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Life & career of early 20th Cent. Amer. reporter/war correspondent.
This paper chronicles the career of Floyd Gibbons, one of the first modern war correspondents. A colorful character and keen observer of detail, Gibbons managed to provide compelling firsthand reports of a wide range of news events, from Pancho Villa's raids along the Mexican border to accounts of the front of the 1920 war between Poland and Russia, at which he was the only journalist present. His account of the German submarine attack that sank the British liner Laconia helped provide strong public sentiment for the United States' entry into World War II, and his heroic actions on the battlefield in France cost him an eye but earned him France's highest honor. A longtime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, his firing was as spectacular as his writing career. He eventually established a successful career as a radio correspondent; he was "The Headline Hunter" on NBC radio
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Smith, 299-3 .----------------------- 1 He then shared hisobservations with his readers as concisely and directly as possible. He covered the Sien Feinrebellion in Ireland; his own Irish heritage gave him special sympathy forthe Irish struggles for independence. I was torpedoedon the Laconia." Richard Norton Smith observes, "His evocativereporting of the Laconia's final hours and of his own rescue from the IrishSea made him a global celebrity before his clothes were dry." His 4, -word account was widely reprinted and helped sway publictoward involvement in the war. Chicago: Randy McNally, 1979.----------------------- This was the Tribune's own description of itself, aphrase registered as the paper's trademark in 1911 and used withsome regularity until early 1977. He possessed a remarkable ability to place himself in theright place at the right time, allowing him to use his journalistic talentsto record history as it happened in front of his eyes. His account of the German submarineattack that sank the British liner Laconia helped provide strong publicsentiment for the United States' entry into World War II, and his heroicactions on the battlefield in France cost him an eye but earned himFrance's highest honor. McCormick, 188 -1955 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1997), 194. The following year, he reported on the devastatingRussian famine, in which as many as 2 million Russians died of hunger, andgained an exclusive interview with Joseph Stalin. Floyd enrolled in Georgetown University's college preparatoryprogram, but was expelled for a student prank and never completed hiseducation. Gibbons, 175. Raphael Floyd Phillips Gibbons was born on July 16, 1887, inWashington, DC, the first of five children of Edward Thomas Gibbons andEmma Theresa Phillips Gibbons. On February 17, 1917, theLaconia was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. Gibbons used his position tocontinue to provide exciting, firsthand coverage of clashes all across histerritory. He eventually establisheda successful career as a radio correspondent; he was "The Headline Hunter"on NBC radio for many years. Ibid., 119. (Gibbons justified his conductby describing a lifelong ambition to send his aged mother a postcard markedTimbuktu. [1 ]Smith, 225. Reporting on the French war against the Riff in Morocco, Gibbonsdecided to lead a camel caravan across the Sahara from Algeria to Timbuktu,to "obtain true pictures of sheiks and their appeal to Anglo-Saxon andAmerican women." McCormick sacked his star reporter after Gibbons sentthe Tribune "a $2 , expense account . His flamboyant personality and energetic dedication to hiswork became important components in every one of his stories. Diagnosis of a heart problem in 1934 did nothing toslow him down, and he was in the middle of preparing to report on thenewest world war when he died of a heart attack on September 24, 1939, onhis farm in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. A man next to himsuddenly found his hand shot off by the German guns, and then Gibbonshimself was hit, shot first in the left arm, then in the left shoulder, andfinally through his left eye. Wendt, 497. After his injuries (and publication of the vivid accounts of hisexperience), the Tribune brought him home, but, after the 1919 armistice,Robert R. Always thereporter, Gibbons paid close attention to the journey and to the medicalcare he received, until he finally passed out from pain and loss of blood.His brother, Edward, in the biography of his famous brother which he wroteafter the journalist's death, records Floyd's recollection of thephysicians working on the battlefield, "taking care of the wounded,proceeding with their work without notice to the whine of the shellspassing overhead or the bursting of those landing nearby." The surgeons were able to repair most of his injuries, but Gibbonslost his eye; "the white eye patch he adopted became a widely knownjournalistic trademark." Lloyd Wendt writes, "Gibbons barely missed astep, despite the seriousness of his wounds." His wounds won him theCroix de Guerre with Palm for valor on the field of battle, France'shighest honor; he was the first war correspondent ever to be decoratedunder fire. His first cable to hisnewspaper was published verbatim. In fact, Gibbons became anunofficial press advisor to Villa. Based in Paris, the service covered news inEurope, the Near East, and North Africa. On June 6, 1918, he found himself fully in his element, as an unarmedobserver in the middle of Belleau Wood in France, pinned down by heavyGerman artillery with a brigade of American Marines. I can hardly move my fingers to write the story. Although Gibbons exists now primarily as a footnote to history, hewas an important figure in setting the direction of modern journalism. Finally, under cover of darkness, one of his comrades helped him offthe field, and they began the long trip to a hospital. His calculations demonstrated the "usual Gibbons luck" ofbeing in the right place at the right time. He covered conflicts in Poland, Japan andChina, Ethiopia, Spain, and every other place he could find a battle or anuprising of some kind. American Reporters on the Western Front, 1914-1918. After his death,Gibbons became the first civilian ever to be made an honorary member of theUnited States Marine Corps, in recognition of his courageous journalisticefforts. His NBC program, "The Headline Hunter," first aired in 1929, onlyadded to his international fame. He set out to meet with Villa and eventually interviewedthe flamboyant bandit in a railroad boxcar. New York: Exposition Press, 1953.Smith, Richard Norton. Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.Gibbons, Edward. When McCormick faced a notorious libel suit filed by Henry Ford, hepersuaded Gibbons to return to the United States to stand by him during thetrial. Richard Norton Smith, The Colonel: The Life and Legendof Robert R. Ibid., 43 . His father ran a successful retail producebusiness, but later sold the business and moved the family to Minneapolis,where he started an even more successful trading-stamp company. Ignoring persistent heart problems, hecontinued to report on conflicts around the globe. Crozier, 12 . McCormick, 188 -1955. 'And I did,' he cheerfully remarked to [colleague George]Seldes.)" Leaving the Tribune simply gave Gibbons greater opportunities toexpand his career. McCormick, who ran the paper, appointed Gibbons head of theTribune Foreign News Service. One of his first jobs was working with the editor of a smallnewspaper in Lucca, North Dakota, which inspired him to become a reporter.In 19 7, he was employed by the Minneapolis Daily News and quickly went onto become the Milwaukee Free Press's police reporter. In 192 , he slipped into Russia to cover the Bolshevik uprisingand the actions on the Polish-Russian war front (where he was the onlyjournalist present). . Smith is alone in his insistence thatGibbons' eye patch was black, however; all other accounts, aswell as a contemporary photograph of McCormick and Gibbonsseated outside the courtroom, record the patch as distinctivelywhite. He became a successful radio commentator, renowned asbeing the fastest talker on radio (he was once clocked at 217 words perminute). Edward Gibbons, Floyd Gibbons: Your Headline Hunter(New York: Exposition Press, 1953), 1 . This paper chronicles the career of Floyd Gibbons, one of the firstmodern war correspondents. . A longtime reporter for the Chicago Tribune, hisfiring was as spectacular as his writing career. However, within a few months, a job had opened upat the Chicago Tribune, and Gibbons began what was to be a long andprominent association with "The World's Greatest Newspaper." Gibbons soon managed to secure an assignment covering General JohnPershing's punitive expedition against Francisco "Pancho" Villa along theMexican border. By 1912, he felt ready to seek anewspaper job in Chicago, but the only available position was on thesocialist paper, World. Hisreports were personal and detailed, but there were also relatively accurateand honest. Onhis return from Mexico, Gibbons was promoted to the Tribune's Washington,DC, bureau, and his next major assignment was to cover the war in Europe,which the United States had been reluctant to join. He lay on the battlefield, out of reach ofmedical attention, pretending to be dead, for the three hours it took forthe sun to set. To cross the Atlantic, Gibbons purposely booked passage on a Britishocean liner, which he believed would be a likely target for Germansubmarines. Floyd Gibbons: Your Headline Hunter. It began, "I'm here in Queenstown,soaked, frozen; ice on my face, ice in my hair, dripping water on thefloor. Emmet Crozier, American Reporters on the Western Front,1914-1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 12 . Emmet Crozier calls Gibbons "the first of anew crop of war reporters" and notes that, for Gibbons, "war was a grandadventure, and patriotism was merged with intense devotion" to theTribune. Gibbons revelled in the excitement of the battlefield andsought out opportunities to join the soldiers in the middle of a fight. Floyd Gibbons helped define the modern war correspondent: tough,brash, courageous, and willing to put his own safety on the line in orderto file a report. A colorful character and keen observer ofdetail, Gibbons managed to provide compelling firsthand reports of a widerange of news events, from Pancho Villa's raids along the Mexican border toaccounts of the front of the 192 war between Poland and Russia, at whichhe was the only journalist present. Smith reports on the effectiveness of his presence at the trial: Merely by appearing each day, immaculate in his khaki uniform, with a black eyepatch covering the socket emptied by a German machine-gun bullet, the dashing Gibbons served to remind everyone present that he, like the publishers of the Tribune, had fought the kaiser with more than words.[1 ] Eventually, however, Gibbons tested the patience of his mercurialboss. BibliographyCrozier, Emmet. The reporter's natural charm allowed him to establish agood working relationship with the grim general, a relationship that laterserved Gibbons well when the two met again on the battlefields of World WarI. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.Wendt, Lloyd. For his readers and his radio audience, he was part ofthe narrative. In 191 , he returnedto Minneapolis to work for the Tribune. The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. He encouraged the Mexican leader topostpone one planned attack until after the conclusion of the 1916 WorldSeries, persuading him that American readers would pay more attention tonews reports of the battle once the baseball contest had been settled. Pershing's attempts to capture Villa were ultimately unsuccessful,but Gibbons' colorful reportage of the campaign helped make his name. Lloyd Wendt, Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper (Chicago: Rand McNally,1979), 334. However, Gibbons was not content to cover one side of the Mexicanborder conflict. Ibid., 429.
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