Meet the OPC Members: Q&A With Christopher Dickey

Photo: Peter Turnley

By Chad Bouchard

Christopher Dickey is the Paris-based world news editor for The Daily Beast. He has worked as a foreign correspondent since 1980, with postings in the Middle East and Central America for The Washington Post and Egypt and France for Newsweek. He is also the author of seven books and has written for Foreign Affairs, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review and The New Republic, among others. In 1983 he won the OPC’s Mary Hemingway Award, and was part of a Newsweek team that won the 2001 Ed Cunningham Award for reporting connected to 9/11.

Hometown: Paris, France / New York City / Pawleys Island, S.C.

Education: Loudoun County High School, University of Virginia (BA), Boston University (MS, Documentary Film); Hamilton College, Honorary PhD.

Languages you speak: English, Spanish, French.

First job in journalism: Working in 1974 as a researcher and writer on The Washington Post Guide to Washington D.C. Subsequently an assistant editor at Washington Post Book World, managing editor of The Washington Post Magazine, and then switched to hard news, reporting on immigration from Washington D.C. Became a foreign correspondent, based in Mexico City, in 1980, and apart from a year at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, have been overseas ever since.

Countries reported from: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Vietnam, Great Britain, Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo.

When and why did you join the OPC? I’ve been a member so long, I honestly don’t remember when I joined. I originally thought of it as a way to keep track of some of my far-flung colleagues, not least through the newsletter, and a place to get together with them when we were in New York.

How did you become interested in the Middle East?
The Washington Post had planned to send me to Nairobi after Mexico City, but I had a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations and then had to finish writing my first book in the States. The next assignment that came up was Cairo. And, at first, it was just an assignment. I had covered terrorism and the wars in Central America for four years, so I was sent to cover the wars in the Middle East, and certainly for the first year I was there, 1985, that is what I did. There seemed to be a terrorist incident every day: airplane hijackings, airplane bombings, a cruise ship hijacking, and many more minor events. Coming from Central America to the Middle East was like going from high school to graduate school.

Major challenge as a journalist:
To understand causes and effects – independent of ideology, prejudice, disinformation and the desire for approbation.

Best journalism advice received:
For a foreign correspondent covering wars and disasters, basic priorities: get to the story, make sure you have a way to get the story out, and then be sure you know how to get yourself out.

Hardest story: Covering the deaths of children.

Advice for journalists who want to work overseas: Learn languages, but, more importantly, learn cultures. The two are inseparable.

Favorite quote: Ezra Pound – “Literature is news that stays news.”

Most common mistake you’ve seen: Believing exaggerated accounts of atrocities. Horrible things happen in this world, and we should spare no effort to report them, but partisans of various causes often think that even real atrocities are not enough; that they need to be further dramatized, or that important relevant facts, like the presence of combatants in the midst of civilians, can or should be overlooked. In the end, the exaggerations and the presence of combatants are exposed and exploited by the authors of the atrocities, discrediting the true story as well as the false.

Twitter handle: @csdickey