Hoffmann (Journalism/Old Dominion Univ.; Theodore H. White and Journalism As Illusion, 1995) celebrates the groundbreaking achievements of the female reporters—radio, print and TV—who covered America’s longest, most problematic war.
Well before Vietnam, three of the journalists highlighted here—Martha Gellhorn, Dickey Chapelle and Marguerite Higgins—had already made their reputations covering, respectively, the Spanish Civil War, World War II and Korea. What made the Vietnam “experience” different were the sheer numbers who went, the battles they fought and permanently won against the male establishment in the military and within their own newsrooms, and the uncommon distinction with which they performed their award-winning work. Framing the American presence in Vietnam from 1956 to 1975, Hoffmann crams her narrative with names and incidents, but focuses on 15 women, offering a bit about their personal lives and background and a lot about their war work. Standout portraits include those of Chapelle, still the only woman reporter to die during a combat operation; the extravagant Gloria Emerson, who transformed herself from privileged society girl to committed reporter; Frankie FitzGerald, who famously ended up opposing the American program in Southeast Asia her CIA father helped construct; Beverly Deepe, the first woman to become a permanent member of the Saigon press corps; and the hard-charging Liz Trotta of NBC, whose televised reports from the field contributed mightily to Vietnam’s later reputation as America’s first living-room war. Hoffmann tells especially memorable stories about the enemy capture of reporters Kate Webb and Elizabeth Pond, and tracks the amazing friendship of at least five of her subjects with Pham Xuan An, whose career Larry Berman documented in Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent (2007). The vast majority of these women never saw themselves as feminists, but their professional deeds earned them an honored place in journalism’s annals and in any history of the progress of professional women.
Of special appeal to journalism students, but also to those interested in yet another unanticipated consequence of America’s deeply complex involvement in Vietnam.