During the height of the Cold War, Worthy defied the U.S. government by reporting from the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, Iran, North Vietnam and Algeria. He also worked closely with many African-American leaders, including A. Philip Randolph and Malcolm X. In the late 1950s, the State Department refused to renew his passport after he returned from a reporting trip into China. Despite not having a passport, Worthy traveled to Cuba in 1961 — two years after the Cuban revolution — and interviewed Fidel Castro. He was arrested upon returning to the United States — not for traveling to Cuba but for entering the United States illegally — an American citizen without a passport. The ordeal became the subject of Phil Ochs’ song, “The Ballad of William Worthy.” In 1981, Worthy traveled to Iran, two years after the revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Shah, resulting in a series of blockbuster exposés about U.S. actions in Iran.”For this generation of younger journalists who are coming of age in the era of the Edward Snowden documents, WikiLeaks, of the government surveillance on the metadata of journalists and many millions of people in this country and around the world, I would say that William Worthy is the single most important journalist that they’ve never heard of,” said investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who considered Worthy a mentor. “If Bill Worthy was a white journalist, and not been an African-American journalist, he would be much better known than he is right now.” We air excerpts of our 1998 interview with Worthy and speak to Scahill, former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, and Randy Goodman, a photojournalist who worked and traveled with Worthy throughout the 1980s.
Ballad of William Worthy
by Phil Ochs
Well, it's of a bold reporter whose story I will tell He went down to the Cuban land, the nearest place to hell He'd been there many times before, but now the law does say The only way to Cuba is with the CIA William Worthy isn't worthy to enter our door Went down to Cuba, he's not American anymore But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay Five thousand dollars or a five year sentence may well be For a man who had the nerve to think that travelin' is free Oh why'd he waste his time to see a dictator's reign When he could have seen democracy by travelin' on to Spain? William Worthy isn't worthy to enter our door Went down to Cuba, he's not American anymore But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay So, come all you good travelers and fellow-travelers, too Yes, and travel all around the world, see every country through I'd surely like to come along and see what may be new But my passport's disappearing as I sing these words to you Well, there really is no need to travel to these evil lands Yes, and though the list grows larger you must try to understand Try hard not to be surprised if someday you should hear The whole world is off limits, visit Disneyland this year William Worthy isn't worthy to enter our door Went down to Cuba, he's not American anymore But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay