The OPC is deeply saddened to learn that Christopher Dickey, legendary foreign correspondent, former OPC Governor and longtime member, died suddenly in Paris at the age of 68. He was an OPC member since 1999 and served as a vice president on the Board of Governors since 2014. He was running again in the OPC’s board election this year, saying in his candidacy statement that “I’ve been pleased to participate in decision-making on such issues as micro grants, the promotion of our distinctive press IDs, and membership initiatives, always with an eye to attracting young and diverse new membership.”
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He most recently served as foreign editor for The Daily Beast. Daily Beast correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau wrote an obituary for her longtime colleague, recalling her first meeting with him in 1997 in Rome.
“He was truly the best beat reporter I ever met — friends to spymasters and sheikhs, cardinals and cops, insurgents and intellectuals — and all he ever wanted was for anyone he mentored to try to beat him to a source,” Nadeau wrote.
The New York Times’ Daniel Victor wrote that “colleagues and competitors recalled Mr. Dickey as a giant of the international press, whose mastery of sourcing and extensive travels made him one of the most knowledgeable writers on world affairs. He was said to be an enthusiastic mentor to young journalists, fine-tuning their copy and regaling them with stories of his past.”
Jeff Bartholet wrote in Newsweek about his colleague of 20 years. “Chris covered wars but did not tout himself as a war correspondent. He had none of the bravado—the roguish derring-do—favored by others. He preferred nuance over firepower. His sources were diplomats and spymasters, royalty and refugees, soldiers and the occasional jihadist, but also poets, artists, and historians. At times, he could seem a little out of place in his tailored suits, Christian Dior ties, and shoes of European leather, yet he embraced the dust and chaos and resilient humor of Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities. He was as happy at a camel market as he was at a diplomatic soiree.”
MSNBC’s Brian Williams spoke about Dickey during a broadcast on Thursday. You can click here to watch it or click the window at the bottom of this article.
NPR rebroadcast an interview on the WHYY program Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
OPC Governor Farnaz Fasssihi expressed her condolences by email:
“Chris was a legendary foreign correspondent, I had long heard of him and read his work before I met him in the Middle East. He was humble and friendly and generous with his advice to younger reporters who looked up to him. We ended up sharing a house in Baghdad and Chris became a dear friend and a mentor. He helped me navigate job offers, hone story ideas and encouraged me to think outside of my comfort zone and write a book. He taught me that it was important to have a creative project alongside our day jobs as journalists and he set by example. He always had a great book he had just finished or one he was about to start writing. In the past few years, I looked forward to seeing him at the OPC awards dinners. At the OPC board meeting last year I sat next to him and we caught up and as always he was supportive of my new career turn and told me to embrace the change. I asked him about his latest project and he mentioned his grandchildren and how spending time with them and spoiling them brought him great joy. We will really miss Chris. May he rest in peace.”
OPC President Pancho Bernasconi on Twitter celebrated Dickey’s ability to combine “journalistic talent, humanity and just plain speaking.”
OPC Past President Deidre Depke wrote a remembrance for the OPC:
“America got to know Chris Dickey very well in the weeks after Diana’s death in 1997. Chris, Newsweek’s Paris Bureau Chief, seemed to be on permanent duty for CNN and the other news networks, standing at the mouth of the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, delivering the latest on the investigation into the doomed princess’s tragic end. I was foreign editor for the magazine in those days, and occasionally had to pick up the phone to demand that he step away from the lights and file for the magazine. Invariably, within minutes, he’d send a beautifully written story, unflustered by the various requirements of newsrooms around the world. That was classic Chris: suave, charming and impeccably informed. He was a foreign correspondent who produced wonderful journalism without breaking a sweat. In our years of collaboration, Chris did so on every big foreign story of the time. And after September 11, Chris demonstrated that he also was deeply sourced at home, delivering deeply reported pieces on America’s investigation into the terror attacks, revealing a whole new world of espionage underway in secret offices of the NYPD. Chris knew them all: kings and queens and princesses, presidents and diplomats, soldiers and spies. He was the best lunch date in the world; the one to call when you needed a bar, a restaurant, a discreet hotel anywhere on earth. Already, the world seems less interesting without him.”
OPC Past President Marcus Mabry:
“I am not usually at a loss for words. But figuring out how to sum up what Chris Dickey meant to me is stupefying.
“Chris was my friend, my mentor, my confidant, my boss, my employee — that one was a laugh — my muse, my teacher, my critic.
“We met when I interned for him in Paris in 1989. He and Ruth Marshall encouraged me to change my plans and work at Newsweek for a year before starting law school at Yale. I deferred Yale Law, then I never went.
“I would spend nearly two decades at Newsweek. Chris encouraged and inspired me. He gave me advice that led me to taking a year off to be the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which he had been a decade before. He gave me advice that led me to take the job of Chief of Correspondents at Newsweek managing all the magazine’s domestic and foreign bureaus.
“And along the way, we had seemingly bottomless glasses of wine in Paris and Algiers and New York and talked with endless sources about French intelligence, Islam in France, and France and America in the world.
“The world is less effervescent, less brilliant without Chris in it. But he will always be a part of those of us he touched. And he touched so many of us.”
OPC member Mort Rosenblum wrote an extensive remembrance that you can read in a separate piece here. An excerpt follows:
“Christopher Dickey was a giant among us. He accomplished five times what the normal driven world-watcher does. He’d produce a solidly researched, poetically composed book in the time it would take most of us to do a Sunday feature. But he was never too busy to spend an hour or two in the Tuileries over a glass of something admirable and some properly aged Conté. He was thrilled when those old Nokias evolved, enabling him to work his magic from a cafe table on the Champs-Elysees when he wasn’t poking into some distant mayhem.”
OPC Governor Vivienne Walt:
“Chris was a joy to have as a colleague. He was the person you most wanted to run into on the road, as I did so often, whether in the Iraq War, the Egyptian Revolution, the Paris attacks, and so many other places. He grasped immediately the entire scope of the story, and then was such a superb conversationalist. In addition, Chris knew everyone that counted, no matter in which country. That was a measure of what a great companion he was. He was gregarious, and people were attracted naturally to him. The most interesting and important people in so many countries regarded Chris as their personal friend. It was as though he saw journalism as an integral part of one epic life journey. We were also on the France 24 set many times together, where no matter what the subject was, he would talk with authority, wit, and endlessly curiosity and grace. We’ll miss you terribly Chris. You left us with so much to live up to, and so much of your work to read, and photos to enjoy.. I only wish we had many more years of you.”
Andrew Nagorski, author of 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War:
“Shortly after I took a Newsweek buyout in 2008, I came to Paris for some meetings related to my new job. Chris and I met up at a cafe, and we talked about all the usual doings at Newsweek, especially its financial troubles. Since he had passed up on that and previous buyouts, I asked him if he ever intended to leave the magazine. “I want to be the last man standing,” he said with a laugh. When Newsweek continued to implode and split up with the Daily Beast, he made the wise choice of going with the Beast, which allowed him to be that last man standing in Paris for the rest of his days. He knew what he wanted and, thanks to his remarkable talents and energy, he made it happen. It was all too short, but what a remarkable life.”
Carol Doerflein wrote:
“I was the Asst. Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in San Salvador 1980-1982. After work, I generally headed to the Camino Real Hotel to have a drink and to share informal perspectives with the international press corps who gathered there. Chris and I talked about anything and everything, rarely agreeing but never being disagreeable. I most remember the times when he was tired and sweaty from a hard day’s work, maybe a little curt or dismissive, but he still made the time for conversation that mattered. I considered him a friend, at a time when things were raw, emotions ran high, and so much that could have gone wrong between an Embassy official and a WaPo reporter, didn’t. I am shocked and sad beyond words.”
OPC member Bob Dowling:
“Chris Dickey was the best of our generation. Prolific, incisive, always probing and provoking. A great loss at 68. His famous father James only lived until 73. Both did so much in their lives.”
Chris Whipple, author of the book The Gatekeepers and The Spymasters:
“The sad news about Chris Dickey sent me to my book case, and a faded copy of Joan Didion’s ‘Salvador’. It’s a distant memory, but I happened to be in San Salvador in 1982, doing a story with photographer Eugene Richards for LIFE on U.S. military “advisers” to that country’s murderous regime. Then, one day, Didion, the world’s most celebrated writer, walked into the Camino Real hotel. That was the famous watering hole where we mostly twenty-something reporters hung out, trying to impersonate cool, world-weary foreign correspondents. But Chris Dickey never had to impersonate anyone; he was the real deal. And no one was the least bit surprised when Didion, who was as baffled as the rest of us by that strange, bloody war, latched on to Chris as her explainer-in-chief. RIP Chris Dickey.”
From David Alpern, former Newsweek reporter, writer, senior editor and co-host of the Newsweek On Air network radio broadcasts:
“Of course Chris gave great radio for the Newsweek On Air show, full of eyewitness and wisdom, his own and that of his great sources worldwide. His contributions on Islam and Intelligence the weekend following 9/11/01 have helped make that the most downloaded broadcast and rebroadcast in the show’s entire online archive back to 1982 (https://archive.org/details/fyeo_140907_complete). Will shortly post a small collection of Dickey appearances, also including Iraq, Mideast Peace, Angelina Jolie and his stateside survey of “Southern Discomfort” with the impending election of Barack Obama.
Personally I will never forget the graciousness he showed when I spent the better part of a week in Cairo, on the press junket for a freelance travel story. He picked me up at dawn each day for a set or two of tennis while it was still cool enough to play at the vintage Sporting Club on Gezira Island in mid-Nile. A life and career cut too short, but never in decline!”
See links to a list of Dickey’s stories sent by David Alpern at the bottom of this post.
Arlene Getz, Past OPC Vice President and former editorial director of Newsweek, wrote a longer remembrance posted here on the OPC site. Here is an excerpt:
“There’s another word that needs to be added to these moving memories of Chris. It’s prescient. Chris was an early adopter of, well, everything. When Newsweek magazine finally started to embrace the online world, he was one of the first columnists for Newsweek.com. He shrugged off the qualms of those Newsweek writers who thought publishing online was somehow inferior to publishing in print and those who felt it was cannibalizing the magazine, loving instead the ability to see responses from readers — and engage with them — in real time. The result was “Shadowland,” which I was fortunate enough to edit most weeks that he wrote it.”
Selcuk Tepeli, who met Dickey when he was editor-in-chief of Newsweek’s Turkish edition, said DIckey was a good friend, mentor and colleague.
“Christopher Dickey was one of best war correspondents, one of best writers on world affairs, and he was a legend in our profession as everybody mentioned. We met when I was the editor in chief of Newsweek Turkish edition. Actually I was not lucky enough to have enough time with him, nevertheless he was a realy good friend and a mentor for me in our limited times.
“Moreover, he will keep helping me ever with his gifted kind of narration on very different subjects in the life. I remember almost all of his articles with original point of views, attractive lead paragraphs and a unique humour inside sentences.
“For example, ‘Can we trust WikiLeaks’ he asked once. ‘Raw intelligence information is distorted and deceptive. ‘Knowing a little is a dangerous thing,’ wrote Alexander Pope, a 18th-century poet who was master about political attitudes. How dangerous can it be to ‘know a little’ on the basis of hundreds of thousands of documents that WikiLeaks throws in front of the public, which cannot be understood?’
“Chris wrote about happiness also: ‘National income can be a measure of everything; except the things that make life valuable…’
“Does money bring happiness? So far, probably half of humanity has tried to find an answer to this difficult question. Those who listened to Dostoevsky could find an answer: ‘People cannot be happy because they don’t know they are happy,’ Dostoevsky said. Chris was happy and knew he was happy. Fortunately, big journalists like Christopher Dickey have gone through this world, so people does not have to read Crime and Punishment to search for this single line.
“And I remember that he designed a great finish for his article on the discussion about GDP covering: ‘In fact, it is obvious that if policy makers want to know not only how quickly they go but also where they can go, they also need temperature and fuel indicators. Such a new and improved GDP may still be on showcase.’
“In another article about how the remains of colonialism turned into a political and economic problem for Western countries, Christopher Dickey had written: ‘Probably we have gone beyond the compassionate discourse of early Orwell literature…’ His articles were like novels. Thank you Chris.”
From Elaine Sciolino, a Newsweek colleague in Paris before many foreign and domestic postings for The New York Times:
“Chris was a dear colleague and friend, with a strong, clear voice that never wavered — in his writing, on the air. He did it better and faster and more gracefully than the rest of us. And he transformed himself into a brilliant photographer as well. His photos during confinement capture the loneliness — and the beauty — of Paris unadorned with people. But I love this one from December 2018: “An early Christmas card for my friends. Feel free to share.” Let’s share the joy of his life, as we mourn his death.”
Will Cathcart wrote on LitHub:
“When a great writer dies, we must write for them. When a great editor of many writers dies, a torrent of rough copy flows into newsrooms everywhere.
“Christopher Swift Dickey didn’t die for what he believed in. Instead, he stuck around to tell the story. He once told me, in convincing me not to go chase after some war zone, that no story is worth dying for.
“This was, of course, ironic because Chris spent most of his career covering war zones until he settled down in Paris in 1990 where he remained until he departed as a proud grandfather of three.
“Chris helped so many of us tell our stories. And then he corrected our grammar. For the rest of my life, I’ll be rereading the writing guide he would send out with slight frustration to all of his writers every several months as a gentle reminder.”
