Archiving Network Television: The John Martin Collection

Journalist John Martin reports from Beijing during Ronald Reagan's visit, April 1984

Klaus Barbie’s stories are among more than 300 available for screening by scholars in a network television news archive.

In a recent Sources and Methods post, I described my reporting efforts aimed at uncovering how US Army officers secretly helped Klaus Barbie, a notorious Nazi war criminal, avoid French prosecutors and flee to South America. My report appeared on the ABC World News Tonight of February 11, 1983, and exposed evidence of American assistance in Barbie’s escape. It created a stir on Capitol Hill, and beyond.

The 1983 Klaus Barbie stories which appeared on ABC exist for screening within an archive of more than 300 network television news reports assembled by the San Diego State University Library’s Special Collections branch.

The five Barbie episodes include Robert Wilson’s ABC News interview and the audio taped sounds of Barbie admitting his crimes; interviews with Eugene Kolb and Bernard Shute, two long-retired US Army counterintelligence agents describing their work with Barbie; images of the La Paz “street archivist” and Allan Ryan at work in Bolivia; and Ryan’s graceful “justice denied” announcement six months later in Washington.

Assembled from a collection of more than 200 videotapes and digitized into MP4 video files, the archive provides research material for journalists, historians, political scientists, and others. The files are based on a 35-plus-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor and television correspondent. A finding aid for the full collection is available on San Diego State University’s website.

In its beginning stages, the catalogue indexes 109 stories drawn from 19 subject areas. Samples among them:

  • the Holocaust (searches for Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele)

  • African-American history (the obituary of Black activist George Jackson)

  • the Persian Gulf War (the Kuwait incubator atrocity hoax)

  • Israeli-Arab conflict (Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel)

  • Cold War confrontation in Nicaragua (Iran Contra scandal)

  • the rise of Communist China (President Reagan’s 1984 visit)

  • Leonid Brezhnev’s obituary

  • American government operations

  • Urban unrest (daily accounts of the ten days of 1992 Los Angeles riots).

Screening at the San Diego State University Library is by arrangement with the head of Special Collections, Robert Ray (619-594-6791). All scholars are welcome.

Scholars can find similar research materials in a vast collection of recorded network newscasts at the Vanderbilt University Library in Nashville, Tennessee.

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John Martin, a retired ABC News national correspondent (1975-2002) and Columbia University adjunct professor (2002-2010), is a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
More posts by John Martin