The first war witnessed by former Washington Times editor-in-chief and Newsweek foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave, who died over the weekend from cancer at the age of 88, was one that he fought in. Lying about his age in order enlist in the Merchant Navy, de Borchgrave fought in World War II until he was wounded on D-Day. He would witness 18 more wars as a foreign correspondent.
In an illustration of the adventurous, splashy life de Borchgrave led, his obituaries, stitched together, read like a swashbuckler novel.
From The Washington Post:
While many journalists preferred to keep a certain distance from their subjects, Mr. de Borchgrave seemed to nurture extraordinarily close contacts. He said he devised a secret code with future king Juan Carlos of Spain that would give Newsweek a heads up on the death of longtime and long-ailing dictator Francisco Franco.
From The New York Times:
As a foreign correspondent, he told Esquire magazine in 1981, he kept “the starched combat fatigues of 12 different nations” in a closet of his pied-à-terre, conveniently located near the Geneva airport.
Wearing an Egyptian general’s camouflage suit and facing six Israeli tanks during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he cabled his Newsweek editors: “I burrowed my head into the sand like a mole — a little deeper with each shell until my mouth was full of sand.”
Stories of de Borchgrave’s courage and cunning in getting to the story first would seem unbelievable were it not for their many and well-regarded witnesses. Many involve disguises, jungle treks, hardship and great personal risk.
De Borchgrave exploits away from the field were no less story-worthy. From The Washington Times:
Mr. de Borchgrave installed a foldaway bed off his palatial office on the mezzanine overlooking The Times newsroom, sometimes staying there when a big story was breaking. He sometimes appeared on the mezzanine in silk pajamas to shower reporters below with a hail of large yellow index cards with tips and suggestions for stories scribbled on them. Usually the cards — which the staff called “yellow rain” — included the names and telephone numbers of sources extracted from his famous Rolodex. He paid bonuses, sometimes up to $1,000, for what he called “bell-ringing scoops.” There were many of them.
Isaiah J. Poole, editor of OurFuture.org at the Campaign for America’s Future, was a national reporter at The Washington Times during de Borchgrave’s tenure. While he doesn’t remember ever receiving an “Arnaudgram,” as de Borchgrave’s notes were nicknamed, they made their impact nevertheless. “He would scan several papers every morning along with the Washington Times and have some sometimes sharply worded observations about our coverage, ready for the desk editors when they showed up later in the morning,” Poole told FishbowlDC. “Of course, you would have been happy to have gotten one of these if it contained some praise, but you were just about equally happy to not get one criticizing something you wrote.”