As part of a tribute from colleagues with The Daily Beast, Anna Nemtsova wrote:
“’I’m your editor now.’ It’s not often a reporter gets a call from an editor just to ask how they are doing. That was the first call I got from Chris Dickey. In February, 2014, Independence Square in Kyiv was covered in flowers, candles and memorials. People were walking about, crying over the deaths of protesters gunned down a few days before. I was covering the uprising. Chris asked if I was OK. Then he said, “I’m your editor now. Try to keep a diary of little details. Describe smells.” I immediately knew I was in good hands.
“The decade I spent with Newsweek, the last few years a chaos of failing ideas about what to do, was history. I now had a dream foreign editor. We worked on projects from 23 countries. Chris edited my copy every week for six and a half years. Every time he wrote “go” to a pitch or “great stuff” to a story, my wings grew. I am sure all of my colleagues felt the same.”
Sonya Fry, former OPC Executive Director:
“One of the most interesting book nights held at the OPC featured Chris Dickey’s book “Securing the City” about counter-intelligence operations in NYC after 9/11. Ray Kelly, NYC Police Commissioner, and Chris regaled the over-flow audience with information, stories and personal experiences about keeping NYC safe after the destruction of the World Trade Centers. Dickey, who is best known and revered as a foreign correspondent, wrote with intelligence about the world of NYC police and its new mandate to scour the world to stop terrorism in New York.
“At that time I was Executive Director of the OPC and was a bit rattled when the police came in the late afternoon and scoured the event space even hiding in the kitchen during the book talk. There was a portal sized window from the kitchen into the living room and whenever I looked up I could see the eyes of the officer who watched every move in the room.
“Chris had an engaging personality and was always full of great stories since he had covered most of the world. He was charming, genuine and fun to engage in conversation. It is with sadness that I opened Dickey’s book and found this lovely thought “For Sonya who makes it all possible, with best wishes. NYC 2009.”
François Picard of France 24:
“When we’d go for beers after the show, his weapon of choice was rosé. The interruptions were commonplace as he continued to work on stories with the Beast’s foreign correspondents yet he would take the time to listen and exchange with everyone from the youngest intern to the top brass of the Paris press corps. Most importantly, the first call would be 30 seconds to minute after we got off air and would be walking out of the studio: it was his 97-year old mother-in-law who would offer her first impressions of the show. Friday nights at France 24 will never be the same.”
Robin Wright, columnist for The New Yorker:
“This is a staggering loss for all of us who were lucky enough to count Chris as a friend and colleague. My god, I can’t count the war zones and adventures we shared. He was a man of such elegance – in his writing, his sense of the world and common human worth, his wry humor, and his eye for capturing beauty in its many forms with his camera. Just hours before his death, I “liked” another one of his magnificent photos from Paris on Instagram. What a rich legacy Chris leaves. And how much he will be missed by so many. Love you Chris!”
Dickey recently hosted an online discussion for the OPC on May 14 with author Krithika Varagur on her new book about Saudi Arabia’s global influence, which is available on the OPC’s YouTube channel.
You can also read a Q&A we published in the OPC Bulletin in March 2018.
We will update this story with more remembrances from OPC members as we receive them.
He is survived by his wife Carol, his son James, three grandchildren and his sister Bronwen and brother Kevin.
Thank you to David Alpern for sending this small sampling of Chris Dickey’s many appearances on Newsweek On Air. For more. just go to https://archive.org/details/foryourearsonly and type his name in the Search box, then stand back!
https://archive.org/details/fyeo-Newsweek_noa_010916_complete at 22:05 – Islam & Intelligence After 9/11
https://archive.org/details/newsweekonair_030309_complete at 13:22 – New Terror Threats from Iraq & Bin Laden
https://archive.org/details/newsweekonair_011111_complete at 2:55 – Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?
https://archive.org/details/fyeo-Newsweek_noa_100214_complete at 1:08 – Have We Won the Terror War?
https://archive.org/details/newsweekonair_930905_complete at 00:03 – A Mideast Peace? (plus Terry Anderson)
https://archive.org/details/newsweekonair_070311_complete/David+Alpern+(2007)+-+Newsweek+on+Air+03%2C11%2C2007+%5BFLAC%5D/09+-+Track09.flac on Angelina Jolie, celebrity and humanitarian crises
https://archive.org/details/newsweekonair_080803_complete/newsweekonair_080803_complete/05+-+Track05.flac – on “Southern Discomfort” from the Obama Campaign