The Name Game

05.2.2005 | George Zucker | Media Affairs | 3 Comments

As ace radio reporter Bill Crandall, I was tossed out of hotel rooms, shunned by colleagues and rebuked by future presidents. I learned early in a long journalism career that a reporter by any other name is trouble.

But unlike James Guckert, a.k.a. Jeff Gannon, famously accused of being a Bush Administration stooge at White House press briefings and presidential news conferences, I wasn’t despised for asking friendly questions.

“Do you think Fidel Castro is a Communist?” I asked Jules Dubois in a 1959 interview in Indianapolis on the publication of his book, Fidel Castro, Rebel – Liberator or Dictator?

Dubois shot back: “No! Do you?”

Then the furious author ordered me out of his hotel room, making it clear that only a right-wing nut would suggest that the colorful Cuban rebel was a Communist.

Dubois, 58, was basking in the euphoria of Castro’s triumph. His book, hailed as a “fresh, positive, very favorable picture of Castro,” had just been published in Indianapolis by Bobbs-Merrill Co. – barely a month after dictator Fulgencio Batista escaped from Cuba.

In April that year, Castro was feted in New York on his first U.S. visit through a press invitation arranged by Dubois, the Chicago Tribune’s respected correspondent in Cuba.

Bill Crandall was born 23 years old in 1956, thanks to the U.S. Air Force. A day earlier I had been Geroge Zucker, editor of the Hunter Herald, the 5,000-circ. weekly newspaper at Hunter Air Force Base near Savannah, Ga., a lowly enlisted man chronicling Officers Wives Club teas and United Fund campaigns.

Without telling the Air Force, I took a part-time job at night as a reporter for a 250-watt radio station in Savannah. “You’ll have to change your name,” the boss insisted. “The Air Force may not like your stories.”

So walking up the stairs to meet detectives at the Savannah police station, I became Bill Crandall.

By day, Airman Zucker of the Hunter Herald had trouble getting past a sergeant on the telephone. But by night, Bill Crandall of WSGA radio news had all the brass snapping to and calling me sir.

At first, it tugged the ego to see Bill Crandall get credit for all my good work. But it was tough cashing a check or explaining to a traffic cop why the name on my driver’s license was different from that on my press cards.

When I left the Air Force in 1958, I was hired by WIBC radio, the 50,000-watt blowtorch in Indianapolis. For the next 3 years, Bill Crandall interviewed just about every political and show-business celebrity who came to town.

My annoying questions first drew attention in an interview with Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Tex., who sat down with me to stump for former Evansville Mayor Vance Hartke, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Johnson abruptly ended the interview when I asked him why Hartke had his support but wasn’t all that popular in Evansville, where people knew him best.

“I didn’t come here to get in any fights!” Johnson said.

Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., joined the list of Crandall critics in 1960 when I asked him if he favored admission of Red China to the United Nations. Kennedy scowled and turned to the next reporter. His admirers in the local press corps took the question as an insult to this popular young senator.

The notion that any patriotic American would want China in the UN was unthinkable.

Vance Hartke went on to win his Senate seat. And later, a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, would open the door to China. But Jules Dubois had a falling out with Fidel Castro – his Communism no longer a secret – and had to flee for his life from Cuba.

Bill Crandall ceased to exist in 1961 when I went into wire-service work and took back my real name. I spent the first few months introducing myself to everyone who knew me as that annoying reporter, Bill Crandall.

George Zucker is the retired AP bureau chief in Philadelphia. He lives with his wife Judi in Haverford, Pa.

I like name games. Jules Dubois? wow.
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