[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: You said you covered the Nixon-Khrushchev kitchen debate?*
Mosby: It was during the American Exhibition in Moscow, which was a milestone of the two countries trying to get together. I don't remember much about it, just that this was during [Richard M.] Nixon's visit, and he was there, and Khrushchev was also there. It was organized so that they would meet together. It was in a part of the exhibition that was devoted to what American homes looked like, and they were in the kitchen area with the correspondents sort of grouped around, the security people grouped around them. They were arguing and wiggling fingers in each other's noses and so forth. It was a very good story.
Years later, Nixon's press people, I suppose, sent certificates to all of us who had been present there, acknowledging the fact that we were present during the kitchen debate. I still have that certificate hung in my office in Paris.
Currie: What made this such a good story?
Mosby: I would have to look up and see what they were talking about. I don't remember if this was their first meeting or they had already met before at the Kremlin, but it was indicative of the United States and the Soviet Union finally getting together, at least arguing about their different points of view. There were some very good quotes, but I don't remember them. I would have to look up the story to see what it was. I don't know where that would be.
Currie: On a story like that, you would be part of—
Mosby: I assume the boys from the White House were there. They must have been following Nixon. And the Soviet press, and then the American correspondents who were stationed in Moscow. I don't remember who else was there. It's too long ago. [Laughter.]
Currie: I know that's still a famous moment in history. When you were covering a story like this, did you ever have a feeling like, "Gee, I'm covering history here"?
Mosby: Oh, yes! Oh, indeed. I mean, just being sent to Moscow, you felt as if you were covering history. It was just such an overpoweringly important post, especially for Americans at that time, and it still is, although now it's diluted a bit because now they're much more open and
* The kitchen debate took place in 1959. U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon had a highly publicized discussion with Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev while standing before a kitchen exhibit in the U.S. exhibition in Moscow.
they admit many more correspondents than they did before. There are hundreds there from all countries all over the world. So it's quite different. But we were a much smaller group.
Currie: I was going through my notes last night, and when I talked to Roger Tartarian, I asked if there were any questions that he would ask you. He said there was one. He said in the fifties you covered a story about a party in Venice given by—he said you would know the name. It was De Prestique or something like that.
Mosby: As I recall vaguely, I wasn't stationed in Europe then. I was there just on a tourist tour. It must have been. I remember that vaguely. I remember going to Venice and seeing some of the United Press people en route. Oh, it seems to me when I was in Rome, that the Rome bureau manager, also a reporter there named Danny Gilmore, who later became the European division editor, then the last time I heard from him, he was in Washington. I have a horrible feeling that he died just recently. I think that he was going to cover the story and he asked me, because I wanted to see Venice, anyway, if I would come and help him. It seems to me that he wore something with tights, you know, like a medieval costume. Roger then was the European division editor posted in London.
Currie: What he said was that this was a very exclusive party that was closed to the press, and that somehow you covered it. He said, "I've always wanted to ask her how she covered that story."
Mosby: How I got in?
Currie: How you got in.
Mosby: I'd forgotten all about that. It's just now coming in. I can't ask Danny Gilmore; I don't think he's any longer living. Who else would have been in the Rome bureau then? I don't remember. I seem to remember wearing a costume, but I don't remember what it was. Roger didn't mention that?
Currie: No, he didn't know.
Mosby: I remember I have a photograph someplace of Danny Gilmore and myself in Venice, and I think he was at the party with me or went with me. I'm not sure.
Currie: Do you remember crashing?
Mosby: No. Maybe I just walked in. I don't know. He said it was a very exclusive party?
Currie: Yes. He said it was closed to the media, and that you somehow got in and wrote a wonderful story about the party.
Mosby: Really? [Laughter.]
Currie: Yes, and he would like to know how you did it. I'd like to know how you did it, too. It's interesting.
Mosby: Maybe I wangled an invitation of some sort. I don't know. It's sort of vague. It's coming back to me. There was also a UPI stringer who was stationed in Venice, who was with us, I remember, and I don't remember what his name was. Let me make a note to check on that.
Currie: How did you get into stories that weren't necessarily open to the press?
Mosby: Many times a journalist just attempts to walk in. It isn't very polite, but if you're desperate, you do that. Of course, at many parties, official diplomatic parties and so forth, there would be somebody checking invitations at the doorway. Nowadays, of course, with different security measures, I think it would be extremely difficult. But it seems to me this was some society party. See, I should have kept a diary, shouldn't I?
Currie: You were probably too busy working to keep a diary.
Mosby: I know. I kept a diary in Moscow. That's how I was able to write a book so quickly. I remember thinking, "I should keep a diary in other cities that I go to," and I didn't. Even if you just write down two or three words, sometimes it's enough, and I didn't.
Currie: In general, did you ever have to pose as someone you weren't in order to get a story?
Mosby: No. I don't remember that.
Currie: Do you ever remember any particularly challenging story, one when you really had to use all your wits to get it?
Mosby: The first time I was in Paris, in the early sixties, I was sent to Greece to trail behind Jacqueline Kennedy, who was then the president's wife. She was making a cruise with Aristotle Onassis, whom she later married. Her sister, the Princess [Lee] Radziwill, was listed as the guest of Onassis, and Jackie was also invited. Since Jackie later married Onassis, it makes one look back at this voyage and wonder, doesn't it?
At any rate, I remember when we covered her arrival in Athens, she wasn't very pleased to see the press waiting. I don't remember where they went in Athens in public that we saw anything. We probably were camped outside wherever she was staying. Those kind of stories get to be ridiculous after a while, but in order to cover what the people do, you just have to trail behind them.
Currie: So you're on call all the time?
Mosby: We were just there, and then running off to phone. I think I filed through the Athens bureau. It must have been that. But then I remember finally at the end of the Athens trip, I think she went to the Acropolis and things like that. I'm not sure, but it was places like that that we were trailing her.
Then at the end of the Athens trip, we had absolutely no idea where they were going, and nobody in the group whom we would try to corner would tell us where they were going. So we saw them off at the dock in Athens on the yacht, and then it was really very simple. The photographer with me was stationed in the Paris bureau. We went down together. He was of Greek ancestry, so he knew the language. He just asked one of the dock workers, "Where is the ship going?" It's like an airplane. You have to say where you're going when you leave a port, you know. So he told us. I don't know how the other correspondents found out, but they found out in
some absolutely simple way as that. I remember it illustrates the stupidity of public personalities such as Jackie Kennedy. According to the American tradition, the public figures belong to the public. They're not royalty hidden behind a screen in the Middle Ages. We elect them, and the press has a right to know what they do and where they're going. Especially this. It was hardly a military secret. It's absurd. So we were told, "They're going to Istanbul and up the Bosporus."
So while their yacht steamed toward that—let me think. How did we get there? I think we all went running to the airport. We must have gone by plane, because we got there before they did. The press corps was mainly NBC [National Broadcasting Co.] and CBS [Columbia-Broadcasting] and AP and UPI. There had been some newspapers covering the part in Athens, but the newspapers didn't either have the time or the manpower, etc., to go trailing them farther. They then would rely on agencies to cover for them, as their clients.
So when we got there, we rented a barge in collaboration with NBC, I think it was. Then the AP had a barge in collaboration with the other network, CBS. ABC wasn't there; they weren't that big then, I guess. So when the yacht arrived and started up the Bosporus, well, there we were trailing behind them. They were furious that we were there. [Laughter.] Of course, we couldn't talk to them, but we could see them and at least confirm that that's where they were, and describe what they were seeing in Istanbul and so forth.
Then when we got to the end of that voyage, I don't know how we found out where they were going next, the next stop, but the next stop was one of the islands. I don't think it was Rhodes; it must have been Crete. I think it was Crete. So we went on airplanes to Crete, I'm pretty sure, and then were waiting when they arrived. At times, Jackie would try to remember that she was a public figure and walk slowly through the various ruins and antiquities that they were visiting, and didn't seem to mind posing for photographs and so forth. We couldn't really get past the security guards to ask her anything, but now and then we were able to get a quote. She obviously was very annoyed that we were there.
Then when they left Crete, I remember there was a great scramble to try to find out where they were going, and I remember that was very difficult. We weren't sure. We weren't positive, but somehow by this time journalists weren't competing quite so much. We were being a little more cooperative, as I recall. Somehow we found out that they were going to Onassis' private island, which I believe the family still owns.
Mosby: Yes. That's between Greece and Italy. We flew to Athens and we rented taxis. I remember that NBC, I think, was with us. I was in the front seat sitting next to the taxi driver, and our photographer and the NBC camera men were in the back seat. All the television camera equipment was sticking up in the front. There was hardly room for any of us. [Laughter.] You know they have a lot of big equipment. In fact, maybe it was bigger than it is now, that they carry around. The taxi driver had a radio in his taxi, and it was playing Greek music and he was singing to it. Greek music is great, and the songs are great. [Laughter.] It was really quite incredible.
Getting across Greece to this other side of Greece is a bit difficult because you cross a lot of water areas, small bridges. I remember we finally came to one, and by this time it was pretty late at night. You had to get over by a ferry boat, and there wasn't any ferry boat. So we found out somehow where the ferry boat master was sleeping, and woke him up. He very nicely got on his boat. I guess the cars went aboard. Yes, the cars went aboard the boat and then we got to the
other side to dry land, and then continued on down to the mainland opposite the island. By the time we got there, the AP and I had sort of stopped this competing business because it was getting ridiculous. The photographers were the same way.
So this time we all rented a boat together, a fisherman's boat. We went down and asked. Fortunately, the UPI photographer spoke Greek, so he was able to rent a fisherman's boat, and we all got aboard. This was mainly just to confirm that they were on the island and for the photographers to try to get some pictures. When we got closer, we saw that the yacht was anchored next to the island, but they were still on the boat. By this time it was dawn. We had been driving all night long. We had no sleep. They weren't up yet. The name of the AP woman who was with me, I think is still covering the White House for them.
Currie: Do you remember her name?
Mosby: Frances Lewine. She was the AP woman who covered the White House and still is maybe there. She certainly would be past retirement age, but I don't know when AP lets people go. It would be very easy to find out. The correspondents from CBS and NBC, I just don't remember their names.
Anyway, we were all on the boat, sitting out on the deck in the sun, eating something, I hope. When they woke up and saw us there, there was scurrying on the boat as Onassis and Jackie Kennedy were informed that the press was camped outside, a discreet distance away. I recall that they went in a small boat to the island and were just walking on the island. The photographers got a picture of that. Then they went back to the big boat.
Then we saw Onassis go in the yacht's small boat to the mainland, to tell the fishermen that they were not allowed to rent boats to us again, and he must have stopped at our boat and told the fisherman there that they couldn't stay there and we had to leave. So the fisherman took the boat back to the mainland, and that was the end of that. They didn't take us out again. So we left. [Laughter.] There was no point in staying.
So we left, and I don't remember how we got back to Athens. Maybe in the same taxi. Then I took a plane back to Paris. That is often what it's like trailing behind public personalities like that. It's a lot of leg work, but it's really quite a chore. Of course, the White House correspondents are used to it; that's what they do, endlessly trailing after [George] Bush while he's jogging and all of this.
Currie: Why was it important for you to stick with them?
Mosby: The United States press tradition is that the president and other publicly elected officials are public figures, and the press and the public has a right to know what they do and to keep track of them. That's why the American press—I don't know for how many years, whether they did it in the nineteenth century, I don't know, but in this century they certainly have. They still do it, as you can tell by the quotes that they get when Bush is jogging. Then they can also corner him and yell questions at him, such as, "Is the war in the Gulf really going to start?" and things like that. Sometimes he gives very important answers, as you may remember just from reading the papers.
Currie: So you can often get very important stories.
Mosby: Yes. So it has to be done. Then you just never know what's going to happen, such as when John Kennedy was in that motorcade in Texas and was killed.
Currie: What about people who aren't public figures?
Mosby: If they've done something that belongs in the news area, well, then I guess they do become public figures. For example, William Kennedy Smith, who is now involved in that rape case, and the woman who is involved, they have become public figures, haven't they?
Mosby: I don't know whether people are chasing them around and keeping an eye on them. Are they?
Currie: Oh, yes. There's a huge hue and cry about a New York Times reporter who described the furnishings of the alleged victim's daughter's room.
Mosby: Oh, I didn't read that.
Currie: They're just swarming all over them.
Mosby: So they have become public figures.
Currie: Do you think that public figures and private individuals should be treated in different ways by the press?
