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

Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."