Consider the plight of the young Lou Cioffi 28 years ago covering the Korean War for CBS news, back in the golden years of journalism, when the press and the word media hadn't yet fouled the nation's airwaves.
Cioffi was part of the electronic vanguard from CBS, attempting to beam a war into the living rooms of this great nation via radio and -- heaven help us -- the infant device known as television.
Cioffi had this problem: His editor, as is often the case with editors, wanted the impossible. Specifically, Cioffi had received this cable from Fred Friendly, the producedr of Ed Murrow's "Hear It Now," the radio precursor of TV's "You are There": VERY MUCH DESIRE SOUND OF CHINESE BUGLES BEFORE ATTACK.
And so, in the well-denied tradition of foreign correspondents articulated by Evelyn Waugh in "Scoop," a wacky novel about life on the front lines at the cutting edge of journalism, Cioffi shot back this cable: Request at once send one mile microphone cable.
If journalists are the best anglers, then foreign correspondents can tell war stories that will turn fish into liars.
"You ask the 75 guys in this room what happened in Korea and you'll get 85 stories," said George McArthur, who covered the war for AP.
"That's because 10 of them will change their story in midstream."
There were plenty of tall tales and misdemeanors chatted up last night at the Key Bridge Marriott as 75 former foreign correspondents got together for a 30-year reunion. By the end of the evening, as journalists are fond of saying, many of them were feeling no pain.
Typically, in a discipline known for its pragmatism, the event was being held one month shy of the 30th anniversary of the war's start (June 25, 1950), so the gathering wouldn't conflict with the schedule of reporters chasing after candidates in an election year.
But regardless of what newsmen all the time peg, there was no lack of journalistic hyperhole.
So it was that Sandy Socolow -- then a correspondent for the International News Service (INS), whose "T" was later acquired by United Prtss UPI) -- received this cable from his boss Barry Faris, regarding the imminent visit to the troops of Marilyn Monroe: THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY WE HAVE COVERED SINCE WORLD WAR TWO.
"Jesus," said Socolow, who's now the executive producer of the CBS Evening News, "we already had most of the Korean war behind us and this guy's all worked up over Marilyn Monroe."
Faris would later become famous for two other incidents. When INS was threatened with a strike, he repeatedly told his correspondents to forget about raises because "we're making you guys famous."
BUT BARRY, cabled the boys, THEY'RE SHOOTING REAL BULLETS OVER HERE.
He was also immortalized in the infamous "Ferrero Song," about the late correspondent Lee Ferrero: My name is Lee Ferreno and I work for INS I always try to tell the truth but lies come out the best I work for Mr. Hearst and I nver get a rest I always try to tell the truth but lies pay off the best
A later stanza in the song went: When Barry Faris gets here I'm gonna bug out too.
Like crusty veterans of any war, the correspondents last night were reluctant to tell their favorite tales.
"You'd never be able to print it," they said, relating stories of bad girls, Jeeps dispatched through mine fields to fetch prostitutes, endless cases of social disease and who was sleeping with whom -- peccadilloes neatly categorized by AP's Stan Swinton a "all journalists having their ups and downs."
"Here's one you can print," said UP correspondent Bud Merick, who along with AP Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Max Desfor and INS writer Ed Hymoff organized last night's gathering.
"We were covering the peace train negotiations, and believe me, it was real boring. So we arranged for pool coverage. We'd head for the bars and leave one guy on the train to make sure nothing exciting happened. One night Murray Schumack filed this report:
"'Fire today destroyed the foreign correspondents' baggage compartment. . .'
"When we got back to the train, nothing had happened. But Schumack was sitting at his typewriter filling out expense accounts for the pants and shirts and tape recorders of his that supposedly had been destroyed."
"I always wondered," said CBS' George Herman, "what the enemy thought when, we'd have guys shooting off 105-millimeter howitzers just so we could film it. Ah, those were the days of managed news."
"The important thing to remember about this," said novelist James Michener, who covered the war for Reader's Digest "is how many of the men here could have been killed over there. We lost 18 correspondents, which was a higher percentage than the military boys. My most profound memory of the war is when one of those big planes we used to call Crowd Killers flew three dead correspondents out of Mount Fugi.We accepted it as necessary. Korea was the last of the wars that the media accepted."
This morning Michener will lead the correspondents to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, where they will lay a wreath in memory of their departed colleagues.
And yet even as the strife in Korea once again makes headlines -- a topic little discussed last night -- America's first war against the Communists in Asia seems almost mythical to many Americans.
"I was teaching a class three weeks ago," said Frank Jordan, now dean of the communications school at American University, then a UP correspondent. "And I said to the kids, 'I want to tell you a story about about the Korean War.'
"Their faces all went blank.
"And I said, 'Oh, well, forget about it.'"