Monitor writers celebrate ‘unique’ moments
From crawling on the carpet with Ronald Reagan to sipping tea with the Che Guevara of Afghanistan, former staffers recount stories as the Monitor transitions to new formats.
Photo illustration by Jake Turcotte/staff from file photos.
As the Monitor moves to new formats in its 100th anniversary year, the newspaper's "Diaspora"of former staffers was invited to contribute defining moments in their careers here. We hope more of that Monitor family – and readers – will add their comments below and keep the conversation going.
MOMENT FIT FOR A KING
It was a warm, 1967 day on a leafy Atlanta campus. The Monitor’s interview with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was about to begin. But first a slew of advisers urgently sought his attention, with a rat-tat-tat of questions. First someone to his right, then another to his left. One from in front; then one from behind, and he wearily turned to answer.
Seeing the scene made crystal clear how incredibly busy was this key civil rights leader, today’s icon. It all symbolized how he was being pulled this way and that with often conflicting advice. Continue nonviolent protests only; no, become more militant. Redouble the focus on civil rights; no, broaden it to protest the Vietnam War. Do this, do that. Indeed, you had to be there.
– Robert P. Hey
REAGAN ON THE CARPET
When Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign, he offered interviews to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Monitor. As Western bureau chief, I received the call. The interview was set at a high-rise in Los Angeles. I arrived early and rechecked my equipment: notebook, pens, tape recorder, fresh batteries, back-up electric cord, tapes.
That’s when I discovered my recorder wasn’t working in battery mode – a reporter’s nightmare.
When Reagan walked in, I was so embarrassed. He just laughed. “Let’s find a plug,” he said.
There he was, the future occupant of the Oval Office, on his knees, shuffling furniture. As he climbed behind the couch, I thought, “What if my editors could see us now?” At that moment, Nancy Reagan walked in. I still remember the look on her face.
– Judith Frutig
STOMPING IN THE YARD
In January of 1983, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo faced a crisis: an inmate rebellion with 17 guards taken hostage inside the notorious Sing Sing prison. Attica was on everyone’s mind.
I encountered a media frenzy outside the prison’s stone walls. At one point, I saw two men calling down from a hill in Spanish to inmates inside cellblock B, where the hostages were held. They’d served time in the same cellblock. I asked them questions. In broken English, they tried to answer. Eventually, they gave me the phone number of Akil-Al-Jundi, their probation counselor. Jundi did seven years in Attica himself. He mentally set the scene and spelled out the likely negotiations taking place.
He gave the story a true Monitor dimension. Before hanging up, and after telling me he loathed the press, Jundi said, “While in Attica, I read The Christian Science Monitor every day. That’s why I spoke with you.”
– Jim Bencivenga
THE GREAT GRATKE
In 1948, Monitor foreign editor Charles Gratke signed me on as a stringer in the Netherlands. One of my first assignments was the anticolonial uprising in Indonesia. A year later, Gratke was invited to join a Dutch-sponsored trip to Indonesia and offered to let me go instead. I urged him to make the trip. Returning from Indonesia, his plane crashed in India. All aboard, including Gratke, were killed.
The William the Silent journalism prize was established in their memory. I was the first winner, for a story in – where else? – Chuck Gratke’s paper.
One last word about Gratke, whom I had met in person only once, at the Monitor office in New York before my departure for the Netherlands. Somewhat nervous, I reached into my pocket for a cigarette, then became aware there were no ashtrays, then remembered that Christian Scientists don’t approve of smoking.
“All right if I smoke?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” he said as I prepared to light up. “Of course, no one has.” I crammed the pack of cigarettes back in my pocket.
He was a great editor of a great newspaper.
– Daniel Schorr
52 WAYS TO PITCH A STORY
Memo request to managing editor Courtney Sheldon: Could I do a series on school boards?
Memo returned: Why?
My response: Ask your brother [who was on Scotia, N.Y., school board].
Memo returned: Do a good job.
Memo request to editor John Hughes: Could I do a 52-part series entitled: “52 ways to improve schools?”
Memo returned: Do you know 52 ways? Ha ha.
