Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: Aline, good morning.
Mosby: Good morning.
Currie: To start this morning, would you tell us a little bit about how you became a journalist?
Mosby: Well, I decided, when I was eight years old, that I would become a journalist. I think it was because my uncle was on the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter. He lived in San Francisco, of course, and I was born and brought up in Missoula, Montana. Now and then he would come up there to visit us. I always liked him because he gave me nickels and dimes and was very affectionate, which my father wasn't so much. Possibly that's why I became attached to him. And also my father was in the news business, in a way. He built the first radio station in Missoula, Montana, and later the first television station. So I grew up in an atmosphere of radio stations and newscasts and so forth.
So I studied journalism in high school. I think it was for two years. I'm not sure. I worked on the high school newspaper. Then, fortunately, the University of Montana, which is in Missoula, right near my home, had, and still has, a very good journalism school. At the time I went, it was rated fourth in the United States. There are a lot more journalism schools now in the United States. So that was my major in university.
Currie: What year did you graduate from journalism school?
Mosby: In 1943, right in the middle of the war. So it was very easy to get a job, because, alas, there weren't many young men around. In those days, of course, there were very few women in active journalism.
Currie: Your first job wasn't for UPI, I know, but it was your second or third job. How did you get on with UPI?
Mosby: When I was in university, I had decided I wanted to work on fashion magazines instead of being a journalist, and so I won this prize, which I think they still give to college women to put out a guest edition, so to speak, of Mademoiselle magazine in New York. So I was editor-in-chief of that. But after one month's experience, I decided I wanted nothing to do with fashion magazines. [Laughter.]
So I got a job as an apprentice on Time magazine, but I didn't like that. I wasn't over-enthusiastic about that, and also I didn't like New York City at that time. So through my father, who was a United Press client, I got a job as a reporter for United Press in Seattle, Washington, a long ways away, the other end of the nation. So that's where I started with UPI. I stayed with them for thirty-nine years. [Laughter.]
Currie: What is the difference between a wire service and a newspaper?
Mosby: A reporter on a newspaper has a more narrow outlook because they're covering just one area, sometimes just one city or one county or one part of the state. So they look for completely different stories that affect people locally, while a wire service reporter looks for stories, if you're working on a national scale or international scale, that are of interest to a great number of people, different areas. So it's quite different.
Of course, there are wire service bureaus in every state and capital who do cover local stories just for that region, and they would write that sort of thing. But they would keep more of a neutral attitude, I would say, of really bending over backwards to be objective and quite neutral, because they are serving, of course, all different sorts of clients, radio stations and television stations and newspapers. So you're just not writing for one company. It is quite different.
Currie: When you started with UPI, there were two other wire services, AP and INS.
Mosby: Yes, in the United States.
Currie: But the real rivalry was always been UPI and AP.
Mosby: Yes. INS was smaller, and also it was organized by the Hearst newspaper chain and, in a way, would cover stories, I think, with the idea of the Hearst newspapers, which might have made that a little bit different. But, no, it was always Associated Press that was the big rival with UPI.
Currie: What were the differences between AP and UPI?
Mosby: The AP, as you know, is a cooperative with member newspapers joining, and they pay dues, so to speak. That's quite different from UPI, which is always operated as a private enterprise trying to make money, which they still are trying to do and in not as good condition as when I worked with them. Therefore, the AP had much more dignity, we shall say. I would say perhaps the colder, tougher—well, not tougher, but a colder, more corporation-type atmosphere, while UPI was almost like a family atmosphere, where people were paid less, but had a great team spirit and probably worked even harder than the AP. UPI was always known for that, and I think probably it still is that way. The people were just friendlier and there was always a good spirit.
I worked in many UPI bureaus, and I don't remember ever working in one where there was animosity among the correspondents and the reporters. I mean, there always would be difficulties, but not really animosity or jealousy. There's plenty of bylines to go around, you know, so why fight for them? It was more fun, I would say, than working for AP, from what I've heard of Associated Press reporters whom I know and have talked to.
Currie: Was there any difference in the style of reporting between AP and UPI?
Mosby: In the case of some stories, UPI might have been livelier, more relaxed, more bouncy, but it would depend on the story. I'm not sure about that. I think the AP might have even sent maybe longer stories, but that would take a lot of research to make a judgment exactly.
Currie: You mentioned you were in a number of different bureaus. I know from Seattle you went to Los Angeles for a number of years, but I'd like to skip that and go right to your assignment to the Soviet Union. Could you talk about how you got that assignment?
Mosby: I had gone to Europe and was talking with Tom Curran, who at that time was the vice president in charge of the European management. At that time the Soviet Union allowed two correspondents for each agency in the Soviet Union, but no more. He had the idea that there should be more, and he particularly wanted somebody who would go in and write about the people as well as the social problems, as well as the political angles. I think one reason that Americans had a lot of trouble understanding the Soviet Union and seeing it just in a one-sided way was because they never read anything in their magazines or newspapers, really, about what the country was like. Now, of course, it's quite different.
So he wanted to send me there not just to cover the politics that we were allowed to write about, but also to write about the people in more human interest things.
Currie: What year was that?
Mosby: I think it was 1958 when UPI applied for the visa. It took about six months or four months, something like that, to come through. I was working in the London bureau and it finally did. I think the time I got there was 1959. I remember it was winter and snowing and very cold. [Laughter.]
Currie: Was this considered a plum assignment?
Mosby: Oh, yes. Yes. It was very exciting. I went by train to Berlin and then over to East Berlin to get on the train that went to the Soviet Union. That was extremely exciting to go across that vast land that was such a mystery to the Western world, and I just couldn't believe I was there. It was very exciting.
Currie: I think you were the only American woman in the Soviet Union as a correspondent at that point.