Mosby: We'd have to think about why the press would want to see a private individual.
Currie: For example, the victim in this rape case.
Mosby: The woman involved in the rape case made herself a public figure by filing a suit and getting involved in it. She's no longer a private individual. I don't think she has any right to privacy at all. Maybe we have to think of another example.
Mosby: Let's say a great author.
Currie: J.D. Salinger, as an example, there is a recent case involving a biographer who wanted to quote from J.D. Salinger's letters, and Salinger objected to it, saying that that was his private domain and should not be quoted.
Mosby: Yes, I've read about that.
Currie: He is not a public person in the sense that he's never run for office.
Mosby: Whom did he inform that it was his private writing?
Currie: He brought a suit. I'm afraid I'm not clear on all the details.
Mosby: If he brought a suit, then that's public knowledge; he's in court. That wouldn't count. You'll have to think of another example. If J.D. Salinger was not involved in this lawsuit—
Currie: He was very secretive before this lawsuit.
Mosby: Yes. Then he had a right to it. If somebody wanted to do an interview on him for the Saturday Review of Literature or something and called him up, or he had an unlisted number and he went to his house and knocked on the door, and Salinger leaned out the window and would say, "I don't want to be interviewed," well, I think then he's a private individual and should be respected. But when a private individual gets himself into the public by committing a murder and being arrested or something, that's no longer private.
Currie: What about, say, parents of murder victims?
Mosby: In my judgment, they would be regarded as private if they didn't—you could ask them if they wanted to say something. If they didn't want to say something, then it wouldn't be a good idea to sit camped on their lawn. That would be stretching it a bit, I think.
Currie: It's an interesting issue of journalistic ethics.
Mosby: Yes, it is. If someone wanted to interview Nan [Robertson], a well-known writer, about her past life, if she didn't want to be interviewed, I think she has a right to say, "No, I don't care to see you." And if a reporter would come ringing her doorbell, she'd have a right to not answer it and not say anything. But anyone who's involved in a court case or the law at all, according to American journalism, the reporters have a right to trail them. Even if it were an actress, Tullulah Bankhead or somebody like that, somebody very famous who just never gave interviews to the press and didn't want to see anybody, they would have a right to say no, in my view. But usually they don't, because usually people in show business know that they want publicity and they make money because they are famous. If you ask somebody and they say, "No comment," I certainly respect that, and I think reporters should. No point continuing to harass them if they say, "I have no comment. I don't want to say anything." But the girl in the rape case certainly got herself in the public eye by making an issue. So I don't see that she's a private individual anymore. She brought a lawsuit against him, didn't she?
Currie: She didn't bring a lawsuit against him, but she did file a complaint with the police, a criminal complaint.
Mosby: Then he's involved in it. The public is concerned. I think he has behaved very correctly. He told the reporters, "I wish I could tell you, but I'm not supposed to say anything." So he just has kept to himself. Are they still camped on his front lawn?
Currie: They were yesterday.
Mosby: Has he said anything yet? They'll just wait, I guess. I'm curious to know your opinion of this, so tell me later.
Currie: I will. Absolutely. But I don't want to waste tape on my thoughts. I think they'd get very depressed if they got a transcript back with me talking. [Laughter.] They don't care what I think.
Mosby: Anyway, that's freedom of the press. I would sum it up and say that individuals who come into the public eye and don't want to be interviewed and want to remain secluded and so forth, certainly have a right to. Like [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn, he's very much in the public eye and has remained quiet, although I think he has made some statements recently, didn't he? Sort of issued them through his managers, something about when he was offered citizenship again in the Soviet Union, wasn't he?
Currie: I think so.
Mosby: He's a celebrity, but I don't think he's obligated to speak. He's a celebrity, but he's not involved as a public figure. I don't know. That's my opinion.
Currie: Well, that's what we want. Has there ever been a time when you think you went too far to get a story?
Mosby: When I was in the Los Angeles bureau, I was assigned to do a story on a nudist camp. So I went to the nudist camp, and when I got there, they said, "You can't come in. You're wearing clothes. You have to take your clothes off." So I was just a beginning young reporter. Of course, in those days, and maybe nowadays, nobody would think anything of it if people start walking down the street in Washington [without clothes]. But in those days, it was really shocking. I could see the nudist camp there, and people were just wandering around nude. They were playing games, baseball, and throwing horseshoes, things like that, and there were children and women. It was near Los Angeles.
So I said, "Well, all right." So I took off my clothes and sort of held my notebook in front of me as I wandered around, and felt ridiculous. I got some quotes from people and got a history of the nudist camp. It was a rare event that this had started. Everything was fine until around the corner came a couple of photographers from the press corps in Los Angeles, some newspaper. We all knew each other, and it was very embarrassing. I sat down, feeling absolutely stupid. Then shortly thereafter, I went home and phoned in the story of the nudist camp.
I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I phoned in notes on the story of the nudist camp to somebody on the news desk, and then I went home, or I was home by then. I don't remember. Then either the New York bureau or someone told them—they were very excited about it, and [said] it should be written in the first person, "I was in a nudist camp," that sort of thing. So they called me at home to tell me to do this, but I'd gone out. I wasn't there. So somebody on the news desk in Los Angeles wrote the story under my name. [Laughter.] Then papers were yelling for a photograph of me, and the UPI office, the photographer took a photograph of my bare back and I was looking over like this, you know, covering up in front, just in the office. The picture ran with the story. [Laughter.] Oh, how ridiculous! I was so embarrassed about that.
Currie: But you did it.
Mosby: But I was just beginning. If I had known the photographers were there, I wouldn't have even gone in, probably. It never occurred to me that there would be other reporters there. I just saw nothing but nude families wandering around this sort of park, some sort of park. But that's the only time, I guess. And I never really wrote the story. The UPI in Los Angeles did.
Currie: Were you ever assigned a story that you didn't want to do or refused to do?
Mosby: When I was assigned to Vietnam, I got too timid and said no, I wouldn't go.
Currie: Gee, I think any woman who would go to a nudist camp could go to Vietnam.
Mosby: Yes! I should have gone. That was stupid. I remember later meeting a woman from the New York Times who had been there, and after that she came to Paris. What was her name? A very well-known byline, I think. I think she's still there. I think she went back to Asia. Very tall and thin.
Currie: Carolyn Lesh told me about the nudist camp story.*
Mosby: Oh, really?
Currie: She said she remembered reading about and seeing your byline. She said that yours was one of the few female bylines that she remembered reading when she was younger, and there weren't that many women.
Mosby: Yes, that's true. She's a lot younger than I am. She must have been a little girl when she read it.
Currie: She said it had a great lead, something like, "When you go to a nudist camp, you don't look below the nose."
Mosby: I don't remember!
Currie: But you didn't write the version that someone wrote from your notes.
Mosby: No, I didn't. [Laughter.] That's funny. Yes, that phrase does sound familiar. I seem to remember that. I probably said that when I was talking to whomever in the office was taking notes.
Currie: Is there anything else you'd like to say about journalistic ethics?
Mosby: The main thing about journalistic ethics is that I think reporters must write the truth and not make up quotes, and do their very best not to make mistakes. Of course, these days, using tape recorders, there's more of a certainty that you will get the quote correctly. Many times if you read a news story covered by, say, half a dozen reporters, the quotes that they were all taking notes on might vary. But these days of tape recorders and so forth, the quotes are more likely to be accurate, I think, than they used to be. But I think there are some reporters, if they only get half of a sentence in a quote, then they will make up the other half, what they think the man said, which I don't think that's ethical. I think the quote should end where your own notes then, and then you paraphrase what you believe was said. But a direct quote should be a direct quote, again without editorializing or using words that are—I mean, a straight news story and feature story are different, but a news story, they shouldn't use adjectives or things like that, that are editorializing.
Currie: How did you take notes? Did you know shorthand?
* A former colleague of Mosby's from the UPI Paris bureau, and later AP bureau.
Mosby: Yes. I used Gregg shorthand most of the time.
Currie: Where did you learn the shorthand?
Mosby: In high school, Missoula County High School. [Laughter.] Then when tape recorders became common, I would take tape recorders with me on interviews where it wouldn't bother the person to have a recorder like that. It does bother some people.
Currie: It's actually insurance.
Mosby: Yes, it would be insurance that the quotes would be correct. But some people, it makes them then think too much about what they're going to say, and then they try to form a very dignified-sounding, official statement instead of speaking naturally. At UPI in Europe, almost everybody had their own tape recorder, and there usually would be an extra one in the office for someone to use when going out on stories.
Currie: What kind of typing method did you use?
Mosby: I learned touch typing. A lot of reporters don't; they do the hunt-and-peck system, and type very fast, but when I was in high school, as I said, I wanted to be a journalist, and I thought that studying shorthand and studying typing would be very important, so I did.
Currie: Do you think that has borne out?
Mosby: I don't know. It may have. Most people, I suppose, use tape recorders now. I still think shorthand comes in handy at times, and it seems to me that you can go much faster on a word processor if you're using touch typing.
Currie: Do you still type on a typewriter or you do you use a word processor?
Mosby: Yes and no. In my freelance work, when I file to the New York Times, I go into the New York Times office in Paris. That goes direct to their New York office. So you can edit as you go along or spend an hour and a half doing it, or you can rewrite it as you go along or whatever. I bring with me my typewritten copy from home. I have a typewriter at home, but I want to buy a word processor—a computer. Sometimes before the UPI bureau in Paris got so small and cut down, for the first two years, maybe three years, of my freelance work in Paris, I would just make a rough outline of what I was going to do, and then go down to UPI. They had several machines. The staff was cut down so much in later years [because] of UPI's problems, that there were word processors available and nobody was using them, and I could just sit there and work all day. Of course, they had printout machines. I could get a printout. So I was using a word processor, but I saved myself money by not buying one at home, because I was just using the UPI one. But now the office has even moved to a smaller place, and that's not possible.
I'm thinking of getting one, and it's a problem, because in Paris I have a journalist freelance writer friend who bought one a good three or four years ago. She bought an Apple or a well-known trademark. It's the equivalent of $6,000. Now with inflation, I don't know. Maybe the prices have gone down a bit in Paris, but I don't think so. Things in France cost much, much more than they do in the United States. In fact, in most European countries, everything from oatmeal that you eat in the morning to a pair of shoes you wear in the afternoon, to a word processor that you're buying, or a fax machine or whatever, a fax machine is 9,000 francs,
which is almost $2,000. You can get one in the States, I'm told, that combines with a telephone answering machine, for $450.
Currie: Yes, you can get them for $300. I have to change the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Mosby: Otherwise, as I think I told you, I decided two years ago that I really should take advantage of my country homes and enjoy life a bit more away from working, so I wasn't sure if I really wanted to buy a computer and invest in that money and invest in a fax machine. On the other hand, if you don't have one, even if you're just doing one freelance story a month, it still would be more convenient to have all that equipment. Investing in it in France, of course, would really cost a fortune, so I'm going to try to do something about it in the U.S.
Currie: Since you did a lot of interviewing, did you have any particular techniques you used when you were interviewing?
Mosby: I would usually try to save sensitive questions for the end of the interview, so that by that time the interviewee would be more at home and relaxed with you. I always tried to do things in chronological order. I think that helps a person remember things. I think just to sort of make it a pleasant, almost semi-social conversation, just to make it all more natural, because I think if you just sit there and hammer away at question number one, question number two, all very serious and in a hurry or something, you might not get very far.
Currie: Maybe we could go back to the chronology. We left you leaving Vienna to return to the Paris bureau. That would be about 1970.
Mosby: Yes, that was 1970. I just wanted to say that the first time I was posted in Paris in '62, '63, or something, some of the stories that I remember covering were NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] meetings. For example, NATO at that time was still in France, the meetings with NATO officials, press conferences and things like that. Under Charles de Gaulle, France was really a very good political story, which it isn't now. French politics, since de Gaulle died, is sort of a bore and never interested me very much after that. It was a chore you had to do to get things on the record, but it really wasn't terribly interesting. When Mitterand was elected, that was a good story because he was a Socialist, and that made it unusual. But otherwise, French politics have been rather boring to the outside world. Not to the French, of course, but to the outside world, since then. But under de Gaulle, it was really important, and there was a lot of work connected with that.
Currie: What made it a lot of work?