My return message: I know 51!
Memo to editor De Witt John: Could I do a series on vocational schooling?
Phone call return: Who cares? Isn’t one story enough?
My reply: More than 1 million teachers, more than 2 million students, every state and federal legislator.
The education beat – a natural for our church newspaper.
– Cynthia Parsons
I’d joined the Monitor a few weeks earlier. I knew almost nothing about journalism, let alone about Africa. So off I went ... ignorance personified.
I sat in the cockpit of the PanAm “clipper” 707 jet as we took off from Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Behind us, instead of seats, were drums filled with oil and gasoline. Half a dozen mattresses stacked behind us “protected” the cockpit against flying drums. The Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) runway was too short. We dropped in over the jungle, slammed on the brakes, and just avoided crashing into the bush.
Hitchhiking with a missionary in his VW Beetle tuned into radio reports of rogue elephants ahead, in a newspaper delivery truck squeezed alongside the driver’s wife and suckling child, in the lurching tail-gunner’s seat of a Royal Air Force Hercules plane, and with a strange variety of newfound friends, I followed the trail, “explored” a swathe of Africa, and got the story.
Decades later, now an editor, I’d breakfast every Thursday morning with Joseph C. Harsch at Boston’s St. Botolph Club. This was the man who’d witnessed the last charge of the United States cavalry – against the “Bonus Army” of World War I veterans who’d massed on Washington’s Mall in 1932 to protest their postwar treatment – the lone journalist who’d been at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombs fell, the Monitor columnist who was the only American to have served as anchor or commentator on all three major TV networks. Joe and I would weigh the week’s events over bacon and eggs. In the newsroom a couple of hours later, Joe would hand me a few sheets of scruffy paper pulled out of his typewriter (he disdained computers). His perfectly written (and appallingly spelled) “Pattern of Diplomacy” column gave the readers of Friday’s papers a sweeping sense of the globe’s evolving power shifts.
Two aspects of life on the Monitor. Amazingly, we were paid (modestly) to do it!
– David Anable
UNDER FIRE WITH ARAFAT
In late 1983, Yasir Arafat was in Tripoli, Lebanon, where he’d taken refuge after being driven out of Beirut by Israeli forces. He was holed up in Nahr al Bared refugee camp, besieged by Syrian-backed forces. I wanted to do one last interview with Arafat. After driving from Beirut, navigating checkpoints and sniper fire, I found him in a small house with one aide. Both believed their opponents would finish them off. Arafat spent two hours railing at every Arab leader. His aide suggested that, since he was going to die, it would be charitable of me to spend some private time with him. I ignored the suggestion.
When I left to file at a lawyer’s office downtown, I got trapped in crossfire between two militia groups. The lawyer and I took refuge in a basement. He told me he’d spent a few years in Cleveland, running a bar, but came home because it was safer. At least in Lebanon, he said, his relatives would mourn him if he got killed, but in Cleveland when criminals shot his partner, no one cared.
– Trudy Rubin
GUERRILLA IN AFGHAN MIST
In the late 1980s, after days trekking across the Hindu Kush, I met up with Massoud – the Che Guevara of the Afghan resistance. We talked for three hours over tea by the hissing light of a pressure lamp. Soviet MIGs were bombing nearby, while Massoud’s guerrillas hit back from their mountain positions. US-supplied Stingers were making a difference in the war, but after years of fighting, Massoud looked weary. Finally, he lay back and said to me: “So, enough about fighting. Tell me about Paris.”
I talked about restaurants, the simple pleasures of buying bread, of watching life go by from a cafe table. “You know what I really want to do when all this is over? I never want to see a mountain again.” Fifteen years later – two days prior to Sept. 11 – two Al Qaeda suicide bombers assassinated Massoud at Khoja Bauhoudine. The nearest mountains were 100 miles to the south.