Mosby: Yes. At first I was the only female correspondent there, and then a Paris newspaper, France Soir, sent in a woman correspondent a bit later. Otherwise there weren't any more.
Currie: Women have said that they had a hard time getting foreign assignments. This was really a good one.
Currie: Why do you think you got it?
Mosby: Because, in the first place, I wanted to go, but I think it was mainly because UPI wanted to get some warmth, so to speak, in the Moscow reporting and to have wider coverage, a third correspondent there. In addition to doing the daily news, then everybody in the office could write more about the country and what was going on there with the people. So I was the test case.
As I recall, I think I went in on a temporary visa, and then they made it permanent. So instantly the other news organizations there, the Associated Press and the New York Times, and correspondents from other countries began to apply for more correspondents, too. I think the Soviets realized it was to their advantage to have more coverage, so then the rule was then three correspondents to an office. Now I don't know what the limit is. It's quite different now. Moscow is quite different now.
Currie: Maybe you could describe for us the arrangement for UPI in Moscow when you arrived in 1959.
Mosby: The bureau was at Number Thirteen Narodnaya Ulitsa, which means Peoples' Street. It was one of the many buildings in Moscow in which diplomats were given offices and foreign businessmen and foreign journalists, with a policeman out in front to examine everyone coming in and the phones all tapped and so forth, which is still the case. I was there just a few months ago, and they still have the policemen in front of all these buildings housing foreigners, and the foreigners are still there.
Some of the correspondents thought that was rather uncomfortable and unfair, but I never thought so. You felt safe from criminals with the policemen out in front, checking everyone who came in the building, and, of course, we got better accommodations than if you would be in just an ordinary Russian building. Of course, a burglar did break in. [Laughter.] So my feeling that that policeman out in front was protecting us wasn't exactly correct, because a robber broke in.
I lived in the bureau at first. There was a small room devoted to the office, and a little anteroom where the Tass, the Soviet news agency, machines were placed. Down the hall I had a bedroom and a kitchen which the translators and our photographer used to develop film and cook their lunch and so forth, but I did have a bedroom and living room to myself. I woke up at two o'clock in the morning with a burglar in the bathroom, which really quite terrified me. But he ran out the door, saying, in Russian, "Oh, please! Please!" I think he was horrified that I was frightened. He stole money out of my handbag, and then came back another night and stole some cameras out of the office. Probably somebody very poor.
I was very indignant about this, and I remember going to the office that handled such complaints from foreigners, and presenting all the evidence of the theft, and then he very calmly announced, "There is no such crime in the Soviet Union, so it must have been your imagination." I was even more furious. Well, it's funny now when I look back at it. [Laughter.]
Currie: How did you manage to report the news in the Soviet Union?
Mosby: At that time we worked under censorship, which the correspondents don't do now. When I was there a few months ago, I had to laugh, listening to the complaints of some of the correspondents in their offices, which are much larger and much more elegant than what we had in 1959, '60, and '61 when I was in the Soviet Union. There's just no comparison. They have much larger staffs. They are much more free to cover all sorts of stories. I mean, it's just incredible! Before I arrived in the Soviet Union, it was even much worse. There was much less news in Pravda and Izvestia and the other Soviet newspapers, and what stories they did write half the time were censored and didn't get out.
I remember Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times, who had been with United Press International before I got there, many years before, and he said that one day he had nothing else to do because there wasn't any news in the newspapers, and so he was going to write a story about
a wedding in the countryside. There were lots of snowdrifts and snow, and the censor wouldn't pass it, because he said weather was a military secret. So they wouldn't pass that.
So it was a bit better when I got there, but every morning one of our three translators would come on duty and start plowing through the Soviet press, which is lots of newspapers, nine, ten, eleven, something like that. Then I would stagger out of bed about 8:30 and go in and see if there were any headlines or anything vitally important, and then start checking the Tass machine, the copy that had come over during the night. Of course, TASS is the Soviet news agency, which is a spokesman for the Communist party and the government, as all the newspapers were, too, in effect. So it was hard to find news.
Then there would be press conferences given by various government party-controlled ministries, organizations, and so forth. Then possibly some foreign leaders coming to the Soviet Union that would have to be covered, follow them around to their news conferences. We would write out our copy in very simple English, because in those days we couldn't send copy out directly. It had to go in a telegram form or else by telephone to a UPI bureau outside of Russia. We sent them to London, and they would write them up in proper English and put them on the wire. We had to take our copy in sort of rough telegram form to the central post office in Moscow, to the censors, who would read our copy. We would hand it in over a big counter.
Currie: How was this censorship bureau at the post office actually organized?
Mosby: It was in the side door, not the main entryway. There was a little anteroom with a type of a sofa, and then there was a large room with a long counter. It was their telegraph office, and the Russian and Soviet citizens would come in to send telegrams there. But in those days I don't think they sent many telegrams. [Laughter.] There weren't a great many people in for that.
In a little room off of that were tiny little offices, so to speak, the size of a phone booth, and the journalists were each given one of those. There was room to put a typewriter there to type. Then you'd go out on this long counter and hand your copy in. At the end of the counter was a censor, and they would take it to the censors that were behind a window with a green curtain, so you couldn't see them.
Then there was also a row of telephone booths, and when your copy was passed, you could phone it into your office in Berlin or in New York or the home office of whatever correspondent was there. Or you could then give it to the telegram counter, so to speak, and it would be sent as a telegram, with words crossed out by the censor, or sometimes the whole story killed or whole lines crossed out. If you were on the phone and you started to say something that had been censored, you'd be cut off instantly. They listened, of course, to make sure that you stuck to the rules.
Currie: How did this kind of censorship affect the kind of reporting that you could do?
