Hodding Carter III, State Department spokesman during Iran hostage crisis, dies at 88

May 12, 2023, 10:18 AM | Updated: 10:30 am

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Hodding Carter III, a Mississippi journalist and civil rights activist who updated Americans on the Iran hostage crisis as U.S. State Department spokesman and won awards for his televised documentaries, has died. He was 88.

His daughter, Catherine Carter Sullivan, confirmed that he died Thursday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Before moving to Washington in 1977, Carter was editor and publisher of his family’s newspaper, the Delta Democrat-Times, in Greenville, Mississippi.

Carter had been co-chair of the Loyalist Democrats, a racially diverse group that won a credentials fight at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, unseating the all-white delegation by Mississippi’s governor, John Bell Williams.

Carter’s campaign work in 1976 for Jimmy Carter, no relation, helped secure him a job as assistant secretary of state for public affairs. It was in this role that he was seen on television news during the 444 days that Iran held 52 Americans hostage.

When Ronald Reagan was elected to the White House in 1980, Carter returned to journalism as president of MainStreet, a television production company specializing in public affairs programs that earned him four national Emmy Awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award for documentaries.

Carter appeared as a panelist, moderator or news anchor at ABC, BBC, NBC, CNN and PBS. He also wrote op-ed columns for the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He served twice on the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Carter later was named the John S. Knight Professor of Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland. In 1998 he became president of the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation, based in Miami, Florida.

After leaving the foundation, he began teaching leadership and public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006. He wrote two books, “The Reagan Years” and “The South Strikes Back.”

Carter, an ex-Marine who exercised regularly, underwent surgery in 2012 to have a pacemaker installed to help control an irregular heart rhythm.

Progressive politics ran in his family. William Hodding Carter III was born April 7, 1935, in New Orleans, to William Hodding Carter Jr. and Betty Werlein Carter. They moved to Greenville, Mississippi, recruited by a group of community leaders to start a weekly newspaper that evolved into the Delta Democrat-Times.

His father’s editorials about social and economic intolerance earned him a national reputation and undying enmity and threats from white supremacists. He also won the Pulitzer Prize, in 1946, for a series of editorials critical of U.S. treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

His mother, from a prominent New Orleans family, was a feature writer and editor who recalled sitting at home with a shotgun across her lap after receiving threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

Carter was the oldest of three sons. His brother Philip Dutarte Carter, reported for Newsweek and served as publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times and Vieux Carré Courier as well as financier of Gambit, a New Orleans weekly. Another brother, Thomas Hennen Carter, killed himself playing Russian roulette.

Hodding Carter III attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before graduating from Greenville High School in 1953. He graduated from Princeton University in 1953 and married Margaret Ainsworth Wolfe. They had four children before divorcing in 1978.

Carter later married Patricia M. Derian, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who sought to transform U.S. foreign policy as President Carter’s assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.

After she died in 2016, Carter married again, in November 2019, to journalist and author Patricia Ann O’Brien after the two connected during a reunion at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

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Hodding Carter III, State Department spokesman during Iran hostage crisis, dies at 88