The lot of a war correspondent has always been one of improvisation and compromise. Apart from the constant prospect of being maimed, killed or captured, there are the enduring problems of locating reliable sources, minimizing the distortions of censorship and finding ways of transmitting dispatches from the battlefield to the newsroom. Conditions were particularly dicey for American reporters covering the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. Prominent among these imperiled scribes were two newlyweds: Time’s Far East bureau chief Mel Jacoby and his freelance-writer wife, Annalee. Both had reported extensively from China prior to Mel being transferred to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, just weeks before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
A distant relative of Mel, author Bill Lascher constructs his account of the pair’s reporting and their dramatic flight across the Pacific primarily from the massive collection of personal letters, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs and films Mel’s mother preserved.
Mel was born into a Hollywood family with movie connections but gravitated to journalism during his years at Stanford. He and his future wife, Annalee Whitmore, both worked on the Stanford Daily but barely knew each other at the time. Both were interested in the people and politics of China, which was then under assault from an expansionist Japan. Prior to teaming up with Jacoby, Whitmore had been a scriptwriter for MGM with an Andy Hardy movie to her credit.
Lascher spends the first half of the book tracing Mel’s reporting work in China and the last half tracking Mel and Annalee’s harrowing escape from Manila and Corregidor as the Japanese forces poured in. Traveling only at night, they eventually made it to safety in Australia.
Although it is incidental to the main narrative here, students of journalism will be fascinated by the level of control Time Inc. owner Henry Luce exerted over his reporters’ stories in order to control how China would be portrayed to the world.