Journalist Helen Hume wrote a fascinating memoir, in Lost and Found: Coming of Age in the Washington Press Corps, for her global reporting at the top of American journalism during the boom years of the 1980s. She keeps readers on the edge of their seats with detailed stories that expose Washington’s political background, peppered with struggles in her own romantic life.
I knew and worked with Ellen when I was a correspondent for another newspaper in Washington and saw her as a first-rate reporter and writer. Using the same journalistic objectivity in telling her own amazing story that she used as a reporter, Hume captures in impressive detail many of the important events of the time. And along the way, she shows journalists of today and hopefully journalism students of tomorrow the model of a leather-clad journalist, often still at her desk at midnight, determined to get the story.
In her telling memoir, Hume takes readers on a wild ride through the halls of power in Washington and the major events she covered during the golden age of American journalism.
She captures in rich detail behind-the-scenes accounts of her adventures as Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal and, in the process, reveals the sometimes painful internal struggles and vulnerabilities of those who rise to the top of their professions.
To say that Hume had an adventurous life is a colossal understatement. She tells her heart-pounding story—from her days at Radcliffe, to several journalism gigs in southern California, and then as a Washington correspondent and White House reporter who was also a familiar face on PBS
One of her most painful missions covered a mercy mission in 1979 to deliver medical supplies and food to 1.2 million starving Cambodian survivors of Pol Pot Killing Fields holocaust. After a harrowing flight in the hold of 800,000 pounds of supplies, Hume and another reporter walked through the deserted streets of Phnom Penh, seeing “heaps of rubble reaching several stories high… Houses gutted and infected” and every principal building “bombed , was looted and burned.”
But it was much worse the next day, when North Vietnamese-Cambodian government guards took reporters to see the gruesome torture chambers where thousands had been killed during the Khmer Rouge’s four-year cultural revolution. “I was shocked to the point of falling over,” he says, before jetting off to Hong Kong to write the page series for LA Times.
Earlier that year, covered the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident in Pennsylvania that traumatized the surrounding population and garnered worldwide attention.
Typical of her shoe leather reporting, she hung out at the Railroad House bar where nuclear plant workers went to relax after their shifts “to find the guys who were actually running the plant the night of the accident.” It paid off as he eventually cultivated sources that revealed plant security breaches that were unraveling and documented tampering that posed an even greater threat to a second plant at TMI—stories that made headlines around the world.
He covered the shocking assassination of Beatle legend John Lennon and the attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford, wrote about conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, water rights battles with Big Agriculture that were destroying small farms across the American West, and spent large, demanding days. covering the presidential and vice presidential campaigns, the Reagan White House and more.
There was also glamour, including “breakfast interviews with Supreme Court justices and congressmen, cocktails with prospective book agents, more TV appearances and auditions, business trips to the legendary Mark Hopkins and Chateau Marmont hotels in California and the Algonquin in New York… dinner dates with the executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a pianist from L’Etoile, and the number two doctor at UCLA Medical Center,” with weekends and fancy parties in the Hamptons.
She writes about the difficulties of covering the news as a woman in a male-dominated profession, and while she openly acknowledges her personal political views—”idealistic, 60s values”—she mentions the great pains she took to bring objectivity and balance to her reporting.
After journalism, Ellen returned to Harvard and then Northwestern
Hume explains towards the end of the book: “I established myself in the crucible of the Washington press, in the greatest period of American journalism. I tangled with famous people, good and bad, and discovered happiness, love, and my own unexpected strength…Our responsibility—and salvation—is to make the most of a wild and precious life.”
Hume gives a unique, first-person account of events during the height of the journalist’s profession, before he disappeared from cable news. It’s a page turner that will leave readers smarter about the events of the past that shape our politics and world today.