Mosby: In a way it was good, because one learned very quickly not to use adjectives that are really editorializing. I already had been taught that in the years I'd been with UPI, that you must keep your copy strictly neutral and not take one side or the other. But still, qualifying adjectives can slip in and a point of view could get into a story, especially in a case like this when the Cold War was at its height. We were patriotic Americans looking at the country through American eyes. So I learned not to let politics of the Cold War get in the way, but just try to report as neutrally as possible what was happening.
Currie: Did you get an opportunity to speak to any of the Russian leaders at that time? I believe [Nikita] Khrushchev was in power.
Mosby: Yes, Khrushchev was a very lively man, I would say, sort of an early attempt which [Mikhail] Gorbachev took up later with more success and more courage. He liked to talk to the Western press, to get his ideas over and his policies. So he would go to one of the practically daily receptions at one of the foreign embassies so that he could talk to foreign diplomats there, as well as the press, and get over his ideas, his party line, or what he felt probably would be good for his country or his policies, or maybe he just was curious to talk to all of us. I don't know.
So the Western journalists—there weren't very many of us then, about sixteen, I think—would meet in Central Telegraph, and we had to cooperate with each other in some ways and not just be competitive, because there was just hardly anybody there. We would decide which journalist would go to which cocktail party at which embassy, because we didn't know when and where he would show up. He would have been invited to all of them, so one would cover a reception at the British Embassy, and somebody else at the Hungarian Embassy, and somebody else at the Peruvian Embassy or whatever. Then you would just hang around with your eye on the door, waiting for him or even another important Soviet official to show up.
When Khrushchev would come, he would talk to the diplomats first while the journalists casually and politely would sort of be behind him or in a circle around him, and then finally he would start talking to the journalists. Usually we would get a story. All the journalists would rush to the Central Telegraph office, where journalists who were not at those receptions would be waiting, and we would pool the information. It wasn't very competitive, but there was really no other way to cover the story. Then everybody would go and write their own story and give it to the censor.
Currie: Did you ever get an opportunity to develop sources among ordinary Russians?
Mosby: Yes. One rule I learned from the other correspondents is that it's easier to develop a Russian or a Soviet friend outside of the country than inside. Inside the country they were always very nervous about being followed and being watched and, therefore, being in danger of being arrested and losing their job, or even being put in prison or whatever. Not so much now, but then, certainly, until the Gorbachev era. But outside the country, even though I'm sure that their embassies, of course, were keeping a very strong eye on them and maybe even following some of them, they were much easier to approach.
When I covered an international exposition in Brussels in '58, I believe it was, I met three or four Soviets there who had never been outside of the Soviet Union before, and they were so astounded to meet an American, especially a woman journalist, that they were friendly. We became friends. So they all had official posts, but on a lower level in the foreign ministry and in the Soviet news media. When I got to Moscow and looked them up, they were friendly, and I was able to see them and get a story tip now and then.
Currie: In Moscow, you also worked for the legendary UPI bureau chief Henry Shapiro.
Mosby: Henry had been there since the mid-thirties, when the Soviets were more friendly to journalists and foreigners, and it was quite different. There were several Americans who had gone there to work at various posts as translators or journalists or whatever, because they felt sympathetic to the Russians or just wanted to be there. One of our translators was an American who defected there in the early thirties, for example.
Henry Shapiro, of course, he had been a Soviet expert and Russian expert, and in the Soviet Union he married a Russian woman. So he had a lot of sources that the rest of us didn't have.
Currie: One former UPI executive even told me that Khrushchev would check things out with Henry to see how they'd play in the West.
Mosby: Oh, indeed. They would chat at these embassy receptions. The Kremlin would give various receptions for visiting dignitaries, visiting presidents and kings and so forth, and journalists would be invited to those. They were huge affairs, hundreds of people, but still you could go around and look for someone who might be able to tell you what was going on.
Currie: Can you give me an example of a time where Henry Shapiro's special access gave UPI a scoop or a beat on a story?
Mosby: Henry had so many of them. He died recently, you know, just a few months ago in Wisconsin. One was involving when the Soviet astronauts went up. I don't remember the details exactly, but they had sent up a satellite, and I remember that the Associated Press had somehow heard from someone on Tass, the Soviet news agency, that it had fallen and had crashed, and they sent out a bulletin. But Henry had very good sources and checked that out, and it hadn't crashed; it was still up there. So we beat the AP on that one.
He also would get very good political tips from people he knew who worked in the government or the [Communist] party on sort of a lower level or a middle level, who would have known Henry for some years. He would get tips that the newcomers would have a hard time cultivating. Now, of course, it's much different.
Currie: Did his access have any ramifications for your reporting?
Mosby: What do you mean?
Currie: For example, the fact that he had so much access at various levels of Soviet life, did that help you with stories ever?
Mosby: Oh, indeed. Of course, he and his wife knew so much about Soviet life and about the country that we really had an edge, I think, on the AP and the other American journalists there, a great deal more background information, I would say. Some of the journalists from European countries there also had very good backgrounds. Some of them had been there a long time. I remember the correspondent from the Frankfurter Algeminer had been there many, many years.
Currie: Did you speak Russian?
Mosby: I studied it before I went, while I was waiting for the visa. So I arrived with getting-around Russian, and I could understand the radio and read the Tass news wire, but I wasn't fluent in Russian. When I would go out to do private interviews, I would always take one of our translators with me or to the press conference, too. Sometimes at press conferences the Soviets would have translators.
Of course, the language is very important. At that time, Americans really weren't very linguistic and there weren't very many journalists who could speak a foreign language and very few Americans who could, in comparison with people in other countries. Very few diplomats who could, etc.
Now it's quite different. Many more students study foreign languages in university and the journalists from the United States who go there now, most of them are fluent in Russian.
