OF BULLETINS AND BOOZE
A NEWSMAN'S STORY OF RECOVERY
Genre: Journalism / Memoir
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Date of Publication: March, 2017
Number of Pages: 284
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Bob Horton began his journalism career as a reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Innate skill and good fortune took him from a modest Texas farm upbringing to Washington, DC, where he was thrown into the high-pressure world of the wire service, first as a correspondent for the Associated Press, and later for Reuters news agency. The stress was intense, but he found the rush to be intoxicating.
From his early days covering the Dallas murder trial of Jack Ruby, through three colorful decades as a newsman, Horton often found himself witnessing history in the making. He covered the Pentagon during the early days of the Vietnam War, was on board a Navy ship in the Mediterranean awaiting Israel’s expected attack on Egypt, was witness to the Watergate burglary trial, and attended a Beverly Hills church service with then-President-elect Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
The success Horton enjoyed as a journalist mostly hid the dark side of his career: a gradual descent into alcoholism. Of Bulletins and Booze candidly recounts the unforgettable moments of Horton’s career, as well as more than a few moments he would just as soon forget.
EXCERPT: Chapter 1
Of Bulletins and Booze
By Bob Horton
The embossed invitation that arrived with a Washington, DC, postmark on May 9, 1966, lifted our sense of social status well above the pleasant commonness exuded by the place where we lived in Rockville, Mary-land, a few miles beyond the District line. The house was your average three-bedroom suburban brick, no fireplace, not carpeted, with a monthly rental charge of one hundred seventy-five dollars that stretched our pocketbook to the limit. The place was probably small enough to be tucked into a corner of the basement of the stately mansion of the people who invited us to drop by for a visit.
It was hardly a casual drop-by affair, as evidenced by the fancy script and imposing White House emblem that dressed the embossed card. I felt compelled to seek out my Amy Vanderbilt book-club reference on etiquette. What would an unpolished young Texan know about the proper way of responding to such a high-level y’all come beyond saying enthusiastically, heck, yeah, we’ll sure as tootin’ be there.
I drafted what I thought would be an appropriate letter of acceptance, learning later it was not necessary. A telephone call of acceptance to the White House switchboard probably would have sufficed. My wife and I weren’t being invited to a formal White House dinner, which would have involved being reserved a designated seat. This was a lesser event, a reception at which we would pass in a receiving line to be briefly introduced to the president and first lady, then move on and wander about to see and be seen. It was nevertheless the most imposing official affair Sherry and I had the opportunity to attend in our first two years in Washington.
It was not our first exposure to the White House. One of the first things we had done upon arriving in 1965 for my move up in the news business was to play tourist and take one of the public walk-through tours of the place. At times during my initial night shift in the Washing-ton bureau of the Associated Press I had been sent to stand outside the White House to watch for the president’s return from some out-of-town appearance. The AP routinely reported a presidential homecoming with a sentence or two on the wire that was usually meant only as an advisory to editors. The purpose was to guard against being caught by surprise if Air Force One should turn up missing.
In my first months in WX, which was the AP’s wire identity for Washington, I had no press pass to enter the White House grounds. A background investigation by the Secret Service is required before a reporter is granted a pass, and that takes time. Lacking the required credentials, I could only peer through wrought iron fencing to watch from hundreds of yards away for a military helicopter due to be ferrying the president home after Air Force One’s landing at Andrews Air Force Base at Suitland, Maryland, a few miles outside Washington. As soon as a chopper fluttered down on the South Lawn, I’d call the office from a pay telephone that took dimes and say “he’s back,” even though I could only assume that the dark figures I could see stepping off the helicopter included The Man. Making assumptions is shoddy journalism. I was fortunate in those situations never to be burned by being wrong.
The invitation from “The President and Mrs. Johnson” was to attend a reception being held for US military commanders from around the world. In early 1966 I had become one of the growing number of news-men assigned to cover news from the Pentagon, and we were included on the guest list. The White House undoubtedly had strong motive for inviting reporters. Willing or not, journalists often served as a conduit for conveying to the public the official rationale as to why expending blood and treasure in a distant war building in Vietnam was in the nation’s security interest. Convincing Americans of the soundness of that rationale had become extremely important for the White House. Uniformed men and women were being shipped off by the tens of thousands to face bullets and bombs in Southeast Asia.
Bob Horton has been in the news business for more than fifty years. In 1966 he received the Top Reporting Performance Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors organization, and in 1968 he and an AP cohort were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for general coverage of the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Today he is a radio news anchor with shows in Lubbock and Victoria, Texas. He lives in Lubbock.
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