It all began with . . .
THE TOSS OF A COIN


Roy Murphy

Hans Steinitz wrote this history for the 50th Anniversary celebrations and covers the years from the FPA's founding in 1918 to the anniversary in 1967. Steinitz has been a correspondent in the US since 1947 for Der Bund of Berne, Switzerland, and also for newspapers in Germany. He was president of the FPA in 1960-61. His major contribution was securing the use of an office in the Foreign Press Center when it was opened in 1961. He also helped to start up and organize the ten international FPA balls which were inaugurated in 1954. He is now retired and lives in New York.

It was the height of the Civil War. America was in turmoil. Into the Willard Hotel on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue checked a British gentleman by the name of William Howard Russell. His occupation: foreign correspondent.

From all the records Mr William Howard Russell - a representative of the London Times - was the first foreign correspondent to work in the United States.

Today, a century later [1967], there are, at a modest guess, some five to six hundred foreign correspondents in America. But few of them have as tough a job as Mr Russell had then.

Fresh from the Crimean War, he threw himself into the job of covering the war between the States. He traveled to the battlefields by rented horse or in the troop trains carrying Union soldiers to the front.

He filed his stories irregularly by steamboat back to Britain. That, for many years, was the only way that newsmen in America could get their stories back to Europe.

At that time quite a few emigrants from Europe used to contribute, on a freelance basis and at irregular intervals, to newspapers in their old country, telling them about America and, a favorite topic in those days, the conquest of the West. Regular full- time foreign correspondents employed by an overseas news organization and especially assigned to cover the United States remained exceedingly rare.

Even after the establishment of a regular cable connection between the Old and the New World, only a small handful of European newsmen established residence in the United States. However, quite a few roving reporters began to show up, who returned home a fter some more or less adventurous cross-country trips.

But even in the early years of this century the situation changed very little. When Theodore Roosevelt was president, a newly arrived correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph made his formal introductory visit to the president, attired in striped pants , top hat in hand - and gossip had it that the White House usher, little used to the presence of newsmen, thought he must be some new ambassador.

The President, after greeting the newcomer, said: It is high time you fellows began to discover America. Actually it was at least another decade before the bulk of the overseas Press did discover America.

Before this, however, that legendary foreign correspondent Percy Bullen was already established in New York as the representative of the London Daily Telegraph. He arrived in 1902 and remained at his post until he retired in 1934.

During his long career in the United States (which followed service as a special correspondent in the Boer War), he reported the first plane flights of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina in 1903.

He probably knew and understood the United States better than any British newspaperman at any time, wrote Lord Burnham in his book Peterborough Court, adding that in those days there was nothing known in Washington that was not known in New York the day b efore.

It was not until much later that Washington became a vital center for American news.

When the United States entered World War I, President Wilson's Press officers (working for the war agency of the Bureau of Information) endeavored to gather together the regular Press representatives from the Allied countries in order to provide them with news of the American war effort.

The journalists themselves grouped together in mid-November 1917, exactly 50 years ago, and for better contact with the Federal Government formed an organization provisionally called The Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States.

It had at the start only 11 members: eight British, two French and one Italian. At its first official meeting in February 1918, Frank Dilnot of the London Daily Express was elected president, with Percy Bullen the Secretary-Treasurer. Such was the informa lity, that the two actually tossed a coin to decide who should be President!

Percy told often that his office of treasurer was at first a highly nominal one indeed - and that the seat of the secretariat was in his right breast pocket where he used to store the FPA's files.

The first nine months of the FPA's existence was a continual round of travel for its handful of members. First-class trains with club coaches were placed at their disposal for visits to shipping centers, ammunition plants, army camps, ordnance factories a nd aviation centers.

Then came the Armistice in November 1918. President Wilson thanked the FPA with this message: The service of the FPA in the Allied cause at a time when the Allies were fighting with their backs to the wall was both acceptable and useful.

There was talk of disbanding the FPA. The war is ended, our work is done, it was said.

But the idea was resisted by Frank Dilnot, A. Arbib Costa, Joseph Bourgeois, Walter Bullock, Skipper Williams, W. W. Davies, Levy Lawson, G. J. M. Simons, J. H. Furay and Leonce Levy - to name a few of the stalwarts of those pioneer days.

Warren Mason of the London Daily Express, one of the few native-born American members, wrote the Constitution which until 1940 remained substantially the same.

