John Vinocur, Foreign Correspondent and Editor, Dies at 81
John Vinocur, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Associated Press who reported with equal gusto about the latest Cold War crisis in Eastern Europe and the best bouillabaisse in Marseille before becoming executive editor of The International Herald Tribune, died on Sunday in Amsterdam. He was 81.
The cause was complications from sepsis, said his son James. He said Mr. Vinocur, who lived in Paris, had been in Amsterdam staying with his companion, Jacqueline Schaap.
Mr. Vinocur covered some of the biggest stories in Europe, Africa and Asia for The A.P. and The Times in the 1960s and ’70s: the so-called secret war in Cambodia, the hostage crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the civil war in Nigeria, and the run-up to the “Rumble in the Jungle” — the championship fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1971.
He won the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting for “A Republic of Fear: 30 Years of General Stroessner’s Paraguay,” which appeared in The Times’s Sunday magazine in 1984. In 2008, he was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr. Vinocur reported from around the world for The Associated Press from 1968 to 1977, filing dispatches from Biafra, Israel and Cambodia, among other places.
After joining The Times’s business news department in 1977, he was appointed bureau chief in Bonn three months later and worked there until 1982, when he transferred to Paris to become the bureau chief there. In both capitals he covered fissures in the Atlantic alliance and ferment in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Vinocur returned to New York in 1985 when he was named assistant to the Times executive editor, A.M. Rosenthal; then came stints as an assistant metropolitan editor and metropolitan editor.
But it was an abbreviated stay at the newspaper’s headquarters: In 1986 he returned to Paris to be the executive editor and vice president of The International Herald Tribune, which was jointly owned then by The Times and The Washington Post. He held those posts through 1996, when he resumed writing as its senior correspondent covering politics, economics, sports and culture in Europe, Asia and occasionally the United States. His Politicus column was syndicated by The Times.
After retiring from The Herald Tribune, he continued to write as a Paris-based columnist for The Wall Street Journal while contributing articles as well to Foreign Affairs and other publications. He was also a member of the board of Gruner + Jahr, the German media conglomerate.
Mr. Vinocur could come across as volatile, but few contemporaries challenged the depth of his reporting, his access to the most authoritative sources and his insight. His magazine article that won the prestigious Polk Award began this way:
“Paraguay works like this: A man parks his car, and to keep it from being stolen, he attaches it to a rope tied around his waist. The man is arrested walking through the streets, and charged with public ridiculousness. He has insulted national dignity, which, officially, has been restored and exalted over the last 30 years by El Excelentisimo, the President of the Republic, Don Alfredo Stroessner, General of the Army, First Magistrate of the land. Beaten, robbed, demeaned, the man eventually bribes his way out of jail. He finds his automobile on a used car lot, and informs the dealer. ‘That’s a break for you,’ the dealer says. ‘You know the real mileage.’”
John Eli Vinocur was born on May 17, 1940, in Queens, the son of Harry Vinocur, a journalist and historian who wrote under the pen name John Stuart, and Helen (Segal) Vinocur, who headed the family philanthropy office of their heiress Rosenwald Ascoli, who was concerned mainly with child welfare.
After graduating from Forest Hills High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1961, where an English professor encouraged him to pursue a career in journalism.
He worked for The Port Chester (N.Y.) Item and The Long Island Star-Journal and Agence France-Presse in Paris before joining The Associated Press.
His marriages to Martine Weill in 1960 and Elisabeth Schmidt in 1966 ended in divorce. He married Harriet Berglund in 1985.
She survives him, as do his sons, James and Nicholas, from his marriage to Ms. Berglund; two daughters, Alexandra and Danielle, from his marriage to Ms. Schmidt; Ms. Schaap; and seven grandchildren.
Alex Traub contributed reporting.