapse of the Third Republic which drew on his experience living and working in France from 1925 to 1933, and his three-volume autobiography, "Twentieth Century Journey."


[edit] Early years

Born in Chicago in 1904, Shirer attended Washington High School and Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He graduated from Coe in 1925. Working his way to Europe on a cattle boat to spend the summer there, he remained in Europe for 15 years.

He was European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune from 1925 to 1932, covering Europe, the Near East and India. In India he formed a friendship with Mohandas K. Gandhi. Shirer lived and worked in France for several years from 1925. He left in the early 1930s but returned frequently to Paris throughout the decade. He lived and worked in the Third Reich from 1934 to 1940.

In 1931, Shirer married Theresa ("Tess") Stiberitz, an Austrian photographer. The couple had three daughters, Eileen, Inga and Linda. Shirer and his wife divorced in 1970, and he married Irina Lugovskaya, a long-time teacher of Russian at Simon's Rock College. Shirer and Irina had no children.

[edit] Pre-war years

As a print journalist and later as a radio reporter for CBS, Shirer covered the strengthening one-party rule in Nazi Germany beginning in 1934. Shirer reported on Adolf Hitler's peacetime triumphs like the return of the Saarland to Germany and the remilitarization of the Rhineland.

Shirer was hired in 1934 for the Berlin bureau of the Universal News Service, one of William Randolph Hearst's two wire services. In Berlin Diary, Shirer described this move, in a self-proclaimed bad pun, as going from 'bad to Hearst'. When Universal Service folded in August 1937, Shirer was first taken on as second man by Hearst's other wire service, International News Service, then laid off a few weeks later.

On the day when Shirer received two weeks' notice from INS, he received what was a wire from Edward R. Murrow, European manager of Columbia Broadcasting System, suggesting the two meet. At their meeting a few days later in Berlin, Murrow said he couldn't cover all Europe from London and was seeking an experienced correspondent to open a CBS office on the Continent. He offered Shirer subject to an audition ' a "trial broadcast" ' to let CBS directors and vice-presidents in New York judge Shirer's voice.

Shirer's feared his reedy voice was unsuitable for radio but he was hired. As European bureau chief , he set up headquarters in Vienna, a more central and more neutral spot than Berlin. His job was to arrange broadcasts and, early in his career, he expressed disappointment at having to hire newspaper correspondents to do the broadcasting; at the time, CBS correspondents were prohibited from speaking on the radio.

Shirer was the first of "Murrow's Boys" ' broadcast journalists who provided news coverage during World War II and afterward.

CBS's prohibition of correspondents talking on the radio ' viewed by Murrow and Shirer as "absurd" ' ended in March 1938. Shirer was in Vienna on March 11, 1938 when the German annexation of Austria (Anschluss) took place after weeks of mounting pressure by Nazi Germany on the Austrian government.

As the only American broadcaster in Vienna ' NBC rival Max Jordan was not in town ' Shirer had a scoop, but lacked the facilities to report it to his audience. cupying German troops controlling the Austrian state radio studio would not let him broadcast. At Murrow's suggestion, Shirer flew to London via Berlin ' he recalled in Berlin Diary that the direct flight to London was filled with Jews trying to escape German-occupied Austria. Once in London, Shirer broadcast the first uncensored eyewitness account of the annexation. Meanwhile, Murrow flew from London to Vienna to cover for Shirer.

The next day, CBS's New York headquarters asked Shirer and Murrow to produce a European round-up ' a 30-minute broadcast featuring live reporting from five European capitals ' Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Rome, and London. The broadcast, arranged in eight hours using the telephone and broadcasting facilities of the day, was a major feat. This first news roundup established a formula still used in broadcast journalism. It was also the genesis of what became CBS World News Roundup, still on the network each morning and evening, the network broadcasting's oldest news series.