Bullen recalled those early days in some notes he wrote for the Foreign Press News in March 1955. Little did we dream, he said, that the acorn which we planted would develop into so mighty an oak. In those days we had no rules for a year or two. Everythin g was pretty much of a slapdash category. But even in those days few important visitors to New York escaped our luncheons and dinners and receptions.

The FPA grew rapidly during the Twenties. Several times its by-laws were amended: to include radio correspondents, to create a class of Associate members (mostly part-time correspondents) and to create special classes for the correspondents stationed in W ashington, although the headquarters of the FPA remained in New York.

Three times members of the FPA traveled to Washington to be received at the White House, once by Presidents Coolidge and twice by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 25th Anniversary of the FPA in the middle of World War II was celebrated by a dinner in the Waldor f, with Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox the main speaker. For the 35th Anniversary New York Mayor Impelliteri gave a reception at City Hall and invited the correspondents to a sightseeing boat trip around Manhattan.

During this time the FPA's membership was greatly increased by the establishment of the United Nations in New York. It created its own Welfare Fund for members and provided the correspondents with a special health insurance scheme, opened up a special sec tion for Stage and Screen writers, and crowned all its previous activities by inaugurating, in 1954, its International Press Ball, which has since become an annual event.

There were many other noteworthy activities during the 1950s. The FPA met with the members of the New York State and New England Newspaper Publishers' Association for a public round-table conference in Corning, NY, and with the editors of American college newspapers for seminar talks and debates in Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.

A trip to New Hampshire had to be canceled once because a local newspaper in that state campaigned virulently against the presence of foreign newsmen - or at least some of them - on New Hampshire soil. This cancellation created a major scandal in the worl d press, and the furor only died down when the governor of the state of Rhode Island invited the FPA to pay an official visit to his state in order to repair the damage. The trip to Rhode Island turned out to be one of the most pleasant functions ever hel d by the FPA.

In the 1960s the status of the foreign Press corps in the US improved considerably. President John F. Kennedy, his Press officer Pierre Salinger and Edward R. Murrow, director of the US Information Agency, were approached by the FPA and asked to provide f oreign correspondents with improved facilities.

The result was the Foreign Correspondents Center in New York in which the late President took a personal pride. It was formally opened by Pierre Salinger in September 1961.

The center has proved an important institution for the foreign Press corps, serving as working headquarters, social center and gathering place for them ever since.

At the present time [1967], the FPA has more than 350 members representing 57 different countries. Although the bulk of its members come from Europe, there is not a single region of the world which is not represented among the membership.

Including the present Administration, the FPA has had so far 36 Presidents, of whom 16 have been from Britain, five from France, three from the Netherlands, two each from Argentina and Mexico, and one each from Australia, China, Germany, India, Israel, It aly, Poland and Switzerland.

On occasion the FPA has taken steps on behalf of individual members in favor of their rights, for example, to gain access to the Senate Press Gallery, for extension of stays, or for renewal of visas. The intervention of the FPA has always received a fair hearing from the Federal government agency involved, and has usually been crowned by success.

One problem for newsmen in the US is that there are two main newsmaking centers. Some large foreign newspapers or agencies have therefore had to open offices in both Washington and New York - while correspondents from smaller or less prosperous organizati ons have almost to commute perpetually between the two cities. This makes life hectic, as well as imposing quite a strain on expense accounts!

Some years ago, a student of the School of Journalism of the University of Missouri wrote his thesis on the foreign Press corps in this country. The thesis revealed that the average foreign correspondent in the United States, provided such an animal exist s, is a mature man (or woman) in his (or her) early forties, speaks 2.3 languages besides his own, carries a little bundle of academic degrees, is married and has 2.1 children. He drives a medium-priced car, was a war correspondent in at least one major military operation {SYMBOL 45 \f "Symbol"} and denies emphatically that he looks or behaves like the romantic Hollywood picture of the foreign correspondent.

But his life can still be an exciting one. Among the members of the FPA are newsmen who have crossed Greenland by dog sleigh, who have flown over the North Pole and the South Pole, who were eye witnesses of the sinking of the Andrea Doria, who covered the last civil war in Guatemala on mule back (as no other means of transportation was available) and watched Fidel Castro's bearded guerrillas ride into Havana.

Some of our members can claim never to have missed a political convention, or a manned space shot at Cape Kennedy.

