National Press Club

Former TV reporter Marvin Kalb opines on Ukraine at first Legends dinner

September 17, 2014 | By Bill McCloskey | bmcclos325@aol.com

Former broadcast diplomatic correspondent Marvin Kalb talks Ukraine policy at Club's first "Legends of Broadcasting" dinner Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.

Former broadcast diplomatic correspondent Marvin Kalb talks Ukraine policy at Club's first "Legends of Broadcasting" dinner Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.

Photo/Image: Mark Hamrick

The direction the United States is going in supporting Ukraine as a democracy "frightens" Marvin Kalb, the former CBS and NBC diplomatic correspondent told Club members and their guests at the Broadcast Committee's first "Legends of Broadcasting" dinner.

Kalb, a former Fourth Estate Award winner who has reported from the former Soviet Union, took a break from preparing a book on developments in Ukraine for the Brookings Institution to speak in the Winners' Room. The event was held on the same day 30 years after Kalb first hosted "Meet the Press."

With a Nov. 1 deadline for producing the book, Kalb said he has done deep research because he believes "all major events ... can be explained by going into the history of the area." In this case he traced that history back to the year 861 when the "big empty space" now called Ukraine was colonized by warlike tribes from Scandinavia looking to take over territory and expand influence.

Fast forward several centuries and Catherine the Great brought the Ukraine area into Russia.

In the 20th century, after the communists took over Moscow, Ukraine became the largest of the 15 so-called democratic republics in the Soviet Union. In 1991, Ukraine declared independence, but for the next 24 years it was run by the same cadre that ran it as a communist republic, Kalb said. Now Moscow wants it back.

"The history of the Ukraine must be explained to the American people," he told the 22 attendees. He said the U.S. has no business conducting military exercises inside Ukraine, which borders Russia. "It is not in America's best interest to fight Russia," he said.

Given the mutual dislike that President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have for each other, Kalb said, "You don't set up a policy because you don't like someone."

At the dinner, he also lamented the current state of television news. "We nitpick and sound bite to death" rather than illuminate major issues, he said. "How did that happen?"