– Edward Girardet
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
When I arrived in Beijing in 1979, I was surprised to find so many of my new Chinese acquaintances knew the Monitor, not only by name but because they’d read some apposite excerpt in Chinese. Then I discovered that the party published the daily Reference News, which excerpted leading papers, including the Monitor. Reference News wasn’t available to foreign journalists, but it wasn’t too difficult to get copies – even waiters and elevator boys in our hotel read it and liked it because it was more refreshing than the cut-and-dried propaganda of the People’s Daily. The Monitor had a long name in Chinese – Jidujiao Keshue Jianyan Bao. Jianyan (Monitor) meant admonition, so it wasn’t a bad translation. The first two nonofficial friends I made in China knew my name from having read it in Reference News.
– Takashi Oka
MERRY WAY TO MAKE A LIVING
Being with the Monitor was like membership in a productive family working together, day by day, toward a better life for all mankind. Particularly important to me was the encouragement from colleagues and readers alike.
A suggestion from Richard Strout of our Washington bureau quietly launched me into one of my most ambitious and productive adventures: a five-part series spotlighting how population imbalances inherent in most state legislatures dealt control to small segments of the electorate. Our in-depth exposure ignited lawsuits across the nation, ultimately resulting in the US Supreme Court’s historic “one-man, one-vote” decision.
– George B. Merry
THE LADY TWEAKS AN EDITOR
I arrived at the Monitor in the spring of 1946 after five years in World War II, taking a seat on the copy desk at a time that has been referred to as the Monitor’s Golden Age. I had only to lift my head or turn my chair to see Monitor greats nearby. Erwin Canham, Charles Gratke, Donovan Richardson, Walter Cunningham, Saville Davis, among others.
I well remember when Lady Astor came into our newsroom to visit Canham. As she passed our desks, she suddenly turned and grabbed one of our oldsters, George Lawson by the cheek. “You old rascal, you,” she said, stirring up laughter throughout the room. Then, smiling, she went back to see our editor.
Lawson never tired of telling about this amusing brush with fame.
– Godfrey Sperling Jr.
A MINISKIRT KNOCKS OUR GUY OFF HIS CHAIR
Early morning conferences in Overseas News, especially when writer Geoffrey Godsell was in full cry, were not to be missed. He was a great raconteur and told wonderful stories about exotic places. But he could also tell inside stories. Geoffrey was liberal in his politics, but conservative in all other respects and it did not sit well with him when the miniskirt was in vogue. He took umbrage when a new recruit at the copykid desk – easily observed by the general public – would lean back and stretch out her legs on the desk in front of her. To make the point Geoffrey, who had a larger roller type chair, attempted to give us a demonstration of what he had observed. He leaned back, lifted his legs on the desk in front of him, bewailed her very short miniskirt, and then leaned too far back and lost his balance. The chair flipped and Geoffrey, a very large man to say the least, struggled helplessly under the chair on the floor, and finally emerged with face, the color of beetroot, no doubt as much from exertion as from embarrassment.
– David Winder
READERS’ PART IN JILL CARROLL’S RELEASE
It was an utterly unplanned foray into user-generated content: When Jill Carroll was taken captive in Iraq in 2006, her family started getting e-mails about Jill from well-wishers. To help the family out, and to maintain a constant, daily presence on the front page of csmonitor.com, we organized to ask readers to send their e-mails to us instead. It was a privilege to post the often-moving letters/e-mails that streamed in daily. And it helped keep Jill’s situation before readers’ eyes in a quiet but constant way, while, I believe, those e-mails lent a broader voice to the calls for her release.
– Karla Vallance
In April 2003 I visited the Iraqi city of Mosul and interviewed a large family about the fall of Saddam Hussein and the arrival of the Americans. One middle-aged man described how he had been grievously wounded as a conscript during the Iran-Iraq war, then lifted up his long tunic to display his mangled left leg. Family members explained that they had been saving money to pay a bribe to keep the man’s nephew from being drafted into the Iraqi Army. The teenager went to his room and came back with an armload of dinars.
Then the family had a question for me: When the Americans take control, what will they charge to let someone avoid military service? More? Less?
I did my best to relay the consternation I found in Mosul to Monitor readers. In retrospect, the family’s unstated conviction that the new regime would be no different from the old regime foreshadowed what was to come in Iraq.
