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By Amy Goodman Video Interview  May 20, 2014   truthout.org

Originally appeared in Democracy Now!

We spend the hour remembering the pioneering journalist William Worthy, who died earlier this month at the age of 92. During the height of the Cold War, Worthy defied the U.S. government by reporting from the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Iran, North Vietnam and Algeria. He also worked closely with many African-American leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Malcolm X. In the late 1950s, the State Department refused to renew his passport after he returned from a reporting trip into China. Despite not having a passport, Worthy traveled to Cuba in 1961 — two years after the Cuban revolution — and interviewed Fidel Castro. He was arrested upon returning to the United States — not for traveling to Cuba but for entering the United States illegally — an American citizen without a passport. The ordeal became the subject of Phil Ochs’ song, “The Ballad of William Worthy.” In 1981, Worthy traveled to Iran, two years after the revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Shah, resulting in a series of blockbuster exposés about U.S. actions in Iran.


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“For this generation of younger journalists who are coming of age in the era of the Edward Snowden documents, WikiLeaks, of the government surveillance on the metadata of journalists and many millions of people in this country and around the world, I would say that William Worthy is the single most important journalist that they’ve never heard of,” said investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who considered Worthy a mentor. “If Bill Worthy was a white journalist, and not been an African-American journalist, he would be much better known than he is right now.” We air excerpts of our 1998 interview with Worthy and speak to Scahill, former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, and Randy Goodman, a photojournalist who worked and traveled with Worthy throughout the 1980s.

Photo Credit: Walter Lippmann

Special thanks to photojournalist Randy H. Goodman for her photos of William Worthy, Iran and associated images.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour remembering the pioneering African-American journalist William Worthy. He died earlier this month at the age of 92. During the height of the Cold War, he defied the U.S. government by reporting from the Soviet Union, from Cuba, from China, from Iran, from North Vietnam and Algeria. He was a correspondent for the weekly newspaper The Afro-American of Baltimore from 1953 to 1980. He also contributed reports to CBS News, to the New York Post, to ABC and other media outlets. He worked closely with many African-American leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Malcolm X.

In the late 1950s, the State Department refused to renew his passport after he returned from a reporting trip into China. Despite not having a passport, he traveled to Cuba in 1961, two years after the Cuban revolution. During his trip, he interviewed Fidel Castro. When Worthy returned to the United States, he was arrested—not for traveling to Cuba, but for entering the United States illegally: He was an American citizen without a passport. He was originally sentenced to three months in prison, but his conviction was eventually overturned. His legal team included a young William Kunstler.

The legendary Phil Ochs wrote about this ordeal in the song “The Ballad of William Worthy.”

PHIL OCHS: [singing] Well, it’s of a bold reporter whose story I will tell
He went down to the Cuban land, the nearest place to hell
He’d been there many times before, but now the law does say
The only way to Cuba is with the CIA

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay

Five thousand dollars or a five-year sentence may well be
For a man who had the nerve to think that travelin’ is free
Oh, why’d he waste his time to see a dictator’s reign
When he could have seen democracy by travelin’ on to Spain?

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay

So, come all you good travelers and fellow travelers, too
Yes, and travel all around the world, see every country through
I’d surely like to come along and see what may be new
But my passport’s disappearing as I sing these words to you

Well, there really is no need to travel to these evil lands
Yes, and though the list grows larger, you must try to understand
Try hard not to worry if someday you should hear
That the whole world is off limits, visit Disneyland this year

William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.

AMY GOODMAN: “The Ballad of William Worthy” from Phil Ochs’ 1964 album, All the News That’s Fit to Sing.

For the rest of the full transcript, click here.

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