Harrison Salisbury; Journalist Explained China and the Soviet Union


Harrison Salisbury, a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent perhaps best known as author of books explaining China, the former Soviet Union, and the job of a news reporter, has died at the age of 84.

Salisbury died Monday of natural causes in Providence, R.I., while returning to suburban New York from a trip to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, according to his stepdaughter, Rosina Rossire.

A reporter and editor for the New York Times for 25 years, Salisbury won the Pulitzer in 1955 for a series of 14 articles on Kremlin politics and the crimes of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Salisbury wrote the series after returning to the United States, noting that his stories had frequently been censored during his Cold War reporting from Moscow from 1949 to 1954.

A vivid and popular author, Salisbury in 1980 won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his volume "Without Fear or Favor" which detailed the long history of his employer. The book begins with the New York Times' crucial 1971 decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, an act in which Salisbury played a part and which he regarded as an unprecedented example of institutional courage.

"That giant step elevated the Times from a servant of government to the conscience of government, making the press a stronger and more flexible force in American life," Los Angeles Times reviewer Elaine Kendall wrote.

Salisbury, the first American reporter to visit Hanoi, reported from there in 1966 that U.S. bombing had caused widespread civilian casualties. His stories infuriated the Administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and he was publicly accused of treason.

Later, as assistant managing editor and editor of the opinion-editorial pages, Salisbury was among a handful of top New York Times editors who made the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers. Over then-President Richard Nixon's objections, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the paper's right to publish the document, a classified report describing U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which fueled demands to end the war.

James Yuenger once described Salisbury, in the publication "Tribune Books," as "an extraordinary piece of work . . . (who) wears his heart on his typewriter . . . (and) is one hell of a journalist."

Salisbury's colleague, former New York Times Managing Editor Turner Catledge, called him a "journalistic one-man band."

"He can report, he can write, he can edit, he can see story ideas, he can direct others," Catledge said. "He can do all these things because, besides having natural talent, he has a passion to excel."

Considered a Sino-Soviet expert, Salisbury helped make the mysterious Communist regimes understandable in such books as "American in Russia," "To Moscow--and Beyond" and last year's "The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng."

He explained the trials of living and working in the Soviet Union--including fears in 1950 that the KGB was trying to kill him with a paralyzing drug--in his first volume of memoirs, "A Journey for Our Times" in 1983. He related the story of his return to work in the United States in a second volume, "A Time of Change: A Reporter's Tale of Our Time" in 1988.

When Salisbury was 75, he set off by Jeep, mule and foot to retrace the 7,400-mile Long March of the Red Chinese army in 1934, which only 4,000 of the original 86,000 survived. In his book "The Long March: The Untold Story," Salisbury graphically described the hardships and misery of the historic march, comparing it to his own trek over the rugged terrain half a century later.

"Only, I felt, by traveling those 7,400 miles could I write an accurate account of the Long March," Salisbury said in an article in Modern Maturity magazine. "Only so could I convey some small sense of the ordeal of the men and women who made the march."

Syndicated celebrity columnist Liz Smith tried to explain Salisbury's popular appeal last year when she wrote: "Salisbury can make clear the most complicated morass of human intrigue and international chaos.

"While his wonderful ilk is now gone with the wind of change," she wrote, "he still represents newspapering and historical writing at its best."

Harrison Evans Salisbury was born in Minneapolis on Nov. 14, 1908, and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota. His 1976 book, "Travels Around America," retraced the steps of one of his ancestors, a peddler, in the New England wilderness.

He began his career on the Minneapolis Journal, and from 1930 to 1948 worked for the United Press wire service as reporter, manager of the London and Moscow bureaus and foreign editor. He worked for the New York Times from 1949 until his retirement in 1974.

Salisbury is survived by his wife of 30 years, Charlotte, of Taconic, Conn.; two sons from his first marriage, Michael of Chicago, and Stephan of Philadelphia, and four stepchildren.

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