Such has been one of the great values of Monitor journalism, for both readers and reporters: the opportunity to probe deeply into events and to gain some understanding of what the future holds.
As one of the family patriarchs put it to me in 2003, “There are days to come when we will say we wish for Saddam Hussein’s reign.”
With all that Mosul’s residents have endured these past six years, I have no doubt he was correct.
– Cameron W. Barr
WALKING WITH LIONS; A RUN WITH A SOMALI GUNMAN
My eight years as Africa correspondent based in Kenya (1987-1995) included war coverage in Sudan, Somalia, and Rwanda. But it also included discovery of the strength of human rights activists, mothers, teachers, and others in a changing continent yearning for and demanding freedom after too many years of repressive rule. I outlasted most correspondents because I mostly traveled with Betty, my wife, a freelance photographer whose photos appeared with many of my stories. So we never really left “home:” Home was where we were together. Whether walking with half-grown lions raised by George Adamson in Kenya; surrendering my running shoes after a Somali gunman surprised me on a run in a “peaceful” town; dancing at midnight with Eritreans celebrating independence; or standing with protesting mothers (and Betty) as police closed in on us in Kenya, it was truly an adventure. I tried to share that adventure with readers.
– Bob Press
In early 1970, I resigned as a reporter for UPI in Saigon but stayed on in South Vietnam to study Vietnamese. A month or so into my studies, the Monitor asked if I could fill in as a stringer to replace their Vietnam correspondent for six months or so.
Within weeks, I was in Cambodia covering a new war and traveling down roads more dangerous than most that I’d seen in Vietnam.
In 1973, the Monitor’s editor, John Hughes, called me to ask if I’d like to be the Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent for the paper. A British colleague and I had just come under fire on a road northeast of Saigon. Still a bit shaken, I can only remember telling John, “I just got shot at.”
I asked John to let me sleep on it. As I recall, I accepted the job the next day.
CRICKET IN THE MIDST OF MAYHEM
In May 1981, the world’s media encamped in Belfast to cover the IRA hunger-strikers – Bobby Sands in particular. Sands was near the end of his long hunger strike, and on a particular weekend, there was no hard news development. I was working with the London correspondent David Willis. As a diversion from the general grimness of the atmosphere, I suggested David accompany me to a cricket match at Waringstown, near Belfast, that I was covering for my own paper, the Belfast Telegraph.
Willis, an ardent cricket fan, could not believe his good fortune and marvelled at the rural serenity of the very “English” cricket match, in a place like Northern Ireland where there was so much violence and danger. David filed a well-written and most evocative piece for the Monitor – about a cricket match and the “normality” of life amid the prevailing abnormality in Northern Ireland which, during that weekend, was approaching one of the worst periods of community division and danger in the history of the Troubles. Shortly afterward, Bobby Sands died – on the 66th day of his hunger strike.
Only a unique reporter like David would have filed such an unusual story, only a unique paper like the Monitor would have used it – which is why it was such a special publication with which to be associated.
– Alf McCreary
RUNNING INTO MANDELA ... AT THE PRISON
Some moments are frozen in time. Such was the case when I received a call from the Monitor’s foreign editor Jane Lampman on that June Sunday in 1990.
“Guess who is standing outside the Monitor in One Norway Street talking to the editor [Dick Cattani]?”
While I was wracking my brain, she interrupted my thoughts.
“Nelson Mandela,” she said.
I was astounded. I’d covered Mandela’s epic release from a prison warder’s house in the Cape winelands only a few months earlier and the seminal event was still uppermost in my consciousness. The country would change dramatically and the world would be profoundly moved.
By a strange twist of fate, I became the first journalist and member of the public to shake Mandela’s hand on the day of his release as I had wandered unchallenged into the prison grounds an hour before his release.
The rest of the world media were behind barriers at the gates of the prison.
When Mandela finally came walking down the prison warder’s driveway to the outside world, I rushed forward to shake his hand and was rewarded with a beaming smile.