Others have risked their lives covering rebellions in places like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, braved the worst of riots in Harlem, Detroit and Watts. There is hardly one who cannot summon up an impressive list of film stars, politicians and other cel ebrities they have interviewed.

The majority, in the course of their work covering the US, travel thousands of miles every year.

In fact probably few Americans know their own country as well as many of the foreign correspondent members of the FPA.

Hans Steinitz

MORE RECENTLY . . .

This section covers the 25 years since Hans Steinitz's excellent account, namely 1967 to 1993. An astute mathematician will notice the discrepancy in dates for the 50th and 75th Anniversaries. Its origin lies in the origin of the FPA itself. A group of fo reign correspondents held a meeting in November 1917 and agreed to form an organized body, but it was not until February 16, 1918 that they met again and elected a President, Frank Dilnot, and formed a committee. In past years the FPA has elected to use the earlier date; we have preferred to use the date when the first officers of the FPA were elected.

The last 25 years were kicked off in grand style in 1967 with a magnificent dinner for more than 400 guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. A special anniversary issue of the Foreign Press News featured the story by Hans Steinitz, reprinted above.

At the dinner, FPA president, Jeffrey Blyth, tried to sum up what the FPA is and what it does. He confessed it was not easy to do.

“The FPA,” he said, “is not a trade union. Nor is it a professional organization in the sense that, like lawyers or doctors, its members have to pass examinations before they can join. It is not, except in the most modest sense, a charitable organization. Nor is it very militant - although on occasion it has been known to rise up in wrath to defend its rights, and those of journalists working in America.

“The answer,” he suggested, “is that the FPA is a fraternal organization - like the old guilds and livery clubs of London - in which members with similar interests can get together. And if the need ever arises, join together to defend their interests.”

The guest of honor, Bill Moyers, then publisher of Newsday, admitted that while he was press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson the foreign correspondents were given second-hand treatment. “We tended,” Moyers said, “to deal with those men whose writings we read.”

Privately, Moyers told Blyth, “One of the problems was that there was no organization of foreign correspondents in Washington. There was no one like the FPA with whom we could deal.”

The next year the USIA announced the opening of a Foreign Press Center in Washington, similar to the Center it opened in New York in 1961.

During the last 25 years, there has been a great array of talent lined up to speak to the FPA.

It was standing room only in March 1968 when Mr and Mrs Arthur Miller appeared to speak on playwriting and photography, politics and the sense of personal responsibility. (No, not that Mrs Miller - Marilyn Monroe - it was Ingeborg Morath, a professional photographer.)

Film stars, celebrities and famous people have included Shelley Winters in May 1968 talking of a plan to bring foreign students and educators to the US to meet and instruct under-privileged youths. Angela Lansbury (now star of television's Murder, She Wrote) was the featured guest in October 1969.

In 1970 Betty Friedan, president of the National Organization for Women, told the FPA that women's demand for freedom and equality was becoming a “rage” which could not be extinguished. Her talk attracted more than 60 people as well as television coverage .

William Kunstler, one of America's most controversial lawyers and defender of the “Chicago Seven” appeared in June 1970.

On April 1, 1971 Jules Feiffer told the FPA, “I'm basically a tap dancer,” and in September novelist Jacqueline Susann drew a large crowd at a cocktail party in the penthouse of Carnegie Hall.



FPA members listen to Professor Zbingniew Brzesinsky discussing
foreign affairs May 1, 1974

 

Professor Zbingniew Brzezinsky spoke on world affairs.

In March 1975 UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim spoke at a conference co-hosted with the Deadline Club, and in April Abraham Beame, mayor of New York, defended his city “in challenging and often humorous terms.”

Don Hewitt, producer of CBS' 60 Minutes was guest of honor at an FPA luncheon in June 1979.

On March 12, 1985 a New York State Attorney, known as the “pizza connection” prosecutor, told the FPA of his work in fighting the Mafia and organized crime. And he denied, yet again, having any desire for public office. His name - Rudolph W. Guiliani, cur rently gearing up for his second attempt to become Mayor of New York.

Veteran CBS reporter for 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace, summed up the lesson of journalism: Truth will out. Speaking at the FPA in April 1985, Wallace also noted, “There's nothing wrong with our being the object of scrutiny, just as we insist that we can scrut inize other institutions.”