Currie: So not having fluency in the language was not a deterrent at all for assignment?
Mosby: I'd say that one would do certainly better. I would have done better if I had been fluent in Russian. That would go for all the American journalists who were there at that time, most of whom were not fluent in Russian. It's one thing that made Henry [Shapiro] unique. I continued taking lessons there, I must say, every day. Of course, the longer you're there, the more you learn. When you listen to the radio and read newspapers, it helps enormously.
Currie: You said they had sent you to get some of the color of the country, add some warmth to the reporting. I know one of the stories that you did was one of the first interviews—in fact, the first interview—with Lee Harvey Oswald when he defected to the Soviet Union long before he was involved in the assassination of President [John F.] Kennedy. I wonder if you could tell me about how you got that story.
Mosby: I was wandering around the American Embassy one day, where correspondents often dropped in to see what was happening, because sometimes there would be important Americans coming that we wanted to know about, or even just talking to some of the embassy people, you would get their viewpoint on what was going on in the Soviet Union, because they were diplomats trained and doing nothing but studying various facets of Soviet life.
One of the diplomats mentioned that an American had come in and turned in his passport, which was an extremely unusual event. That may have been one of the first cases, if not the first. So they gave me his name and his address at the Metropole Hotel, where he was staying. So I telephoned him when I got back to the office and asked if I could come and interview him. So he was doubtful at first, but then he decided he would give me an interview. Later he told me that he had agreed to talk to me because I was a woman, so he thought I would be more understanding, kinder. [Laughter.] Kinder and gentler? As President [George] Bush would say.
So I went and talked to him, and I must say that after five or ten minutes I decided that he wasn't what one would call a serious defector. That is, he was not a highly educated, brilliant man who would have a lot of information to give the Soviet Union, that they could use, that they would be very happy to have him defect. He had been in the United States armed forces, I believe on a submarine or some sort of a ship. Do you remember?
Currie: I don't.
Mosby: He had been a technician of some sort, but the information that he could give the Soviets would be really quite minor. He struck me as being a mixed-up young man who had had personal and family problems and had trouble finding a place in society and wasn't terribly well educated. A bit mixed up, let's say.
It was years later when I was working for UPI in Paris, I remember coming out of the Louvre Museum with some friends, after seeing an exhibition, and the doorman said, "Aren't you Americans?"
We said, "Yes."
He said, "Your President Kennedy has just been assassinated."
So I went hurrying over to the UPI bureau in Paris, and by the time I got there, there was an urgent message from the New York bureau saying that the assassin was Lee Harvey Oswald, and they had looked up in their picture files and the New York bureau discovered a photograph of him in Russia, taken by me, which I didn't even remember having taken, but I guess I did. (They wanted me to rerun on the UPI wire the interview I had with him.)
I wasn't terribly surprised that he had done something like that. I still feel, after all these years, that I see no evidence that Oswald ever had anybody working with him at all, that there was anybody else involved in the assassination. If they would ever come up with solid evidence such as somebody's deathbed confession or another gun or something, fine, I would accept it, but I've never seen any solid evidence to show that there was anybody else involved. I know there are witnesses at the scene who claim they saw a shadow moving this way or that way, but in crowds like that, there are all sorts of people moving and things happening.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Currie: Has it ever been an advantage being a woman in trying to get a story?
Mosby: There may have been times when officials received me or I was able to get to some contact, such as in Prague I was there after the Russians invaded in '68, but nothing that I could really prove, such as Oswald having said that. But there may have been other times that various personalities or diplomats or whatever felt somehow that a woman would be easier on them, which maybe by now they would understand that women journalists can be really no different than male journalists. But at that time, possibly they didn't.
Currie: Let me ask you the reverse of that. Has it ever been a disadvantage being a woman in trying to get a story?
Mosby: I'm trying to think when I worked in Arab countries and not being admitted to certain places because I was a woman. I'll probably remember two hours from now. Or there were some news conferences when women were barred. I can't remember exactly. Did I ever mention anything like that to you before?
Currie: No, not that I can specifically remember. It just prompted a follow-up.
Mosby: Perhaps I would remember something later. I know in Washington, the Press Club used to have only males. The American Club in Paris formerly only had male members, maybe businessmen in Paris, and they would have noted public figures speaking to them. Women were admitted as journalists, but that was the only time that women could go to the luncheons, if it was going to be something that the press would be invited to. Now that's different. Now the American Club in Paris has more women members than men. [Laughter.]
Currie: Maybe we can leave this and go back to the Soviet Union. You went to the Soviet Union twice, the first time for almost three years and then the second time very briefly. But during your first tour in the Soviet Union, which would have been 1959 till about 1961, you had a run-in with what you believe was the KGB.
Currie: I wonder if you could talk about that.
Mosby: I was covering a British exhibition there, and two young men kept following me around and wanted to talk. So I talked to them, because it was very difficult to talk to Russians. They were afraid to talk to you or would edge away. It wasn't that easy. But I chatted with them and they said, "Why don't you have lunch with us tomorrow?"
I was staggered at the invitation, because such invitations did not come from just the Soviet man on the street in those days, but I thought, "Well, they're young students and maybe they're curious about life in the United States. So maybe I should go." So they said to meet them at such and such a restaurant next to the Metropole Hotel.
I went back to the office and I told Henry Shapiro and my other colleague, Bob Korengold (now minister at the American Embassy in Paris) about this meeting. We just couldn't decide if they were just hoodlums or was it something that might be worthwhile for me to talk to them about Soviet life, etc.
