Bernard Kalb, historical foreign affairs journalist, dies at 100 years old

NORTH BETHESDA, Md. — Bernard Kalb, a former television reporter for CBS and NBC who quit his job as a State Department spokesman to protest a US government disinformation campaign against Libya, died Sunday. He was 100 years old.

His younger brother, Marvin Kalb, told the Washington Post that his death at his home in the Washington suburbs followed complications from a fall.

Bernard Kalb worked as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, CBS and NBC, wrote two books with his more famous younger brother, and was the founding host and panelist for CNN’s media analysis show “Reliable Sources” .

Always smartly dressed in an orange suit and tie often paired with an orange handkerchief, Kalb was a hardworking reporter who made virtually every trip abroad with five different secretaries of state before moving to the other side of the podium.

“You feel like you’re an eyewitness of sorts to the evolutions and eruptions of the decades following World War II,” he told The New York Times in 1984, when he became Secretary of State George Schultz’s spokesman during the Reagan administration.

“You have a historical memory to appeal to and you see the trust of American foreign policy and other foreign policy,” he said. very valuable in this assignment.

The disinformation campaign followed US airstrikes that hit Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s compound in early 1986 in retaliation for a Libyan-linked terror attack on Germany. It was designed to make Gaddafi think he was about to be attacked again. The Washington Post exposed the campaign, which the paper said included divulging false information to reporters and of which Kalb knew nothing.

“I am concerned about the impact of any such program on US credibility,” Kalb said at the time. “Anything that hurts America’s credibility, hurts America.”

New York Times columnist William Safire praised the resignation. “In his last official act, Bernard Kalb has risen above ‘State Department spokesman’ to become the spokesman for all Americans who respect and demand the truth,” Safire wrote.

In 1992 Kalb became the founding anchor of “Reliable Sources,” which reported on journalists and how they handled stories. Co-host Howard Kurtz took over the show after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

In 1997 Kalb began moderating a series of press panels and conferences around the world for The Freedom Forum, a Washington-based foundation dedicated to press freedom run by former Gannett Co executives. which monitored Israeli and Palestinian media for incitement to violence that was created as part of the failed 1998 land-for-secure Wye River deal.

Kalb was born on February 4, 1922 in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants. His father was a Polish tailor, while his mother was Ukrainian. He attended New York City public schools and is a graduate of the City College of New York.

During World War II he spent two years in the Army, working for a camp newspaper in the Aleutian Islands alongside editor Sgt. Dashiell Hammett, author of “The Maltese Falcon” and other detective novels.

From 1946 to 1961, he worked at the New York Times, spending four months in Antarctica in late 1955-1956 covering Admiral Richard Byrd’s Navy expedition, Operation Deep Freeze. Later, in 1956, Kalb was sent to Indonesia, where he developed a lasting love for Asian antiques and porcelain.

CBS hired him from The Times in 1962 and sent him back to Southeast Asia, where he was famous. He joined his brother covering the State Department in Washington in 1975, and they moved to NBC together in 1980.

At CBS Marvin and Bernard were known as “The Kalbs,” but Bernard lived somewhat in the shadow of his younger brother.

One widely circulated, but apocryphal, story had the mother calling the CBS foreign office in New York and saying, “Hi, this is Marvin Kalb’s mother. Can you tell me where my son Bernie is? But Bernard Kalb never seemed the least bit jealous, sometimes even introducing himself as Marvin’s “little brother”.

Together they wrote an admirable 1974 biography of Henry Kissinger, ‘Kissinger’ and ‘The Last Ambassador’, a 1981 novel about the fall of Saigon.

Survivors include his wife, Phyllis, and their four daughters, Tanah, Marina, Claudia and Sarinah.


Associated Press writer Derek Rose contributed to this report.

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