Bill Stewart (journalist)

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Bill Stewart
Stewart in 1963
William D. Stewart

DiedJune 20, 1979 (aged 37)
OccupationTelevision journalist
Known forMurdered by the National Guard (Nicaragua)

William D. "Bill" Stewart (1941 – June 20, 1979) was an American journalist with ABC News who was summarily murdered by Nicaraguan government National Guard ("Guardia") forces while reporting on the Nicaraguan Revolution as Sandinista rebel forces were closing in on the capital city of Managua in 1979. [1] Footage of his execution was repeatedly broadcast on network television, resulting in an uproar against the Somoza regime in the United States.

ABC News News division of the American Broadcasting Company

ABC News is the news division of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), owned by the Disney Media Networks division of The Walt Disney Company. Its flagship program is the daily evening newscast ABC World News Tonight with David Muir; other programs include morning news-talk show Good Morning America, newsmagazine series Nightline, Primetime and 20/20, and Sunday morning political affairs program This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Nicaragua Country in Central America

Nicaragua, officially the Republic of Nicaragua, is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the northwest, the Caribbean to the east, Costa Rica to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. Managua is the country's capital and largest city and is also the third-largest city in Central America, behind Tegucigalpa and Guatemala City. The multi-ethnic population of six million includes people of indigenous, European, African, and Asian heritage. The main language is Spanish. Indigenous tribes on the Mosquito Coast speak their own languages and English.

The National Guard was a militia and a gendarmerie created during the occupation of that country by the United States from 1909 to 1933. It became notorious for human rights abuses and corruption under the regime of the Somoza family.


Life and career

Stewart, originally from West Virginia, was a 1963 graduate of The Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, Stewart was active in many extracurricular activities including the Student Senate and the Sphinx honorary society, as well as a member of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity. [2] He came to ABC News from WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. [3] An experienced foreign correspondent, Stewart's assignments included coverage of the Iranian Revolution in February 1979. [4] He had been in Nicaragua for ten days reporting on the civil war between the Somoza dynasty and the leftist Sandinistas. [5]

West Virginia State of the United States of America

West Virginia is a state located in the Appalachian region in the Southern United States and is also considered to be a part of the Middle Atlantic States. It is bordered by Pennsylvania to the north, Maryland to the east and northeast, Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, and Ohio to the northwest. West Virginia is the 41st largest state by area, and is ranked 38th in population. The capital and largest city is Charleston.

Alpha Tau Omega North American collegiate fraternity

Alpha Tau Omega (ΑΤΩ), commonly known as ATO, is an American social fraternity founded at the Virginia Military Institute in 1865. The fraternity has around 250 active and inactive chapters and colonies in the United States and has initiated more than 250,000 members. VMI Cadets are no longer associated with the fraternity. In 1885, the VMI Board of Visitors ruled that cadets could no longer join fraternities based on the belief that allegiance to a fraternal group undermined the cohesiveness of and loyalty to the Corps of Cadets.

WCCO-TV CBS TV station in Minneapolis

WCCO-TV, virtual channel 4, is a CBS owned-and-operated television station, licensed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States and serving the Twin Cities television market. The station is owned by the CBS Television Stations subsidiary of CBS Corporation. WCCO-TV's studios are located on South 11th Street along Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, and its transmitter is located at the Telefarm complex in Shoreview, Minnesota.


On June 20, 1979, Stewart was traveling in a press van in the eastern slums of the capital city of Managua with his camera and sound crew when they were stopped at a roadblock run by the Nicaraguan Guardia (lit. Guardia Nacional, or National Guard), the main force of President Anastasio Somoza Debayle. The van was clearly marked as a press vehicle as a precaution, which had become standard practice as the insurgency and revolution increased in intensity. [6] On the previous day the government newspaper Novedades had run an editorial describing foreign journalists as "part of the vast network of communist propaganda". [7]

Anastasio Somoza Debayle President of Nicaragua

Anastasio "Tachito" Somoza DeBayle was a Nicaraguan dictator and officially the President of Nicaragua from 1 May 1967 to 1 May 1972 and from 1 December 1974 to 17 July 1979. As head of the National Guard, he was de facto ruler of the country from 1967 to 1979. He was the last member of the Somoza family to be President, ending a dynasty that had been in power since 1936. After being overthrown in an insurrection led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, he fled Nicaragua and power was ceded to the Junta of National Reconstruction. He was eventually assassinated while in exile in Paraguay.

Stewart and his 26-year-old Nicaraguan interpreter, Juan Francisco Espinosa, exited the vehicle and approached the barricade. [8] [9] Stewart presented official press credentials issued by the office of the Nicaraguan president. [4] When they were a few meters away from the soldiers, cameraman Jack Clark spontaneously began filming from inside the van. A guardsman ordered the men to separate, and Stewart was ordered first to kneel and then to lie face down on the ground. [8] A soldier approached Stewart, kicked him once in the ribs, then stepped back and shot him behind his right ear, killing him instantly. [4] [8] [10] Juan Espinosa had been shot to death off-camera by a different soldier, apparently before Stewart was killed, after he approached the guards to ask their permission for an interview. [9] The driver of the ABC van, Pablo Tiffer López, would later testify that a soldier remarked of Stewart, "I'm sure he's no journalist. He's a dog." He also testified that when the soldiers realized they had killed an American journalist they commanded the crew to report that a Sandinista sniper was responsible. [11]

Stewart was 37 years old. He was survived by his wife, Myrna, and his parents. [12] His body was retrieved by his crew and flown on an Air Force C-130 from Nicaragua to Panama, then transferred to an airplane sent by ABC and returned to the United States. [8] [13] Stewart was buried in Ashland, Kentucky. [14]

Panama Republic in Central America

Panama, officially the Republic of Panama, is a country in Central America, bordered by Costa Rica to the west, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The capital and largest city is Panama City, whose metropolitan area is home to nearly half the country's 4 million people.