Mosby: He was almost a dictator, in a way, a military dictator. He had brought so many changes in France. He was such an important world figure. He was a war hero and also his personality was so incredible. I remember his press conferences, again because he was almost a dictator. The press conferences, the questions would be planted beforehand with some of the French correspondents. They would stand up and ask them, and he knew what the questions would be beforehand, and it was all organized. After one question was asked, he would deliver what was almost a speech for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, while everybody would dutifully take notes. Then when he was finished, he would just get up, with his great dignity, and he had this very tall figure, just walking out of the room. They were held in the Elysée Palace, which was the presidential center of France in Paris on the Rue de Faubourg St. Honoré, and in a beautiful salon
with fantastic chandeliers and all gilt and tapestries and very awesome and beautiful. I remember going several times to his press conferences.
Then his funeral, when he died, he was buried way outside of Paris, where there's a monument now to him.
Currie: Was he more difficult to cover than American politicians?
Mosby: Oh, yes. He just didn't give offhand remarks to journalists. He was a very pompous figure, like a king of olden days. It was quite different. The French presidents have relaxed a bit more since then, as far as allowing the press to trail behind them. But if we get into a discussion of the French press, I could go on forever. American journalists think they still have a lot to learn, because we think that they take too much of what the government says and they don't contest it or question some of the obvious scandals that have gone on in the French government. They've gotten much better, and it may be under the influence of the American press or press in other countries. It would be more, I think, the American press' ideas.
There was some scandal that went unnoticed for so long. I think it was the one about Rainbow Warrior, the environmentalist Greenpeace ship that was blown up in New Zealand. It was the French Secret Service that had done it. Paris officials kept denying it was, and we always felt the French press never really dug into that. I think they finally did, but a long time later. There were a couple of other scandals like that, that went unnoticed. They feel more cowed by their government and feel that they don't have a right to pry into this and that.
In one way maybe you might agree that they're right not to pry into the private lives of their leaders. For example, there are all sorts of rumors around Paris that President Mitterand does not live with his legal wife, but has a mistress. I've heard this story so many times, with about five different women's names mentioned, that I'm not sure whether to believe it at all, whether it's true. So I don't know. I live on the street right next to Mitterand, and before he was president, one would see him taking evening walks with his wife and dog in the neighborhood a lot. I haven't seen that, except maybe for the first year of his presidency, but I think it's more normal that he would live in the presidential suite in the Elysée Palace, because for his work and even for security, it would be better. But you hear these reports all over, French people saying, "He really lives in an apartment in the sixteenth [arondissement] and he has a mistress over there." I don't know whether to believe any of that. [Laughter.] But the French press has never looked into that. They regard that the private life of their leaders is their affair.
Currie: It's an interesting difference.
Mosby: Yes. I think that for the French society and the way they live, that's fine. I respect that, their opinion.
Anyway, de Gaulle was an incredible person to cover. Then I also covered UNESCO [United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], both the first and the second times I was in Paris. There were very often some very interesting meetings out there of delegates from all over the world or specialized meetings on African problems or various things. Of course, the second time I was in Paris, I was out there quite a bit when there was the great pull-out of the United States and, later, of Britain from UNESCO, and the upheaval over the UNESCO director general wanting state-controlled press in the Third World countries. That was quite a big story.
Currie: What can you tell me about that?
Mosby: I'm sorry. My memory is just getting terrible. The director general of UNESCO, who was finally pushed out—I'll just have to look it up. The general assembly of UNESCO passed this program which, when you sort of boiled it down, came to programs for more newspapers and radio that would be more controlled by the government in these Third World countries. It just caused a great uproar. The United States instantly denounced it and so did Britain and France, the other Western countries. That was one of the main reasons why the United States pulled out. Also because they felt that the money was going to waste and was being given to programs that the United States didn't approve of, etc., etc. But that was quite a big story.
After that, UNESCO was still operating. I was just out there recently to a big anniversary program they had for Peter Ustinov at UNESCO, and it still is there, but a lot of the press was invited to this event and they were making remarks, "What do they really do? It's just a waste of money out there." I don't know how true that is.
Then there was this scandal of the various top officials of UNESCO, who either quit or were pushed out if they didn't agree with this director general. What was his name? He's from an African country.
Currie: You can fill it in later. Don't worry about it. It happens all the time.
Mosby: Some of them he fired. There were great lawsuits about it, and it was really a pretty good story for a couple of years. The press was out there a lot. It's certainly quieted down now. For a while it was almost a daily story for us.
Then I also covered many meetings. This is getting up to my second trip to Paris, after Vienna, Budapest, and all of that. UNESCO would have been in that period. In fact, the NATO meetings and de Gaulle, that was before. The second time I went back to Paris, which was in about mid-1970, from Bucharest, NATO by then was in Brussels. That was when all that UNESCO business was going on, and I was out there quite a bit, sometimes every day for weeks on end, covering the various meetings and upheavals and so forth. I also covered the OECD many times. That's the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Currie: These were all U.N. agencies?
Mosby: No. The OECD was formed after the war by the number-one developed countries, we'll say—Western Europe, Japan, the United States, and Canada. Australia might be a member, too. It's an intergovernmental organization just like the United Nations is, in order to guide the economies of the Western countries. It obviously has succeeded, as you see. So they can have common economic policies and discuss their economic problems. They have a big headquarters in Paris which operates the year 'round, sending out various papers and information to the press and to member countries. They have delegates from each country there, and then they have meetings maybe even more than once a year. I don't remember exactly. Big wheels from the member governments will show up, who are involved in the economy and so forth. Very many interesting stories have come out of the OECD.
Currie: There's an incredible breadth in the things that you covered.
Mosby: Most of those stories are financial-page stories. Now and then there would be a feature story of some sort that would be printed in the regular part of a newspaper, but most of those stories were financial-page stories.
Currie: You really have tremendous breadth in the stories.
Mosby: It took me a while at the OECD to get onto it. Economic and financial reporters have a lingo that you have to get onto.
Currie: How did you learn about it?
Mosby: Just asking questions, you know. I remember they kept talking about R&D. I said, "What is R&D?" Research and development. But everything is abbreviated, you know. Of course, most newspapers would have reporters who specialize in that, but in foreign bureaus and wire services, they aren't that big. The reporters in the office just have to cover everything like that. But it's always interesting. Sometimes you wouldn't have to go out there, but they would send, in the mail, the economic reports on such and such a country, how they were doing, or a quarterly report on the financial situation of all the member countries or something like that. You'd just read through the hand-out, as we call it, look what the lead is, and write it from that. So you could do that in the office.
Then, of course, as I said, from the very beginning I got stuck with fashion stories. I did those because there wasn't another woman in the bureau. Then finally, toward the end of the last few years I was in UPI, while I was there, there were two different women in the bureau, but I still did the fashion. But by then, even women bureau managers from UPI (both of them were bureau managers), women became much more important in United Press than they were before, and these were young women in UPI. They were just around thirty years old. One of them, Marie Colvin, left UPI to go with the Sunday Times of London, and she's been in the Middle East for months. She was assigned to go there from the very beginning. Of course, recently she would just go there for a month or so and then go back to London for a while, then go back. During the Gulf upheaval, she's been there all the time.
Currie: In the seventies, what impact do you think the women's movement had on UPI?
Mosby: Oh, an enormous effect. Now women bureau managers are common. Even before Marie, there was another one who was there a year or two in Paris, Brigitte Phillips, and then there was some problem. She quit UPI and went with the OECD. She's Canadian. I still see her. I mentioned the farewell party for the Australian woman who was working for Reuters in Paris. She was in the UPI bureau, too, for a while, as a reporter for UPI. In fact, I would say there are probably more women journalists looking for jobs now than men. There used to be a steady stream of women in the office, looking for work. Americans.
Currie: In the seventies?
Mosby: More in the eighties, I would say. Yes, more in the eighties, I think it would have been.
Currie: But for years you were the only woman in the Paris bureau.
Mosby: Oh, yes. After a while, there was a woman in the London bureau for a while. The growth of American women reporters abroad has increased enormously in recent years. I can remember when there were no women in the AP bureau for many years, and for covering fashion, just like UPI, they would hire a woman stringer, a freelancer who specialized in fashion, and that's all she did is write fashion for various magazines.
Currie: Of course, they wouldn't have to pay a stringer nearly as much as a correspondent.
Mosby: No. They probably did pay less. Maybe from the mid-seventies on, women's lib really got to roll. I was just thinking of the women reporters that had been in the AP. Carolyn Lesh was one. She replaced me in UPI when I was in China, and then when I came back, she had to move out. Of course, there wasn't room for both of us. So she easily got a job at AP. Along with her, there are four other women who have been on the news staff. I think two of them were freelancers who did features, but at least two of them are regular full-time staffers on the news desk in the AP bureau in Paris. It was unheard of before then. We didn't have any women. I don't know as much about that as the others. Reuters didn't used to have women staffers, and in the eighties a woman came in from their New York bureau. I've forgotten her name. She was there for a couple of years and actually married a French photographer. Then she got herself transferred back to New York. That's where they are now.
Anyway, there are a lot more women now in journalism than ever before. As I said, there were a lot of young women coming into the bureau or writing letters looking for jobs when I was working for UPI those last few years. UPI was always very stingy and was very poor in the recent years because they were bankrupt, so they would take on apprentices, so to speak, during the summer. Some of them were still in university in journalism school, and they would come over and work in the summer. I think they worked for nothing. They would answer the phone and do the filing and be given tricky-track, as we call it, little stories to do, and sometimes used on more important things. There was once a man, but I think, otherwise, they were all women journalism students.
Currie: How did you feel about this influx of women?
Mosby: Oh, I think it's marvelous! It's become very common. I'm sort of envious because they don't regard themselves as any different than men, a male reporter. But when I started out, I did. I don't think Flora Lewis did. She was smarter about that than I was. I always regarded myself as somehow different and apart from them, and I shouldn't have. These women reporters now don't regard themselves any different.
Currie: How did regarding yourself as different and apart affect your career?
Mosby: I probably would have asked to be a bureau manager, and I never did. In fact, I was offered the bureau managership in the Paris bureau in the early eighties when they ran out of men. The whole idea of trying to run the bureau and do the whole thing, I just said, "Oh, no. I'd rather just be a writer." But then after that, they had two women bureau managers, and I thought, "Well, they did it. I could have, too." [Laughter.] Flora Lewis, I don't know whether she felt herself any different from the male reporters. Anyway, I got over that feeling in a while, but I still wasn't as liberated, so to speak, in a way, as the women today, I would say, the women reporters today.
Currie: It's interesting. When I talked with Carolyn Lesh, she said that when she was transferred to Paris, she said some of the men would say to her—one in particular said, "Oh, Aline will never be able to stand having another woman in the bureau."
Mosby: Oh! [Laughter.]
Mosby: She said the men said that.
Mosby: No, I didn't feel that way.
Currie: She said, in fact, it was just the opposite, that you were very helpful to her.
Currie: You really helped her learn her way around the bureau, helped her find an apartment.
Mosby: I'd forgotten that.
Currie: But it's very interesting that the men said, "Oh, no, no. Aline has to be the star of the show. She doesn't want any other women."
Mosby: [Laughter.] No, I didn't feel that way. And I didn't feel that way when Brigitte Phillips arrived, when she was the bureau chief. Not at all. Then after I quit UPI, they had another bureau chief who spoke fluent French and wanted to come to Paris from the Boston bureau. She'd been married to a Frenchman in the States, and they were divorced. She came with her little girl, about four years old, and fortunately found an école maternelle to get the little girl in right away, one of the state-run nursery schools, free, which they don't have in the United States, I guess. By then the bureau was cut down so low and she was only there—I think it was even less than two years, she just got so exhausted from the seven-day week, you know, twelve-hour or thirteen-hour days, and trying to bring up her child there, she asked for a transfer back to Boston, where she has a special job and she's only working a thirty-five-hour week and making a lot more money than she did in Paris. [Laughter.]
Since then, after she left, there have been only men in the bureau. Well, only two men. Now there's only one man now.
Currie: Did you socialize a lot with your male colleagues?
Mosby: Oh, yes, often going out to lunch together, if we ever had time for lunch. Not very often. UPI is very friendly like that. I don't think the other agencies are as much as we were. Then sometimes we'd be working late, exhausted, finishing the day shift about ten, you know, and wait around for the person on the night shift to finish up everything, and then we'd go down about eleven o'clock and eat at a terrific place that was open till two, near the office. Oh, I remember many a night sitting there with people from the office, eating together.
Currie: So this feeling of being separate and apart, did that translate to the social life in the bureau with the men?
Mosby: Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. That's one thing fun about UPI. We were all friends. There was only one bureau manager I ever had that I felt not at home with. We won't mention his name. He came in from another bureau and was there only, I think, a year.
