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Interview: David Martin on the Wilderness of Mirrors, and More
The vaunted CBS News correspondent reflects on 50 years in the national security trenches
David Martin is not all that happy about being honored for his decades as a highly regarded, much decorated, national security correspondent at CBS News. In late September he was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Gold Circle honor society.
“Well, you know, it's kind of bittersweet because obviously you like being recognized by your peers, but the fact that I'm getting a medal which says the number 50 on it tells you that the calendar does not lie,” Martin tells me in an interview for the latest installment of the SpyTalk podcast. “And you know, I hate to think of having to leave this business. I enjoy it so much. But you know…”
Martin first earned his reporting chops at the Associated Press, which he counts as “the most valuable experience of my life, because it just really taught you the basics—’get it first, but first get it right.’ And I'm convinced that all the habits I learned in my twenties are the habits I've used ever since.”
Parlaying his stint as a young U.S Naval officer aboard a destroyer off Vietnam during the war, Martin won a job with the A.P. on the military beat. But covering the Church Committee’s 1975-76 investigation of the CIA’s Cold War excesses—assassinations, domestic spying, LSD experiments on unwitting American citizens and the like—drew him into the netherworld of covert operations and mole hunts, which he would eventually call “The Wilderness of Mirrors” in a groundbreaking 1980 book.
In 1983, Martin joined—actually rejoined—CBS News, where he’d done a stint as a researcher 15 years earlier, followed by a few years at Newsweek on the national security beat. From the get-go he had numerous firsts and scoops, earning him several Emmys and other coveted journalism awards as he covered U.S. diplomacy, domestic security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the CIA’s global pursuit of terrorists, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the agency’s black sites and interrogations methods, led by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In our interview, Martin compared the CIA’s treatment of terrorist suspects to what North Vietnam meted out to American POWs.
“They don't use the word torture, but I think any, yeah, but anybody listening to what happened would call it torture,” he said.
Asked what drives him today, Martin instantly answered “the war in Ukraine, which is just one of the most extraordinary things.”
“You know,” he adds, “I thought in 1989 and 1990, when the Cold War ended, the Pentagon correspondent's job might become a backwater. And of course, it's become anything but.”
Listen to the whole fascinating conversation here on Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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