Deborah Cohen on the Journalists Who Changed the News Media Irrevocably


The people in your book are mostly forgotten as you know, but at their time they were household names. Can you tell me briefly about Dorothy Thompson, John Guthrie, HR knickerbocker, and Vincent Sheehan? Absolutely. So Dorothy Thompson amassed a string of firsts. She was the first American woman to run a major overseas news bureau. She was the first American foreign correspondent to be kicked out of Hitler's Germany in 1934, and she was the first woman political columnist to have a syndicated column, political column of her own. And in the late 30s, she's reaching 8 to 10 million readers with her thrice weekly columns. John Gunther makes his name with a book inside Europe published in 1936 that this taboo breaking behind the scenes account of the foibles of European leaders. So Hitler is given to crying Jags. He reports and has as Gunther puts it an Oedipus complex as big as a house, Mussolini is very superstitious, and so on and so forth. And this is a huge book of the time. It sells more than a million copies. It's not just a bestseller in the United States. It's also a bestseller across Europe. And it's a book that makes Gunther's name. HR knickerbocker comes from Texas. He's born in Texas. And he's the son of a southern methodist minister. He always carries a Bible in his suitcase, though he can swear in all of the major European languages. He's reportedly the highest paid foreign correspondent in the world, as I said, mostly working for William Randolph Hearst's international news service and among other accomplishments he becomes the bet noir of Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. And then there's Vincent Sheehan, so she and is reporter he was working for a number of different outlets among them the Chicago Tribune and he writes a book entitled personal history, published in 1935 at wins the first national book award for biography inaugural award. And this book really captured the zeitgeist of the era in a way that no other book does. What she and his writing about is his own quest as a journalist. To figure out the relationship between his life and world events, or as he puts it, the one life that he has in the millions of lives into which it's cast.

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