But the next day I got cold feet. I was really afraid to go. I was worried that maybe they were evil-doers, so I didn't go. Then they called up later that day and said, "Where were you? We brought you some flowers and you weren't there at the restaurant. That's terrible." So we made a date for a couple of days later. I was still very nervous about going, and talked it over with my colleague. We said, after all, it was in a public restaurant and certainly would be safe. It was at noon; it wasn't in the evening.
So I went and met them, and I told my colleague, Bob Korengold, that if I wasn't back in a few hours, he'd better call the police, because I was still very edgy about it. I went there, and they offered a lunch that consisted of a few pieces of lettuce. I was furious, because I love to eat, and asked for some more food. They were drinking cognac, and they offered me some cognac, which Russians drink before meals, which in Western countries that I know of, at least, certainly isn't done. I don't think it's done in the United States, and it certainly isn't done in France, where I live now, and I never heard of such a thing as drinking cognac before dinner. I couldn't stand the thought of it, anyway. It's too strong a drink. I usually just drink wine. So I said, no, I wouldn't drink it.
So after the lunch came, they kept egging me on to drink the cognac, and I just refused to. So finally, in exasperation, I said, "Well, I'll have a glass of champagne." So I ordered the champagne. Then they give me some icons to look at. I think maybe they knew that I had bought icons before, through a couple of Russian friends. So they were showing me these icons, and I was examining them and looking at them with my head turned away from the table and examining the backs and so forth. They obviously had been retouched and sort of fake. They really weren't anything.
When I looked back at the table, the champagne was a golden color. I said, "Oh, you've poured some of the cognac in the champagne." That's called, I think, a French 75 or something like that in the United States. That makes it even worse. So they kept egging me on to drink it, so I took a few sips and then went back to finishing my lunch.
Just within a few minutes, I started to go. I thought I was just going to fall unconscious instantly, and I grabbed my handbag and went running out of the restaurant, weaving as I went, and as I arrived outside, there was a photographer waiting there and taking pictures of me, which wound up on the front page of Izvestia, the government newspaper.
I was hauled off to a drunk tank by police, where they take drunks that pass out on the streets, and the authorities there called the American Embassy, who came and got me. Well, obviously I had been slipped a mickey, as one says. The other journalists came over to sympathize with me, foreign journalists, and I remember the German journalists saying that when they interviewed, if they were able to get a luncheon date with a Russian or whatever, that they would never ever drink anything, not even water, never anything. I had been very naive about that.
But I was not bitter about it. I remember Henry Shapiro asked me if I wanted to leave, and I said, "No. One should expect things like that. This is the Soviet Union, and the Cold War is on. That's what they do." I never objected to my phone being tapped or being followed, which I was all the time. Of course we all were. So what? We had nothing to hide. We weren't working for the CIA or American government; we were journalists, and you just expect things like that. It didn't bother me. So I stayed.
Currie: Why do you think you were targeted for this particular treatment?
Mosby: No one has ever asked me that before, but I suppose it was because I was a woman, come to think of it.
Currie: Why because you were a woman, do you think?
Mosby: I guess they thought I would be maybe more naive and more trusting, would show up. I don't know. I've since talked with American women tourists who have been there and who were followed a lot of times by real hooligans who wanted to buy their bluejeans and this and that and the other, take them out to dinner, and maybe had evil intentions in mind. I don't know. I think there have been examples of other women who have had problems there. I think it's quite different now.
Currie: What could they hope to accomplish by drugging you in that way, taking your picture, and putting it in Izvestia? What was their thinking on that?
Mosby: Their thinking was to disgrace the United States in the eyes of the Russian people, and I guess that it did, because I heard later that there were indignant letters to the editor published in Izvestia by Russians saying, "Isn't this terrible what Americans do?" Also just as harassment. I heard later, just a few months later, of a male journalist, not American, but from a Western country, I think it happened in the republic of Georgia, who was out talking to people and trying to get a story of how the Georgians and the Russians don't like each other, some such, and that he was drugged, too, in a restaurant when he was interviewing some people. Then I remember there was a diplomat who was probably doing some research on religion in Moscow and was in a church when his trousers were slashed by somebody with a knife. It could happen.
Currie: Did the picture in Izvestia have a story that accompanied it, or did it have a cut line explaining who you were?
Mosby: Oh, it had a story.
Currie: What did the story say?
Mosby: I don't remember. Did I ever read it? [Laughter.] I don't know.
Currie: What was Henry Shapiro's response?
Mosby: As I said, he said, "I suppose now you feel terrible about this country, and frightened. Do you want to leave?"
I said, "No."
Currie: Was he surprised by this?
Mosby: No, not particularly. He had been there many years. No, I don't think he was surprised.
Currie: I know you did a second tour in the Soviet Union for a year, but eventually you left after about three years in the Soviet Union. Why did you leave that assignment?
Mosby: Because I was exhausted from working seven days a week and sometimes twelve hours a day, and feeling lucky if I got one square meal a day. I was just exhausted, just wanted to go to another country. There are some correspondents who have stayed there longer. Of course, as life became better for them, they did stay on longer. But I know some American correspondents who, after a year, demanded out. You just get fed up with it. It's quite a strain to work that way. It's very exciting, indeed, and I certainly don't regret it, but it is a strain.
Currie: After the Soviet Union, you went back to New York.
Mosby: No, I went to Paris first, to the Paris bureau of the United Press. Then I went to New York.
Currie: I'd like to get to how you got to China. I think we need to set up the back and forth a little bit. You went from the Soviet Union to the Paris bureau.
Mosby: Then I was asked by someone with the Ford Foundation if I was interested in studying at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York to get a master's degree in some field of journalism that interested me. I was interested in going to China, so I accepted, and UPI gave me a year's leave of absence, and I went to study Chinese and Chinese history at Columbia. There were four of us who wanted to go to China. Someone from the State Department told us we would probably get visas, but then later in the year, about February, when President [Lyndon B.] Johnson escalated the Vietnam War, the Gulf of Tonkin, the State Department said, "Forget it. You'll never get in."
