Arnaud de Borchgrave, a globe-trotting foreign correspondent and news executive who covered 17 wars by his count and cultivated connections with world leaders to score exclusive interviews, was a throwback to a more romantic era of journalism.
A colleague once told the New Yorker that all De Borchgrave needed to go on assignment were “a tuxedo and a safari suit.”
After fleeing Belgium and enlisting as a teenager in England to fight in World War II, he was a wire service reporter for United Press who became a prolific Newsweek foreign correspondent, the editor of the Washington Times in its earliest days, and then went back to head United Press International as journalism headed into much rockier times.
De Borchgrave, 88, died Sunday at a Washington, D.C., hospice. He had cancer, said his wife, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave.
De Borchgrave befriended world leaders as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, filing dispatches from Israel’s Six-Day War of 1967, Moammar Kadafi’s barracks in Libya and European capitals during the height of the Cold War.
“Arnaud was a giant of journalism,” said Larry Beasley, president and chief executive of the Washington Times. “His globe-trotting reporting kept America informed, and his tireless work as our editor in chief helped put the Washington Times on the map in its early days.”
As a journalist, De Borchgrave’s war coverage included seven stints in Vietnam over two decades. His efforts in cultivating leaders paid off with many exclusives, including back-to-back interviews of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1971.
Although his exploits in the field were legendary, so were his extravagances. His list of sources was the envy of his colleagues, as was his seemingly limitless expense account from Newsweek.
“He was a dashing figure, a charmer of sorts who knew many of the monarchs, rulers and leaders, and a fine reporter,” former Newsweek owner Katharine Graham wrote in her memoir, “Personal History.” “And he was good for the magazine.”
But, as the Washington Post noted in its obituary, Graham added dryly, “he also lived very well off it.”
De Borchgrave left Newsweek in 1980 over a disagreement over his coverage of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
He then turned to novels, co-writing two with the Economist’s Robert Moss. Their first, “The Spike,” described fictional Soviet efforts to influence the Western media, while the follow-up “Monimbo” dealt with Cuban-sponsored terrorism and drug dealing.
In 1985, he became editor of the recently launched Washington Times. The conservative newspaper was backed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.
The newspaper had a loyal following inside President Reagan’s administration but at times made unusual editorial decisions. For instance, its editorial page lobbied Reagan to pardon Moon, who was convicted of tax evasion, according to the Post.
De Borchgrave retired from the Washington Times in 1991 and later became the top executive at UPI, where he had begun his journalism career decades earlier.
Arnaud Paul Charles Marie-Philippe de Borchgrave d’Altena was born a Belgian count Oct. 26, 1926. He told colleagues that he would have been 13th in line to the Belgian throne had he not given up his title to become an American citizen. He was educated in Belgium, Great Britain and the United States.