A new biography of the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski has been published, which several British media have misinterpreted as some sort of exposé of fictions in his reporting. In an interview with the author Artur Domoslawski on the NYT Lede blog, he denies that his book exposed any problem with Kapuscinski’s journalistic ethics, and comments here about his work under the Polish communist regime. Somewhere between all the truth, facts, fiction, politics, and propaganda, Kapuscinski wrote some really great books – despite the fact that Domoslawski essentially reveals that he worked as a spy. This isn’t likely to be any kind of problem (and nor should it be), but it makes for an interesting contrast with Milan Kundera and the Czechs.
Q: What information came to light about Kapuscinski’s cooperation with the Communist intelligence apparatus? Did he have to cooperate in order to be allowed to work? And was there anything in the records that came to light that make you feel that he was compromised?
A: Kapuscinski was a part of the Communist establishment as a true believer — that has never been a secret — and occasionally he collaborated with the intelligence service while he was an international correspondent, just as many journalists in the U.S. collaborated with the C.I.A. (The problem was described at length by Carl Bernstein in 1977 in “The C.I.A. and the Media.”) Kapuscinski considered Communist Poland his country, his fatherland. You can’t just say that he was compromised. What compromise is it for a Communist — a true believer — to collaborate closely with his state and its agencies? For him it was something obvious. He might have though at that time that he was doing a good thing fighting Western or American imperialism in Africa or Latin America, if, for example, he was writing an analysis of the dirty operations of the C.I.A.
I think he crossed a border that any journalist should not cross, notbecause he collaborated with the “red” intelligence service, but simplybecause it was intelligence. If only one international correspondent isinvolved in intelligence work, all of us are under suspicion. It isdangerous for our profession. But please remember that in Poland underCommunist rule we didn’t have the open discussions about journalismstandards, or conflicts of interest, as you have always have had in theU.S. He might not have been aware of the mistake at the time, but Ithink that he understood what he did years later. But saying that, Idon’t make any accusation against him. On the contrary, my book on thisaspect is a defense of Kapuscinski against strong attacks from theanti-Communist right wing that considers Communist Poland Hell, andcollaborators with that intelligence service traitors.