The man who recently married film star and fitness promoter Jane Fonda, Ted Turner, attracted a big turnout of more than 60 journalists when he appeared at the FPA in November 1985. His comment then on keeping fit? - “I pace around a lot.”

One of the most prolific writers in America told the FPA all he knew about Halley's Comet on March 19, 1986. As befitting his vast output, Isaac Asimov covered an array of subjects, including comets, space colonies, robotics, doom and gloom, despots, dictators, the Battle of Hastings, Attila the Hun, the rise and fall of emperors, Giotto, the implementation of photography, amateur astronomers, the space shuttle, artificial intelligence, humans that walk up stairs and horses that don't, and cars that need directions to Detroit.



At the FPA on May 4, 1987: Mario Vasquez Rana, chairman
and President of the UPI praying his new acquisition will
make money. (photo Keystone)

 

The acerbic and witty economist and writer John Kenneth Galbraith entertained the FPA in November 1986. But, mindful of his hosts, Galbraith offered this answer to the ills of the world: “Alert, concerned journalism which is the avenue to responsible publ ic opinion,” he said.

There were occasional film screenings. The most notable was an exclusive showing of a French television special titled Bardot in March 1968. The screening attracted more than 75 correspondents - almost all of them men!

And there was heavy politics.

The highlight of 1970 was a special trip to Washington on July 9 to visit the White House and meet senior officials. They included General Alexander Haig and Dr Henry Kissinger “who, after a few minutes, took complete control with his air of dominating and almost irritating self-assurance,” reported FPA member Leo Armati.

The same year two Foreign Ministers spoke to the FPA in highly successful meetings - more than 100 members were there. The speakers were Senor Gregorio Lopez Bravo of Spain and Walter Scheel of Germany.

April 21, 1971 newly appointed US Ambassador to the UN, George W. Bush, met with the FPA. Bush was reported to be “quick, perceptive and even humorous.”

In one of the major events in the history of the FPA, German Chancellor Willy Brandt gave a special news conference on June 17, 1971, thanks to the efforts of FPA president Gitta Bauer. His comments, particularly on the Berlin question, were reported around the world, including on the front page of the New York Times (although the Times reporter omitted to mention that the FPA hosted the press conference!).

It was not all famous people and world leaders. One of the most imaginative activities undertaken by the FPA, and one of the most revealing of the underbelly of the US, was called “Black Journey.” It was a 10-day tour of the black ghettos of urban America in early February 1972. The idea was Gitta Bauer's, the sponsor was the National Urban League.

“Black Journey” took 12 FPA members through the ghettos in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, Gary, San Francisco, Greene County in Alabama, Birmingham in Alabama, with a visit to Washington, DC a few days later. Tour members paid their own way, booked into black hotels or bedded down with local families.

Among the many highlights of “Black Journey” were meetings with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in his home in Chicago, with Julian Bond and Andrew Young in Georgia, and sessions with the father and the widow of Martin Luther King.

FPA member Sabina Lietzmann, who took the “Black Journey,” reported: “Few of us may have been prepared for the depth of bitterness and emotionalism that burdened some of our discussions in the big city ghettos of the North. Nor, for that matter, for the soaring hopefulness and optimism down South.”

Time was also given over to the lighter side - dining, dancing and celebratory award-giving lunches and dinners.

Marta, student of “Stairway to Heaven,” New York's only school for belly dancing, performed at the Foreign Press Ball at Stonehenge Inn, Ridgefield, Connecticut, on September 19, 1970. Air-conditioned buses transported 110 members and their guests to the fine country inn.

October 1, 1971 saw the FPA's annual dinner-dance at the Terrace Room of Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Entertainment was provided by US soprano Barbara Reisman, who sang songs from many lands.

Dr Henry A. Kissinger accepted the FPA Special Award in 1973. It was given “for his understanding and clarity in communicating to the world press the story of the complexity of the Vietnam negotiations, and for his contribution to the cause of peace.” However, despite a promise to do so, successive world crises prevented Dr Kissinger from receiving his award in person.

A special dinner-dance at the Biltmore Hotel honored the US Bi-Centennial and Walter Cronkite, the long-time anchor for CBS News, on April 30, 1976. Cronkite accepted the FPA's International Press Award and Certificate of Honor. The citations stated in part: “for consistent journalistic excellence and unfailing zeal in strengthening international understanding and peace through unbiased reporting, thereby enhancing the flow of information throughout the world.”

