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If you like Sam Donaldson's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
David Halberstam,
Nicholas Kristof,
Charles Kuralt,
Peggy Noonan,
Dan Rather,
Neil Sheehan
Mike Wallace and
Bob Woodward

Sam Donaldson's recommended reading: Plutarch's Lives

Sam Donaldson also appears in the videos:
Perseverance and the American Dream
Advocacy and Citizenship: Speaking Out for Others

Related Links:
University of Texas

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Sam Donaldson
Sam Donaldson
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Sam Donaldson Interview (page: 3 / 9)

ABC News Correspondent

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  Sam Donaldson

We hear frequently that it's a difficult business to break into. Tell us about how you actually worked you way up in radio and television.

Sam Donaldson: Well, when I graduated from college, I had to go in the army. In the mid-'50s, young men didn't ponder whether they should go into military service, it was a given. Unless you had a physical problem, you went in the military. There might have been a few people who were conscientious objectors, but not many. It was not like the days of the Vietnam War, when people actually said, "I'm not going to go, I think it's the wrong war." So I spent two and a half years in the Army, in artillery. I had an ROTC commission, so I was a lieutenant. I enjoyed life, it was terrific.

Then I got out of the service and, like so many people, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I'd had this broadcasting major in college. I'd even gone to post-graduate school at the University of Southern California. I didn't get a masters degree, but I did some work on it. And yet, I didn't really know what to do.

Sam Donaldson Interview Photo
So I went down to Dallas, Texas. My sister-in-law's brother, who was a stockbroker said, "We'll teach you the stock business." I said okay, and he said, "You have to sell mutual funds to begin with." I couldn't do it. I literally hid under the bed when David would come in the morning, honking the horn to get me to come to work. The mutual fund was a good one, it wasn't a rip-off, don't misunderstand me. Yet I just couldn't ask you to buy something from me.

We sell ourselves all the time, absolutely. And in my business, I try to sell myself in many ways to get the story, to get an audience. But I just couldn't ask someone to give me money for this piece of paper which said, "It may grow and you may get some money."

So I looked in the paper and there was an ad that said they wanted a ghost writer to write a book. It turned out, the man who wanted to write the book was H.L. Hunt, who in 1959 was the richest man in the world. He had huge oil holdings in Texas, but he only had a fifth grade education. I went through all of his assistants and they said, "We like you. We think you're qualified. Mr. Hunt wants to meet you."

So one Friday afternoon I went to the Mercantile National Bank Building in Dallas and I went up to his office. There he was, in his 70s, the richest man in the world. He was dressed in a Robert Hall suit, with his lunch that he'd brought in a brown bag, literally. Maybe that's how he kept all his money. He asked me two or three questions, and then he said, "How cheap will you work?" I thought quickly, and I thought I delivered a brilliant answer. I said, "Mr. Hunt, I don't have many needs now. I'm a young man, I have just a little money saved, but I'll work for whatever you think the job is worth to begin with, because I want to work for you."

Well, he asked me two or three more questions and then dismissed me.

Later in the day his assistant called and said, "I'm sorry, you didn't get the job." I said, "Why? I was a leading candidate." "Well," she said, "when Mr. Hunt asked you how cheap will you work, and you wouldn't name a price, he wasn't interested, because he thinks everybody should know what they're worth." And she said, "It wouldn't have mattered if you said $1000 a month, or $300 a month." Well, I don't know what the lesson there is, because I -- you know, you name your price. But I guess the lesson is this: If you don't have confidence in yourself and think that you are worth hiring, or whatever it is, you can't expect anyone else to. And if I now call you in for a job and I say, "Can you do this job?" And you said, "Well, I don't know, maybe I can't, but I'd like to try," I can find someone else. Maybe you should be honest and say, "Yes, I can do that job. Now, I've had this much experience. Maybe I need a little bit more experience, but I can get it," and what have you. But I learned that lesson. And what it also did for me was teach me that I should go back to what I knew. I mean, go back to the game you know, go back to broadcasting. I knew that. I'd prepared myself for that.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

So I immediately went down and got a job at KRLD in Dallas, Texas, which was a CBS station then. I worked there for about a year, and at the end of the year I resigned. They said, "Don't you like it here?" I said, "No, you've been wonderful to me, but I think I've learned everything I can learn." I think about the arrogance of that and I marvel that I would say something like that. Obviously I couldn't have learned everything in a year, but I thought I was ready to go on.

I threw everything I owned into a car and I went to New York City, because I just knew that New York was ready for me, and that they would welcome me. "Here he comes! Boy, how great! Where have you been all our lives?" Well, you know the rest of that story. They laughed at me, I couldn't get a job. I went and I made the rounds. I met every news director. I mean, it was awful. And they thought I was awful, or at least not anyone they should pay attention to. But I'd also applied at a station in Washington, D.C. And so, about the time my last dollar was about to leave me, they called me in Washington and they said, "Come on down, we want to take a look at you." And they did, and they hired me.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

And the rest is history. What were you thinking? What gave you the courage to leave that secure position and seek your fortune elsewhere?

Sam Donaldson: I don't think it was courageous, I think it was foolhardy. If I'd known I was going to starve to death in New York, I don't think I would have resigned. Yet, Dallas is a great city today, it was a great city then. And I'm a Texan, so I enjoyed it. I was with people I understood. And yet, I felt that I wanted to do more.

I didn't come east of the Mississippi for the first time in my life until I was 26 years of age, but I knew. I read magazines, I listened to radio, I watched television. I knew there was something out there, and I wanted a part of it. I wanted to be in the news business, and I thought to myself, "Hey, I want to go to New York or Washington and be in the news business. That's where the action is." Now, I want to make clear that I think people who want to stay in Dallas, or in Farmington, New Mexico, or in Dubuque, Iowa are terrific. You decide what fulfills you, and where you want to work. And it's not a failure to stay in a small town and lead a wonderful life and do great work there. But for me, I wanted to see more. And I wanted to do more. And in those days at least, more meant bigger. It meant a grander scale, it meant more importance and a bigger scene. And that's what propelled me, in a foolhardy way, to quit my job in Dallas and go to New York without a job, because I wanted to do something up there.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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