So at the end of the school year, I went back to Moscow to do vacation relief for a year. Then because I was rather homesick for the United States, I asked for a transfer to the New York bureau. So I was there for three years before I went back to Eastern Europe.
Currie: Then you were in Eastern Europe?
Mosby: Then I went back in '68, after the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, and I worked in the Vienna bureau, handling the copy from Prague, and then I later lived for six months in Bucharest, in Romania, and also was in Prague for several months and in Budapest.
Currie: How did you eventually get to China?
Mosby: I went back to the Paris bureau after Eastern Europe, and in 1978, a foreign editor called up when President [Jimmy] Carter was forging diplomatic relations with China. He called me in Paris and said, "We have diplomatic relations now, and China and the United States have agreed to
exchange journalists. Four journalists from Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, are coming to the United States, and four American agency journalists, two from AP and two from UPI, are going to China. Do you want to go to China?"
I said, "This is twelve years after I have studied the language, and all those little characters have gone out of my head. I don't know if I could manage it. I'm not sure."
He said, "That's all right. There will be translators there."
So I thought about it, and having gone through so many years of those hardship posts in Communist countries, I decided that I would go just for one year, because they only allowed two visas per agency, which meant back again to the seven-day week, twenty-hour day. [Laughter.] So that worked out fine. There was another correspondent from UPI who was in Africa, Ray Wilkinson, who wanted to go very much, so he agreed to wait a year while I was there, and then he would come in.
So then off I went to China. That was one of the great moments of my life. I always remember it with nostalgia.
Currie: What was the situation in China when you arrived?
Mosby: The Chinese people, after all those years of not having diplomatic relations with the United States, were very excited to see Americans arrive. So we were like visiting celebrities. We were treated with great kindness and eagerness by the officials of the foreign ministry, and just when I was walking out on the streets the first few days I was there—I was put up in a big hotel in central Peking-Beijing—I was followed by Chinese people as if I was queen or something. It was just very exciting. They would all stare at me and smile and gather in groups, and children were following me down the street. [Laughter.] It was just marvelous.
Of course, the work was very hard, because our American clients in the United States were very eager for all sorts of stories. A lot of American leaders, politicians and so forth, were very anxious to go to China. So we had a vice president there and about four cabinet members and something like twelve governors and sixteen mayors, all from the United States, came over the year I was there. Of course, we had to cover all of these people for our clients, so we were very busy, to put it mildly.
It was very exciting. Of course, it got me all around the country because the Chinese foreign ministry gave the journalists visas to go with the official groups on their visits. It was a great way to see China.
Currie: When you arrived, there wasn't even an office for you to work in, as I understand it.
Mosby: We were put up in the Peking Hotel. The other foreign journalists who were there had been there for some years, and they had offices in their apartments. It was the same set-up as in the Soviet Union. The foreign ministry kept saying, "Don't you want to just live in the Peking Hotel?" We said, "No." So they finally found room in a Soviet-built foreign compound where there were Pakistani and Indian diplomats and French diplomats and also Agence France Presse, the French news agency. They gave the Associated Press two apartments on one floor, one for each correspondent, and in one of them you had to build an office, and two for United Press on the ground floor. We picked ours out because it had marble floors. It was really very nice, but
because it was on the ground floor, we also had huge cockroaches, which wasn't so nice. [Laughter.]
But many things were much better than when we were in Moscow. The housing was better. The apartments were big and we had beautiful windows and floors and very nice housing. I must say that when I was in Moscow four months ago, I noticed that the housing is much better now there for foreigners. At any rate, the housing in Peking was quite good and the Chinese officials, at least in my experience when I was there, were so much more easygoing and cheerful and friendly to us than the Soviets had been.
Currie: Was it easier to get stories in China than it had been in the Soviet Union?
Mosby: Yes. We weren't under censorship, although, of course, they had copies of our copy. When I was there, we had to send stories out at first by telegram and eventually we got a telex and a primitive teletype that we could send to UPI in Hong Kong, where they sent out these stories. But the communication setup was much better than our communications in my Moscow days, and, of course, there wasn't formal censorship. They saw on their machine what we were sending out. When I was there, at least, I don't remember any complaints on anything that we wrote. Of course, since then there have been difficulties in Tiananmen Square and all sorts of stories that they didn't want covered. I'm sure there have been difficulties, but when I was there, there weren't any. They were very pleasant to work with.
Currie: How did you get your ideas for stories in China?
Mosby: It was in some ways similar to Russia, in that translators would go over the Chinese press, looking for stories, and we had the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, teletypes in the office. The translators would monitor all the radio newscasts. When I was there, my Chinese came back. I got a teacher right away and my Chinese came back to me after about six months. I was able to understand the radio bulletins and the stories on Xinhua. But I always took a translator with me if I was going out to do a formal interview.
I was very interested in meeting the people, and I could carry on a simple conversation with people on the street. I would wander down the little lanes in Peking, looking into the houses, these simple little houses, to see how they lived and what they were like. They always gave us big smiles—always gave me big smiles, anyway. In fact, I would notice their cats. They didn't allow dogs because of the sanitation problems, but cats were allowed at that time, anyway, in Peking. I would look at the cats inside a little house with an open doorway, then stick my head in the door and ask if I could come in to see the cat. That was a good way of meeting people. [Laughter.] They all loved longhaired cats. I petted a few, and underneath the long hair was bones. Poor things didn't have much to eat.
