War reporter Anne Morrissy Merick spent seven years in Vietnam, and the only wound she received was a monkey bite from a US soldier’s mascot.
Morrissy Merick died earlier this month in Naples, FL from dementia complications, according to her daughter Katherine Anne Engelke. She will be remembered for the monumental influence she had on women in journalism.
During the Vietnam War, Morrissy Merick worked as a producer with ABC News in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh). At the time, female reporters accompanied troops on their missions as much as they pleased. That changed when General William Westmoreland, who notoriously believed in the inferiority of women, noticed a female reporter among the troops on a dangerous mission. After that, Westmoreland barred female reporters from staying on the battlefield overnight, citing his supposed concerns for their safety. Because many of the combat missions involved overnight stays outside of the military base with no way of returning to the base before nightfall, the General’s decision would have obstructed female journalists’ ability to report on much of the war. But Morrissy Merick wouldn’t have it.
Alongside Ann Bryan Mariano, the editor of the Germany-based tabloid Overseas Weekly, Morrissy Merick organized along with several other female reporters to dispute the General’s order. The women met with the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Phil G. Goulding. Their meeting was less than lucrative, so Morrissy Merick followed up with Goulding one-on-one. She asserted that giving her and her colleagues access to the action would give them a chance to supplement the superficial daily war coverage on TV with in-depth reporting. Morrissy Merick once said, “My objective was to get the story behind the story, not only what these men did but how they felt about it.” Seeing the value in her point, Goulding decided to reverse Westmoreland’s edict.
Before Morrissy Merick broke down these barriers on the battlefield, she pioneered female-reported sports news. While attending Cornell University, Morrissy Merick became the first female sports editor at the student-run newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Oftentimes she’d take on the assignments that the male sports reporters rejected, covering swimming, crew, and horseshoes. When she was tasked with attending the school’s football game against Yale, she was less than prepared. “I had forgotten to learn anything about football,” she wrote in The Boston Globe. Perhaps she was even less prepared to make history by being the first credentialed female to sit in the Yale Bowl press box. Her photo appeared in The New York Times with the article about the game.
In response to Morrissy Merick’s presence in the Yale Bowl press box, there was plenty of name-calling and disdain in the media. Morrissy Merick rose above it. Her daughter said, “I think the whole Yale press box thing was a big deal. That really set her up to not be afraid to do the job of a man.”
After Cornell, Morrissy Merick went on to become the sports editor of the Paris edition of The New York Herald Tribune before continuing down her legendary path. She is survived by her daughter, stepchildren, grandchildren, and stepgrandchildren.
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