Emery, Michael. On the Front Lines: Following America's Foreign Correspondents Across the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: American University Press, 1995. 346 pp. $24.95.
Pedelty, Mark. War Stories: The Culture of Foreign Correspondents. New York: Routledge, 1995. 254 pp. $16.95.
Considering the tremendous importance of American foreign correspondence in providing the information that the mass of American citizens (and the U.S. government) obtain about the world abroad, it is an anomaly that so little scholarly attention has been paid to studying how those correspondents are chosen, how they conceive of their work and how they perform.
By far the richest store of information about foreign correspondence is from foreign correspondents themselves, which is in the form of current events books, memoirs, and novels. There are more autobiographies than biographies, but the latter tend to be more objective, probing, and enlightening. Appreciation is therefore due the late Michael Emery and Mark Pedelty for their labors in addressing the scarcity.
Emery's modus operandi is to dissect the work of U.S. correspondents in covering the beginning stages of seven major twentieth-century events: Word War I, Stalin's rise to power, the run-up to World War II, the early days of the Korean War, the early years of the Vietnam War, U.S. involvement in the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s, and the Palestinian intifada and the Persian Gulf War.
Emery hunted down and dredged up a great deal of detailed information about the work of U.S. correspondents in the years since John Hohenberg published his trailblazing book, Foreign Correspondence, in 1964. Emery's book is thus a valuable update that covers the biggest foreign stories of the past quarter century.
He recounts the comings and goings of correspondents in almost scrapbook detail; describes the obstacles of lies, distortions and intimidation that correspondents struggle to overcome; and relates their comparatively few triumphs and persistent frustrations. His account, however, is strongest on narrative than on analysis. There also are errors that should have been caught. Ray Herndon (not Hendron) was a UPI bureau chief in Saigon. Henry S. Bradsher (not Bradshaw) is a former AP correspondent and author of a book on Afghanistan. Terence (not Terrance) Smith was a New York Times reporter.
The thread -- indeed the spine -- that runs through Emery's story is that the American foreign press corps has matured immensely in this century. Progressively, reporters have been better educated and otherwise prepared, more independent of U.S. government policy and pressure, better equipped and financed, and more rigorously devoted to serving their audiences.
And despite what Emery calls "home-desk ignorance" and back-home "dishonesty and callousness" that undercut correspondents covering Central America in the 1980s, today's correspondents typically have knowledgeable colleagues in foreign editors (and top editors) who are former outstanding foreign correspondents themselves. …