– John Battersby
RUNNING INTO MANDELA ... AT THE MONITOR
On June 24, 1990, I emerged from the underground parking garage at the Christian Science Center in Boston to find three tall black men circling the reflecting pool. I stood completely still. As he saw me recognize him, Nelson Mandela broke into the most gracious smile and waved at me. He was on his first, historic trip to America. The day before, hundreds of thousands of people had turned out to see him on the Esplanade, along the Charles River, to celebrate his recent release from a South African prison. Now he said he wanted to see the place where that famous lady (Mary Baker Eddy) started her own religion as well as newspaper.
“Wait right here,” I said, too loudly. “I’m going to get the editor of the Monitor. He needs to meet you.” I sprinted to the newsroom and told Dick Cattani to come downstairs, come meet Mandela. He insisted on putting on a jacket. It was Sunday, and he was dressed casually. I pulled him by the arm as he slipped into his blue and white pinstriped seersucker jacket. He gave Mandela a tour of The Mother Church, as well as a copy of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (by Eddy), which Mandela insisted he sign. He mentioned during the visit that the Monitor was the only international paper he had been allowed to read in prison, although major parts were redacted. He marveled that a woman not only started this paper but this religion, noting it could only happen in the US.
– Faye Bowers
THREE MILE ISLAND: THEY’D RATHER BE WAR REPORTING
In the spring of 1979, nature imitated art ... in a big way. Three weeks after the Jane Fonda movie “China Syndrome” opened, the nation was galvanized by reports of a real accident at the Three Mile Island power station in rural Pennsylvania. Because I’d covered nuclear safety issues for the Monitor, I got the assignment. When I arrived at the small town near the stricken reactor, it was nearly a ghost town. By contrast, the high school gymnasium that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was using as an information center seethed with hundreds of reporters and cameramen from around the country. The depth of fear the accident created was revealed by the confessions of several of the reporters who had been war correspondents: They said that they were more fearful during this assignment than they had been when reporting from a war zone!
It soon became clear that the NRC officials were telling the media as little as possible. So I retired to my hotel room and my files. There I found a scientific paper speculating on the impact that the first major nuclear accident would have on American public opinion. The authors predicted that it could strengthen public support for nuclear power if it was well handled and no one was killed, but it would likely weaken public support if it were poorly handled and people died. I got the study’s lead author, Robert Kates of Clark University, on the phone. After interviewing him and several other experts, I wrote one of my best stories.
It began, “The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was a rite of passage: a painful but long anticipated initiation of the US public into one of the realities of the atomic age.”
– David Salisbury
OUR TOUR GUIDE ZHAO
What started out as a summer tea party in Beijing for students from the Sidwell Friends School of Washington, D.C., ended with an hour’s walking tour of the secretive compound where senior Chinese leaders live and work. It was June 1984. Our tour guide was China’s premier, Zhao Ziyang, who charmed his guests with small talk but also wanted to convey the risks of trying to reform China. Standing on the steps of the ornate pavillion where Emperor Guangxu was held under house arrest for a decade, Zhao told of the failed 1898 reforms and their violent aftermath. The story would eerily parallel Zhao’s own experience five years later, ending in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Zhao’s tour, a Monitor exclusive thanks to an alert subscriber who was head of Sidwell’s Chinese program, was an auspicious beginning to three years as the Monitor’s Beijing correspondent and a rare personal moment with one of China’s most progressive and humane leaders.
– Julian Baum
A COPY KID GRADUATES
As an eager 1950s copykid, I was delighted to become the copy desk clerk, no longer responding to the ringing bells of editors who wanted sharper pencils. But the task turned out to be more perspiration than inspiration: counting the lines of hand-edited news copy to determine the number of words being sent through the overhead pneumatic tubes to the composing room before the late-morning deadline. Nimble-fingered linotype operators there set the marked-up manuscript into metal type for the huge printing press. The first edition of that day’s Monitor was on subway newsstands in Boston by early afternoon. I developed quite a skill at lightning calculation before at last moving to the American News department as clerk, responsible for sorting through rolls of wire copy to find short stories to fill holes in the big pages of the pre-tabloid Monitor. At last, a REAL journalism job!
