Frank Kearns and the "Impossible Assignment" for CBS News

Sep 4, 2017

Frank Kearns
Credit WVU Press

Columbian Gerald Davis is co-producer of the 2012 Emmy-winning documentary Frank Kearns: American Correspondent first aired on West Virginia Public Television. Recently, Davis has published Algerian Diary: Frank Kearns and the "Impossible Assignment" for CBS News (2016, WVU Press). He talks with Walter Edgar about his deep dive into Kearns’ life and the assignment that changed the way the U.S. viewed Algeria’s fight for independence from France. Davis used archival material, Kearns notes and manuscripts, and his own conversations with Kearns as well as with those who knew him to re-construct the story.

Frank Kearns was the go-to guy at CBS News for dangerous stories in Africa and the Middle East in the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s. By his own account, he was nearly killed 114 times. He took stories that nobody else wanted to cover and was challenged to get them on the air when nobody cared about this part of the world. But his stories were warning shots for conflicts that play out in the headlines today.

In 1957, Senator John Kennedy described America’s view of the Algerian war for independence as the Eisenhower Administration’s "head in the sand policy." So CBS News decided to find out what was really happening there and to determine where Algeria’s war for independence fit into the game plan for the Cold War. They sent Frank Kearns to find out.

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