A stamp of recognition

University alumnus Eric Sevareid gets his due on a new postage stamp.

Eric Sevareid was once one of the most famous and trusted men in the United States. Everyone knew his name. Today, those of us under 30 have never heard of him. He graduated from this University in 1935. He also wrote for this paper, including an editorial that led to the end of mandatory drill practice for all students.

As a correspondent for CBS radio news during WWII, the world first heard of the Nazi takeover of Paris through his crackly broadcast. Later, though, he became most famous for his nightly commentaries. His polished, two-minute gems provided a coda to Walter Cronkite’s evening news. He pointed his finely tuned human antenna at a subject we all feel we know; the politicians and their public, big cities and small towns, America, in short, and everything that made up our national pageant. He was something rare then, and consigned to the ashcan of history today, a television commentator who used his pulpit to illuminate.

We are pleased to see Sevareid recognized with the new stamp bearing his likeness announced by the U.S. Postal Service, but cannot help but feel disappointment that his hope of elucidating rather than opinionating has been cast aside by a profit-driven media that today would have no place for him, and that his work in particular has been largely forgotten. So it goes with those impermanent mediums of television and radio, words painstakingly crafted, riding the airwaves to our homes, then disappearing into thin air, forgotten by a public that they once entertained, engaged and informed. Fortunately for us, many of Sevareid’s commentaries were collected in a series of books, and are held in our University’s libraries.

It is only appropriate to give him the last word. Here was his advice in 1952 when, then as now, the nation was searching for a new president.

“Give us the man who can write or speak, even if only once in a while, in the noble cadences of the English language. Give us such a man, every time, because whatever common faults or failings he may have, there is a certain nobility in him Ö You cannot dissemble for long with the English tongue; sooner or later it reveals your limits.”