Prominent journalists have long careers, which means that some of their more interesting projects and contributions get lost in the mix. Some of the biggest names in news have found time to create police procedural television shows or help an ex-president with his memoirs. Find out some surprising things you never knew these famous journalists did.
Hunter S. Thompson Co-Created Nash Bridges
Counterculture journalist Hunter S. Thompson was famous for creating Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting often written in the first person with no pretense of objectivity. Thompson’s first major project was reporting on the notorious Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. After living with the bikers for two years and immersing himself in their lifestyle, Thompson published a bestselling book about the group. In 1971, Sports Illustrated hired Thompson to write about a motorcycle race Nevada. When Thompson instead turned in a hallucinatory piece featuring his alter-ego traveling around Las Vegas, Sports Illustrated nixed the article. Rolling Stone published the piece in installments, which Thompson later expanded to his best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
One of Thompson’s lesser known credits was co-creating Nash Bridges with actor Don Johnson. After the success of Miami Vice, CBS made a deal with Johnson for 22 episodes of whatever show he wanted to do. There was only one problem: Johnson didn’t have an idea for a story. Fortunately, his neighbor was Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson helped Johnson develop the show and wrote a treatment for the first episode. Once Johnson toned down some of Thompson’s more outrageous ideas, they had the blueprint for a hit show.
Diane Sawyer Wrote With Richard Nixon
Diane Sawyer is one of the most recognizable and accomplished journalists on television. Sawyer spent nine years reporting for CBS, becoming the first female correspondent on 60 Minutes during her time there. When she moved to ABC in 1989, she did double duty, co-anchoring both Primetime and Good Morning America before taking the anchor chair at World News Tonight. In 2009, her reporting on impoverished Appalachian children for the special “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” won her and her producers a Peabody and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.
Before Sawyer committed to reporting, she dipped her toes into politics. One of Sawyer’s first jobs was working as a press aide at the White House under Richard Nixon before becoming one of Nixon’s staff assistants. After Nixon’s resignation, Sawyer joined him in exile in San Clemente, California, to help him draft his memoirs. Sawyer’s closeness with Nixon even prompted some speculation that Sawyer herself was the Watergate informant known as Deep Throat.
Nellie Bly Went Around the World
Nellie Bly is most famous for her groundbreaking work investigating one of New York City’s most notorious mental hospitals, the women’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. In 1887 at age 23, Bly feigned mental illness and had herself committed to the overcrowded hospital for 10 days. Working for the New York World, Bly exposed the horrific abuse of the patients, many of whom were perfectly sane but were recent immigrants who had difficulty communicating with law-enforcement. Her work had an instant effect, spurring major changes in how the city treated the mentally ill.
In 1889, Bly made waves again, this time for a more lighthearted reason. She set out to traverse the globe faster than the hero of Jules Verne’s 1872 novel Around the World in Eighty Days. She traveled by cargo ship, horse, rickshaw, tugboat, and more, carrying just a single bag. Bly claimed she “would rather go back to New York dead than not a winner,” and she definitely won. Bly set a new world record, fully crossing the world in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds, making her a bonafide journalist celebrity.
Carl Bernstein Exposed His Parents’ Beliefs
Carl Bernstein’s name is fully synonymous with Watergate: After a tip from an anonymous source in the White House, Bernstein and Carl Woodward wrote an exposé for The Washington Post on President Richard Nixon and his administration’s role in paying thieves to wire tap the Democratic Party campaign offices. Woodward and Bernstein wrote two bestselling books about their investigations and the fall of the administration, All the President’s Men in 1974 and The Final Days in 1976
Bernstein wouldn’t publish another book until 1989, when he released Loyalties: A Son's Memoir. The book revealed that his activist parents, Alfred and Sylvia Bernstein, had joined the Communist party in 1942. The Bernsteins’ political affiliation had long been speculated, and both had been questioned about their party involvements before Congress. Al Bernstein worked as a lawyer defending union members accused of harboring communist sympathies, while Sylvia Bernstein was a civil rights advocate. The book also detailed a young Carl Bernstein’s experiences growing up under FBI surveillance and the government persecution his parents suffered.
Tom Brokaw Named “The Greatest Generation"
Tom Brokaw has covered some of the most important events in the last century. After starting out in radio, Brokaw became NBC’s Washington correspondent during the Watergate scandal. He hosted Today before moving on to anchor NBC Nightly News for more than 20 years. During that time, he was the first American to interview Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, and he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall in person. After September 11, 2001, Brokaw delayed his retirement to cover the fallout.
Brokaw also coined the term “The Greatest Generation” in his 1998 bestselling book of the same name. The Greatest Generation described the people who survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and came home to rebuild the United States. Brokaw’s book profiled some of the men and women from that age group, like Martha Settle Putney, one of the first Black women to serve in the Women's Army Corps. Soon, the term became widely used as a generational designation.