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Foreign/War Correspondence

Obituaries of Jurgen Leinemann emphasized his experience as a foreign correspondent in Washington D.C., as did Heinz Schewe’s (Die Welt): He was described as one of publisher Axel Springer’s favorites, “a brother in spirit: in believing in a future of a reformed Germany and in seeking reconciliation with the Jews” (Cramer 2009). Schewe fell in love with Israel when he covered the Six-Day War. The obituary noted that he was devastated when he first visited the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, quoting him remorsefully saying: “I helped to make this mass murder happen as a soldier” (ibid.).

While this was the only case in the German sample that included war reporting, this was a frequent occurrence in US obituaries where war reporters were depicted as unconventional, brave and intrepid, aside from their central role in revealing failures of US war efforts. Even Walter Cronkite, known as the “most trusted man in the USA” and “nightly presence in American homes and always a reassuring one,” earned his spurs “as a war correspondent, crash-landing a glider in Belgium, accompanying the first Allied troops into North Africa, reporting on the Normandy invasion and covering major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge, in 1944” (Martin 2009). The obituary quoted from Cronkite’s memoir where he told the story of being taken onboard a B-17 for a “bombing mission to Germany” and ending up operating a machine gun until he was “up to [his] hips in spent .50-caliber shells” (ibid.). Perhaps only a battle against ultimate evil could justify that a war reporter would himself be a participant in combat operations.

To add another example of the brave and intrepid war reporter, this is how the Washington Post eulogized another iconic figure of US journalism, David Halberstam of the New York Times: “He’d been hit by shrapnel in Africa. He’d waded through swamps on patrols in Vietnam. He’d written stories so inflammatory that John Kennedy suggested, futilely, that the publisher of the Times remove him from the war beat” (Allen 2007). The Timesman’s obituary in his former paper was remarkably short— 1177 words, about the same length as in the Post—perhaps because of the fact that “he left The Times, not exactly on mutually amicable terms” (Haberman 2007). Apart from its prosaic tone and absence of a war bravery narrative, the article suggested that Halberstam “came into his own as a journalist” covering Vietnam and emphasized that he acted out of pure professionalism instead of anti-war beliefs.

The AP obituary of Malcolm Browne established his war reporter credibility in the typically compressed news agency style, mentioning that he “survived being shot down three times in combat aircraft, was expelled from half a dozen countries and was put on a ‘death list’ in Saigon” (Pyle and Ilnytzky 2012). The obituary also suggested that Browne changed the perception of war by taking the famous picture of a Buddhist monk burning himself in protest against the US-backed Diem regime in Saigon on June 11, 1963. When the picture appeared on front pages all over the world, it “sent shudders all the way to the White House, prompting President John F. Kennedy to order a re-evaluation of his administration’s Vietnam policy” (ibid.).

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