The Colorful Times Of A Reporter
Having edited Bob Jones’ column for 18 years, and having just completed his book Reporter, I wish he would have run the galleys past me before publishing.
Then again, part of the book’s appeal is that it is Bob entirely unfiltered, AP Stylebook be damned.
And while Bob has been writing a column for MidWeek since before I got here, the book title emphasizes the way he self-identifies – first and foremost as a fact-gatherer.
“I describe myself simply as a reporter,” he writes in an early chapter. “Not a professional in the sense of a doctor or lawyer. I’m a craftsman in the sense of an excellent carpenter or electrician. A trencherman. A life-long practitioner of being curious, gathering facts and writing stories for people who cannot get around and see and hear all that I can. I carry water for others.”
That is not glamorous work, but it is the core of what’s best in journalism.
And, as Bob writes, it is work to which he seems to have been born to do.
Bob is one of the most complex men I’ve ever known. That may have something to do with an often unpleasant childhood in small-town Ohio, including frequent beatings by both his parents – his mother favored a 2-by-4, his father a belt (though he also sent young Bob to the ER with a pie plate to the head). No wonder he fled the place at 15 on a Greyhound bus with $20 earned in a shoe store in his pocket, and set off on his own, working his way through the rest of high school and college. He would not return to that town until his 40s, after his father passed away.
By then he was already a world traveler – having moved to Florida for school, and starting his journalism career there. He also did a stint in the Air Force, during which time he earned a law degree. But journalism was in his blood, and he took reporting jobs in Madrid, Frankfurt and Paris. He broke more than his share of big stories, including reporting in 1961 that led to the sacking of Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, commander of the 24th Infantry Division in Cold War Germany. Walker was preaching the gospel of the John Birch Society and the value of preemptive strikes against Soviet territories, and was breaking the law by trying to influence how the 13,000 troops under him voted at home.
A firestorm of criticism followed.
As Bob writes: “It was a preamble to the argument today – do American journalists have some obligation to wave the flag during tough times? My answer then and now is no. Journalists are our mirrors for what we are as a people. They let us see the true image of ourselves … The Walker story troubled all of us at the time. We had brought down a war hero, a certified anti-communist, a Cold War sentinel. Why would we do that if we were good Americans? My answer is that Edwin Walker was a certified nut case and we’re damn lucky we excised him when we did.”
Bob also writes in detail about his three years as a Vietnam war correspondent, his early days with the Honolulu Advertiser and later as anchor at KGMB, and a stint in network news that included reporting on the Biafra war – and going on patrol with Biafran soldiers whose captain literally gave each soldier six bullets before sending them out. Vietnam vets and those of you like me old enough to remember those years will find this aspect of the book fascinating.
But I was most taken with his stories about newspaper and TV folks in Honolulu over the past 50 years, many of whom I knew and worked with or competed against. Turns out Bob and I were both brought to the Advertiser, though 16 years apart, by the same editor, Buck Buchwach.
In the end, what sticks with me – apart from the amazing number of women with whom he was intimate over the years, and what his wife might think about seeing those details in print – is Bob’s relentless pursuit, over the decades and the miles, of truth and good stories. It’s just who he is, and why he often files three MidWeek columns in one week, knowing only one will be published, saying, “You decide which one should run.”
I don’t know what Bob will have etched on his tombstone one day, or even if he’ll have a stone. But it could say, “Here lies one helluva good reporter.”
There are certainly a lot worse things to say about a person. And there are many ways to show your love of country.