George Crile III, an award-winning CBS News journalist and best-selling author, died Monday. Crile, who lived in New York City, suffered from pancreatic cancer diagnosed in November 2005. He was 61.
Crile worked more than 25 years as a producer and correspondent for CBS News and would occasionally appear in pieces he reported and produced. At first, he worked for the documentary unit "CBS Reports" but in 1985, began producing for 60 Minutes. "Charlie Wilson's War", Crile's 2003 book that spent months on the New York Times' best seller list, began with a 60 Minutes profile in 1988 of a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson.
Wilson's story of manipulating Congress and the CIA into arming the Afghan tribes fighting a rebellion against the Soviets was a colorful Cold War yarn. Crile's book about an elaborate war in Afghanistan that the American public didn't know it was financing turned into something much more after Sept. 11: The U.S. had inadvertently laid the foundation for Islamic militancy by turning these fighters into heroes whose exploits attracted mujahadeen from all over the world and set the stage for Osama bin Laden. Crile rushed to finish the work he had already spent 13 years reporting.
Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to "Charlie Wilson's War" and the film is now in preproduction for Universal Studios, with Julia Roberts set to play the female lead, Hanks to play Wilson and Mike Nichols directing.
The years of reporting on the book made Crile well-informed on militant Islamists and put him in a position to believe that al Qaeda would become an even bigger story and a more dangerous threat in the coming months. In early 2001, he traveled extensively and shot footage in Pakistan and Afghanistan, speaking with Islamic fundamentalists who knew bin Laden and with ordinary Muslims who supported him. One result, broadcast on Sept. 17, 2001, was an extremely prescient 60 Minutes II report he produced for Dan Rather, "Prophesies of Terror," in which Crile interviewed a member of bin Laden's inner circle, Khalid Kwaja. The report shed new light on why al Qaeda and its supporters hated the United States. Crile produced three more reports that led the 60 Minutes II coverage of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.
Foreign intrigue was a constant theme in Crile's work, the subject of most of the dozens of stories he produced for 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II. He received Overseas Press Club Edward R. Murrow Awards for two of them: "Room 19," a 1991 60 Minutes report, featured a secret room in Moscow where the brains of Soviet leaders were preserved, and "General Sergeyev," a 1994 60 Minutes II segment he produced for Ed Bradley that followed a top Russian nuclear army officer while he toured secret U.S. nuclear sites. The piece was a follow-up to one Crile produced a few months earlier in which Gen. Sergeyev showed Crile and Bradley the missiles his country had aimed at the United States. In both reports, and some others he produced on the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Crile had a collaborator, a young Russian journalist named Artyom Borovik, whose help was essential in gaining the access.
Borovik died in a plane crash in 2000. Through Crile's efforts, CBS News has sponsored the Artyom Borovik Award presented each year by the Overseas Press Club for the Russian who most exemplified Borovik's independent journalism.
Another 60 Minutes segment he produced for Bradley won an Emmy Award. In the 1986 report, "Michele," Bradley talks to Michele Duvalier, the wife of deposed Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, whose extravagant lifestyle led to his downfall. Said Bradley, for whom Crile produced 13 reports in all, "There is no one who enjoyed what he were doing more than George did, particularly when it came to doing foreign pieces."
Crile's reports also include the topics of Three Mile Island, the battle of the Panama Canal, U.S. Cuban policy, the Sandinistas, the U.S. Saudi connection, the Gulf War, the killers in Rwanda, the KGB and the world of Soviet intelligence.
Crile joined CBS News in 1976 to produce "The CIA's Secret Army," a trail-blazing documentary for "CBS Reports" that chronicled the secret wars on Castro after the Bay of Pigs. He produced several other documentaries for the unit, including "The Battle for South Africa," which won him a Peabody and an Emmy Award.
Crile also produced for CBS Reports "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception" with Correspondent Mike Wallace about the undercounting of enemy troops in Vietnam. Gen. Westmoreland sued CBS News and Mike Wallace for libel, but the general abruptly withdrew the suit during the 1984 trial.
In 1985, Don Hewitt, then the executive producer of60 Minutes , hired Crile to produce stories for Wallace, Harry Reasoner and Bradley. Crile was chosen to help start 60 Minutes II in 1999. "George Crile was one of the finest reporters who ever worked at CBS News," said 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager, who founded60 Minutes II. "He took on difficult assignments and always came back with more than anybody expected. We will miss his great talent, and his wonderful friendship."
His last on-air appearance was on 60 Minutes II in September 2002 for a piece he produced for Dan Rather. In "The Big Lie," Crile reported how much of the Muslim world at that time believed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were the result of a Jewish conspiracy.
Rather said, "George Crile was a masterful journalist: he could and did report, write and broadcast at a consistently high level. Besides that, he was a kind and gentle man who loved mentoring younger journalists."
"He was courageous, resourceful, a superb reporter and a dear friend," said Wallace.
Before joining CBS News, Crile was Washington editor of Harper's magazine. In addition to Harper's, his articles appeared in other publications, including Washington Monthly, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He began his journalism career working for the Washington columnists Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson. Crile also worked as a pentagon correspondent for Ridder Newspapers.
Crile was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 5, 1945 to an old and prominent American family that included a grandfather, Dr. George Crile, who was a pioneering surgeon who co-founded the Cleveland Clinic. Crile's father, Dr. George Crile, Jr., was an important surgeon at the world-renowned hospital who was famous for challenging unnecessary surgery. Crile attended local schools and was graduated with a bachelor's degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He then attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Crile served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve as a lance corporal from 1968 to 1974.
Crile is survived by his wife, Susan Lyne, the president of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia; four daughters, Katy, Molly, Susan and Jane; and two sisters, Ann Esselstyn and Susan Crile. He was previously married to Anne Patten.