If you are not among those who believe the media is "the enemy of the people," you might enjoy a new book called “Hot Type, Cold Beer and Bad News.”

It's a fascinating read about the remarkable career of Cleveland journalist Michael Roberts, written by someone who ought to know — Michael Roberts.

I have known Mike for more than a quarter century. But when I picked up the book, it dawned on me that I didn't know nearly enough about him.

Because he is far more elderly than your favorite columnist and broke into the news biz more than a decade earlier, I knew him primarily as the editor of Cleveland Magazine, which during his 17-year tenure was a beacon of brilliant writing and tough investigative journalism.

But that ain't the half of it.

For starters, Roberts was a gutsy war correspondent for the Plain Dealer who arrived in Vietnam at the start of the Tet offensive and stayed for a year.

Embedded with the troops (but sometimes venturing off on his own), he survived countless firefights, encountered hideous living conditions, saw (and smelled) dead bodies on a regular basis and quite literally risked his life — all so he could convey what was happening over there to readers in Northeast Ohio.

Remember the famous photo of the South Vietnamese police chief firing a pistol into the head of the Viet Cong officer from point-blank range? The night before that photo was taken, Roberts was hunkered down during a prolonged firefight with the man who took it, Eddie Adams.

Although Roberts was not there at the precise moment Adams snapped one of the most memorable photographs in history, he encountered Adams shortly thereafter, when Adams was worrying that authorities would try to confiscate his camera.

In addition to covering Vietnam, Roberts was on the ground during the Six-Day War and roamed all around the Middle East and Europe on various assignments.

The majority of his time, though, was spent in Cleveland during the most intense decade in the city's history.

Newspapers were still at their peak. Television was just beginning to flex its overwhelming muscles, and the movers and shakers, as well as at the general public, looked to the print media first.

Although the 1970s were wild in the city to our north — Mayor Dennis Kucinich warring with the banks … Cleveland becoming the first city to default on its loans since the Great Depression … massive busing of schoolchildren — the '60s were an absolute freak show. In Roberts' words, they were “a decade dedicated to destruction, death and dissension.”

He started off writing mostly about crime and corruption, which Cleveland offered in abundance.

Later he was privy to a close-up view of Carl Stokes, the first African-American big-city mayor in U.S. history, traveling with him for weeks on the campaign trail and really getting to know him.

During the infamous Hough riots, Roberts spent the entire week reporting from the streets.

As the '60s segued into the '70s, he immersed himself in reporting about the Kent State shootings.

Roberts interacted with motorcycle thugs and crooks and mobsters, generally living his life in the danger zone.

Terrific tales

The book is replete with priceless anecdotes, such as the time a young Plain Dealer copy boy named Dennis Kucinich drank 10 martinis in half an hour to win a $30 bet.

Such as standing next to the legendary Walter Cronkite on the roof of a Saigon hotel as they watched a squadron of B-52s blasting away in the distance.

Such as the night Roberts and reporter Peter Arnett were sprinting away from an approaching group of Viet Cong. They jumped over a five-foot stone wall into a cemetery and hid among the tombstones. Roberts noticed an elderly man approaching with a wooden tray carrying bottles of beer. The man offered to sell them some, saying, “Drink beer, no die.”

As Roberts paid for the beer, Arnett yelled out from behind his hiding place, “For God's sake, don't overtip him.”

Gallows humor at its finest.

It wasn't all death and destruction, though.

Roberts, now 79 and still working in PR and freelancing, spent much of an entire summer looking into former Browns owner Art Modell because PD editors had suspicions about Modell's background and the origin of his money.

Roberts was with Modell almost daily. In the end, the reporter didn't find any skeletons but put together a fascinating profile of a complicated man.

The Garfield Heights native also served as a Washington correspondent for the PD, and about 16 months before Watergate was invited to meet with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. He discovered a relaxed, talkative Nixon, totally unlike the grim guy with the forced smiles we saw on TV. Nixon expressed confidence he could end the Vietnam War honorably.

So please join me in raising a cold one to Mike Roberts, whose career represents journalism at its finest: ferreting out information (sometimes at great personal peril), delivering it with style and authority and, most of all, getting it right.

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.