– Ruth Wales
BEFUDDLED BY A FEMALE REPORTER
Though it sounds like the Dark Ages now, I recall a press conference on a topic of universal interest in the 1960s that was held in a men’s club. The sponsors were so befuddled at seeing a female reporter that they quickly tried to change the venue!
A joy to work with wonderful colleagues. I remember in the 1970s columnist Joe Harsch wondering aloud in the hallway of the Washington Bureau what he should write about next. I was walking by and suggested Afghanistan or some such topic in the news. “Oh, no, I don’t know enough about that,” he said. Not missing a beat, Richard L. Strout called out from his nearby office: “That’s never stopped you before, Joe.”
– Lucia Mouat
CAUGHT IN A RIOT, HOOKED ON THE NEWS
I was covering the Moratorium rally against the Vietnam War in Boston, along with a photographer. After the rally, we followed thousands of protesters into Harvard Square. The protest had been nonviolent, but as we neared the square, someone threw a rock through a shop window. Glass shattered; shouting escalated; the crowds flowed down the streets; the police tightened ranks. As the sun sank and night closed in, Molotov cocktails ignited some of the shops; sirens pierced the air; tear gas filled the square as police with dogs rushed the protesters. I was caught in the crowd, running, trying to get away and to take notes at the same time. I stayed all night in the square, found a church open to give refuge. I wrote my story sitting on a cot in the church. I was 23 years old and hooked on the news.
– Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
CASE OF A MISSING HEADLINE – A COPY EDITOR SAVES THE DAY
Fifty years ago, the Monitor’s make-up editor went each morning to American, Overseas, and the Financial news departments to find out what stories/photos they wanted in their space that day. Page dummies were sent out to the composing room, and requests for headline sizes sent to the copy editors. As the paper had six editions, a story might require different headline sizes as it progressed through the day. Make-up might have to adapt, as the page took physical shape under the skillful hands of the compositors, if a photo took more room than expected, or a story ran too long or too short. It was an exciting juggling game to see the pages take shape every day.
One time, a compositor made up a page leaving space for the headline in the normal way. All the other pages were completed, and sent to press, and still no headline for this one story. I got nervous, and ran out to see what had happened. I had never asked for the headline change, so none was forthcoming! Fortunately a copy editor was there, and speedily gave me the needed precious words. The paper was late off the press and my head(line) hung low that day.
– Isabel Ferguson
WHEN ‘TEXTING’ WAS TELEX
After spending several years in the newroom, I decided to go off to Taiwan to practice my Chinese and do a little stringing. My first story was about US sales of the FX fighter jet to Taiwan, much to the People’s Republic of China’s chagrin, and here’s how I filed it: Stormont (his first name was David, but nobody called him that) had an arrangement with the Hong Kong office of Reuters whereby all reporting from Asia would be wired to Boston. So he told me I could Telex my copy from Taipei to Hong Kong, and Reuters would take care of the rest. Within a week of arriving in Taiwan, the FX story broke, and I had to move quickly. The problem wasn’t so much finding sources: I visited three Taiwanese government and military officials within a short time. Then it was a matter of typing out the story on the manual typewriter I had lugged from the US and finding the telecommunications offices downtown, where travelers went to make international phone and Telex calls. How I could’ve used e-mail, which kids now only bother to use when they have to communicate with grownups who don’t text them on their phones!
– Anne Collier
IN KABUL ON 9/11
On 9/11 Scott Baldauf, the South Asia bureau chief, and I were in Kabul, Afghanistan. At the time, the country was under the thrall of the Taliban government. Scott and I were there to report on conditions under Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, including the case of the three Shelter Now workers who were on trial for proselytizing Christianity.
Shortly after midnight on Sept. 11, we were awakened by explosions and rocket fire. We looked out the window of the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel in time to see streaks of light coming out of a black sky as rockets were fired from helicopters hitting targets at the Kabul airport. On the surrounding hills an ammo dump was hit. Ordnance in the dump continued to explode throughout the night. It turned out to be the Northern Alliance retaliating for Massoud’s assassination.