That was one interesting trend of change in China that I noticed. The symbols of folk art in China long had been fish, but particularly goldfish and cats. You see it in old paintings and folklore objects and so forth. After the cultural revolution, all that was forbidden by the Communist party. Art and folklore objects had to be something that would teach them a lesson, such as hammers and sickles or the working man, working woman, and so forth, but no more goldfish and cats. When I was there, they relaxed that, and so the folk art went back to goldfish and cats.
Currie: I know one story that you did that won you the Cabanes Award. It's an international wire service award.
Mosby: Yes. It's given under an endowment by the widow of someone in the French news agency, Agence France Presse, to the wire service journalists. They organize a group who selects it. It's an international award.
Currie: You won that award for your reporting in China.
Currie: I think specifically on a series you did on religion in China.
Mosby: Oh, yes. They mentioned that when I was given the prize by Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Paris. I remember the ceremony. I was interested in writing not just about the politics, but about the life in China, what was really going on there, because the United States had been cut off from China for so many years. One thing I was interested in was religion. I wanted to do it objectively. Again here is the wire service education or training, I should say. There are visitors who have emphasized the interest of the Chinese in Christian religion in China, and I have read stories which I didn't think were very objective, saying religion was back in China because they allowed, while we were there, the reopening of the Christian churches. Even though the Roman Catholic religion there is still separate, they aren't tied in with the Vatican.
After I had done this survey on religion, I feel that it is not objective to dwell just on that angle, because Christianity is a drop in the bucket in that country. There are several million Christians, but that's nothing in China when you consider their population.
Currie: Can you tell us how you went about getting this story on religion and what you found?
Mosby: I visited a lot of the Buddhist temples which then were being reopened. People could go in and light candles and pray if they wanted to. Until then, they had been used as storehouses or had other uses. So a lot of those were open and I was able to visit them.
I was also able to meet some Arab groups who had returned to the Moslem religion. Then there are many who follow the Confucian religion, one would call it, also. But there were certainly many more Buddhists than Moslems and followers of Confucius than there were Christians. It's just such a big country.
Then I also looked into the Jewish religion, which was rather difficult to do. I was at a reception in Peking when the daughter of the American violinist Isaac Stern was there. She was acquainted with the Jewish religion in New York and had told me that scientific research had been made at some Jewish school in New York as to the history of Jews in China. I don't mean Jewish refugees who would have come there from the Soviet Union or from other countries in this century; I mean Jews going back to many hundreds of years.
So I was able, through her, to get a copy of this research material and centered in on the city of Haiphong, where there were some, and there were supposed to have been some in some other large cities on the coast. I went to those cities and asked about the Jewish religion. I couldn't find any in those big cities.
I remember how I was going to a Christian church. The China Travel Service was with me, taking me around the city, because I needed a translator. I didn't know where to go or anything. She worked for the government travel service. Someone had told me that there was a Protestant church being reopened. When I went there, they were having a service. At first this
Chinese official translator who was with me refused to go inside, but finally she was astounded, because she could see from the outside that it was jammed with people. There was just not even any standing room. They were singing hymns that I heard in my childhood and sang in my childhood, only singing them in Chinese. It was fascinating. I talked with some of the people inside the church, who said that they had been able to go to the storeroom where all the pews had been taken during the cultural revolution, when these churches were all closed, and they were able to get them back. They were very excited.
Anyway, I finally got on a train and went on to Haiphong, to try to track down the Jews. When I got there, the China Travel Service man who met me—I had gotten a visa to go there—kept saying, "There aren't any Jews here." He showed me an old synagogue—the ruins of it—that had been closed. There were a lot of very ancient stone tablets there that were very interesting to see, but I kept saying, "I want to talk to the people."
He kept saying, "There aren't any Jews here. I'm sure there are not."
After about two days of arguing, it finally occurred to me that I was saying it incorrectly in English. I suddenly remembered that there's a word that Chinese use in English very often that they learned when they were studying English many years ago, and that is the word "ancestors." It's a very important thing to them. So I said, "Do you know anybody with Jewish ancestors?"
And he said, "Well, of course! Several people." [Laughter.] So he whisked me off to meet three Jewish families, and that was really quite fascinating. They had intermarried with Chinese down the years, so they had slightly slanted eyes, and they wore caps to disguise the fact that they had curly hair, although they said that now that the cultural revolution was over, it really would be safe to show their curly hair instead of straight hair like the Chinese people had. That was one of the most fascinating stories I think I have ever done.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: Aline, what drove you to keep bird-dogging that story, in the face of this guy telling you, "No, no, no, there are no Jews in this area"?
Mosby: To me it's a fascinating story that there would be real Jews living in China. This just wasn't known in the outside world. I thought it was just incredible. It interested me. I have a curiosity. I suppose if you ask a journalist, "Why are you interested in such and such a story?" sometimes the story, if it has some kind of strong connection with current events or something, but then a lot of other stories a journalist will hop on because journalists are curious, and it's just something that's very interesting, and if it interests you, you know it's certainly going to interest hundreds and thousands of other people if you write about it. I guess that's how you would describe the stories that a journalist would cover.
Currie: I wonder now if we can switch gears a little bit and talk about journalistic ethics. For example, have you ever had trouble maintaining objectivity on a story?
Mosby: At times covering political stories that involve my country. You talk to the spokesmen from the State Department or whoever is giving the American side of it, and you sometimes can feel a leaning toward that side, but then I catch myself up and say, "No, you must be objective and not show a bias in your stories." It's supposed to be reporting the facts and the truth, and that's it.
Currie: Has an editor ever asked you to do something you thought was unethical?
Mosby: Not to my knowledge. I don't remember a UPI editor ever asking me to do something that I judged unethical.
Currie: Were you ever given an assignment that you refused or didn't feel comfortable with?
Mosby: No, I don't think I've ever refused an assignment. I can't remember. No, I don't think I ever have.
