Longtime AP correspondent Marcus Eliason dies at 75

NEW YORK (AP) — Marcus Eliason, an international journalist whose insightful reporting, brilliant prose and deft editing graced Associated Press news wires for nearly half a century, has died. He was 75 years old.

He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, developed pneumonia earlier this week in a nursing home and died Friday at a New York hospital, his family said.

From Israel and the 1967 Six-Day War to apartheid-era South Africa and Afghan battlefields, bloody Belfast, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the surrender of Hong Kong, and countless other dates and stories, Eliason he witnessed and reported on some of the great world events of the last decades of the 20th century. And when that century came to an end, it was Eliason’s touch that welcomed the new one.

“From east to west and north to south, the world welcomed the new millennium in a brilliant tapestry of song and light that spread across the globe,” AP’s lead article opened on January 1, 2000.

By then, he had moved on to his final role, from which he retired in 2014, as New York editor of some of AP’s biggest stories and projects, and finally as editor-in-chief of international reporting, a valuable guide. for dozens of AP reporters around the world.

“A classic type of AP is gone,” said former AP President and CEO Louis D. Boccardi. “Even a quick glance at his assignment schedule, both abroad and here at home, says it all. If there was a difficult task that required a steady hand, Marcus was often the choice.”

“Marcus was a wonderful, knowledgeable, wise and supportive writer and editor,” said former AP International Editor John Daniszewski, now AP Vice President and General Editor of Standards. He observed Claude Erbsen, longtime AP correspondent and global executive: “He could make words sing and dance.”

Jack Marcus Eliason was born on October 19, 1946 to Jewish immigrant parents from Europe and grew up in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. At age 20, after a brief apprenticeship at The Jerusalem Post in Israel, Eliason joined the AP bureau in Tel Aviv as a messenger and trainee “beater,” or operator of the Telex machine used to broadcast stories.

A month later, on June 6, 1967, the Arab-Israeli conflict known as the Six-Day War broke out. When the new employee arrived at work and was reprimanded for not hurrying earlier, he said he had to buy emergency groceries for his mother, dig a bomb shelter in the backyard, pick up stranded hitchhikers, etc.

“Don’t stand there talking about it, kid,” one veteran growled. “Write it.”

He did, launching a fine news career and being promoted to reporter a year later. Once asked how he learned to write so well, he replied: “Punching the big copy of the journalists in the AP office in Tel Aviv.”

Throughout the 1970s, Eliason’s firm headlined some of the Middle East’s biggest stories: terror attacks and turmoil in the Israeli government, another Arab-Israeli war, Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977.

“Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, had landed in Israel on a peace mission. It was 7:59 p.m. on Saturday, November 19,” he reported. “For the Israelis, and certainly for the Egyptians as well, it was more wonderful than Neil Armstrong’s foot touching the moon.”

In 1978, Eliason was assigned to the AP bureau in Paris, where, among many other assignments, he covered exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as he led the Islamist revolution in Iran from afar.

After a stint in Israel, Eliason transferred to London, where he rose to news editor. His astute reporting and masterful prose stood out in one of the AP’s top “writing offices”, whether covering the bloodshed of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland or having fun with British eccentrics as “the world’s worst poet William McGonagall.

“Scotland is proud of its poets, and there is no city without its statue of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott or Robert Louis Stevenson,” Eliason wrote from Dundee. “But at the mention of The Great McGonagall in his hometown, reactions range from fond laughter to pained silence.”

He then returned to Israel, this time as bureau chief, leading a team of award-winning reporters and photojournalists in the 1990s, overseeing the continuous stream of news about Palestinian uprisings, intermittent Arab-Israeli peace talks, Israeli political battles, and Scud missiles. . Saddam Hussein’s Iraq attacks. From there, he moved on to his final international assignment, in Hong Kong, where he covered the British colony’s handover to Chinese control in 1997, writing all the while.

Over the decades, the AP has also harnessed the talents of the large, gregarious Israeli with a South African accent—a high school graduate whose insatiable reading and accumulated knowledge often amazed his colleagues—for temporary assignments at some of the hottest spots in the world. world, in some of the most important stories of the time.

He reported from Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979 and from his homeland of southern Africa during the worst of its anti-apartheid uprisings. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the AP sent Eliason to travel along the former Iron Curtain border to interview ordinary citizens and write a detailed report on the meaning of that epic chapter in the history of the century. XX.

In 1997, he left Hong Kong for AP headquarters in New York and worked as senior editor for features from around the world, a recognized teacher who became a sympathetic mentor to a group of younger foreign correspondents, from Beijing to Berlin and Buenos Aires.

“He was one of those journalistic heroes I had as a young writer, those fascinating, unattainable articles,” said one of those correspondents, Ted Anthony, now director of new storytelling and innovation at AP newsrooms. “Then he became the best editor I’ve ever had, an amazing mix of animator and executor. And a dear friend.

Retiring after 47 straight years with AP, Eliason said, “I’m a guy who’s worked his whole life. No scholarships, no sabbaticals, no paternity leave. He was having too much emotion for that.”

As he left his desk for the last time, he heard the large AP New York newsroom erupt in applause. “It was a kind and spontaneous gesture that reminded me once again how lucky I have been,” she later wrote. Boccardi said: “It was the AP that got lucky.”

Eliason is survived by his wife, Eva, a daughter, Avital, and a son, David.


Charles J. Hanley was a writer and editor for The Associated Press from 1968 to 2011.


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