Anne Morrissy Merick, ABC news producer and groundbreaking journalist who covered the Vietnam War, died on May 2 in Naples, Florida, at the age of 83 from complications relating to dementia. Her career, which spanned more than 40 years, helped pave the way for female journalists everywhere. Merick, who was ABC’s first female television field producer, was sent to cover the Vietnam War in 1967, a three-month tour that turned into more than seven years on the ground.
Known for being soft-spoken, Merick explained in her book, War Torn: Stories of War From the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam, that she actively pursued the assignment in Vietnam to the surprise of her male colleagues. With a desire to be, “on the spot as history was being made,” Merick explained during a panel she appeared on in 2000 that her decision to cover one of the most significant stories of the century was a necessary professional decision as much as it was a personal one. “Women really weren’t tolerated in a lot of journalist jobs,” she said. “You wanted to get ahead, and that’s what you did. You went and covered a story like Vietnam.”
Merick, who worked for ABC seven years before being sent to Vietnam, covered some of the most controversial movements of the day including civil rights, the advent of the space program, and the Kennedy years. Despite her experience, she claimed she had to do a fair amount of persuading in order to convince her superiors that she needed to go to Vietnam. Once there, Merick faced an even greater hurdle known as the, “Westmoreland Edict,” an order set forth by U.S. commander General William Westmoreland that refused to allow female reporters to accompany troops to the front lines. Because the fighting in Vietnam was so fluid, Merick knew that such an edict would cripple female journalists. “In Vietnam, it was impossible to determine just where the front lines were,” Merick said. “The war was everywhere.”
Joining forces with her colleagues, Merick lobbied the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to lift the ban and won, allowing female journalists to report freely. While she did spend time on the front lines, the majority of Merick’s work focused on the non-combatants, stories she felt that viewers deserved to see to better understand the context surrounding the conflict. “The guys were not going to go out and cover that story,” Merick said. “I thought I was doing an important part, even if they were soft stories.”
While only a handful of journalists like Merick would dedicate long-term resources to covering the conflict, their contributions to journalism built the foundation for women journalists reporting from conflict zones everywhere. Indeed, the war turned out to be a watershed moment for female journalists. In total, 467 female correspondents — 267 of whom were Americans — covered the conflict.
Read the full story at The Washington Post.