Currie: Why didn't you feel at home with him?
Mosby: Actually, I don't think any of us did in the office. He was pompous and not very friendly, and severe and rude. He's the only one ever like that. I don't think Carolyn [Lesh] knew him. She would have been at the AP then. Maybe she knew him. I don't know.
Currie: Did you ever feel that being a woman hampered you in getting assignments that you wanted, or in getting promotions that you wanted?
Mosby: At first I did. Then in the fifties and sixties, women were definitely another part of the office and weren't really on the same level or grouping, whatever you want to call it, with the male reporters. It's entirely different today. I think there is really equality in UPI, at least. I don't know about the other agencies. Probably the same. But at UPI, I would say definitely.
I think it was when I came back from China, I had thought of going back to the States, and somebody told me there was an opening in Scripps-Howard, which is a part of UPI. At that time they were still UPI. So I came to Washington on my way to Montana—I don't remember the details very well—but it was to replace the retiring women's-page fashion editor, you know, and that just didn't interest me at all. I went back to Paris. [Laughter.]
Currie: Because you were overseas, it sounds like you could cover a wide—yes, you had to do the fashion shows, but you also got to cover other things.
Mosby: Yes. The fashion show was really just a sideline. It was not why I was hired at all. I was hired as a reporter and then given that because I was a woman and the men didn't know how to do it and would just refuse to. They're wrong. Actually, one of the big fashion reporters on the New York Times is a man now. He's terrific! I read his copy in the New York Times bureau. Do you know his name?
Currie: I don't. But some of the leading designers are men.
Mosby: I know. Absolutely. There are men who cover fashion for Women's Wear Daily. Those are men. I can't remember right now, but there are some on the French newspapers. I'm not sure, but there are lots of men who cover fashion shows. It's a business story, you know, in many ways.
Currie: Were you paid the same as your male colleagues?
Mosby: I don't know. I was having so much fun and loved being a journalist, I never fought for a raise. With UPI, I should have fought for a raise. I would have probably made more money. I suspect they were [paid more], but I don't know. I really don't know. I really wasn't interested in money; I was just interested in being a journalist.
Currie: Do you know how the salaries at UPI compared to other services?
Mosby: The AP was always known as being a bit more. Of course, wealthier groups like the New York Times and Boston Globe and so forth, those have always paid more.
Currie: Did you ever considering leaving UPI for a more lucrative job?
Mosby: No. I was asked to apply for a New York Times job in the early seventies, after I'd been back to Paris the second time. I would have had to go back to New York to work on the city desk, and maybe I would never get back overseas. So I never pursued it. I don't know, the thought of going back to New York and working on a city desk for two years, and maybe I'd never get abroad again, I didn't like living in New York that much. I just didn't want to do that, so I didn't. I don't regret it. I've been freelancing. Since I became a freelancer, I've been asked by the New York Times to write for them. That's one of the reasons I finally quit UPI. Under a couple of New York Times managers, I worked as sort of a stringer attached to the bureau, and they would
send me out on news stories now and then when they needed somebody. So I'm happy. No complaints. [Laughter.]
Actually, we never did discuss the second time I was in Moscow, and we didn't discuss the second time I was in New York.
Currie: We didn't do the second time you were in New York. We sort of hit the second time you were in Moscow.
Mosby: That's right. I told you about Shastri's death. Things had changed a lot in Moscow the second time, because then Brezhnev was there. It wasn't as easy going as when Khrushchev was there. The first time I was in New York, that was when I was going to school.
Currie: We did talk about the second time.
Mosby: The second time, I did tell you I was in the features department and then worked on the foreign desk.
Currie: Right. And did some editing.
Mosby: And did editing on the foreign desk.
Currie: And didn't like it.
Mosby: No, I liked the editing.
Currie: You didn't like New York, rather.
Mosby: I didn't like New York very much, and I didn't like trying to do special news stories there, because I just found New York boring. If the women's lib thing had been going then, it would have been a marvelous thing to write about. There were so many things then.
Currie: It was a very heady time.
Mosby: Yes. But when I was there, it wasn't.
Currie: Then you went back to Europe.
Mosby: So now we're back to Paris. That's when I did a lot of the OECD and UNESCO and fashion, as well as the usual. Nan Robertson was there. I remember we covered a plane crash together.
Currie: What was Nan doing there?
Mosby: That's when she was sent by the New York Times to Paris. She got there in mid-1972 or '73, and she lived on the Isle St. Louis, right across the river from me. So we became friends then. I remember we covered a news story together. I remember standing in the balcony, shouting down questions to the people on the stage. What could that have been about? Maybe it was a student upheaval then. There still were some student upheavals going on when I got there the second time. Now and then I would still hear sirens in the Latin Quarter and the police running around. It had quieted down.
We covered a plane crash. I think it was an American plane. In fact, I covered two plane crashes near Paris. Oh, my God. The one I went with Nan to was in a forest someplace. I think that was the one where the baggage compartment hadn't closed right, and it was just terrible, seeing this wide swatch that this big Boeing, or whatever it was, made in the forest, trees flattened, and they were collecting bodies. Oh, God, it was horrible, just terrible.
Currie: How do you maintain your calm when you're covering a disaster like that?
Mosby: You just have to keep moving and gulp, you know.
I remember the other one was near Orly Airport, and that was in a field, a field where they were growing onions. The odor of the onions was just overpowering, where the plane had crashed into all these onion plants. I remember on that one, the plane had really exploded and you could still see the bodies sitting up inside the plane. Oh, just horrible.
You know, mankind has done a tremendous thing in learning how to fly himself. I'm always amazed when I think of it, when you get into an airplane and realize how heavy it is and how many people are in the plane. There we all are, sitting up there, eating lunch, that incredible weight going through the sky. But mankind did that to try to figure out to do what birds do, and human beings think they're so incredible, but we still can't fly as well as the birds do. I'm not an ornithologist, but I've never heard of birds running into each other. Have you?
Currie: I think sometimes they do, but that's another—
Mosby: I think that's very rare. I've watched swallows down in Beynac. Swallows fly very fast. Have you ever watched swallows, the little ones? How fast they go in an ellipse, it's just incredible to watch them, the whole flock, chirping as they go along, just making this marvelous melodious sound. I've heard that they fly with their beaks open to catch insects, up and swerving and down like this. After a while, the pattern will change, and some of them will go across the pattern, and they never run into each other. I would sit there for hours watching them, and they never ran into each other. You'd have to ask a real bird-watcher who would know, but I think it would be very rare. Have you heard of that?
Currie: No. I don't know much about birds.
Mosby: I really doubt if they do. I really do. I've read the Audubon books, but, of course, they don't necessarily go into things like that. I've never heard of birds running into each other. Of course, big birds will catch little birds in flight and nail them and eat them and take them. I've seen that in Montana. Of course that happens often.
Currie: Is there any special skill that you have to have to cover a disaster?
Mosby: Well, no. I think you just have to try to get quotes from the survivors. Of course, you have to instantly start looking for officials from the airline or the police or somebody who can try to give you an estimate as to how many were killed. And if there are any survivors, of course you instantly zero in on them and ask them what happened. Then getting quotes from people who had seen the accident around, people who live nearby and who had heard the plane go down, you know, things like that.
I don't think I've ever covered a fire in a building. I don't remember that. And a train crash? No. Did I cover a train crash in France? I don't know. I don't think so. Just airplanes, I guess.
Currie: You also mentioned becoming friendly with Nan Robertson in Paris. How did you become a friend of Flora Lewis'? I know you're also a good friend of hers.
Mosby: When Flora was transferred to Paris to be Paris bureau manager, it just happened at the same time that she arrived that an old friend of mine who had known her in New York, Jane Rosen, where I'm going to stay when I go to New York this weekend—
Currie: Excuse me. I have to change the tape. Hold that thought.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Mosby: Jane Rosen and I were having dinner at Chez Les Anges, I think it was, in the seventh arondissement in Paris. She had also called Flora, and Flora joined us. So that was how I met Flora. We became friends. I guess it was through her I met Nan at the Times office.
Currie: All of you are prominent women in journalism.
Mosby: Jane Rosen was in journalism, too. She was on the New York Times for years, on the Sunday section. She was there for years. Or she was on the news section before; I'm not sure. I don't know. Then she quit to be the correspondent for the Manchester Guardian at the United Nations, and she's had that job for many, many years. I'm sure she's very busy now. Her husband is a very prominent, well-to-do PR man in New York. I always stay with them when I go to New York. One of the reasons I was going to New York was because they called me in Paris and said they'd just remodeled their apartment. "You must come and stay with us again!" [Laughter.] So I will see them.
Then I'm going to have lunch with John Chancellor and his wife, whom I always see. They were in Moscow the second time I was there, and that's one interesting thing, maybe, I don't think I've said. Correspondents who work in Moscow together, it's a link of friendship that you hold the rest of your life. You never get over that. All the correspondents I know who've been there say that. Maybe the ones who are there in the nineties and late eighties, maybe there are so many of them, they don't have that link. Well, it's a hardship post that you feel surrounded by enemy territory, so to speak, and you're all there together. Tom Lambert, who used to be with New York Herald Tribune in Moscow—of course, the New York Herald Tribune folded many years ago—when he was the PR man, press spokesman at the Pentagon either for the Army or the whole thing, I think for many years, his wife is an artist and she was one Moscow wife who didn't complain or ruin a marriage by sitting around Moscow and griping. She was an artist and she painted. I have two of her paintings in my Paris apartment. She's a very good artist. Helen is her name—Helen Lambert.
I knew Harrison Salisbury in Moscow. He's still a friend. And Bob Korengold, with whom I worked, and Whitman Bassow, although he'd left when I was there, but I still am good friends with him.
Currie: So it forges this lifelong bond.
Mosby: Oh, yes.
Currie: People have said similar things about working on a presidential campaign.
Mosby: Oh, really?
Currie: Yes, it's the closeness and the hardship and the stories.
Currie: We could head on into China.
Mosby: Yes. Oh, it's twelve.
Currie: Do you want to discuss that after lunch?
Mosby: And then we'll do my third trip to Paris and China, although my third trip to Paris might not be much different than the second trip.
Currie: We can talk about that.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 3, Side A]
Mosby: He was a very interesting man.
Currie: The story you did on Paul Bocuse?*
Currie: That's the second trip to Paris.
Currie: Did you have to know a lot about cuisine to do that kind of story?
Mosby: No. No, I don't think so. I know a bit about it, because I love to eat, and having lived in France, I know quite a bit about it. I don't cook, myself, very much, but I do know a bit about French cuisine. It was just very interesting to go there. It was quite a long piece. I did some other long ones. I can't remember what they were.
That's probably enough for the second trip to Paris, so onward to China, then.
Currie: Tell me about China, how you got to China.
Mosby: As I told you, I took this year sabbatical and studied Chinese under that scholarship at Columbia University. So when the United States and China started having talks about resuming diplomatic relations, the foreign editor called from New York and he said, "At last you can go to China." This was twelve years or something after I had studied the language, and I said, "I don't remember anything of the language." There's no alphabet in Chinese, and those characters you just have to memorize and use them, or they're not in your computer up here (in your head) anymore. He said, "That's all right. We don't care. That's all right. Go there for two years." I thought it over and called him back and said, "I'd rather go for one year, because I know what these hardship posts are like." Only two persons could go.
Currie: Two persons from UPI or two persons per bureau?
Mosby: The deal was that when the U.S. and China resumed diplomatic relations, it was agreed that Xinhua, the Chinese agency, could send four correspondents to the United States, and the United States could send four; that is, two from AP and two from UPI. So I called back and said that after those two stints in Moscow and the Paris bureau was getting to be a hardship post, too, because that was when Ayatollah Khomeini was camped outside of Paris, and somebody had to go out to his news conferences every day. It wasn't even in Paris; it was outside of the city. Our bureau manager was gone a lot on business and wasn't around much, and we really were overloaded. I somehow found myself working a lot of overtime, and I was really just very tired. In fact, if they had known how tired I was, they probably wouldn't have sent me.
* Well-known French chef.
I said, "I just would prefer to go for a year," so they said, okay, that was all right, because I didn't want to get in a hardship post again that long. They said I couldn't take my cat. [Laughter.] I could only take two suitcases because I wouldn't be going that long. They wanted me there instantly, as always at UPI. I remember I couldn't go right away.
