Bill Stewart (television journalist)

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Bill Stewart
BillStewart1963.jpg
Stewart in 1963
Born William D. Stewart
1941
Died June 20, 1979 (aged 37)
Managua, Nicaragua
Nationality American
Occupation Television journalist
Known for Murdered by the National Guard (Nicaragua)

William D. "Bill" Stewart (1941 – June 20, 1979) was an American journalist with ABC News who was summarily murdered by Nicaraguan government National Guard ("Guardia") forces while reporting on the Nicaraguan Revolution as Sandinista rebel forces were closing in on the capital city of Managua in 1979.[1] Footage of his execution was repeatedly broadcast on network television, resulting in the rapid withdrawal of popular and military support for the Somoza regime by the United States.

Life and career[edit]

Stewart, originally from West Virginia, was a 1963 graduate of the Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, Stewart was active in many extracurricular activities including the Student Senate and the Sphinx honorary society, as well as a member of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity.[2] He came to ABC News from WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.[3] An experienced foreign correspondent, Stewart's assignments included coverage of the Iranian Revolution in February 1979.[4] He had been in Nicaragua for ten days reporting on the civil war between the American-backed Somoza dictatorship and the leftist Sandinistas.[5]

Death[edit]

On June 20, 1979, Stewart was traveling in a press van in the eastern slums of the capital city of Managua with his camera and sound crew when they were stopped at a roadblock run by the Nicaraguan Guardia (lit. Guardia Nacional, or National Guard), the main force of President Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The van was clearly marked as a press vehicle as a precaution, which had become standard practice as the insurgency and revolution increased in intensity.[6] On the previous day the government newspaper Novedades had run an editorial describing foreign journalists as "part of the vast network of communist propaganda".[7]

Stewart and his 26-year-old Nicaraguan interpreter, Juan Francisco Espinosa, exited the vehicle and approached the barricade.[8][9] Stewart presented official press credentials issued by the office of the Nicaraguan president.[4] When they were a few meters away from the soldiers cameraman Jack Clark spontaneously began filming from inside the van. A guardsman ordered the men to separate, and Stewart was ordered first to kneel and then to lie face down on the ground.[8] A soldier approached Stewart, kicked him once in the ribs, then stepped back and shot him behind his right ear, killing him instantly.[4][8][10] Juan Espinosa had been shot to death off-camera by a different soldier, apparently before Stewart was killed, after he approached the guards to ask their permission for an interview.[9] The driver of the ABC van, Pablo Tiffer López, would later testify that a soldier remarked of Stewart, "I'm sure he's no journalist. He's a dog." He also testified that when the soldiers realized they had killed an American journalist they commanded the crew to report that a Sandinista sniper was responsible.[11]

Stewart was 37 years old. He was survived by his wife, Myrna, and his parents.[12] His body was retrieved by his crew and flown on an Air Force C-130 from Nicaragua to Panama, then transferred to an airplane sent by ABC and returned to the United States.[8][13] Stewart was buried in Ashland, Kentucky.[14]

Impact[edit]

The footage of Stewart's killing was smuggled out of the country by his crew and sent to New York.[13] The three major American networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS—ran the footage in their evening news broadcasts and repeatedly rebroadcast the clip in the following days. Millions of viewers in the United States and worldwide reacted with shock and outrage towards the Somoza regime.[15] All three networks protested the killings by withdrawing their personnel from the country, with only CBS leaving a single correspondent to cover the conflict.[11] President Jimmy Carter issued a statement describing the murder as "an act of barbarism that all civilized people condemn."[16]

Shortly after the killings, the Nicaraguan national guard reported that they had arrested Corporal Lorenzo Brenes ("Brenis" in some reports), the corporal responsible for Stewart's murder, and that he would be "brought before legal officers".[5] Brenes, who had been in command of the roadblock, testified before a military tribunal that he had not witnessed the shootings. He said that Stewart's killer was a "Private González" who was killed in combat later the same day; this elicited audible reactions of disbelief from the international press corps when announced at an official news conference.[11] Brenes testified that the private, whose first name he claimed not to know (but was later reported as "Pedro"), related to him that he had killed Stewart "because he tried to run away".[17] The ultimate fates of the Guardia soldiers responsible for the killings of Stewart and Espinoza are unknown due to the chaotic demise of Somoza's military regime.[18] Somoza fled Nicaragua for Miami on July 17, and the regime was overthrown on July 19, 1979, less than a month after Stewart's murder.[18]

Under Fire[edit]

A fictional version of Stewart's murder was told in the 1983 film, Under Fire, starring Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte, and Joanna Cassidy.[19] Hackman's Alex Grazier and Nolte's Russell Price are amalgamations of Bill Stewart's life and career as a journalist and war correspondent. In the film, Stewart's death is presented differently: Hackman's character is shot in the chest while standing up, and his death is captured in a series of still images by Nolte's character, who escapes the scene in a hail of gunfire. As in Stewart's case, the images are shown to television audiences around the world, and the public outcry signals the end for the embattled Somoza dictatorship.[19]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Charlton, Linda (June 21, 1979). "ABC Reporter and Aide Killed By Soldier in Nicaraguan Capital; Carter Calls Killings Barbaric". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ MakiO. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. 1963. p. 387. 
  3. ^ Rosen, Mark; Bruton, Jim (2012). Best Seat in the House: Mark Rosen’s Sports Moments and Minnesota Memories. MVP Books. p. 71. ISBN 978-0760341322. Retrieved June 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c Wheaton, Lew (June 21, 1979). "Guardsman Held in Newsman's Death". The Dispatch. AP. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Soldier arrested in newsman's death". The Tuscaloosa News. AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved August 25, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Press: A Murder in Managua". Time Magazine. July 2, 1979. 
  7. ^ "Slayer of newsman died in battle, soldier testifies". The Deseret News. AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved September 28, 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Correspondents Decry Killing of ABC Reporter in Nicaragua". The Evening Independent. AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b "Nicaragua war victim forgotten but not by mom". Edmonton Journal. UPI. January 4, 1980. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  10. ^ Brimelow, Peter (July 7, 1979). "Self-interest demands intervention in Nicaragua to stop Marxist threat". The Financial Post. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c "Newsman's killer died, Nicaragua says". The Montreal Gazette. AP/UPI. June 22, 1979. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Soldier who killed newsman said dead". Eugene Register-Guard. June 21, 1979. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b "Deaths (Obituary of Jim Cefalo)". The Washington Post. October 15, 2001. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Bill Stewart buried". The Evening News (Newburgh). AP. June 24, 1979. Retrieved September 28, 2012. 
  15. ^ Geyer, Georgie Anne (June 21, 1984). "Central American situation changing, but the U.S. press is missing the story". The Spokesman-Review. UPI. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Bill Stewart Statement on the Death of the ABC News Correspondent". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved September 11, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Nicaraguan War Reporter Is Killed". The Virgin Islands Daily News. AP. June 22, 1979. Retrieved September 20, 2012. 
  18. ^ a b "ABC newsman honored". The Calgary Herald. UPI. March 3, 1980. Retrieved August 25, 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Mannikka, Eleanor. "Under Fire: Synopsis". allmovie.