TV re­porter blud­geoned with an axe han­dle while cover­ing Alabama civil rights protest

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Richard Va­le­ri­ani, who has died aged 85, was an NBC News cor­re­spon­dent who was once clubbed by an axe-wield­ing as­sailant at a civil rights demon­stra­tion, earned the ire of the Johnson and Nixon White Houses for his tele­vi­sion re­port­ing, and later worked on the other side of the cam­era, ad­vis­ing cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives and celebri­ties as a me­dia con­sul­tant.

As an NBC re­porter from 1961 to 1988, Va­le­ri­ani cov­ered the Bay of Pigs in­va­sion in Cuba, ral­lies for vot­ing rights in the South, the globe-trot­ting diplo­mat Henry Kissinger and the United States’ re­sponse to the Iran hostage cri­sis un­der Pres­i­dent

Jimmy Carter.

He also worked as a

Wash­ing­ton-based cor­re­spon­dent for the

To­day show, the net­work’s flag­ship morn­ing news pro­gramme, al­though he ex­pressed lit­tle plea­sure in as­sign­ments that took him away from break­ing news and scoop­ing his com­peti­tors.

‘‘I was sure that Dick Va­le­ri­ani of NBC was sneak­ing around be­hind my back – and of course, he was! – get­ting sto­ries that would make me look bad the next day,’’ the rev­ered CBS re­porter Charles Ku­ralt once said.

Va­le­ri­ani was NBC’S se­nior White House cor­re­spon­dent when he re­ported on an up­com­ing, then-se­cret 1967 sum­mit be­tween Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B Johnson and Soviet

Premier Alexei Kosy­gin, in a story that ap­par­ently led the pres­i­dent to un­leash a fusil­lade of pro­fan­ity.

‘‘Johnson called him into his of­fice at the White House and said, ‘There is no . . . way that you could know this if you are not [sleep­ing with] a Rus­sian broad,’’ Va­le­ri­ani’s wife, Kathie Ber­lin, re­called. ‘‘And Dick said, ‘Mr Pres­i­dent, I’m a mar­ried per­son.’ And he said, ‘That doesn’t mean [any­thing] with you Ital­ians.’ ’’

In a mem­oir, the for­mer Soviet spy­mas­ter Oleg Kalu­gin – then work­ing un­der­cover as an em­bassy press at­tache – wrote that he was the one who told Va­le­ri­ani about the meet­ing.

Va­le­ri­ani later cov­ered the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing the Water­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and as a State De­part­ment cor­re­spon­dent trav­elled widely with Kissinger, the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser who later be­came sec­re­tary of state. The two de­vel­oped a warm re­la­tion­ship, and in 1979 Va­le­ri­ani pub­lished Trav­els With Henry, a breezy ac­count of Kissinger’s ap­proach to state­craft, fond­ness for junk food and rap­port with the press. ‘‘If it’s Thanks­giv­ing,’’ Kissinger quipped dur­ing one long tour through the Mid­dle East, ‘‘it must be Da­m­as­cus.’’

Al­though Va­le­ri­ani spent most of his ca­reer in Wash­ing­ton, he said his most im­por­tant work oc­curred in Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama, where he helped bring images of peace­ful civil rights demon­stra­tors, streets full of tear gas and po­lice at­tack-dogs to a na­tional au­di­ence.

He be­came a part of the story him­self on the evening of Fe­bru­ary 18, 1965, while re­port­ing on a vot­ing rights march in Marion, Alabama, a short drive from Selma. ‘‘When I got there with my cam­era crew, I knew we were in trou­ble,’’ he told the Huff­in­g­ton Post in 2015. ‘‘Lo­cals sprayed our cam­era lenses with black paint, and the Alabama state troop­ers as­signed to pro­vide se­cu­rity did noth­ing to pre­vent them.’’

As demon­stra­tors be­gan march­ing to the county jail, the street­lights cut out. Va­le­ri­ani was tak­ing notes in near-dark­ness when law en­force­ment of­fi­cers started at­tack­ing the pro­test­ers, and he was clubbed across the side of the head with the han­dle of an axe. An­other jour­nal­ist later likened the sound to that of a wa­ter­melon be­ing hit by a base­ball bat.

‘‘I re­mem­ber a state trooper say­ing to the as­sailant, ‘You’ve done enough dam­age with this tonight,’ but he did not ar­rest him,’’ Va­le­ri­ani re­called. ‘‘A white man came up to me and asked if I needed a doc­tor. I put my hand to the back of my head and looked at it; it was bloody. ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I think so.’ The man thrust his face up to mine and said, ‘We don’t have doc­tors for peo­ple like you.’ ’’

A shaken Va­le­ri­ani was taken to hos­pi­tal in Selma, where he was in­ter­viewed by his NBC col­league Charles Quinn, and re­ceived a get-well tele­gram from Vice-pres­i­dent Hu­bert Humphrey.

His as­sailant, lum­ber sales­man Sam Dozier, later pleaded guilty to as­sault and was fined $78.75. One black de­mon­stra­tor at the rally, Jim­mie Lee Jackson, was shot in the ab­domen by a state trooper and died eight days later. His killing spurred the demon­stra­tions and marches in Selma one month later, which Va­le­ri­ani – fresh out of the hos­pi­tal – cov­ered for NBC.

Richard Ger­ard Va­le­ri­ani was born and raised in New Jersey by Ital­ianamer­i­can par­ents. His fa­ther was a quarry worker and his mother sold baby clothes. He stud­ied English at Yale and, after grad­u­at­ing in 1953, at­tended the Univer­sity of Pavia in Italy and the Univer­sity of Barcelona be­fore be­ing drafted into the army.

He be­gan his jour­nal­ism ca­reer at the Tren­to­nian news­pa­per in New Jersey, and in 1959 he joined the As­so­ci­ated Press. His flu­ency in Span­ish helped him land a post­ing in Ha­vana, where his re­port­ing on the Cas­tro regime drew the at­ten­tion of NBC and, even­tu­ally, led the com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment to force him from Cuba.

His mar­riage to Lee Hall, a cor­re­spon­dent for NBC and later Voice of Amer­ica, ended in di­vorce. In 1980 he mar­ried Ber­lin, a pub­li­cre­la­tions spe­cial­ist in the movie in­dus­try. In ad­di­tion to his wife, sur­vivors in­clude a step­daugh­ter, and two grand­chil­dren.

Va­le­ri­ani was work­ing in NBC’S New York bureau when he re­signed in 1988, say­ing he ‘‘felt un­der­utilised’’ in ‘‘an age of shrink­age’’ within the news in­dus­try. The de­par­ture freed him to nur­ture his love of horse rac­ing, and to be­gin a new ca­reer in con­sult­ing.

‘‘I like to de­scribe it as teach­ing peo­ple how to de­fend them­selves against peo­ple like me,’’ he told the New York Times in 1994, ex­plain­ing his work with clients such as di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow and co­me­dian Jimmy Fal­lon.

Even per­form­ers, he said, had some­thing to learn about be­ing on tele­vi­sion. ‘‘Al­most ev­ery­body, I’d say 95 per cent, come in for the first time and sit down in the chair and lean back, cross their legs and clasp their hands, none of which you should do. The es­sen­tial el­e­ments are eye con­tact, be­ing your­self, high en­ergy and get­ting your mes­sage across.’’ – Wash­ing­ton Post

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