Also during that period before this China thing, was when Khomeini went back to Iran, and the press was able to go on his plane with him. The bureau manager, Arthur Higbee, went on the plane. It was sort of a hair-raising and difficult story for him. By the time he got back, he had decided to quit UPI, and he was trying out for a job on the International Herald Tribune, so he wasn't even in the office. It was just a very difficult period.
Finally, I called Arthur up and I said, "Listen. I'm supposed to leave for China in a couple of days, and I can't leave the office," because he wasn't there. I said, "We haven't even found a replacement for me."
So he said, "All right." He came back to the office. Somebody had told him about Carolyn [Lesh] living in Paris someplace. I forget what she was doing there. Was she freelancing or had just arrived? Did she tell you that?
Currie: It was my impression that she had been transferred from the New York office of UPI.
Mosby: No. It seems to me she had worked for UPI before, but she had quit and come to Paris for something else. I don't know. He said he knew of somebody, and he called up Carolyn. She came to the office and he met her, and he hired her as a replacement for me.
Mosby: So she was there for a year, and when she came back, of course, they could only have so many in the bureau, a limit on the employees, and she understood, of course, it was temporary, but she got a much better paying job. She went over to the AP and applied, and got a much better paying job there. So it worked out fine for her. She's a very good journalist.
So when Carolyn was at last signed up, I could go to China. I had to do things like pay my French income tax before leaving, and pack up my two suitcases. I had already found somebody to live in the apartment, because the foreign editor in New York knew a fellow who had a friend, whom I had met in New York, who was then head of the Sarah Lawrence University chapter in Paris. Sarah Lawrence has a branch school there. So he was looking for a place to live, so he agreed to live in my apartment and take care of the cats while I was gone. So that problem was settled, and off I went.
It would have been better to have gone from Paris east to Asia, but the New York office wanted to see me before I left, so they could feel—I don't know. So off I went to New York. I don't remember if I stocked up on buying anything before I went there. I don't think so. I can't remember. Then from New York to Tokyo, which was my first vision of Asia. I'd never been to Asia before. Have you?
Mosby: To get off the airplane in that Tokyo airport was really an incredible experience. I think it's good to be in the minority, because it makes you then appreciate how minorities feel when
they're in the minority. I was one of the very few people in the airport with round eyes. Everybody was Asian. It was really interesting. A beautiful modern airport.
Then we changed planes and I went to—wait. How did I get there? I guess I went from Tokyo to Hong Kong to meet our Asia manager, and then to Peking-Beijing, is the real pronunciation. Who met me at the airport? I don't remember that. I think that the other correspondent who had been in the Tokyo bureau covering China for UPI outside of China, monitoring the Xinhua agency and so forth, was there before I was, the second correspondent assigned to China for UPI. Yes, he was there, because I had to wait for the UPI bureau in Paris to get organized so I could leave. He had gotten there a week or so before I did. I stayed in the Peking Hotel. There was a room there for me.
Currie: What is his name?
Mosby: His name is Robert Crabbe. The last time I heard, I think he's still UPI bureau chief in Sacramento. His tour was up in China and he wanted to get out of Asia for a while. He'd been there a long time. So there we were in the hotel.
I was just staggered to see China. I just couldn't get over it. I remember that first day, I just went on a walk down the street, and I had some children trailing me, and everybody staring. It was incredible, people smiling. It was just incredible! They were so welcoming and so nice. Of course, there weren't many foreigners there then, you know. It was just fantastic. The Peking Hotel, where we stayed, was very nice. I had a nice big room. They had a huge dining room that served, as I recall vaguely, both Western and Chinese food, and a few shops there where you could look at all the jewelry and the bargains and things.
At that time we were writing stories in our hotel rooms and then taking them to the telegraph office to be sent to Hong Kong. We didn't have another room in the hotel for an office, no. Eventually the foreign ministry had this idea that we would just stay there, you know, and I said no, that they simply had to get us into apartments and out of that hotel. It's not a good way to live and it's not a good way to work. Get us into apartments with an office in one of them, just as was done in Moscow when I went there. Now there's so many places for the correspondents in Moscow, with these new buildings that they put up for the journalists, that they have their apartments in that big complex, but then in another apartment they're given they make an office. So it is separating the work.
I think we lived about two months in the hotel, and at last they said that they would put us in one of the diplomatic compounds where there were Pakistanis and Indians and diplomats, and Agence France Presse people were there with their bureau. We were in the old part, which hadn't been lived in for some years. It was the last empty section of this compound, and then an adjoining new one with really tall modern buildings, the British correspondents were there. Of course, they'd been there for years.
So we went and looked at it, and we had the choice of two apartments on the ground floor, one off the entry hallway and the other off the other side of the entry hallway, and one of them was bigger than the other, so there would have been room to devote one decent-sized room as an office, so that would make two apartments for us. So we decided to choose that. The AP took the one that was upstairs. They didn't have cockroaches, but we did. [Laughter.] We had made a bad choice, I guess.
Anyway, there was hardly any furniture to buy in Beijing, so I had the fun trip of flying back down to Hong Kong for two fast days of shopping to order furniture, one for each apartment. It's very strange. The correspondent who came after me said that when he got there, he had to buy furniture because the apartment that I'd lived in was empty, and he wasn't sure about the one that the office was in, exactly where that furniture had come from. I got very indignant about that. I want to ask the UPI man, Mike Keats, where we're going on the fifteenth, to meet us at nine o'clock.* Mike was the Asian division manager when I worked in Beijing. I must remember to ask him what happened to that furniture that I bought and UPI paid a fortune for. I felt very indignant about that. I don't know whether that's a true story. Maybe he was just kidding me.
Anyway, so furniture finally arrived from Hong Kong and got set up. It was fun fixing up the apartment. They had stone floors. I think I got straw mats I can't remember what. We got them furnished, and the office. Got the Xinhua machine coming in there, then a separate telex to receive telex messages coming from Hong Kong and UPI wire, I think. Yes, we got that, too. I think we did; I'm not sure about that. And a desk for the translator, then two desks for the correspondents. We were back like in Moscow.
Currie: It sounds very much like Moscow.
Currie: Except for Xinhua in place of Tass.
Mosby: Yes. Then some weeks later, we organized a darkroom in the extra bathroom that had to be sacrificed for a darkroom for photography. In the beginning—well, I think all the time we were there—I don't remember that we ever got a photographer. Bob [Crabbe] and I, we just took the pictures. We took them to the Xinhua news agency and they developed them. Then we picked them up and took them to—or did they send them? No, I think we developed them and took them to the telegraph agency and they sent them to Hong Kong for us. So then, anyway, I was happy to move out of the hotel. It was better being in the compound.
I remember the Pakistani women, during Ramadan or something like that when they weren't allowed outside, one of those Moslem customs, they could go outside only at night. They would bicycle around the compound with their long robes flowing behind them, giggling and making all sorts of noises and wake everybody up. [Laughter.]
We also had trouble with garbage. Some of these people from Third World countries in the building would just open their window with the garbage pack and just let it drop down two or three stories if they didn't feel like going downstairs. Also, as in Moscow, they had garbage chutes. There's nothing that attracts cockroaches faster than garbage chutes. Terrible. Besides that, I can't think of any other problems that we had.
Bob Crabbe, our correspondent from Tokyo, being very close by, brought over his wife and his two children. He couldn't find a school for the teenager who was about fourteen. So she had to go back to Tokyo, was in a good school there, and the little boy was going to a grammar
* Mosby is referring to the planned video session to be held in the UPI office, Washington, D.C. Mike Keats had been pleased to provide the space when Aline Mosby asked Fern Ingersoll to try to arrange it with UPI.
school in Peking. So there was Bob and his wife and their little boy in that apartment, and I was alone in the other one. It worked out great. Again, it was like being with the Shapiros. We were just sort of a family together. Bob decided that we simply—neither one of us knew how to cook Chinese food—so we would just have to get a chef. So we told UPI they'd have to pay for a chef, so we got a Chinese to come in and cook for us.
Mosby: We made our own breakfast. We could manage that. But we had a main meal at lunch and things for dinner because often we couldn't get out of the office, but when there was time to go to restaurants, then we could go to a restaurant in the evening for a couple of hours. But we always had to go back to the office and then work for a few more hours before going to bed. So that helped a lot. Unlike Moscow, the Asian division was much nicer than the European division had ever been.
Currie: Why is that?
Mosby: They spent more money! They got a chef for us. In Moscow, Henry [Shapiro] had a wife and a private chef cooking for him in his regular apartment, and a full-time housekeeper, but Bob Korengold and I, we just lived on canned things. Remember I told you of our food coming in from a shop called Stockmann's in Helsinki, and the correspondents there still get things from Stockmann's. It's a very well-known place. They'll even send furniture and all sorts of things. We didn't have to do that, but we lived on the food from Stockmann's, and then we were allowed to buy food in the American Embassy commissary the first time I was in Moscow. By the time I came back, there were too many correspondents or something. Anyway, the embassy said that the correspondents couldn't go to the PX anymore. But by then there were special shops they called dollar shops, which just shows the Russians' love for the United States, because it wasn't just for dollars; it was any foreign currency, selling food. Most of the correspondents still either bring things in from Stockmann's or get them at those special stores. That's why they're not starving to death. I think I told you I had those great lunches there when I was there last December, because foreigners in Moscow can buy good food. If you'd try to buy it in the Russian market, you're not going to get much but cabbage and a few things like that.
Anyway, in Peking we were lucky to have a chef. It just saved the day, because we could quit work at one and go into the dining room, which was right across the hall, and eat, and the translator was right there to watch the wire. We'd be back at two o'clock and at our desks. It was just marvelous.
Currie: What was a typical workday like in China?
Mosby: We tried to alter the day and night duty, although a lot of the time we both were working day and night. [Laughter.] But whoever was on the morning duty would go in about seven-thirty or eight in the morning, look at the Xinhua wire to see what we'd missed. The translator came on duty at eight, just as in Moscow, to start reading the papers. I could understand the headlines in the newspapers, and I could listen to the radio and know vaguely what they were talking about, whether it would be anything we would be interested in, but I couldn't read the copy. My colleague had studied Japanese and could speak Japanese, and there are a lot of the same characters used, but not entirely, and he was sort of at a loss, too, so we had to have a translator. Did we have two translators? I can't remember. I think maybe we had one at night; I've forgotten.
Then, as in Moscow, we had a chauffeur and a car to get you around to cover stories and pick up supplies. You just can't do without one in a place like that. So UPI bought a car and paid the chauffeur for us, and we had a cleaning person, of course. So it was a nice operation.
There were so many stories to do, I didn't know where to begin. I wrote a lot of things, just what it was like in Peking.
Currie: How did you get your story ideas?
Mosby: Just walking around and talking to people. I don't know. You hear of things. Somebody—maybe the translator—told me about this ninety-year-old American who had come there since the year one, who was still alive and living there. So the translator helped me track him down. Maybe I found out where he was from the American Embassy, but I don't think the embassy even knew that he was there. So I did a story on Americans still living in China, as I recall vaguely, and I know I interviewed him. There might have been another one. Or maybe I did a separate story on him and a separate story on the other one.
I remember I did a story on one restaurant we went to, a vegetarian restaurant. We were great chums with the AP. The AP was going to send two men. They had them all picked out, the bureau manager, who also was based in Tokyo, and another man. When they heard that I was going in, they thought, "Hmm. Send in a woman." [Laughter.]
Currie: Why was that, I wonder?
Mosby: They just figured out. I don't know. They just thought it would be something sort of special. I think it's that woman who now is with the AP in London. I've got to remember, when I go back to Paris, to call her up. I haven't seen her since then.
Currie: So you were chummy?
Mosby: Oh, yes. I mean, it is like that. You really are. One night they called down and said, "Let's go to a restaurant." So we went to this vegetarian restaurant. I think maybe a couple of other people, too. Out on this table came a huge Peking duck, the way they serve it, all sliced with the fat on top and little lines where you see the veins in the meat. Then a huge fish with the fin and the jaw, with teeth, and it had been cut in half, and there were the ribs and so forth, you know. All of this made with vegetable products. Just incredible! The Chinese are just the most talented, clever people. What a nation! Everything they do with their hands is just incredible. I'm sure you know all the beautiful Chinese treasures. There are a million things to buy there, to put it mildly. I'll never forget that vegetarian restaurant. Just a fantastic thing to see. And think of the chef in the kitchen—I don't know how many kitchen workers they had—making a fish and duck out of vegetables, soybeans.
Currie: Did you write about that?