The 65th Anniversary luncheon on October 25, 1983 at the Waldorf Astoria was hailed as a huge success. William Averell Harriman was the guest of honor, and he was presented with the FPA Award for Sterling Service to Humanity. The keynote speaker was George M. Ball, a former Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to the United Nations.

Harriman was a successful businessman when he was picked by President Roosevelt in 1933 to help guide the country out of the Great Depression. During the Second World War Harriman served as Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and immediately after the war he was sent as Ambassador to Great Britain. In the late 1940s he administered the Marshall Plan, which is helped to rebuild war-torn Europe. In 1954 Harriman was elected as Governor of New York State. In the latter part of his life Harriman worked untiringly as a senior statesman, and was involved in advising the US government until he died in July 1986.

Ball, an investment banker with a long career in government, was known for his position as “devil's advocate” in the State Department during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, because he severely criticized America's involvement in Vietnam.

In his speech Ball credited Harriman with a set of rules on how to deal with adversaries in the foreign policy arena, observations that still apply today. One of the central principles, Ball said, is that “we should not eternally concentrate on the worst scenario, to the extent where we become paralyzed and incapable of effective diplomacy.”

Three heads of state sent personal messages to the FPA when it made its first World Humanitarian Award on March 27, 1985. President Reagan of the US, President Sandro Pertini of Italy and President Patrick Hillary of Ireland congratulated Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing for winning the Award.

The Monsignor was honored for his lifetime's work in caring for and educating abandoned youth, and for founding the Boys' Towns and Girls' Town of Italy. The Monsignor was also awarded a Life Membership in the FPA because he used “the printed word with great effectiveness to focus attention on the underlying causes of their unrest.”

During the FPA's 70th Anniversary year, Edwin J. Wesely, President of CARE International, accepted the FPA's World Humanitarian Award on November 29, 1988. The award was made to honor Wesely's role in the battle against hunger and the tragic effects of poverty. President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, among many others, sent congratulatory messages to Wesely.

One of the highlights of the evening was the presentation of a full-sized US flag to Wesely. The flag was sent by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, together with a certificate stating that the flag had been flown at the top of the Capitol Building in Washi ngton just the day before.

A sweeping revision of the FPA Constitution was passed unanimously at a special meeting on November 28, 1990. A subcommittee of three FPA presidents, Alfred von Krusenstiern, Roy Murphy and Gastone Orefice held a series of meetings and discussions. The draft they put together was discussed in detail at several Executive Committee meetings. The whole process took a year and a half.

The 1980s saw the passing of many of the FPA's links with the past. A number of our past presidents moved on to hopefully better assignments in the next life, including Maurice Adams, Gitta Bauer, Alex H. Faulkner, CBE, George Fenin, Jean-Paul Freyss, Jurij Gustincic, Sir Randal Heymanson, CBE, Jussi Himanka, Simon Koster, Piers H. Powell, Paul F. Sanders and Richard Yaffe. It was a heavy toll in one short decade.



1986 FPA "Committee" (Board of Directors)Isabelle Silk, FPA Director
(center), FPA President Roy Murphy (above her)

 

The toll continued in the 1990s when we lost both our Press Secretaries, Louis Weintraub and Eleanor FitzSimons. They gave long and valuable service without charge to the FPA after their appointment in 1976. They helped most significantly with the 65th Anniversary celebration in 1983 and with the arrangements for the World Humanitarian Awards of 1985 and 1988.

An interesting and instructive study was made this year by comparing the foreign correspondents registered at the US Government's Foreign Press Center in New York in 1988, and with those registered five years later in 1993, together with the Active Members of the FPA.

We discovered that in those five years, more than four-fifths (82.6%) of the correspondents had moved on. There was also an increase of more than 100 correspondents (approximately 14%) compared with five years ago. This gives a total of nearly 800 foreign correspondents now working in the New York area.

The study shows that while the number of foreign correspondents is growing larger and more influential, the turnover is staggeringly high.

This makes the need for the existence of the FPA even more intense and sweeping. The FPA supplies a stability and continuity that not only helps correspondents do a better job, but also benefits everyone who deals with them - the politicians, the businessmen, the diplomats and the scores of ordinary people a correspondent has to deal with to get the stories out.

Roy Murphy

Edited by Josef Schrabal

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