Throughout the day of Sept. 11, we made our way around the city, interviewing whom we could and surreptitiously photographing people, since taking pictures of “living things” was illegal under the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia law.
We returned to the “Intercon” hotel whose west end had been hit by an artillery shell during the civil war and never repaired. It was nearly 7 p.m. Kabul time when we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. During the meal, the kitchen help invited us over to listen to a radio broadcast (TV had been banished by the Taliban) telling about an airplane that had hit the World Trade Center. They translated the report for us. We sensed right away there might be implications. Scott made a call home to his wife, Kashmira, in Delhi, India. As they were talking, Kashmira saw the second plane hit the other Trade Center building. Then we knew for sure: The world had just changed forever and we were too close to where the orders for these attacks had been made. Officials from the Taliban leadership showed up at the hotel the next day to hold a press conference – an unprecedented move by them. The meeting was sober. There were no signs of exultance. Unlike some parts in the Middle East where people took to the streets to cheer the events of 9/11, we saw nothing like that in Kabul. Only concern about what might be coming their way.
– Robert Harbison
MISSING THE MARIACHIS
For some reason, a stringer in the Middle East wasn’t able to file via Telex – this was during the Lebanese civil war. Phone connections to him were not reliable at that stage, but the system was that he would call to dictate his story, and someone in the office cradled the telephone receiver on a shoulder and typed it out on a clackety old Underwood as fast as possible.
One day while Bill Blakemore was dictating his story to me, I upset a whole cup of coffee on my desk. I must have yelped, but I didn’t dare stop typing – the phone line would be disconnected if there was a long pause in the conversation. So I inched my typewriter stand and chair away from the desk and just kept typing. We must have had a little time before deadline, otherwise someone would have been standing near me ready to grab each take of the story as soon as they could. No one in my department noticed my predicament, but Peter Tonge, passing on his way to his desk in the next department, came over and slapped some old newsprint on the puddle spreading across my desk.
Then there was the time in the mid-1980s when Dennis Volman was our Latin America correspondent. He was writing a series on Mexican politics and the possibility that the long-dominant PRI might lose its lock on power in the next election. Getting a series together took a lot of time, and one editor stayed late to work through some changes with Dennis. Again this was done by phone. They had made a good start when suddenly the line went blank – not dead – just blank. The editor hadn’t heard a click. There was simply nothing. After shouting, “Dennis, are you there?” for what felt like five minutes, she hung up and waited for him to call me back. No phone call. Finally the editor went home. When he called in the next Sunday or Monday, he explained that he had hung the phone out the window so the editor could hear the mariachi band that was playing in the courtyard.
– Mary (Schaaf) Woolf
Overseas correspondents transmitted stories and accompanying messages by Telex, paying by the word. To economize, notes to the editors were composed in an abbreviated lingua franca known as “cablese,” a forerunner of today’s IMers. Back in Boston, we competed to see who could craft the most descriptive return cables or “frontings” (a synopsis of the main stories appearing in the next day’s paper) in this odd, condensed language, always closing with an “allbest.”
Even personal communications had to be sent via Telex. Thus there were
requests for roach powder from David Willis in Moscow, and never-ending Saab
stories from Gary Thatcher, his replacement there, who frequently drove to Finland for spare automobile parts.
One of the most amusing cables came from globe-trotting correspondent Ed Girardet who encountered Geoffrey Godsell trying to outswim a small mouse in an Islamabad swimming pool.
Other stories were dictated by phone. I remember taking one from Ned (Diet Coke) Temko in Tehran during the 1979 revolution.
We kept a land line open to him for hours at a stretch because it was so
hard to get a connection. During one dispatch, Ned told me to hang on while
he closed the hotel window: There was a barrage of gunfire in the street. He
returned to the phone saying, “OK, that’s better.”
SHERPA FOR SCIENCE
During the Eisenhower years, MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory orbited a lot of copper fibers. They would be used to bounce radio signals around the world. There was an international outcry about ruining the environment. When the lab director learned I was going to England and would interview Britian’s science minister, Lord Hailshah, he asked me to tell him Eisenhower meant it when he apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again. After the interview, I delivered the message. Hailsham laughed. He said you tell the director “that her majesty’s government knows that you have your military necessities just as we have ours.” It was my one adventure into diplomacy.