Mosby: Oh, yes, I wrote a story about that.
Currie: You said you were chummy with the AP people, which is interesting, because you were in competition with them, too.
Mosby: Oh, yes. [Laughter.]
Currie: How did you work that out?
Mosby: Just like it was in Moscow. I mean, we wouldn't tell them what we were working on or what stories we were writing. I'm sure they wrote probably a lot of stories about what China was like. Because that's what Americans wanted to know, was what China was like. It had been completely closed to us, you know. The French had been there for quite a while, and the Brits, but Americans and American news media didn't have the faintest clue what it looked like. So that was interesting, just writing about the old walls that were still there, and they were tearing down some to make modern things, which was regrettable. I can't remember, but there was just something every day that you could write about, it was so fascinating. All the people on bicycles and doing their exercises, you know, those Chinese exercises.
Currie: Tai Chi?
Mosby: Yes, on the street. There we could get Western food. There was a Friendship Store, as they called it. Foreigners could buy things there. There was a huge food department. The food department was in the Friendship Store; I don't think it was separate. We could buy things there.
I discovered some wine there and brought home a bottle, and it was a nice dry red wine. In Peking they don't drink dry wines; they drink either sweet wines or mao tai, that sweet liquid like vodka. So I ordered some of this wine. I'd heard about it from the French. The AFP correspondents and some of the French diplomats were in our building and right next door, so I got to know them. Because I had come from Paris, they accepted me. [Laughter.] So the French, I think, were already drinking this, and I ordered it a lot and told other Americans about it. Everybody was ordering this wine. The next thing we knew, it vanished! There wasn't any left in the store. We figured out that they had realized that there would be a market for it, and they were probably shipping it down to Hong Kong to be exported. That was the end of that. Then we started ordering Australian wine. You'd go to the Australian Embassy and they'd give you a list, and you could order it. They'd order it for you, and it would arrive. It was just great. So we didn't go hungry there. Oh, the food was so much better than in Russia, and the people were much more friendly than the Russians. Of course, then there was a period of détente between China and the United States, so I guess they felt sort of safe coming up and talking to us, and also the Chinese have always admired the United States, you know, for a couple of centuries or something. We weren't quite as colonialist there as the British and French were. So we were very welcomed. The people in the foreign ministry were so nice, trying to help you with stories. I remember the AP bureau manager even invited the press attaché who was in charge of us, you know, to dinner. We would sit there and tell him, you know, "Oh, you should do this and you should do that," and they wouldn't be offended or anything. They'd smile. They were really just fine people.
Currie: How was it different covering stories in China?
Mosby: There were a lot of things that were the same. If you did any interviews, of course you had to go through the foreign ministry. You couldn't just go wandering off by yourself. You had to have visas. There were many parts of China that were closed to us. They would organize press conferences. As I recall, I think they organized a junket or two; I can't remember that. They copied what the Soviet Union did. Like the Soviet Union having an iconoclast religion, where in the Russian Orthodox Church, icons are put up in homes and in churches, so in the Russian parades, instead of holding up religious icons, as they had before the revolution, they were holding up pictures of the leaders, of [Vladimir] Lenin and all that, all over, in all their parades.
In Peking, as I say, they copied the Russians. They had huge pictures of [Karl] Marx and [Friedrich] Engels, and then Mao Zedong. On Tiananmen Square and in front of all the official buildings, there were these huge portraits. Just copying the Russians. Ridiculous. I wrote a story about that. As a matter of fact, when I left, the foreign ministry very nicely gave a little dinner for me, inviting everybody in the bureau and Ray Wilkinson, who was my successor, who had just come up from Africa, and Bob Crabbe and his wife, and me and the head of the press department and then the man from the press department who was used to handling us. He asked me—this is something the Russians wouldn't do; as I said before, they have such an inferiority complex. He said, "Now that you're leaving, would you give us some advice about things that you think we should do?" Can you imagine Russia saying that when a correspondent leaves? Never!
So I thought about it, and I said, "Well, one thing that shocked me, and I really didn't think you should do it, is that you have copied the Russians in putting up these political icons of your leaders in these big portraits. I can see how you've copied the Soviet system in many ways." In their government they did, of course. It has a Central Committee and a Politburo, the whole thing, you know. I said, "I don't know why you copy the Russians like this. You're a great people, you're a great nation. You don't need to have those portraits out there. Why do you have Marx and Lenin, those round-eyed people? They're not Asians. Why do you have them there for your country?" Maybe other people had said that. I can't believe they would move just on what I said, but maybe other people had commented on that, or maybe they'd been brooding about it themselves, because shortly after I left, I read stories in the papers that a lot of those portraits of Marx and Lenin on the main square had come down. Now, of course, things have toughened up. Maybe they're back. I don't know.
Currie: What were some of the challenges in covering China?
Mosby: It was easier than Russia. As I said, we had a cook, we had something to eat, decent restaurants, nice people. Oh, I don't know. Of course, the official announcements and things of the government, we just had to get them off of Xinhua. It was very difficult to get news from the foreign ministry. But the challenges, I think, were just in trying to travel around the country and do stories, especially when I wasn't fluent in the language.
Currie: Did you have to take a translator with you when you traveled?
Mosby: There was one story I wanted to do. I wanted to do a series of stories on religion in China, because [in] what I had been reading, just reading in the stories written before the American correspondents were in there, the stories that were written from outside of China or stories written in Time or Newsweek, or maybe even in the British press, there was such emphasis placed on Christianity and the fact that the Christian churches were open again and people could go. Almost any story that you read on China discussed Christianity. Well, I had been looking around. I had been to some temples, seeing what was going on in the way of religion. Most Confucian temples had been turned into something else, and most of them were closed. I had been to the Christian church and looked into that and so forth. It's absurd. Christianity is a drop in the bucket there. It's just a few million people! That's not China.
So I decided to do a series on religions, not just Christianity. That's what I mean about putting things into focus and doing something on the Confucians and on the Buddhists and the Hindus and so forth. So I did a series on religion. When I got back to Paris, I won a French prize in wire service journalism that's awarded every year on a worldwide basis, the Cabanes.
Currie: For that series on religion?
Mosby: I don't know, but I think that's what UPI had entered, that series on religion. Anyway, that series was just fascinating and I just loved it. It was very interesting.
Currie: How did you go about reporting that series?
Mosby: As I said, I went to the Christian church that was open and interviewed people there. I looked into Confucianism and talked to people about exactly what it means to people, and do people still practice it. I went to whatever else was around. I can't remember.
Then I did another piece. It was hard tracking down to see if there was any Jewish religion. I was at an embassy reception. I don't know if it was the American Embassy or what else, but there was either a son or a daughter there of a very famous American Jewish musician. Maybe it was Isaac Stern's son or daughter or somebody like that. I think it was Isaac Stern. Yes, because he was in China and gave a concert there. That's right. Which I covered, I remember, and that was a big event. This person said there was a paper written by somebody in a Jewish institution in New York, some sort of a school, on the history of Jews in China and on the fact that the biggest town they had lived in was Kaifung.
So I called the foreign ministry and I told him about that. The man said, "Oh, there aren't any Jews in China." I just kept pestering him. But he said, "There aren't any left. There aren't any here." I said, "They said it's in this town." Then he said, "Well, it's been closed to foreigners. Nobody there." I said, "This is a harmless story." I talked him into it, after about a month on the phone. So off I took on a train to this place.
Currie: With your translator?
Mosby: No. You'd always get a translator when you'd get there. I stopped first in—what's the big city that beings with H, that's below Peking? I'll have to look on a map. Because somebody had said that they had heard that there used to be Jews there. There was a Jewish cemetery there, but when I got there and asked everybody, they just said that it doesn't exist, that it must have been leveled out down the centuries, it just wasn't there anymore. But I remember going to a Christian church there. There I got a China Travel Service guide to take me around, and I said, "There's a small Christian church that has reopened now. I want to see it." She was insulted, like the Russians were in Moscow if you asked something like that. She said she would wait outside while I went inside; she refused to go in. I stood in the doorway. I couldn't even get in, it was so crowded. Finally, she came up and looked over my shoulder, and I told her, "Look, it's just jammed with people singing in Chinese, Christian hymns that I remember from my childhood." It was just fascinating. I talked to some of the people and they spoke English. I didn't even have to ask the girl to help. The older people spoke English, and they said that they had a hard time rounding up the pews and all the furniture, because that had all been taken out during the cultural revolution, but they finally had gotten them back. The guide was very amazed, you know, that there were that many people.
Anyway, I couldn't find any record of the Jews there, so off I went to Kaifung which I had heard about. I had had an appointment to have one of these Chinese travel agency guides, somebody from the government to meet me at the train station. He took me to a hotel. It was okay; it wasn't great. But then he said, "I don't understand why you're here. There were Jews that lived here. I can't remember what century. The Jews had been chased out of Egypt, the exodus centuries ago. A lot of them had come into Europe, going through the southern part of what is now the Soviet Union, and had come to China." That's what I was trying to track down. I wasn't interested in Jewish immigrants who had come there during World War II from Russia;
that's nothing. Like this man in the foreign ministry in Peking just kept insisting, he wasn't trying to cover up anything; he just didn't know anything about it because he was quite a bit younger than I was and didn't know any of this had happened.
The government man in Kaifung didn't understand what I was talking about. He showed me there had been a museum. These things had been a museum, but they were just in the basement, some horrible, dusty building that had been there a long time. There were stele, the big tablets of stone that sit outside a synagogue and have letters on them. Some of these were in Hebrew and then there was a translation in Chinese on the same stone, and there were a lot of very interesting old things like that, that would date back many centuries. He said, "These people are all gone. There's nothing like this anymore." He spoke a very strange English. He had learned English, I think, in 1930. [Laughter.] We didn't understand each other very well.
Then I kept saying, "I've heard that there still are some Jews living here. There just must be." This had been going on all through dinner and then the next day. He'd take me around, saying, "Where are these people? I don't understand." Finally I remembered an English word that Chinese often use—"ancestors." So I asked him, "Are there any ancestors of Jews here?"
He smiled broadly. "Of course," he cried. "I know several!" Off we went to visit three families—of Jews.
[End Tape 3, Side A; Begin Tape 3, Side B]
Mosby: At first the Jews were hesitant to talk to me, but then they could tell I was sincere.
Currie: About doing a story about them?
Mosby: Yes, that I was sincere and I wasn't from the police or anything bad. It was extremely interesting. [Laughter.] Oh, if I hadn't thought of that word! It was just by a lucky stroke. I never would have met any of these people. He took me to one. The first one—in fact, they all had slant eyes because they were intermarried, you know, down the centuries with Chinese. But these are the descendants of the—I forget what year the Jews migrated there, but it was a long, long time ago, you know. What [year] B.C? I can't remember, but it's a long time ago. They were still there, but they had intermarried.
The first one was living in a very simple, rustic dwelling, and he was a large man. I met his wife, who was Chinese. He said that all religions, of course, were persecuted during the cultural revolution, even more so than they had been when Mao came in. He said, "We take our children to the Christian church that's been reopened," which I saw there, Presbyterian, as I recall. "It's been reopened, and we take our children there because Christianity is the closest thing to the Jewish religion."
Currie: But they were still practicing in some way?
Mosby: I said, "Do you respect Jewish holidays?" No, he didn't. And diet, no, they didn't do that. But he knew that his ancestry was Jewish.
Then I went to the next family, and they were much better off. They had a nice large apartment and shared a toilet room and a bathroom with only one other family, which was pretty good. They were an older couple and then a younger son, and then there was a baby. It was a male baby running around and it didn't seem to me that he'd been circumcised, but I'm not sure.
I asked the question, but there was a great confusion. I'm not sure they understood, because they didn't speak any English at all. I had to do all this through the translator. So I'm not sure if the boy was circumcised or not. Anyway, they were very frank. They were much more educated than the first man. They said that during the cultural revolution they really felt they had to stay in hiding and keep out of everybody's way.
Then I noticed that he was wearing a cap, just like the first man had worn a cap. I hadn't asked the first man why he wore that cap, and I asked the second man. I said, "I'm just curious about the cap." He said, "We have to disguise the fact that we have curly hair," and he took off the cap to show me his hair was curly.
Currie: Why did he have to disguise that?
