Class of 1957
Bruno Wassertheil combined a distinctive, commanding voice with a deep understanding of Israeli-Arab politics to become one of the leading radio correspondents reporting from the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s. He was based in Israel for CBS News from 1970 to 1978 and again from 1980 to 1986, doing almost 20,000 network broadcasts that were heard around the world and interviewing such key newsmakers as David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. He covered the Six-Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the war in Lebanon in 1982, and numerous other crises.
“He had a really good sense for Israeli politics,” said Dan Raviv, a CBS News correspondent. “He could really explain why a prime minister did something. His Hebrew was fluent, and his voice was very familiar to Americans who care about Israel, largely American Jews.” Wassertheil’s radio reports might last less than a minute, said Raviv, “but he managed to get so much information in that you felt you were spending more time with him.”
John Rothmann, a radio talk show host based in San Francisco and a frequent lecturer on Arab-Israeli matters, called Wassertheil “a living legend in the broadcast business” and “a walking encyclopedia about the Middle East.” He said Wassertheil was such an expert and so even-handed in his reporting, he was respected by people who were pro-Arab as well as those who were pro-Israel. Wassertheil once said that the true definition of a neutral reporter in the Middle East was someone who was “a Swiss atheist.”
Wassertheil, whose reporting won two Overseas Press Club awards for excellence in broadcasting, was born on March 9, 1935 in Katowice, Poland. In 1939, when he was four, he and his family boarded a steamship for the United States, planning to visit the New York World’s Fair. When they were still in mid-ocean, they got word that Hitler had invaded Poland. They never returned. Wassertheil was raised in New York and attended Stuyvesant High School before enrolling at City College, where he was an editor of Observation Post. Following graduation, he spent two years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, stationed in Puerto Rico.
His first professional job in journalism was as an assistant editor at Travel Weekly, a trade publication. He moved to Israel and was director of tourism for the coastal city of Ashkelon in 1963, but returned to reporting when he was hired by The Associated Press and then launched his radio career at United Press International. He covered the Six-Day War in 1967 and then edited the first Fodor travel guide to Israel. In 1970, Wassertheil started his 14-year career with CBS, interrupted in 1978 when he took a two-year break to be the Israeli correspondent for The New York Daily News.
Returning to the United States in 1987, Wassertheil settled in Palo Alto, Calif. In 1990, he was a founder of Dateline Jerusalem, a dial-up service based in the Bay Area that made news reports from Israel available to subscribers in Hebrew and in English. He became a popular lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and a frequent guest on local radio programs.
Wassertheil died of cancer on March 3, 2004. He was 68.