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The Foreign Correspondent in Bar and Salon : DANGEROUS COMPANY by William Tuohy (William Morrow: $18.95; 395 pp.) : THE TWILIGHT STRUGGLE Tales of the Cold War by William Attwood (A Cornelia & Michael Bessie Book/ Harper & Row: $22.50; 448 pp.)

December 27, 1987|Rick Hertzberg | Hertzberg is a senior associate of the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. and

The foreign correspondent is the most romantic and evocative figure in journalism. There he stands, trench coat over his arm, on the shell-pocked tarmac of some exotic airport. At his feet is a battered case festooned with torn baggage tags and laminated press credentials and containing the tools of the trade: portable typewriter (now laptop computer), binoculars, tape recorder, notebooks, change of underwear. Whether he's about to take a jeep to the battlefront, a limousine to the presidential palace or just a taxi to the hotel, by God he's going to get that story.

William Tuohy and William Attwood are more than fair samples of the breed. Both are incurably footloose, insatiably curious, supremely self-confident, congenitally skeptical of orthodoxies and party lines. Yet they are as different as Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard. They are ideal types, Platonic forms of the two basic varieties of foreign correspondent.

Tuohy is the correspondent as police reporter. He is plebeian, profane, unpretentious--a product of Chicago and the city room of the raffish San Francisco Chronicle. He writes out of the corner of his mouth, and what he writes is what he sees, hears, tastes and smells. He is happy to leave the meaning of it all to professors and other thumb suckers. He has a plane to catch, a war to get to, a deadline to meet.

Attwood is the correspondent as diplomat. He is patrician, reflective, urbane--a product of the Ivy League and the late, lamented New York Herald Tribune. He is as comfortable in the salons of intellectuals and the reception rooms of ministries as he is in the hotel bar with the boys--maybe more so. He is a thoughtful analyst as well as an acute observer--a maker of history, in a small way, as well as a splendid writer of history's first draft.

Tuohy calls his memoir "Dangerous Company," and he has kept company with more than his share of danger. As a correspondent for Newsweek, and, since 1966, for the Los Angeles Times, Tuohy covered large and small wars in Vietnam, the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Iran, the Falklands, and Central America, among other places. In between--for relaxation, perhaps--he has covered political campaigns, interviewed movie stars and directors and explored China as one of the first Western reporters allowed in.

"Dangerous Company" is almost pure narrative. When Bill Tuohy plunks us down in Saigon or Dublin or Amman, we hit the ground running. His book, anecdotal and fast-moving, gives us a feel not only for the places and crises he covered but also for how a journeyman correspondent works. The job is gritty more often than glamorous, frustrating as well as exciting.

Vietnam was the biggest story of Tuohy's generation. He covered it for more than a decade, perhaps longer than any other reporter. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968, that pivotal year, for his coverage of the war. His chapters on Vietnam occupy half the book, and they are the highlight of it. Especially gripping is his description of the fall of Saigon in 1975--not just the terror and chaos, but the ways in which Tuohy and his fellow reporters kept their sanity by focusing on the job at hand and drawing strength from the gruff camaraderie of men facing a common danger. Tuohy isn't much on philosophy, but his laconic epitaph for the war has the authority of common sense and firsthand experience: "It seemed to me there was no central truth about Vietnam, except that the amount of blood, treasure and time needed for the United States to gain a satisfactory result was higher than the American public was willing to pay."

Attwood hasn't smelled as much cordite as Tuohy, but Attwood has had an extraordinary career, and out of it he has fashioned an extraordinary book. Beginning in 1946 in the Paris bureau of the old Herald Tribune, he has observed virtually the whole postwar drama of Cold War and fitful detente. Writing for mass-circulation biweeklies like Collier's and Look--a vanished journalistic world, alas--he was able to spend months on a single story. The depth of his observation and insight didn't always get into the magazines, but no matter: It is here for a new generation of readers, permanently, between the covers of "The Twilight Struggle."

In vivid and engaging prose, Attwood takes us into the worlds through which he moved as a correspondent, publisher (of Newsday), political aide and New Frontier government official. His portraits of giants such as Gamal Abdul Nasser, Jawaharlal Nehru and Chou En-Lai are intimate and sharply drawn. His reflections on the unfolding history he observed are always acute, informed by a penetrating mind and a liberal, humane spirit.

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