Mosby: Well, if you have curly hair, you're not a real Chinese, you see. Their hair is perfectly straight. It would mean that he was of some other ethnic group, and they were trying to pass as Chinese during the cultural revolution. I don't remember if he said they didn't wear caps then, but they were trying to pass as Chinese. Because they had intermarried, they all had slightly slanted eyes. I took a picture of that family. I can't remember what they said if they observed Jewish holidays, but I asked them, "Do you and your family know that you're Jews and where you are from?" He said, "Oh, yes." This was way out in the boondocks. They couldn't listen to any foreign radio or anything. I mean, this was way, very far away from Peking. I asked them, "Do you know that there's a state of Israel?" Oh, they all nodded, "Yes! Yes!" [Laughter.] They knew. It was fascinating. This was a small community.
Currie: What drove you? You had to be very persistent to get this story.
Mosby: Well, I just thought it was a marvelous story. I mean, nobody ever thought of there being real Jews in China. My God! One had never heard of such a thing. I'm not talking about Jews who had migrated from the Soviet Union or refugees from some other European country or something, but Jews having been there since B.C., you know. I got a lot of letters from Jews in the United States on that story.
Currie: I bet you did.
Mosby: That was really exciting. As you said, persistence. I was just determined to get it. You asked me if there was an example of a story like that. I'd forgotten about this. That does show that if you really keep hammering away, you'll get it.
Currie: One of the people I talked to described your style as very feminine, but really persistent.
Mosby: Yes. I'm sort of a light writer, I think you would say. Henry Shapiro would have written it in a different way.
Currie: You mean the actual writing of the story.
Currie: But also your style in getting the story.
Mosby: Yes. We were very busy in Beijing. We were so busy that year, because all the American politicians wanted to come there. There started to be some tourists, too, who would come and visit us.
I can't remember the exact figures, but we must have had at least twenty-five senators and mayors and governors, more than that; I would say more like thirty-five. They were all coming, I suppose, on expense accounts, all coming to see China and meet the Chinese and talk to the Chinese officials and so forth. They all had to be covered, because if a mayor came from Detroit, the Detroit press would demand coverage, which was great, because I got to go on with the visitors all over Peking to special meetings and to special things that the Chinese officials were showing them, and then go out of town with them on official trips. So I got to see quite a bit of China that way.
Currie: Could you spin off stories from a trip like that?
Mosby: Oh, yes. Then do something else. Yes. Like this city, Sian, they had been excavating underneath, and there were all these life-size statues of soldiers on horses. It's all underground, and these statues that had been there for thousands of years had never been uncovered before. They were just starting to do that when I went there. I wrote something on that.
Then we were in Kunming with the green mountains that go up like this. It's been written about by millions. You've seen a million photographs, because everybody's been photographing it and writing about that. It's a great tourist center.
I remember once we were taken to see what Chinese farms are like. We went to see real farms and real farm houses. Of course, I'm interested in old farm houses and was all ready to buy one. [Laughter.] And I saw how Chinese farmers live, where they keep their clothes, their beds, and all those things were just fascinating.
Currie: Did Xinhua arrange that?
Mosby: No, it would be through the press department of the government foreign ministry.
Currie: Xinhua is the Chinese news agency, comparable to Tass.
Mosby: Yes. The foreign ministry would arrange those junkets, and they were trying to be helpful. I remember they arranged a junket to a farm to show us how Peking ducks are raised and slaughtered, etc.
Currie: It sounds like they did a pretty good job of providing you with lots of features.
Mosby: They were trying. They really tried. Of course, things that were politically safe, no problem about that.
Currie: Did you ever run into trouble if you wanted to cover a story they didn't want you to cover?
Mosby: Of course, since then there has been a lot of trouble with the dissidents, but when I was there, I went to some demonstrations on Tiananmen Square. The dissidents had surfaced just before I got there. The wall in Peking, where they put up posters, so many of the posters were dissident. Of course there were dissidents. This huge wall in Peking was covered with these posters, and one of our jobs was to go there with the translator and look at them. We would try to go a couple of times a week, at least, to look and see what they were saying and whom they were attacking and what they were asking for. I think the government noticed that the Western press, especially the Americans, were writing about this. The wall became known as "democracy wall."
Finally we were tipped by somebody—I forget who—that the police were going to go in and rip down all those posters. I don't remember how we found out about that. Anyway, I was there. I think I got there about midnight, and a couple of other journalists were there. We waited around for maybe two hours. Finally, the police arrived about two in the morning and started tearing all these posters down. I picked up some of the fragments and I made them into a collage, which is still sitting in my house on Menorca Island in Spain. Maybe I should bring it back to Paris and hang it in my apartment there. I made a collage out of these bits of papers. It was sad to see all that.
Currie: Did you get in trouble for writing that story?
Mosby: Oh, no. Everybody wrote it. The journalists who weren't there gradually heard about it and came later. We were there some hours. I don't remember anybody getting into trouble for that. I think they're much tougher now than they were then.
Currie: You didn't have any kind of censor like in the Soviet Union?
Mosby: No. They could see what we were writing, of course, because they were tapping the wires, of course, the teletypes that we used. We punched our own copy, too, I remember. Oh, those machines were so ancient.
Currie: Into the teletype?
Mosby: Punching the teletype and then getting the tape out and then putting it in the machine to send it to our Hong Kong bureau. It was very old-fashioned. Yes, that democracy wall was very exciting, and sort of disappointing, in a way.
Currie: How was it disappointing?
Mosby: You felt that people were really expressing themselves, having freedom of speech and freedom of the press, dissidents' speech and press. I'm trying to remember, when we were on Tiananmen Square, whether there were dissidents talking. I don't remember that. I don't think it had gone that far then. I'm not sure.
Currie: I asked if you had any trouble getting a story.
Mosby: I remember being at a reception and Deng Xiaoping was there, sitting in his chair. I said to one of the translators, the foreign ministry people, that I would like to talk to him. They said, "Sure." They pulled up a stool and we talked for a few minutes.
Currie: Do you remember what you talked to him about?
Mosby: No, I don't remember that.
Currie: What was your impression of him?
Mosby: He was very lively, and you just felt that he was in favor of opening up the country. He had formed ties with the United States, and everything seemed to be relaxing there.
Currie: You probably couldn't pull up a chair and talk to George Bush.
Mosby: [Laughter.] Well, I don't know. I guess not. This was at a reception for something, the official receptions we went to in Peking. When I was on the road with all these governors and mayors and so forth, the food was marvelous. I'm sorry that when tourists go there now, you ask Americans, "How did you like it?" and they say, "Oh, we didn't like it very much. The food was terrible." A lot of the ordinary restaurants and some of the smaller hotels, the food was not very interesting, but the banquets that we got—oh, my God! They were just as beautifully made as that vegetarian fish I told you about. There would be a huge heap of food in the center, arranged in various layers, almost like a wedding cake, tens of different dishes, and you would just pick off what you wanted. You could just eat forever! I didn't like their sweet wine. And that mao tai, you had to be careful of that and not drink more than a couple of those little shot glasses. It was like vodka.
Currie: What did you do for social life in China?
Mosby: There wasn't very much, of course, but what there was, as in Moscow, you'd be invited to dinner at some correspondent's house. Phillip Short, of the BBC, became a friend. They used to ask me over. He was posted in Paris. Now he's in Asia again, in Tokyo. I hear him on BBC in the morning. Then the AP crowd. The French correspondents were very friendly to me because I had come from Paris, so they felt that I could be accepted in their group. So I had dinner at some of the French correspondents' homes. I was the only American journalist to be invited to the July 14 cocktail party at the French Embassy.
Currie: For Bastille Day.
Mosby: Yes. So, wow! I was very proud to be accepted by the French. [Laughter.] I got to know some of the British correspondents and was invited to their places. More American correspondents came in after the agencies had been there about six months. They admitted the New York Times. That was Fox Butterfield, who wrote that story on the Kennedy rape case on the front page of the Times.* "Butterfox," we called him.
Currie: Why Butterfox?
Mosby: I don't know.
Then a month or so after that, the Washington Post came in. Jay Mathews was with the Washington Post. I see his byline. He's in California now. A couple of other correspondents came after that.
One of the stories I wanted to do was on Peking Man, because that area where his bones were found had been closed to Westerners. I wanted to go where that was discovered. And that didn't take too long, but a few weeks, then that voyage was okayed by the foreign ministry. I remember I went with my goddaughter. One of my goddaughters was visiting me then in Beijing. She went with me. I got permission for her to go with me, and also the daughter of my co-worker, Bob Crabbe, the one who had been going to school in Tokyo. His daughter was visiting from Tokyo, so she came, too. We went with our chauffeur. It was a pretty far distance, a five-hour ride or so, in a car. That was just fascinating, because they hadn't had any Westerners there before to see the tiny little museum and tiny little souvenir shop. I bought something there in the
* A story about a Florida woman who brought rape charges against Senator Ted Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith.
souvenir shop. About the only thing they had was an ashtray in the form of an ape, a brown ape, and he was sitting like this, with one hand propped under his chin, and he was smoking a cigarette. [Laughter.] The Chinese smoke like chimneys! Oh, they smoke even more than the Russians do. The Russians smoke, too. They still do. The Chinese are even worse.
That stop was fascinating. That took a bit of persistence, too, to get that. It isn't that the foreign ministry thought there was anything wrong about it; they were just slow in the hierarchy and the bureaucracy of setting up a trip like that. It eventually came about.
The press department of the foreign ministry took the correspondents to Tibet, the first time that Western correspondents had been there. Bob Crabbe, my colleague, went on that one, so I didn't go.
Currie: It sounds fascinating. At the end of the year, were you ready to go or disappointed to go?
Mosby: I could have stayed on another six months, but in the first place, Ray Wilkinson was so eager to come there. He had arrived early, before I left China, and in order to get in, he had to marry the woman he was living with, because they wouldn't let them in unless they were married. He also brought in his two big dogs. They all came in from Nairobi. He was so excited to be there. I remember we went for a walk to look and see what the city was like, and he wasn't terribly intrigued. He wasn't used to working in Communist countries and he didn't understand why he just couldn't go running off to do what he wanted to. He didn't like that at all. He wasn't there very long, after all the trouble of shipping him from Africa to China with his dogs.
Currie: The Chinese wouldn't let him in with his live-in?
Currie: It wasn't UPI.
Mosby: Oh, no. No, the Chinese. They didn't think that was proper. You had to be legally married, so they got married. [Laughter.]
Currie: Then you went back to UPI in Paris.
Currie: What year were you in China?
Mosby: The two countries formed diplomatic relations in December of 1978, as I recall. Then the correspondents were allowed in about the first of February 1979. Bob Crabbe went first, because I was still waiting for the Paris bureau manager to get the act together there. I came in the end of February.
Currie: And stayed a year.
Mosby: A little bit more than a year. I didn't leave until June, so I was there a year and three months or so, like that.
Currie: So you were back in Paris in June?
Mosby: No. I wanted to go on the Peking to Moscow train, the Trans-Siberian Express and to go through Mongolia. That was more persistence. The Mongolian Embassy, I'd go over there to ask for a visa and sit and nothing would happen. I finally gave up. I mentioned this to the Soviet press attaché, whom I had gotten to know, who was a very, very nice fellow and very open, really a nice man. He said, "I'll get you a visa," because, of course, at that time Mongolia was under the Soviet thumb. So he went over there and told them to give me a visa, so they gave me a visa. He told me about it later. I said, "Why didn't they give me one?" He said, "They said that an American diplomat had tried to enter Mongolia recently and had been thrown out." We didn't have any diplomatic relations with them, and American diplomats weren't supposed to come into Mongolia. He had come on a train. They thought that he was a spy and they thought that because they couldn't let him in, that the embassy was sending me. I laughed and laughed, and my Russian friend knew perfectly well that journalists don't work for the American Embassy. So he told them to the effect, "Oh, she's too dumb to be a spy. Don't worry." [Laughter.] So thanks to him, I got in. That was quite exciting.
Friends saw me off at the station on the train that goes from Peking to [Ulan] Bator, and that was quite fascinating, talking to the Chinese on the train. There was one other foreigner there, a Swedish person. He wasn't a journalist. He'd been in Vietnam. He wanted to visit Communist countries, had been visiting Vietnam, he'd been in China, and he was off to the Soviet Union.
We got to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, and I got off. I was one of the very few Westerners on the train, but the only one to get off, anyway. The British ambassador was at the railway station to get the diplomatic pouch. He had such a small staff there that he had to go himself to the train station to pick up the diplomatic pouch bag from the British Embassy in Peking. I knew him. I'd known him when I worked for UPI at the United Nations. He remembered me and I remembered him, and we were just staring at each other. It was very strange. We hugged each other and so forth. He said, "You must come over for dinner." He was so excited to see somebody he could talk to. [Laughter.] The whole Mongolian scene, I just laughed the whole period I was there. It was really an unforgettable experience.