– Robert C. Cowen
NEITHER RAIN, NOR SLEET ...
During the blizzard of early 1978, I woke up and knew I had to get to work at the Monitor, although I had no idea how. Leaving my Boston apartment, I stepped out into feet of snow. I waded through hip-high drifts from Beacon Hill to Boylston Street, where I got to ride with a snowplow for a few blocks. Nobody else was on the streets. When I got to the Monitor’s newsroom, there were only a few other people there, but we got busy putting out the next edition of the newspaper, using every skill we’d ever learned in our time at the Monitor. The challenge and adventure of preparing this issue was done with calm good cheer and a shared sense of the professionalism that Monitor readers rightly expect.
– Janet Domowitz
A DOWN-UNDER CHARACTER
One of the most unusual experiences at the Monitor took place during my stint in Sydney, Australia, from 1992-1994. One memorable interview was with World War II heroine, Nancy Wake. She was living in France when Hitler came to power and she and her husband got involved with the Resistance. Wake parachuted into the Pyrenees wearing overalls and a silk blouse, high heels bandaged to her feet, and carrying a handbag with revolvers and a map of bridges to blow up on D-Day. She saved her parachute to use as a sheet and later commandeered a bus to sleep in. When I asked her if she was ever afraid, she barked, “If you are going to be frightened and shivering, you’ll never get away with anything.” She told of the time she threw a grenade into a barracks where Germans were eating lunch. With her mordant humor, she said, “Some of them didn’t finish lunch that day.”
– Catherine Foster
THOUGHTS ON MONITOR FOUNDER
What is a young newspaperman to do when he reads what the founder of his publication wrote? When he finds “Mary B.G. Eddy” reviewing a book about George Eliot in a bygone Christian Science Journal? If he is reviewing the arts and later editing and writing about various topics, he remembers Mrs. Eddy saying: “It is a live book – originality, felicity, freshness, and force recapitulating.... She sweeps aside conventionalities, and with firm unfaltering adherence to honest conviction, conscientious reasonableness, places herself under the lens of criticism. Her metaphysics purge materialism with a single sentence – hear it: ‘One may know all that is to be known about matter and nothing that need to be known about man.’ ”
Originality, felicity, force, conviction, reasonableness:not a bad guide for covering the ups and downs of news then – and now.
– Roderick Nordell
REPORTING DEEP AND WIDE
My time with the Monitor landed me in the middle of fascinating stories: from the collapse of the Marcos regime after the murder of Benigno Aquino, to the early days of perestroika, and of course visits to places like Khost on the Afghan-Pakistan border, where the Soviet airborne wanted to demonstrate their total contol. It started well, till mujahideen rockets bracketed our group at the airport and we had to sprint to taxiing military planes, leaving behind a pudgy Soviet general who was slow off the blocks. (I was back there a few years ago: still a less than friendly place).
My deepest memory, however, is something very different: the ethos of intelligent, thoughtful journalism. Of editors, particularly David Anable, gently guiding me away from themes that everybody else was covering, and urging me to look deeper and wider. This is what I gained most, and what I hope readers will continue to enjoy for decades to come.
– Paul Quinn-Judge
THE NEWSROOM DASH
On June 25, 1950, I was a copyboy in the wireroom when the AP wire flashed that North Korean troops had invaded South Korea. The rest of that day I was busy running copy from the wireroom to Joe Harrison, the overseas news editor, and to Brain Alley, as it was called, where Peggy Wilson snatched every piece of copy and ran in with it to Don Richardson, the chief editorial writer, in his dark panelled room.
There was something very physical about working in the newsroom, in those days; editors like Saville Davis would run out to the composing room, just beyond the wireroom, to make final corrections on the stone, working with the typesetters to move type around. Soon after, you could hear the big presses whirring down below, and trucks would carry the fresh papers to the newstands or to the train for delivery to New York, Washington, and around the country by mail.