Jun 19th 2013

Bradsher the Intrepid:  ‘My times were good’

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

Journalists who left their native countries to report on the outside world find few things more distressing than the death throes of their profession. As today’s newspapers shrink, fold and “go digital”, television turns to entertainers and opinionators. The information gap widens by the day.

The public, of course, is the loser in this hollowing out of the information business. 

The life of the “foreign correspondent”, that dream we had as youngsters, is becoming almost a relic of the distant past, like a B-movie with some actor pretending to be one of us.

As Henry S. Bradsher says with typical understatement in his new book The Dalai Lama’s Secret and Other Reporting Adventures (Louisiana State University Press), “Times have changed. My times were good.”

Bradsher, the epitome of the intrepid correspondent, has nailed it in two sentences. Those times were good for everyone. 

He decided to become a foreign correspondent at age 12 or 13 and he never looked back. I was a late bloomer. I decided at 18. We met and worked together in Moscow in the 1960s, and we reveled in our important role of reporting and analysis of Cold War issues and their social context. He was my bureau chief for a year or two until he left to study at Harvard in the Nieman Fellowship program.

A Swiss colleague who knew him in New Delhi recalls trying to surprise him with a nugget of news that might interest The Associated Press.  “I filed that three hours ago,” he enjoyed saying. Bradsher was always one step ahead of the competition. 

Yes, times were good for the foreign correspondent and for the newspaper reader.

Bradsher’s new book is a collection of 26 self-standing vignettes describing some of the highlights of his long career, mainly in The AP and at the now-defunct Washington Star. He has created a unique format in the shape of non-fiction short stories that makes the book easy to read. 

Chapter titles such as these will draw you in. “Stumbling Over a Policeman’s Severed Head”,  “Tiger Hunting with Queen Elizabeth”,  “Stabbed in the Back”,  “Bombed in Moscow”, and “China’s Most Despicable”. He says he wrote these pieces over several years, deciding only recently to compile them in book form.

I found his memoir enlightening for the fact-packed accounts of major events in the 1960s and 1970s. It is also a tribute to a cohort of brave and adventurous individuals who placed themselves in personal danger – and continue to do so -- to get a story. He cites the Committee to Protect Journalists as the authority for tracking reporters’ deaths in action. As his book was printed, 926 journalists had died since 1992. The updated figure is 975 and climbing. 

Bradsher in his low-key prose lets slip that he was pushed around shot at, but he was lucky. He escaped Cambodia and Vietnam without a scratch.

We forget how dangerous it was. Bradsher remembers. “Learning the hard way, journalists had developed some criteria for judging road dangers (in Cambodia). People working in the fields and looking relaxed in villages were good signs, as was oncoming traffic. But empty fields, tense or empty villages, and no approaching vehicles indicated danger …” From 1970 to 1975, 34 foreign journalists were killed or disappeared and were presumed dead. “Most were lost on Cambodia’s dangerous highways,” he writes. 

On one of those roads, Bradsher’s friend and colleague Welles Hangen and his NBC camera crew were seized by Khmer Rouge and led away. Bradsher recalls: “Villagers later said Hangen and his crew were beaten to death three days after their capture.”

There is not much scope for humor in Bradsher’s telling. He always was a serious and intense writer-reporter. But he tells one story of traveling in Vietnam with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Collins.  Just a year earlier, Collins had been the astronaut who piloted Apollo 11 around the moon while his crew descended to the surface. Bradsher interrogated some farmers who had gathered and asked, through a translator, what they thought of Collins and his moon travel. Paraphrasing, Bradsher quotes a farmer, “About that man having been to the moon, well, we may just be ignorant farmers but we’re smart enough not to be fooled by that!” 

The title story of the book relates to Bradsher’s  reporting the secret treasure spirited out of Tibet by the Dalai Lama’s entourage while Bradsher was based in New Delhi for The AP. It was a sensitive secret and Bradsher’s story was greeted with skepticism. In the end, it was proven correct.

Later in his career, he was based in Hong Kong for the Star and earned a reputation for astute China-watching. With careful reading of documents from Beijing, Bradsher wrote early on about the fall of Lin Biao. He later reported Zhou en-Lai’s fading from the scene. The “China-watcher watchers” in Beijing at this point denounced as a “most despicable” correspondent. It was a label he wore with pride as he turned out to be right about the power struggles. 

He resists boasting that his elder son has become an award-winning correspondent for the New York Times, also based in Hong Kong. Journalism is clearly in the genes.

The most moving chapter, for this reader, is “Hazards of Journalism”, which includes revisiting incidents many years later to see what happened to translators, editors and reporters he had known in difficult times. These were “men who suffered for being faithful reporters of things that powerful or unscrupulous men did not want reported”. One Afghan ended up driving a taxi in Washington, D.C. A Czech editor was banished to managing the heating system of an apartment complex. Others disappeared or were imprisoned. 

When the Star finally went under in 1981, he considered offers to return to Asia but found that he and his family were ready to settle down in Washington. He was taken on by a branch of the CIA and again undertook “extensive travel on six continents”. His final touch: “My journalism career had ended. It had been a fascinating and enjoyable career.




Facts & Arts is a platform for owners of high quality content to distribute their content to a worldwide audience.

Facts & Arts' objective is to enhance the distribution of individual owners' content by combining various types of high quality content that can be assumed to interest the same audience. The thinking is that in this manner the individual pieces of content on Facts & Arts support the distribution of one another.

If you have fitting written material, classical music or videos; or if you would like to become one of our regular columnists, a book reviewer or music reviewer; or if you wish to market or broadcast a live event through Facts & Arts, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.



  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "
Feb 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "In 2010 Carlos Rodriguez, the president of Buenos Aires' Universidad del CEMA, created the world's first - and only - Center for Creativity Economics.  During the next ten years, the CCE presented a number of short courses and seminars.  But the most important of its events was an annual lecture by an Argentine artist, who was given a Creative Career Award."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "It’s not hard to see why. Although AI systems outperform humans in tasks that are often associated with a “high level of intelligence” (playing chess, Go, or Jeopardy), they are nowhere close to excelling at tasks that humans can master with little to no training (such as understanding jokes). What we call “common sense” is actually a massive base of tacit knowledge – the cumulative effect of experiencing the world and learning about it since childhood. Coding common-sense knowledge and feeding it into AI systems is an unresolved challenge. Although AI will continue to solve some difficult problems, it is a long way from performing many tasks that children undertake as a matter of course."
Feb 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to being fit and healthy, we’re often reminded to aim to walk 10,000 steps per day. This can be a frustrating target to achieve, especially when we’re busy with work and other commitments. Most of us know by now that 10,000 steps is recommended everywhere as a target to achieve – and yet where did this number actually come from?"