It was a passion born of his own experience as a hostage during the Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980. Cramer had been in the embassy getting a visa when gunmen opposed to Ayatollah Khomeini stormed in. After 24 hours as a hostage, he told the gunmen he was unwell, and was released, leaving to provide crucial information to authorities about the embassy layout, the number of gunmen and hostages.
It was an experience that he later realized had traumatized him in ways he didn’t comprehend at the time, and, as his career as a news boss took off, he remembered the impacts, long before PTSD became a well-known term for soldiers and others.
In January 2004 I was in a two-car CNN convoy ambushed by insurgents just south of Baghdad. One of our two drivers and my translator were killed, and my photographer sitting next to me survived being shot in the head. We all nearly died that day.
It was Cramer, then Executive Vice President and Managing Director of CNN International, who knew exactly what those of us who survived were going through and acted accordingly.
He had by then established a system within the company where staff could access professional help if needed after a traumatic incident, but, crucially, on that day, understood on a personal level our need to stay in Iraq together as a team for another week to process the experience, and attend funerals, rather than immediately leave to our respective scattered homes.
“Among his many accomplishments, Chris was a pioneer and innovator in field safety, as the world became more dangerous for journalists,” said Cramer’s successor with CNN International Tony Maddox, who carried on and expanded what Cramer had started.
“He led the development of guidelines and practices now widely adopted across the industry.”
I, for one, will always remember — and be grateful for — Cramer’s empathy for those who’d seen and experienced dreadful things. He knew from experience what it was like. I was in Iraq 17 times during the war, and also covered conflicts — from Afghanistan to Libya to Gaza and the West Bank — and I always felt Chris had our backs with the best possible security and support, both tangible and emotional.
Before joining CNN in April 1996, Cramer spent 25 years at the BBC. He was Head of Newsgathering and sat on the BBC’s News and Current Affairs Management Board, and was highly regarded by those with whom he worked.
He was also President and Founding Member of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) — a global organization dedicated to journalists’ safety.
As news of Cramer’s passing spread, those who worked with him began to recount their memories of the man, and his impact on their careers.
Octavia Nasr was CNN’s Senior Editor of Middle East Affairs, a position Cramer created after the 9/11 attacks. “Chris was an amazing boss,” she recalled.
“I will never forget lessons I learned from him in being direct and fighting for one’s rights — he supported women in senior and executive positions and helped us succeed. I owe him gratitude and respect and I will sorely miss his journalistic ethics and sense of humor.”
Chris could be many things — sometimes on the same day or within the same meeting. Tough, blunt and uncompromising, but also charming and wickedly funny. And, above all, he cared deeply about journalists and good journalism.
He was certainly one of a kind and he will be sorely missed.
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