Winston Burdett

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Winston Burdett
Winston Burdett

(1913-12-12)December 12, 1913
DiedJune 19, 1993(1993-06-19) (aged 79)
  • Broadcast journalist
  • War correspondent

Winston Burdett (December 12, 1913 – May 19, 1993) was an American broadcast journalist and correspondent for the CBS Radio Network during World War II and later for CBS television news. During the war he became a member of Edward R. Murrow's team of war correspondents known as the Murrow Boys. From 1937-1942 Burdett was involved with the Communist Party. He testified before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1955, detailing his espionage work for the Soviet Union in Europe and naming dozens of other party members.

Early life[edit]

Winston Burdett was born December 12, 1913 in Buffalo, New York where his father was a civil engineer.[1][2][3] Burdett attended Harvard University graduating summa cum laude in three years,[4] leaving at age 19 in 1933. Burdett continued his education with graduate work in Romance languages at Columbia University.[4]

Career and spy work[edit]

Early career and spying[edit]

Burdett stayed at his first job, at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for five years.[2] During his time at the Eagle Burdett worked as a film, theater and book critic.[1] Burdett first joined the Communist Party in 1937 while working at the Eagle,[5] through a group there that was affiliated with the American Newspaper Guild (ANG).,[6][7] He was approached about spying by Nathan Einhorn. Einhorn, a reporter and executive secretary of the New York ANG local, wanted Burdett to meet with Joseph North, the editor of New Masses, the Communist Party USAs journal.[8] At the meeting North suggested a spy mission and introduced him to an unnamed man.[8] At another meeting in New York's Union Square Burdett learned that his mission was in Finland. Finland had fought a 1939 Soviet invasion to a stalemate.[8] His contact at Union Square was later identified by Burdett in a photo as the liaison between CPUSA and the KGB, Jacob Golos.[8]

Burdett left the United States in February 1940, funded by CPUSA and using his press credentials to travel as a roving correspondent.[2][9] Burdett first traveled to Stockholm and met another contact, "Mr. Miller".[2] Burdett was disillusioned by the party when he met the liaison for his work as a spy in Finland - a tough, crude and offensive KGB man.[2] Miller handed him $200 and detailed the mission.[2] Burdett was to report back on the morale of the Finnish population and troops.[8] Three weeks later, Burdett was visiting Finnish troops in the field when Finland signed the Moscow peace treaty.[2] He returned to Stockholm where he told Miller that the Finnish were mostly ready to continue fighting.[2] Miller paid Burdett another $400, thanked him and left.[2]

Burdett detailed his involvement with the Communist Party and his work as a spy at a Senate Internal Security Subcommittee hearing in 1955.[1][10] Burdett spied intermittently for another two years.[2] He visited the Soviet consulate in Bucharest twice and made a contact in Belgrade, neither resulted in a mission.[2] Burdett worked in Ankara under a Soviet embassy official.[2] Burdett left the party and his spying behind in March 1942.[2]

Work at CBS[edit]

Burdett was one of Edward R. Murrow's original "Murrow's Boys."[11][12] He was hired by CBS in 1940 while still a member of the Communist Party,[4] information he did not divulge to CBS until a loyalty questionnaire in 1951.[2] As a Murrow cohort he helped pioneer the field of broadcast journalism through radio reports that he and the other "Boys" filed.[citation needed]

For CBS Burdett covered the invasion of Norway,[5] the Axis retreat in North Africa,[13] the invasion of Sicily,[14] the fight for Italy,[15] and the Allied capture of Rome.[16] During the war, the Nazis kicked Burdett out of two countries, Norway and Yugoslavia.[5] After being expelled from Yugoslavia, Burdett began working in Ankara, Turkey.[citation needed] It was here that he would do his most extensive spy work,[citation needed] all while on the payroll at CBS. While working in Ankara, his wife was murdered.[citation needed]

While working out of Rome, Burdett, Joe Masraff, and a CBS cameraman from Cairo went into Yemen to cover a story.[17] They vanished for four weeks, no one in the New York City office knew their whereabouts other than they went into Yemen.[17] When the trio emerged four weeks later, they emerged with what Marvin Kalb, the Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University called "the most beautifully shot, beautifully written significant, substantive story about an Arab revolution . . ."[17] While reporting on Iraq in 1959 Burdett, along with UPI's William McHale, was expelled from the nation by Iraqi authorities.[18]

Burdett retired from CBS in 1978 after 22 years in the Rome bureau.[19] After his retirement, during the May 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, veteran CBS News correspondent Richard C. Hottelet in New York anchored a news bulletin on CBS Radio, and spoke by telephone with Winston Burdett in Rome.[20]

Senate testimony[edit]


In the early 1950s he told the story of his wife's death, which he speculated was due to his refusal to spy for the Soviet Union any longer, to New York Municipal Judge Robert Morris.[2] Morris subsequently encouraged him to speak up about the incident to the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, where Morris had counseled a few years earlier.[5] The June 28, 1955 testimony was damning; he provided a list of names to the committee of others who were Communists in 1930s, dozens of people were affected by Burdett's testimony.[2][21][22]

Burdett's testimony detailed his involvement with the Communist Party and ten other members of the Communist group at the Brooklyn Eagle.[22] He also recalled his spy work for the Soviet Union in detail.[2][22] Of the first five journalists called from Burdett's testimony at a 1955 hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, only one admitted affiliation with the Communist Party, Charles Grutzner of the New York Times.[22] Other journalists that Burdett named included David A. Gordon, of the New York Daily News, who took the Fifth Amendment 29 times, Melvin L. Barnet, a New York Times copyreader since 1953.[22] Barnet lost his job because of his failure to answer questions at the hearing.[22] Another witness, Charles S. Lewis, who had moved on to become news director of WCAX radio and TV stations in Burlington, Vermont, was much more cooperative with the Senate panel. He admitted that "he had been living with this dark secret."[22] Ira Henry Freeman, a New York Times reporter and New York Herald Tribune Military and Aviation Editor Ansel Talbert also testified.[22]

Burdett's testimony prompted at least 35 subpoenas by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, headed by Senator James O. Eastland, in November 1955.[21] Of those subpoenas 26 went to present or past New York Times employees.[21] Though many at CBS considered him a traitor after that testimony,[citation needed] Murrow and the network protected him and had him reassigned to Rome.[10] He became an expert in Vatican affairs and lectured students visiting Rome from the rooftop of the CBS building.[citation needed] Burdett also worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as an informant.[23] The FBI still has 900 pages of classified documents regarding Winston Burdett.[citation needed]

July 1955 witnesses[edit]

This is a list of people named in Burdett's June 1955 testimony who subsequently testified in July before the subcommittee.[22]

  • Melvin L. Barnet: New York Times copyreader. Was promptly fired based on his testimony, he took the 5th Amendment and refused to confirm membership in the Communist Party.
  • Ira Henry Freeman: New York Times reporter. Admitted to a one-year affiliation with the Communist Party and was allowed to keep his job.
  • David A. Gordon: New York Daily News reporter. Took the 5th amendment 29 times. The News fired him within 24 hours.
  • Charles S. Lewis: news director WCAX, Burlington, Vermont. Admitted to Communist ties.

November subpoenas[edit]

This is a list of other newspaper employees who were subpoenaed and testified in November 1955 due to Burdett's June testimony.[21]

Personal life and death[edit]

Burdett's first wife was Italian anti-fascist journalist, Lea Schiavi. She was murdered in 1942 and Burdett attributed her murder to his decision to leave the Communist Party and stop spying for them.[1][2] In 1945 he married Giorgina Nathan. He also had two children, Cristina and Richard.[1] Winston Burdett died in Rome on May 19, 1993 after a long illness.[19]

