The Correspondents, the Press and the Public
SINCE the Oatis trial, there have been no Western correspondents in Prague. It may be of interest, however, to tell how the Western correspondents worked in Prague before the Oatis case, and to describe the Communist press, which became the correspondents' chief source of information.
I have often been asked what were our sources of information in Communist Prague. Of our private news sources I have already said a good deal in chapters one and two, and here I want only to add a note about the dangers of using such sources in a totalitarian country. Members of underground resistance groups frequently sought contact with Western correspondents. Some wanted to tell their stories, others wanted help of some kind, and others merely to get messages to the American Embassy. They felt that the correspondents would be both interested and sympathetic, and of course we were. But we had to explain to people of this kind that our job was to convey public information for publication in newspapers, and that we could not compromise our ability to do that job by getting involved with secret information. These anti-Communists found it difficult to understand our scruples, and, of course, in the case of Oatis, such scruples were finally shown to be in vain. As a matter of fact, under the law anyone was subject to prosecution merely for having knowledge of the existence of underground organizations or of anyone who was even planning to cross the border illegally, and for not reporting this knowledge to the police.
I had an experience of this kind with a middle-aged Czech whom I met a few months before leaving Prague. On several occasions we met and drank a few beers while he told me stories about life in Communist Czechoslovakia. I soon realized that he either was, or pretended to be, not only an anti-Communist but in contact with people who were helping