There was somebody there from the foreign ministry to meet me, and she took me to the hotel, the main hotel. There I met the French ambassador to Mongolia, and he was living in the hotel. He, too, was thrilled to see me, to see a Westerner come in. He said, "You must come to lunch!" [Laughter.] I went to lunch in his apartment. His suite in the hotel room served as his embassy. Oh, he was so weary with this Mongolian he had waiting on his table. He said, "She never pours the wine correctly. She never gets the right wine glasses out." [Laughter.] Very French touch. It was very funny. The British ambassador asked me to lunch. He and his wife lived much better; they had a whole house. He had some nice people to dinner for me to meet. The British ambassador's wife was waiting on the table. She said her maid could not wait tables properly. [Laughter.] Oh, the whole thing was just such fun. Can you imagine anything like that in an ambassador's official home? Oh, God, it was really funny.
The ambassador's wife was very nice. She said, "There's a flea market." I said, "Oh, really?" She said, "Yes. Let's go to the flea market." The next day, this person who was in charge of me from the foreign ministry was picking me up in a limousine and taking me to show me the city and so forth. We hadn't made any arrangement to do anything in the morning, only in the afternoon, to go visit those tents called yurts in which many Mongolians live. I called the British ambassador's wife in the morning and said, "Could we go to the flea market about noon?" She said, "Oh, you shouldn't have phoned me. I was going to come over and get you in the car. I'm sure they've heard you say this, and you won't be going to the flea market." My phone, of course,
was tapped. The Mongolians didn't want anybody to see the flea market because it was, to them, not Communist progress, and something they would just be ashamed of. It wasn't "construction towards communism," as the Soviets would say.
Currie: So did you get to the flea market?
Mosby: Oh, no. The foreign ministry, after listening to my tapped phone call, called about an hour later and said, "We're picking you up at eleven-thirty." [Laughter.] So I never got to the flea market. Anyway, so I went to visit the yurts, and it was very interesting seeing those huts. They are well made and comfortable and very nice to live in. They took me to see the other sites, some of the Soviet-style Communist-built buildings that were very ugly. When we came on the train, by the way, you could see camels on the desert. It was really quite thrilling to see that. They showed me the sites of the city, and it wasn't a very big city, but I would have loved to have written something about those tents they lived in. I didn't write anything there. I could see that I better not phone UPI in Moscow to dictate anything while I was there.
What else did I see? Well, I never got to the flea market, but I bought a folklore robe there. The official guide took me to a shop where they take tourists to buy robes. It was plain that just as in Moscow, somebody on each floor of the hotel keeps an eye on you to check you in and out of your room, to make sure you are going to your room. The Mongolians indeed copied the Soviet Union. They had all those iconic pictures of the leaders around, Marx and Engels and Lenin and all that, and they also had these spies on each floor. I felt I had nothing to hide, except going to the flea market. I shouldn't have said that on the phone, but I didn't care if they followed me around.
I was there a week. I had to wait a week for the next train to Moscow. The trains only ran once a week. I went to the theater. I don't remember what that was like. After I'd been there a couple of days, they said, "The foreign minister and the press department of the foreign ministry is ready to receive you." So we had an appointment for me to go and pay my respects. So my limousine was waiting out in front of the hotel, and I get in the limousine, and the driver does a U-turn on the street and parks across the street. I said, "What's this?" He said, "This is the foreign ministry." I thought, "They're getting ridiculous."
Mosby: Anyway, I went up and talked to the foreign minister and we had an interesting conversation, but I forget what about now. Anyway, as we left the foreign ministry, I began to think about this car. I said, "Oh, this limousine is a foreign ministry car, I assume?" My guide said, "No, not really. It's hired for you, and the price is (something like) $200 a day." I said, "Well, I didn't realize that. I really don't need a car because the city center is rather small, and I could be walking to the theater or wherever we are going. I really don't need a car." So after that day, I paid her and I said, "I don't need it anymore." I guess I probably lost face by doing that, but working for UPI, I was used to trying to keep expenses low, and this was just outrageous.
Currie: So they didn't tell you what the price was ahead of time?
Mosby: No. I didn't even know that the car was hired for me. I thought it was a foreign ministry car. They had met me at the station and were showing me around as their guest. In other Communist countries, that's what they would do if you were a high-ranking visitor, and apparently I was, because I was the first Western correspondent there in some time, and the first American there for many years. There weren't any other Americans there. We didn't have an
embassy there. I just assumed it was a foreign ministry car and they were just giving me the regal treatment. So that was the end of that. It was absurd, because you could easily walk to the theater around the corner or to the shops. They were five minutes away! It was nothing. I already had seen the sights outside the city, the tents and desert and all of that. I didn't need the car.
I remember when I was buying my train ticket to Moscow, there were some Russian diplomats next to me, buying theirs. They, too, had to buy them with dollars, not rubles. I remember there were all those dollars spread out on the counter. Fortunately I had enough dollars left to buy my ticket.
Then we got on the train. This time there were a lot of Soviet soldiers on the train going to Moscow. This was a Russian train. I was trying to find my seat, and I couldn't find it. I was looking for the compartment. Russians are very friendly when you get them away from the bureaucracy. This Soviet man and his wife in their compartment—there was room for three people, and I was waiting to find out where my compartment was, and they said, "Oh, come on in. Sit down." I said I was an American journalist. Oh, they got out the vodka, you know, and they had some food. They gave me some lunch. Then I looked up on the wall where they had hung their coats and there was a Soviet Army hat, an officer's hat and coat. I thought, "Oh, my God! What do they think of an American sitting here? There I am surrounded by the Soviet military." I looked around in a lot of the other cars and the train must have been at least half filled with Soviet military, half. Then some Russian civilians and some Mongolians. The only other Westerner was a Swedish man, the one I mentioned who was visiting Communist countries to see if he liked communism—he had been in China and didn't like that much. He visited Outer Mongolia and didn't like that. He didn't like Russia, either. So he came to the conclusion the West was the best after all.
I finally found my compartment. Some of the Russians came to my compartment and said, "We hear that an American is on the train. We want to talk to you." So I said, "Sure." So I went to their compartment, and they started to needle me with all the propaganda that they'd read in Pravda about the United States and so forth—what about the Negroes in the South and all that, you know. I was making speeches about the Soviet Union. We had a very lively argument. I was telling them that their press tells a lot of lies, that the United States isn't what they think it is, and it always says something about Communist propaganda, and they were yelling back. Finally, the conductor stuck his head in the door, so much noise going on. He looked at me and said, "You go back to your seat!" [Laughter.] So I went back to my seat and I thought, "Oh, my God!" I'd had that doping experience in Moscow, and here I am sticking my nose into things. I'm going to get in trouble again. Oh, I was scared. After that, a lot of Russians came up to me and wanted to talk to me, and I said, "No, I don't feel well," and I clung to this Swedish man the rest of the trip. Oh, I was getting more nervous as every day went by! [Laughter.]
There wasn't much food after the first day on this train, and you hopped off when they stopped in a Russian station and bought the things that babushkas were selling in the station. There was certainly a lot of tea, but not much food the last few days. It was a fascinating ride to go through Siberia and see all of that. I can't remember how many days it took to get from Ulan Batar to Moscow, but it was quite a long haul.
When we got to Moscow, the UPI correspondents were at the station to meet me, and I could have cried with joy to see them, that I managed to get off that train without being arrested and hauled off. [Laughter.] Then I stayed in Moscow for a week to write my stories from Mongolia, and also a story on my train, the Trans-Siberian Express, that famous
Mongolia-to-Moscow train which at that time hardly any Westerners had been on. It was 1980. So I didn't see much of Moscow then, because I was so tired. I couldn't have stayed longer in China. I just couldn't have. When I got back to Paris, my friends hardly recognized me. They said, "You're so thin." I was much thinner than I am now.
Currie: And you're thin now.
Mosby: My clothes were just hanging on me. I was so tired. I had worked seven days a week, sixteen-hour days, in Beijing. I hadn't had a vacation. I just said, "I'm leaving for a while," and I went down to Menorca and just collapsed there. Then I went to the States for a while. I didn't go back to UPI in Paris for about three months, until I gained some weight back and felt better. I was pretty tired.
[End Tape 3, Side B; Begin Tape 4, Side A]
Mosby: I had investigated a Scripps-Howard job in Washington. That was just writing women's-page stories, and I didn't want to do that. So I went back to Paris. I didn't want to go to New York. I didn't know where else to go, so I went back to Paris. I thought, "Well, I'll go back to Paris and then look around a while," but life goes by very quickly in Paris because it's such a joy, you know. The next thing I knew, the years had gone by and I'm still there.
Currie: In the early eighties is when UPI started having problems.
Currie: How did that affect the bureau?
Mosby: Scripps-Howard sold UPI for $1 to three young men.
Currie: It was primarily Doug Ruhe and Bill Geisler, and then they had a minority partner, Len Small, Jr.
Mosby: That's right. Len Small, that's the name. His mother had come to Paris several times, and we were friends. I was also friends with him. He worked for a while at UPI in Paris.
Currie: He did work for UPI.
Mosby: For a while. He wasn't planning to stay forever. He wanted to learn the business because he was going to take it over from his mother.
Currie: They were a publishing family.
Mosby: That's right. I stayed with them in their town near Chicago, Kankakee. When I visited them I asked him, "What do you think about these people who bought UPI?" He was being very cagey, and he said he was going to pull out, but he wouldn't say why. He apparently was afraid that the word would get around that he thought they weren't going to ever do a good job and it would hurt the company. He just didn't want to say anything. The sale wasn't concluded right away when I came back from China.
Currie: I think the sale actually went through in 1982.
Mosby: Yes, that sounds more like it. It was maybe a year, at least, before things began to fall apart and they began to sell off everything. They sold all of UPI's assets. They sold the photo department to Reuters. They sold their share of the UPI television film business to ITN of England and ABC of America. They sold the financial wire, it broke off and became independent. United Features Syndicate also went its own way—that's Snoopy and Garfield and so forth. We always had a United Feature person in the Paris office; that was gone. There was nothing left but the news service, the sports wire and the news wire. That was all.
Currie: How did you see things change at the Paris bureau?
Mosby: Of course, the offices became empty as all these people left, and UPI rented out the empty offices to various other media people from other countries. Let me think. Who was there when all this happened? I'm trying to remember when they started to cut down on the staff. I can't remember. But when did I quit? I think in 1986. By the time that I quit, there were only two of us left. I was in charge of the bureau, and Ron Popeski was the only other correspondent, and he was looking for another job and got one at Reuters. In fact, they sent him to Moscow. I saw him in Moscow last December. He's still with Reuters.
Currie: So what had been an eight-person bureau became a two-person bureau?
Mosby: There were about eighty people when I went there first in the sixties, eighty people, including eight in the English language service. The French service had closed before UPI was sold, because it was losing money and doing very badly. So that wiped out a very large part of the staff in the office. I'm not sure what year that was. Anyway, the English-language staff became two, plus a bookkeeper and an errand boy, so there were four of us. Then since I quit, the errand boy was fired and the bookkeeper was fired and the bookkeeping for all the UPI bureaus now is done out of London, by just one office. It's sad.
Currie: Why did you finally decide to leave?
Mosby: I decided in 1984, about a year before I quit, that I would quit, but I was trying to get up courage to do it. When you've been with a company that long, I thought, "Oh, my God. What am I going to do? Should I look for another job? What should I do?" I wasn't sure. I was looking into the pension. I paid my Paris American lawyer a big hunk of money to look into the pension. That took about a year to check into that and decide whether to take the lump sum, which they had bargained down to about half what I should have had, or to take a pension. If UPI went into bankruptcy, it would only be the people already on pension that would be insured, not those who would get the pension after the company folded. I finally decided to take the lump sum after an executive of the New York Times wrote and said he heard I might quit, and I was going to freelance, and he offered me a yearly fee to use up freelancing. I remember that was in about June, so I decided then that I would leave in September, after I would get my paid vacation.
So I told UPI, when I was down in Menorca. I sent a letter saying that when I'd come back to work, I'd only be there the month of September. So the first of October, I'd be out. That's when I quit, in 1985.*
* Mosby later wrote, "My first freelance job for the New York Times was covering [Mikhail] Gorbachev's wife Raisa when they visited Paris, their second trip to the West."
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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