Benjamin, Burton


Benjamin, Burton
(October 9, 1917–September 18, 1988)
   After seven years as a newspaper journalist, Burton Benjamin came to film production in 1946 at RKO-Pathé. There, he spent 10 years producing and sometimes writing and directing a series of documentary short subjects called This is America, of which Kubrick’s documentary short,“DAY OF THE FIGHT,” is a part. Curiously, though, Benjamin is not credited in “Day of the Fight,” but he did produce Kubrick’s second short, “FLYING PADRE,” for RKOPathé’s Screenliner series.
   Professionally, Burton Benjamin was best known for his long tenure as a producer at CBS News, from 1957 until his retirement in 1985. His debut there, The Twentieth Century, a documentary film series narrated by Walter Cronkite, was as popular in the early 1960s as the average prime-time western, garnering Nielsen ratings in the low 20s. Benjamin’s secret was his faith in solid journalism over cheap thrills: “I operate on the theory that a man being shot out of a cannon is not the most exciting picture we can give a TV audience. As long as the subject meat is there . . . you don’t need shock footage or camera gimmickry. ” For Benjamin, film was a priceless recorder of history. One of his greatest hopes was that people a hundred years into the future would look back at his films and series such as The Twentieth Century to see Churchill, Gandhi, and the liberation of Paris. Current awareness of the need to preserve film and video history may help see Benjamin’s hopes realized. Burton Benjamin held the position of senior executive producer at CBS News from 1968–1975 and again from 1981–1985. In between, he served as executive producer of the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite and then as director of the news division. Over the course of this distinguished career, Benjamin won eight Emmy Awards, one Peabody Award, and the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award. In 1983, Benjamin achieved his greatest public notoriety for what became known as “The Benjamin Report,” written for CBS in order to determine whether proper journalistic ethics had been followed in a TV documentary about General William C. Westmoreland. The film, “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception,” suggested that General Westmoreland, in order to maintain morale and public confidence during the Vietnam War, had deliberately underemphasized the strength of the enemy in his reports to President Johnson and Congress. As a consequence of the film, Westmoreland sued for libel, and CBS asked Benjamin to conduct an internal investigation. The Benjamin Report concluded that the filmmakers had not fabricated facts, but they had ignored 10 precepts of the network’s journalistic code. Ultimately, however, a judge declared the report inadmissible, and General Westmoreland dropped the suit. The week before Benjamin’s death, his book-length account of the incident, Fair Play: CBS, General Westmoreland, and How a Television Documentary Went Wrong hit the stands, published by Harper & Row.
   Benjamin’s old CBS colleagues remembered him for his obsession with fairness in the news and documentaries. Richard Kaplan, a former CBS News producer and executive producer for ABC’s Nightline, said, “It wasn’t just Edward R. Murrow who gave CBS its Tiffany shine; it was producers like ‘Bud’ Benjamin. He always had his sights set on higher ground. ”
   References
   ■ “Burton Benjamin . . . Producer, ‘The Twentieth Century,’” press release, CBS Television Biography, December 12, 1958;
   ■ “Historian—20th-Century Version,” Show, May 1962, p. 24; Jensen, Elizabeth, “Benjamin left legacy of quality at CBS,” New York Daily News, September 20, 1988, p. 75;
   ■ Kaplan, Peter W. , “Judge Rules CBS Study Not Admissible in Trial,” New York Times, December 14, 1984, p. B-11;
   ■ “Obituaries: Burton Benjamin,” Variety, September 21, 1988, p. 93; Pace Eric,“Burton Benjamin, 70, Dies;
   ■ Former Head of CBS News,” New York Times, September 19, 1988, p. B-10; Patureau, Alan, “The Man Behind ‘20th Century’ Success,” Newsday, August 22, 1963.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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