Ashland, Kentucky City in Kentucky, United States

Ashland is a home rule-class city in Boyd County, Kentucky, in the United States. Ashland, the largest city in Boyd County, is located upon the southern bank of the Ohio River. The population was 21,684 at the 2010 census. Ashland is a part of the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area; with a population of 363,000. Ashland is the second-largest city within the MSA, after Huntington, West Virginia. Ashland serves as an important economic and medical center for northeast Kentucky and is part of the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Kentucky.


The footage of Stewart's killing was smuggled out of the country by his crew and sent to New York. [13] The three major American networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS—ran the footage in their evening news broadcasts and repeatedly rebroadcast the clip in the following days. Millions of viewers in the United States and worldwide reacted with shock and outrage towards the Somoza regime. [15] All three networks protested the killings by withdrawing their personnel from the country, with only CBS leaving a single correspondent to cover the conflict. [11] President Jimmy Carter issued a statement describing the murder as "an act of barbarism that all civilized people condemn." [16]

The Big Three television networks are the three major traditional commercial broadcast television networks in the United States: the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), CBS and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Until the 80's, the Big Three networks dominated U.S. television.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.

Shortly after the killings, the Nicaraguan national guard reported that they had arrested Corporal Lorenzo Brenes ("Brenis" in some reports), the corporal responsible for Stewart's murder, and that he would be "brought before legal officers". [5] Brenes, who had been in command of the roadblock, testified before a military tribunal that he had not witnessed the shootings. He said that Stewart's killer was a "Private González" who was killed in combat later the same day; this elicited audible reactions of disbelief from the international press corps when announced at an official news conference. [11] Brenes testified that the private, whose first name he claimed not to know (but was later reported as "Pedro"), related to him that he had killed Stewart "because he tried to run away". [17] The ultimate fates of the Guardia soldiers responsible for the killings of Stewart and Espinoza are unknown due to the chaotic demise of Somoza's military regime. [18] Somoza fled Nicaragua for Miami on July 17, and the regime was overthrown on July 19, 1979, less than a month after Stewart's murder. [18]

Under Fire

A fictional version of Stewart's murder was told in the 1983 film, Under Fire , starring Gene Hackman, Nick Nolte, and Joanna Cassidy. [19] Hackman's Alex Grazier and Nolte's Russell Price are amalgamations of Bill Stewart's life and career as a journalist and war correspondent. In the film, Stewart's death is presented differently: Hackman's character is shot in the chest while standing up, and his death is captured in a series of still images by Nolte's character, who escapes from the scene in a hail of gunfire. As in Stewart's case, the images are shown to television audiences around the world, and the public outcry signals the end for the embattled Somoza dictatorship. [19]

See also

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  2. MakiO. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. 1963. p. 387.
  3. Rosen, Mark; Bruton, Jim (2012). Best Seat in the House: Mark Rosen’s Sports Moments and Minnesota Memories. MVP Books. p. 71. ISBN   978-0760341322 . Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 Wheaton, Lew (June 21, 1979). "Guardsman Held in Newsman's Death". The Dispatch . AP . Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  5. 1 2 "Soldier arrested in newsman's death". The Tuscaloosa News . AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  6. "Press: A Murder in Managua". Time Magazine . July 2, 1979.
  7. "Slayer of newsman died in battle, soldier testifies". The Deseret News . AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Correspondents Decry Killing of ABC Reporter in Nicaragua". The Evening Independent . AP. June 21, 1979. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  9. 1 2 "Nicaragua war victim forgotten but not by mom". Edmonton Journal . UPI. January 4, 1980. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  10. Brimelow, Peter (July 7, 1979). "Self-interest demands intervention in Nicaragua to stop Marxist threat". The Financial Post . Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  11. 1 2 3 "Newsman's killer died, Nicaragua says". The Montreal Gazette . AP/UPI. June 22, 1979. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
  12. "Soldier who killed newsman said dead". Eugene Register-Guard . June 21, 1979. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  13. 1 2 "Deaths (Obituary of Jim Cefalo)". The Washington Post . October 15, 2001. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  14. "Bill Stewart buried". The Evening News (Newburgh). AP. June 24, 1979. Retrieved September 28, 2012.
  15. Geyer, Georgie Anne (June 21, 1984). "Central American situation changing, but the U.S. press is missing the story". The Spokesman-Review . UPI. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  16. "Bill Stewart Statement on the Death of the ABC News Correspondent". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  17. "Nicaraguan War Reporter Is Killed". The Virgin Islands Daily News . AP. June 22, 1979. Retrieved September 20, 2012.
  18. 1 2 "ABC newsman honored". The Calgary Herald . UPI. March 3, 1980. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  19. 1 2 Mannikka, Eleanor. "Under Fire: Synopsis". allmovie .