On a Human Scale

by Jessie Meyers Moore ’10

It was 1989 when then-CBS News Correspondent and HWS Trustee Bill Whitaker Jr. ’73, L.H.D. ’97 reported on the “political light” effusing from students during the Democracy Movement in China – “almost jubilant,” he recalls, in its glow. And then he saw it extinguished in Tiananmen Square.

“To see that squashed with such brutal force was just shocking,” he says. “You look around and see the devastation, and your whole being is troubled by what you see. You just turn on the camera and the stories unfold in front of you.”

The kind of stories Whitaker has covered—the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster of 2011, among many others— weigh on a journalist. To cope with the emotional gravity that Whitaker felt as he reported on the Tiananmen Square events, he pushed his own discomfort aside. He forewent sleep. Journalists, he explains, put their personal pain aside so that the rest of the world can witness current events.

But the enormity eventually became too heavy to bear. Off camera, Whitaker broke down and sobbed.

In spite of the devastation he often covers, Whitaker sees hope continue to burn. Reporting on Hurricane Katrina, “the devastation was so widespread, so deep, and so profound...people didn’t know how they’d get from one day to the next,” but he watched as churches opened their doors to the people who “didn’t know how they’d make it to tomorrow.” Fishermen brought their shrimp and fish to the churches; women hauled out pots and cooked meals for their neighbors.

As he describes it, “people are knocked down; they’re devastated. But almost immediately, they get back up. And it’s inherently dramatic and moving, and it happens right in front of you.”

And when the whole world rises to provide assistance after a disaster, it shows, Whitaker believes, “an increasingly compassionate worldview that’s shrinking the scale of the globe.”

“People give when they know others need,” Whitaker reflects. “You won’t just have that local response but that world response. People go into their pockets to make life better.”

And this helps lift the weight.

Whitaker is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who has been called “one of the greatest veterans of CBS News,” by 60 Minutes executive producer and CBS News Chair Jeff Fager. In March 2014, Whitaker was named a correspondent for 60 Minutes.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.