Monday, October 1, 2012

Where Angels Fear To Tread: Bernd Debusmann

Five years ago I wrote about the start of an era at Reuters. Now it's time to write about the end of two.

Bernd Debusmann is leaving The Baron after one of the most storied careers not only at that news agency but but surely in journalism.

He reported from more than 100 countries since joining the company in 1964 and, five years ago, was the marquee name when Reuters began an opinion service with three writers.

They don't make them like this anymore. If ever there was a living Le Carré character, it is Bernd, from his lifelong passion of jumping out of airplanes (most of the time, I think, with a parachute) to the 7.65 mm round, delivered with a silenced pistol on behalf of someone who didn't care for his reporting.

Bernd leaves with that bullet still lodged near his spine, and with the admiration of generations of reporters who got to watch how it was done, day-in-and-day-out, even on those rare occasions when he wasn't being shot, threatened or thrown out of some country.

Generations more may yet benefit from his unique insights and experiences; there is talk of a book. The Reuters career ends but the writing continues, we are promised.

In a farewell letter Bernd alludes to his first Reuters Opinion piece. It was — to quote Joe Biden — a BFD.

I joined Reuters Opinion when they started letting anyone in. But Bernd was Jackie Robinson: entrusted with creating a franchise that lurking internal critics would have brought down at the first hint of trouble. Bernd had the street cred, of course, but he also had gravitas literally no one could question.

Here's another way to understand it: Only Nixon could go to China. Only Debusmann could have launched Reuters Opinion.

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