In the 1950s and '60s, Frank Kearns was the "go-to guy" at CBS News for stories in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe. A native of Morgantown, he covered stories during a time when journalism could be a harrowing occupation while also helping to shape the emerging influence of television news.
A one-hour documentary, "Frank Kearns: American Correspondent," explores what it was like to be a reporter during the Cold War and the effects it had on his life afterward. The film is set to air at 10 p.m. Monday on West Virginia PBS.
The documentary's narrator is Jean Snedegar, a resident of Elkins and contributing producer to the BBC and W.Va. Public Radio. She was selected following a national search for the right voice to tell the story of Frank Kearns.
Jake Davis, the film's co-producer and a former student of Kearns, also is an Elkins native and former reporter/photographer for The Inter-Mountain.
"Frank Kearns was a courageous journalist and an inspiring college professor whose story has never been told before," Davis said. "With the cooperation of his family, friends and many former colleagues both here and in Europe, we have produced a compelling documentary that not only tells his role in the early history of TV news but probes the role of journalists in a democratic society, examines how relationships are formed for gathering information, and reveals the complexities of growing countries during the Cold War."
Like many American reporters in the 1950s, Kearns was a World War II-era patriot who believed that Egypt and the Middle East's pro-Arab movement was being influenced by the Soviet Union. He risked his life to be the first broadcast journalist to report from behind the battle lines in Algeria and volunteered for many dangerous assignments. In the process, he won several major journalism awards.
In 1971, following 18 years with CBS News, Kearns became one of 10 Benedum Professors at West Virginia University, where he taught journalism until 1983. It was during his tenure at WVU that CBS News told a congressional hearing that Kearns also worked for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Egypt during the 1950s sparking a controversy that is debated to this day. Kearns denied this allegation until his death in 1986.
"Many people in Morgantown, in New York and in Europe knew of or worked with Frank Kearns," Davis said. "When he became the subject of a national story dealing with journalists who may have worked with the CIA, it raised a lot of questions about who was and who was not telling the truth. And that's the point of this documentary: Searching for truth in a story that was difficult for Kearns himself to tell convincingly. This is our effort to do what he could not do for himself, while at the same time telling for the first time this timely but nearly forgotten story to a national television audience."
"Frank Kearns: American Correspondent" is co-produced, written and directed by Davis, executive producer at Greenbriar Group Films in Columbia, S.C., and West Virginia Public Broadcasting's award-winning producer and videographer Chip Hitchcock whose works include "Bridgeport to Baghdad" and "The Last Mission: Establishing the Rule of Law in Iraq."
In addition to Monday's airing, the film will be shown again at 9 p.m. Oct. 26. A companion book, "Algerian Diary: Frank Kearns and the Impossible Assignment for CBS News," is scheduled to be published next spring by the WVU Press.
More information is available at www.wvpubcast.org.