Pierre Salinger -- ABC News's controversial American in Paris
Pierre Salinger is about to be embroiled in another controversy. The text of a secret recording of the meeting between UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and the Iranian Revolutionary Council will soon be published in a book based on "America Held Hostage: The Secret Negotiations," Salinger's now-famous three-hour marathon ABC documentary.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mr. Salinger's original coverage of the embarrassingly unsuccessful Waldheim attempt at negotiation incurred the wrath of the secretary-general when it was first aired. There is no doubt that publication of the transcript in November will simply fan the controversy -- and there is no doubt that the aggressive, ready-for-battle Pierre Salinger is looking forward to the new controversy.
If you are one of the growing multitude of viewers of "20/20" or ABC's "World News Tonight," you have been seeing a lot of Salinger in the past year. His marathon news special on the hostages caused a furor when it first ran on ABC and was repeated shortly afterward. Not eligible for an Emmy in 1981, it is almost a certain winner for 1982. And the book version is certain to revive many controversies.
For almost a full year, Salinger used his extensive personal sources to track many of the secret negotiations that went on, including the unrewarding attempt of Dr. Waldheim to solve the question by journeying to Tehran.
In November, Doubleday will be publishing an expanded version of that news special with new material added by Mr. Salinger, who indicates that he believes the new material will not make the secretary-general any happier than he was when the original TV now aired.
Salinger is a phoenixlike public figure who seems to rise and reconstitute his position time and time again. Now ABC News bureau chief in Paris, he first came to public attention when, after years of experience on newspapers, he agreed to serve with gruff jocularity as President Kennedy's press secretary. Later he filled the same job for a while when President Johnson took over, eventually returning to politics to work for the nomination of Robert Kennedy, until his assassination ended that venture.
For a while little was heard from this French-speaking American, whose mother was born in France and whose French-speaking grandmother lived with the family as he grew up in San Francisco. Then Salinger surfaced again when he was appointed senator from California when the job was vacated because of illness. Finally he ran on his own a few months later and lost, taking on a vice-president job at Continental Airlines for a few years.
After Bobby's demise, Salinger came to France, joined the staff of the French newsmagazine L'Express, and married a French newswoman who had come to interview him in 1964. In 1979, ABC president Roone Arledge, with whom he had worked on the winter Olympics, appointed Pierre Salinger head of the network's Paris news bureau . . . where I interviewed him a few weeks ago.
Ensconced in commodious, if unconventional, ABC News headquarters in a lovely old apartment-office building near the Trocadero Gardens, within view of the Eiffel Tower, I found Salinger five flights up after a precarious journey in a typically French rickety elevator.
"I started out with what we had at the time of the show," the shirt-sleeved Salinger says about "America Held Hostage." "But I have now added considerable material. The major thing is that I have managed to get my hands on a secret cassette recording of the meeting Waldheim had with the Iranian Revolutionary Council . . . a transcript of what was said. It will come as a revelation to many people who followed the year-long negotiations with the Iranians."
Did Salinger have the cooperation of UN officials?
He smiles as he shakes his head. "You can be sure it was done without their cooperation. My source is other than the UN."