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Margaret Chase Smith, Foreign Correspondent


October 1954

Margaret Chase Smith, pioneering senator from Maine, enjoyed a 30-year congressional career that showed her to be a woman of intelligence with unflappable courage. In 1950, for example, Smith famously denounced McCarthyism with her “Declaration of Conscience,” something few senators had dared to do. She even had the nerve to take on Eleanor Roosevelt! In 1956 the two women faced off in a televised debate on “Face the Nation,” the first time that program featured a woman.

In characteristic style, Smith embraced a new challenge in 1954. Explaining that official "codels" (congressional delegations) were too carefully managed, Smith embarked on an extensive world tour at her own expense. She wished to become better informed and, in the midst of the Cold War, to assess the extent of the Communist threat. On this trip, she would set her own agenda and ask her own questions. Working with the State Department, Smith and a small staff planned two separate tours, one in October to visit European countries, and a second in the spring of 1955 to visit nations in Asia and the Middle East.

Smith’s travel plans quickly caught the attention of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. Sensing strong interest in this lady from Maine, Murrow asked permission to send along a camera crew. At first, Smith was reluctant. She meant this trip to be personal and unofficial, but in the end she agreed. As she told Murrow's viewing audience, the camera would allow her to share her experiences and to provide Americans with a better insight into world affairs. It was also good publicity in an election year.

Smith visited 23 countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Egypt, Czechoslovakia, and of course, the Soviet Union. She explored farms, hospitals, and factories. She interviewed nearly every major world leader—Britain's Churchill, France's DeGaulle, India's Nehru, Egypt's Nasser, and Spain's Franco. In Taiwan, then known as Formosa, Chinese Nationalist Chiang-Kai Shek sat for an interview, with Madame Chiang serving as interpreter. Of particular interest was the senator’s six-day visit to Moscow and her meeting with Deputy Premiere Molotov. Everywhere she went, one biographer noted, Smith "looked for evidence of stability, of friendliness to the United States, and of strength and perseverance in the face of Communist aggression."

The CBS camera crew filmed it all, then filed weekly reports with Murrow's popular See It Now television program. Smith served as special correspondent. A combination of news and travelogues, the reports proved to be very popular. Murrow "made no mistake in turning over [his] program to Senator Margaret Chase Smith," commented the New York Times. Especially successful were her on-camera interviews with foreign leaders. "To corral three Chiefs of State on one program is quite a feat," continued the Times. "Even seasoned impresarios like…Ed Sullivan have never been able to match it."

The See It Now reports showed Smith to be smart, well-prepared, and completely at ease on camera. They also helped to establish her as a national figure. In 1955, when the Overseas Press Club of America presented the See It Now program with its award for Best Presentation on Foreign Affairs, it was Smith who accepted the award. And so to the already long list of accomplishments for this intrepid senator from Maine, we must add one more—Margaret Chase Smith, Award-Winning Foreign Correspondent.