Selected publications[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Pace, Eric. "Winston Burdett Is Dead at 79; Covered World and War for CBS", The New York Times, May 21, 1993, accessed February 12, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Investigations: The Eagle's Brood", Time Magazine, (web: p. 2), July 11, 1955, accessed February 12, 2011.
  3. ^ Current Biography Yearbook, (Google Books link), H. W. Wilson Co., 1944, p. 88.
  4. ^ a b c Bliss, Edward. Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism, (Google Books link), Columbia University Press, 1991, p. 111, (ISBN 0231044038).
  5. ^ a b c d Alwood, Edward. Dark Days in the Newsroom:McCarthyism Aimed at the Press, (Google Books link), Temple University Press, 2007, pp. 85, 86-94, 126, (ISBN 1592133428).
  6. ^ Haynes, John Earl and Klehr, Harvey. . Verona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, (Google Books link), Yale University Press, 1999, p. 76, (ISBN 0300077718).
  7. ^ Ghiglione, Loren. CBS's Don Hollenbeck: A Honest Report in the Age of McCarthyism, (Google Books link), Columbia University Press, 2008, pp. 190-191 (ISBN 0231144962).
  8. ^ a b c d e Haynes, John Earl. "The American Communist Party as an Auxiliary to Espionage: From Asset to iability", 2005 Raleigh International Spy Conference, p. 14-15, accessed February 13, 2011.
  9. ^ Cogley, John and Miller, Merle. Blacklisting: Two Key Documents, (Google Books link), pp. 126 - 127, Ayer Publishing, 1971, (ISBN 0405035799).
  10. ^ a b Musser, Rick. "History of American Journalism, 1940s", Kansas University, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, May 2033, updated January 2004, accessed February 12, 2011.
  11. ^ "The Murrow's Boys", The Life and Work of Edward R. Murrow, an archive exhibit, Digital Collections and Archives, The Murrow Center, Tufts University, 2008, accessed February 12, 2011.
  12. ^ Mitgang, Herbert. "Book of the Times; Radio Days of Glory and Defeat", The New York Times, June 21, 1996, accessed February 12, 2011.
  13. ^ Musser, Rick. "World War II On The Air: Edward R. Murrow And The Broadcasts That Riveted A Nation", (Audio file #28, Burdett reports on the Axis retreat in North Africa - December 16, 1942) History of American Journalism, University of Kansas, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, May 2003, updated January 2007, accessed February 12, 2011.
  14. ^ Musser, Rick. "World War II On The Air: Edward R. Murrow And The Broadcasts That Riveted A Nation", (Audio file #29, Burdett reports on the Invasion of Sicily - July 10, 1943) History of American Journalism, University of Kansas, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, May 2003, updated January 2007, accessed February 13, 2011.
  15. ^ Musser, Rick. "World War II On The Air: Edward R. Murrow And The Broadcasts That Riveted A Nation", (Audio file #31, Burdett reports on Race for Possession of Italy - September 10, 1943) History of American Journalism, University of Kansas, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, May 2003, updated January 2007, accessed February 12, 2011.
  16. ^ Musser, Rick. "World War II On The Air: Edward R. Murrow And The Broadcasts That Riveted A Nation", (Audio file #33, Burdett reports on Capture of Rome - June 5, 1944) History of American Journalism, University of Kansas, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, May 2003, updated January 2007, accessed February 12, 2011.
  17. ^ a b c Kalb, Marvin. "Whatever Happened to the News?" (Internet Archive Wayback Machine link), (Word .doc), Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, April 5, 1998, accessed February 17, 2011.
  18. ^ "The Middle East: The Dry & the Wet", (Web: p.2), Time Magazine, August 6, 1959, accessed February 13, 2011.
  19. ^ a b c From Staff and Wire Reports. "Winston Burdett; Ex-CBS Journalist, Murrow Colleague", Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1993, accessed February 12, 2011.
  20. ^ "Burdett by phone on 1981 news bulletin",, accessed February 13, 1011.
  21. ^ a b c d "The Press: Eastland v. The Times", Time Magazine, January 16, 1956, accessed February 12, 2011.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Press: Skeletons in the City Room", Time Magazine, July 25, 1955, accessed February 12, 2011.
  23. ^ Mintz, Morton. "Intimidation and Convictions of Journalists", Niemen Reports, Spring 2008, accessed February 13, 2011.
  24. ^ Burdett, Winston. Encounter With The Middle East: An Intimate Report on What Lies Behind the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Google Books link), Atheneum, 1969.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]