Shirer reported on the Munich Agreement and Hitler's march into Czechoslovakia before reporting the growing tensions between Germany and Poland in 1939 and the German invasion of Poland that launched World War II on September 1, 1939. During much of the pre-war period, Shirer was based in Berlin and attended Hitler's speeches and several Nazi party rallies (Reichsparteitage) in Nuremberg.

[edit] Reporting the war from Berlin

Shirer, at right, at Compiègne reporting on the French surrender

When war broke out on the Western Front in 1940, Shirer moved forward with the German troops, reporting first hand on the German "Blitzkrieg." Shirer reported on the invasion of Denmark and Norway in April from Berlin, and then on the invasion of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France in May. As German armies closed in on Paris, he traveled to France with the German forces.

Shirer reported the signing of the German armistice with France on June 22, 1940 to the American people before it had been announced by the Germans. His commentary from Compiègne was hailed as a masterpiece. On the day before the armistice was to be signed Hitler ordered all foreign correspondents covering the German Army from Paris back to Berlin. It was Hitler's intention that the Armistice should be reported to the world by Nazi sources. Shirer avoided being returned to Berlin by leaving the press hotel early in the morning and hitching a ride to Compiègne with a German officer who despised Hitler. Once on site, Shirer followed proceedings inside the railway car, listening to the transmission relayed to Berlin through a German army communications truck. After the Armistice was signed Shirer was allowed to transmit his own broadcast to Berlin, but only for recording and release after the Nazi version had been disseminated. Shirer spent five minutes before he went on, calling CBS radio in New York, hoping the broadcast would get through. It did get through. When German engineers in Berlin heard Shirer calling New York, they assumed he was authorized to broadcast. Instead of sending his report to a recording machine as ordered, they put it on the shortwave transmitter. When CBS heard Shirer's call he was put on live. For six hours Shirer's report was the only news the world had of the Armistice. [1]

In peacetime, Shirer's reporting was subject only to self-censorship. He and other reporters in Germany knew that if Nazi officials in Joseph Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry objected to their reporting, they could withdraw access to state-owned broadcasting facilities or expel them from Germany. Shirer was permitted more freedom than German reporters writing or broadcasting for domestic audiences. At the beginning of the war, German officials established censorship; Shirer recalled that the restrictions were similar to wartime censorship elsewhere, restricting information that could be used to Germany's military disadvantage.

However, as the war continued and as Britain began to bomb German cities including Berlin, Nazi censorship became more onerous to Shirer and his colleagues. In contrast to Murrow's live broadcasts of German bombing of London in the Blitz, foreign correspondents in Germany were not allowed to report British air raids on German cities. They were not permitted to cast doubt on statements by the Propaganda Ministry and Military High Command. Reporters were discouraged by the Propaganda Ministry from reporting news or from using terms like Nazi that might "create an unfavorable impression." Shirer resorted to subtler ways until the censors caught on.

As the summer of 1940 progressed, the Nazi government pressed Shirer to broadcast official accounts he knew were incomplete or false. As his frustration grew, he wrote to bosses in New York that tightening censorship was undermining his ability to report objectively and mused that he had outlived his usefulness in from Berlin. Shirer was subsequently tipped off that the Gestapo was building a charge of espionage case against him, which carried the death penalty; Shirer began making arrangements to leave Germany, which he did in December 1940.

Shirer smuggled his diaries and notes out of Germany and used them for his Berlin Diary, a first-hand, day-by-day account of events inside the Third Reich during five years of peace and one of war. It was published in 1941.

He returned to Europe to report the Nuremberg trials in 1945.

[edit] Post-war years

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William L. Shirer and Edward R. Murrow, early 1950s.
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During the war Shirer became a director of the Society for the Prevention of World War III which also post-war lobbied for a harsh peace for Germany.

The friendship between Shirer and Murrow ended in 1947, in one of the great confrontations of American broadcast journalism, that culminated in Shirer's leaving CBS.

