THE CRAFT of foreign correspondent has taken a certain allure with young people in the United States who see the job as glamorous, exciting and constant fun. The scores of letters I receive from young college students asking me how they can come abroad and become correspondents after they graduate are filled with illusion -- illusion about the work and illusion about the ease with which they could acquire such a job. The realities are elsewhere. The work is not easy. And as you travel from country to country, each with its different language and culture, it is easy to plunge into terrible loneliness, cut off from your friends and family, and from your national roots. Still, if you acquire the necessary qualifications for being a foreign corespondent, it can be very rewarding. Down through the years, American news media have had some very talented correspondents abroad, and certainly on the top part of that list is David Schoenbrun, who for almost 15 years, reported from Paris for CBS.
Now he has produced a book, America Inside Out, that should be required reading for these aspiring foreign correspondents, as well as anyone who is interested in a perceptive, inside look at the troubled Western world over almost a half-century. Schoenbrun started his career modestly as a teacher of French in New York, but quickly took on a part-time job monitoring foreign broadcasts for CBS. It was while doing this that he discovered that Nazi propaganda was being reproduced in editorials in the New York Daily News. The story he wrote on this subject in PM was his real launch into journalism.
During World War II he worked in the Office of War Information and in the psychological warfare branch of the U.S. Army directly under General Eisenhower. It was while he was in North Africa with Eisenhower that Schoenbrun started making the kind of top-level contacts that are essential in the life of a foreign correspondent. It was there that he served as a kind of unofficial contact between the Americans and Charles de Gaulle, and it was there that he met Jean Monnet, one of the key figures in the search for a strong postwar Europe. When the war came to an end, Schoenbrun opted to stay in Paris and launch a career as a foreign correspondent. It was a good choice. In 1947, Ed Murrow offered him the job of Paris correspondent for CBS, which he filled for 15 years. They were golden years, but years of hard work. Schoenbrun came to dominate the Paris foreign journalists field and even today -- more than 20 years after he left the post -- he is still remembered in the French capital for his professionalism and the quality of his reporting.
But when one reaches that kind of prominence, here are also ethical problems. Schoenbrun relates a particularly interesting one which took place in the late 1950s. He was contacted by the French prime minister, Georges Bidault, and asked to pass a highly secret message to President Eisenhower. The French government needed a large loan from the United States, but politically it could not ask for it. The message was that the United States should initiate the loan as if it were its own idea. Schoenbrun was initially shocked. He called it "the theater of the absurd." Schoenbrun reported the information to U.S. Ambassador Douglas Dillon, who was furious that the French had tried to go around him. But the next morning, a calmer Dillon told Schoenbrun to write a letter to Eisenhower which would be sent on a top-secret wire. A week later, the American government granted the loan. Schoenbrun wisely waited for the official announcement before reporting the story.
Schoenbrun's life changed dramaticallin 1962 when he agreed to leave Paris and to go to Washington as a CBS correspondent. It was probably a critical mistake in his career. He did a remarkably good job in Washington, even got his own weekend show, but in the end he got caught up in network politics and was forced to leave CBS. Today, Schoenbrun lectures, writes books, and works for a small independent television network.
The book is at its best when Schoenbrun is relating his own passionate life. It is less interesting when he tries to fill in the holes of history where he was not present. It is more interesting when he gives us fascinating glimpses of world figures like Ho Chi Minh, Jan Masaryk, David Ben Gurion, and Charles de Gaulle than when he blandly reports on the Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations. But the personal profiles and the many fascinating anecdotes make this an eminently readable book.
One final note. Associated with this journalistic saga is a touching love story. Schoenbrun met a young woman, Dorothy Scher, and in 1938, just after British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the ignominious Munich agreement, they were married. They have been married ever since -- now more than 46 years -- which is remarkable for a couple that was so often separated as Schoenbrun went about his work as a foreign correspondent.