Currie: I know during the audio interviews I asked you if you'd ever gone too far to get a story, and you had a really interesting answer.
Mosby: Oh, you mean the nudist camp. [Laughter.] Yes. That's an example. I was told to go to the nudist camp, so I went. This was in California, in the fifties when people were not running around without clothes on, as they are these days, so it's really not very upsetting to anyone these days. When I arrived there, they wouldn't let me in unless I took off my clothes. I was startled, but, well, it was a story and I was told to go, and after all, I didn't know anybody there, so I took off my clothes.
Currie: And you got the story.
Currie: Which I understand was a very good one.
Mosby: Yes. In those days, it was something startling, but, of course, nowadays nudist camps are very common. It's nothing at all.
Currie: What do you think the ethical dilemmas are that journalists face?
Mosby: I think accepting expensive gifts from someone whom you are going to interview or you're writing about, free trips, something like that, it depends on what it is. UPI always had the rule that if it was something that cost under $25 and could be consumed on the spot, that was okay. But anything over that would not be okay. I think that's a pretty good rule.
Currie: Were you ever offered expensive gifts to do a story?
Mosby: I think that I was, but I can't remember offhand now what it was. I said, no, I wasn't interested. I know that there are many news media, if there is some sort of a story being covered in another city and some sort of a commercial outfit wants to offer free transportation to the journalist, there are many news media who will say, "No, we pay our own way." If the news media can afford it, I think it's very proper.
Currie: And that was always the case with you?
Mosby: That wasn't a UPI rule.
Currie: So you were able to accept trips?
Mosby: For example, in France, I remember doing a story in Monte Carlo, and free transportation was offered. I can't remember right now exactly what it was. It was some event that the Prince of Monaco was staging. I can't remember. But the office okayed my going down to do that. It's something that pushes tourism in his little country, which, of course, is a commercial thing. But then while I was there, I was also at the same time to profit by it, by interviewing people to do an economic story on Monte Carlo, a financial page story on Monte Carlo. So it all wasn't wasted.
Currie: So in the case of trips like that, did you get them okayed by your bureau?
Mosby: Oh, yes. I always asked first.
Currie: So they would okay whether you could accept the free trip or not.
Currie: Are there any other ethical issues that you faced in your life as a journalist that you can think of?
Mosby: No. No, I can't remember. I don't know. Maybe some of the Washington journalists have been offered free rides to do this or that or the other; I don't know. I didn't work in Washington, so I can't comment on that, really. That would be where it would matter the most, certainly, would be at the political level here. That's one thing I regret in my journalist career, that I was never posted in Washington. I always planned to come here, but I kept getting sidetracked on other assignments and never made it. I think it's very valuable and a very important thing. I do regret that.
Currie: Why do you think it's valuable?
Mosby: I think that journalists should learn how their government operates and cover the White House or the State Department. I just think you learn a lot about political reporting that way and economic reporting, too. I think that's very important. I regret that I never did that.
Currie: You spent almost your entire career with UPI, which was very unusual.
Currie: Why did you stay with UPI all those years?
Mosby: I was always given good assignments and marvelous bureaus to work in, good stories, and I was happy and enjoyed it and loved the work, and didn't mind that the salaries were not as high as in some other media. Actually, I was offered, down the years, a couple of jobs with newspapers, and I said no. There also is something interesting working for a wire service in that you are working, in effect, for thousands of newspapers, radio, and television stations, not just one.
Currie: So the pay at UPI was considerably less than newspapers or less than AP?
Mosby: Well, it was always known as being less than AP and, I assume, less than newspapers, too.
Currie: Maybe we can go to the final wrap-up questions now. What was the happiest time of your life?
Mosby: I think my assignment to China, I would say, would have been, certainly. That's a very wide question. [Laughter.]
Currie: Yes, it is.
Mosby: But I would say my years in China and the thrill of going there was certainly very memorable.
Currie: What about the least happy time?
Mosby: The only time I can remember being the least happy time, maybe when I was in university and I wanted to join a certain sorority and they didn't ask me to my first year. So I was crushed then. I think when you're young, such things can loom as failures; they really aren't. I don't think college fraternities and sororities are that important, but at the time it seemed it.
Currie: Yes. As a final question, is there anything about your life that, given the chance, you would change or do differently?
Mosby: As I said, I would have certainly liked to work in Washington, and I think I would have written more books. I've only written one book, and I think I would have written more books, at least kept detailed diaries of all the countries I've lived and worked in. I think that's all I would have done differently. I'm a happy person and I've enjoyed life enormously.
Currie: You've had a very interesting life.
Mosby: Indeed. I have no regrets.
Currie: I think we've kept you for almost two hours now, so is there anything you'd like to say to wrap up, before I let you go?
Mosby: I hope that the news media continues as it is now and that there always will be good journalism schools. Sometimes I wonder if ten years from now everything will just be a sound byte newscast on television and radio, and I don't know. It's a little worrisome. You wonder. Many newspapers have closed in recent years, and you just hope that the printed medium will keep going as long as television and radio.
Currie: Why do you think we need a strong print media?
Mosby: I think that one can judge an event better. Of course you want to get the bulletin from television and radio, and sometimes both television and radio do longer stories, looking into a news event. They maybe could spend a whole half hour on a special program devoted to it. But usually it's a short item. You wonder how people can understand things unless they read a newspaper which goes into the background and has sidebar stories that explain this and that and the other. I don't think that people really understand what's going on unless they do read longer stories in newspapers and in the news magazines, Time and Newsweek, the Economist. One must read more. I hope reading doesn't go out of style. The television age is certainly upon us.
Currie: As you are seeing. [Currie referring to this interview being videotaped.]
Currie: Thank you very much.
Mosby: Thank you. I've enjoyed talking to you.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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