Reporting from the front lines to the front page of the New York Times

Many of the reporters present in Budapest during the revolution had been to the Hungarian capital before. One such reporter was John MacCormac, who had already visited the country several times as the chief of the New York Times’ Vienna bureau. MacCormac may have even sensed that something was in the air, since he arrived to Budapest mid-October, staying with his wife in the Duna Hotel. Around noon on October 23rd, MacCormac asked one of his Hungarian colleagues to report for the New York Times about the student protests that had begun on that day. His Hungarian colleague dictated the article to MacCormac’s wife at the Duna Hotel, which MacCormac then sent onward via telephone to the newspaper’s Vienna office. The report was entitled, “Revolution in Budapest”.

On the night of October 23rd, MacCormac and his wife visited his colleague Endre Marton, with whom they had dinner plans, but in the end, MacCormac and Marton instead composed a report on what was happening in the streets of Budapest. Taking MacCormac’s large American car, the two arrived to the Hungarian Radio building before the first shots were fired, and watched as armored vehicles arrived carrying armed men who soon switched sides and joined the protests. All of these events were included in their dispatch. As the two continued to drive around Budapest, they also saw what was left of the Stalin statue toppled earlier that evening.

MacCormac went to the U.S. Embassy on October 25th together with Marton to receive information on Soviet troop movements, but on their way there they saw a group of protesters and several Soviet tanks making their way across Szabadság Square (the location of the embassy) as they approached Kossuth Square in front of Parliament. Following them to see what was going on, MacCormac and Marton found themselves standing in the arcades of the Ministry of Agriculture when the first shots were fired in what became known as the massacre at Kossuth Square. The two filed a joint report to the New York Times and the article was front page news the following day, letting the whole world know what had happened.

MacCormac was also among the delegation that received protective documents for western journalists from the National Guard at the Budapest City Hall on October 30th. Together with other colleagues, MacCormac went to the Buda Castle on October 31st to visit Cardinal József Mindszenty, the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church who had been released from house arrest earlier that day. MacCormac was also present along with 150 other journalists for the Nagy Government’s only press conference, November 3rd, where the government was represented by Ministers Géza Losonczy and Zoltán Tildy.

With the Soviet invasion of November 4th, MacCormac fled to the U.S. Embassy with some of his colleagues. By the second half of November, most of them had left. MacCormac was among the last western journalists in Hungary when he was expelled from the country January 10, 1957, receiving only six hours to make it cross the Austrian border.

Some time later, it was discovered that the Interior Ministry’s summary reports listed him throughout the revolution as Joan MacCormac, which goes to show how unexpected the revolution was for the authorities, or to what extent they undervalued the interest that the western media would take.

Bence Csatári