CNN cameraman has 40 years in the field, and the storage units to prove it

A bumper sticker from the network’s earliest days.

After nearly four decades as a CNN cameraman, Dave Rust hasn’t just collected the typical journalists’ larder of press passes and selfies from the thousands of stories he’s covered. He’s become a sort of hoarder of CNN memorabilia, filling storage units with artifacts dating from the earliest days of the network.

His treasures include big items, like CNN’s first microwave truck, circa 1980, replete with shag carpet. (He bought it for a thousand bucks when the network was ready to discard it, and is now in the process of restoring it.) And little stuff, like a sock that belonged to Jessica McClure, the 18-month old girl rescued from a well in Texas in 1987. “I just collect anything, really,” he says.  

Photographs, like the one signed by four US presidents prior to Anwar Sadat’s funeral in 1981, aren’t as fulfilling to him as more tactile fare. “The objects seem more personal,” he says.

 

Dave Rust with CNN’s armored car in Sarajevo. Snipers shot up the bullet-resistant window, which Rust replaced before the American Air Museum in Duxford, UK put the vehicle on display. Photo: Nic Robertson.

 

Before he heads out on assignment, he likes to think about what artifacts he might collect.

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Yet he knows better than to anticipate what he’ll find. From the ninth floor workspace at the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad where CNN famously beamed out to the world at the start of the Gulf War in 1991, Rust later retrieved the cable that allowed the network to stay on the air. He also picked up a lens from a missile that he found while roaming the streets.

 

Camera used during the trial of Saddam Hussein.

 

Script from 9/11 broadcast

Rust, who, at 69, is one of four remaining original CNN employees, says he has no idea just how many items he has in the two garages and two 9’x12’ storage units he has stuffed full, as well as what he’s stashed away in his house in the Atlanta area. There isn’t time in his life for proper archiving. This year, he has kept a busy pace, including covering the massacre in Parkland and appearing on several episodes of the Axe Files. “Every time I get home, I turn around and have to go out again,” he says.

Lately, his daughter, Christina, has been helping him catalog the treasures. Another daughter, Emily, works for CNN in special events, and keeps her eyes peeled for new acquisitions for her father’s collection. “She’s an enabler,” Rust jokes.

 

Bullet-resistant Land Rover glass hit by sniper in Sarajevo.

A 1976 graduate of Pasadena Community College, he’d been working at a newspaper when he got the idea with a friend in the ‘70s to buy a CP-16 film camera and venture into the business of shooting news footage.

He began supplying breaking news coverage to Jane Maxwell, then a producer at the Independent Television News Association in New York. Her job was to acquire material for newscasts produced by a network of independent stations that had been cobbled together by Reese Schonfeld, whom Ted Turner later hired as CNN’s first president. (Maxwell and her husband Rick Brown both followed Schonfeld to CNN in key roles at the start of the network. She retired as senior vice president of special events nearly a decade ago.)

Rust found a piece of a cruise missile on the streets in Iraq, and then had it signed by the international press corps.

Remnants from a CNN 1982 political set.

Rust says he would love to find a way to start a museum with his treasures. A few items he’s collected have already landed homes. The TK-76C videotape camera that was state-of-the-art when the network debuted is at the Newseum in Washington, DC. (Rust purchased it when gear was upgraded.)  

The Imperial War Museum in Duxford displays CNN’s armored car from Bosnia and Tora Bora, as well as clothing worn in the field by Rust.

Some of Rust’s treasures didn’t survive: a sample of 3,000-year-old ice from Antarctica given to him in 2002 by a crew building a new base at the south Pole, for example. His wife, not knowing its provenance, loaded it in the cooler for a road trip one of her kids was taking. “I hear,” Rust says, “they really enjoyed the sandwiches.”

Rust beside an earlier photo of himself at the exhibition in Duxford.

Correction: Jane Maxwell retired as CNN senior vice president of special events, not special projects. 

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Lisa Napoli , a Los Angeles–based journalist, began her career as an intern at CNN’s New York bureau, then located on the first floor of the World Trade Center, in 1981. She’s currently at work on a book about the founding of the network.