The dispute started when J. B. Williams, a maker of shaving soap, withdrew sponsorship of Shirer's Sunday news show. CBS, through Murrow, who was then vice-president for public affairs, and CBS head William S. Paley, did not seek another sponsor, moved Shirer's program to Sunday midday and then stopped producing it, all within a month. CBS maintained that Shirer resigned based on a comment made oment in an impromptu interview, but Shirer said he was fired. [2]

Shirer contended that the root of his troubles was the network and sponsor not standing by him because of his on-air comments, such as those critical of the Truman Doctrine, and what he viewed as an emphasis on placating sponsors instead of on journalism. Shirer blamed Murrow for his departure from CBS, referring to Murrow as "Paley's toady."

The episode hastened Murrow's desire to give up his vice-presidency and return to newscasting. It foreshadowed his misgivings about the future of broadcast journalism and his difficulties with Paley.

The friendship between Shirer and Murrow never recovered. In her preface to This is Berlin, a compilation of Shirer's Berlin broadcasts published after his death, Shirer's daughter Inga describes how Murrow, suffering lung cancer he knew could be terminal, tried to heal the breach with Shirer by inviting the Shirers to his farm in 1964. Murrow tried to discuss the breach. Though the two chatted, Shirer steered the conversation away from contentious issues between the two men, and they never had another opportunity before Murrow died in 1965. Shirer's daughter also writes that, shortly before her father's death in 1993, he rebuffed her attempts to learn the source of the breach that opened between the two journalists 45 years earlier.

Some clues are given in The Nightmare Years (1984), the second volume in Shirer's three-volume memoir, Twentieth Century Journey. Shirer describes the birth and growth of a warm relationship with Murrow in the 1930s. Although his reminiscences are wound together with his version of their professional relationship, he emphasizes that he and Murrow were close friends as well as colleagues. He does not mention their break. A number of touching recollections are included. Thus it is easy to understand that their break in 1947, based on business disagreements, was made bitter by the close personal relationship they once had.

Another aspect of The Nightmare Years is Shirer's description of his and Murrow's three-way relationship with Paley. Shirer says that, in private, he and Murrow were contemptuous of Paley and almost always sided against him in the 1930s. Thus, when Paley and Murrow ganged up on Shirer in 1947, this was a shock, although Shirer does not say so explicitly.

Shirer himself briefly provided analysis for the Mutual Broadcasting System, then found himself unable to find regular radio work. His appearance in Red Channels blacklisted him, barring him from broadcasting or print journalism, and he was forced into lecturing for income. Times remained tough for Shirer, his wife Tess and daughters Inga and Linda, until Simon & Schuster published The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in 1960. It was printed 20 times in the first year.

[edit] Death and legacy

Shirer died in 1993 in Boston. He was 89. [3]

In 2001 a compilation of Shirer's CBS broadcasts from Europe, called This Is Berlin: Reporting from Nazi Germany, 1938-40 (ISBN 1-58567-279-3) was published.

[edit] Books

[edit] Non-fiction

  • These 3 books form the 3 volumes of Shirer's autobiography.

[edit] Fiction

  • The Traitor (1950)
  • Stranger Come Home (1954)
  • The Consul's Wife (1956)

[edit] Fictionalized versions of Shirer

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Shirer, William L.; The Nightmare Years; Little, Brown, Boston; 1984; pp537-41
  2. ^ William L. Shirer (1990). 20th Century Journey: A Native's Return. Little Brown. 
  3. ^ "William L. Shirer, Author, Is Dead at 89". New York Times. December 29, 1993. "William L. Shirer, the author of "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and a foreign correspondent whose pioneering live trans-Atlantic radio broadcasts on the eve of World War II helped inform Americans about Nazi Germany, died yesterday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was 89 years old and lived in Lenox, Mass. His daughter Inga Dean of Lenox said he had been hospitalized since Dec. 5 with heart ailments, The Associated Press reported." 
  4. ^ reprinted by Francis US, New York, 2002. 10-ISBN 0-801-87056-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-801-87056-9

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