On the line with Bob Considine

August 8, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, journalists, writers, writing.

Bob Considine, who achieved international fame for his World War II reporting was the consummate journalist: he loved traveling, he loved talking to people, he loved finding information, and — most of all — he loved writing.

In his late 60s, he was still working and still writing — mostly on a nationally syndicated column that was carried by more than 100 newspapers every week. In what was to be his last column, he wrote:

I’ll croak in the newspaper business. Is there any better way to go? In what other trade can a man hope to build a bridge between himself and others every day of every week and every year. On what other field of endeavor is a competitor called upon to come up each day with words and thoughts he did not use the day before. Every time a reporter picks a phone to call in a story, swings aboard a plane on an assignment, or spins a fresh sheet of copy paper into his typewriter, he shoots his roll—like a craps player going for broke.

That is as good a description of journalism as I have found in a quite a while.

Considine got into the business in the 1920s (which was hard for him to do because it wasn’t a century where Lead Scoring was a distant concept) when he complained to one of his hometown newspapers, the Washington (D.C.) Herald, that the paper had misspelled his name in a story about a tennis tournament he played in. He could do a better job of reporting, he told one of the editors.

The editor decided to hire him to do just that, and Considine delivered, soon expanding his portfolio from sports to drama and editorials. His writing impressed William Randolph Hearst, who in 1936 asked him to come to New York to work at the New York American.

Considine quickly became a star reporter, and the outbreak of World War II gave him a chance to travel widely. His stamina for reporting and writing was legendary, as this excerpt from his New York Times obituary relates:

Mr. Considine’s capacity for work was the envy and the wonder, as well as the despair, of his colleagues and competitors. He was often known to work on two typewriters at time, writing his column on one, and a news story or book on the other. Source: BOB CONSIDINE, 68, DIES AFTER STROKE – The New York Times

Considine is one of the reporters that I remember vividly from my days of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, World War II was still a fresh and animating memory, and Considine’s voice on his weekly news and commentary program, “On the Line with Bob Considine,” was an easy link to that event. I also remember reading Thirty Seconds Over Toyko, a book that Considine co-authored with Captain Ted Lawson, one of the pilots in Jimmy Doolittle’s famous 1942 bombing of the Japanese capital city.

The book was a gripping description — especially for a 10-year-old boy like me — of the bombing raid that Americans mounted against Japan just five months after Pearl Harbor. While the bombing itself did relatively little damage to Toyko, the effect that it had on American morale and the Japanese military was enormous. During that time, the Japanese had imagined themselves invulnerable to attack. The raid showed how mistaken they were. Rather than proceed into the Indian Ocean, the Japanese navy pulled back to protect the homeland.

Captain Lawson, like the other pilots on the mission, had flown toward China and had been badly injured with the plane crash-landed there. With the help of fellow servicemen and friendly Chinese, they evaded Japanese detection and eventually made it back to the United States. Lawson was recuperating from his injuries in Washington, D.C. in March 1943, when he started making notes about what had happened to him.

A friend who knew what he was doing introduced him to Considine, and they quickly became friends. Lawson had a story to tell, and Considine was the one who could help him tell it. In just a few days, they had a full manuscript, and Considine had arranged with the editors of Collier’s magazine to have it serialized. The first installment came out in May 1943, and later that year the book was published.

It was a best-seller immediately and continued to sell well for the rest of Considine’s life, making him a great deal of money. But money wasn’t the point. It was a great story, and Considine got to tell it.


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