Missed Stories

Recent news stories remind me of places I’ve worked as a photojournalist, reporter or editor… and how they exploded when I wasn’t there.

Recent news stories remind me of places I’ve worked as a photojournalist, reporter or editor… and how they exploded when I wasn’t there. There is no shortage of heroic recollections by aging reporters, but there were events I wish I’d covered: wrong place at the right time, or right place at the wrong time. It happens. In 1960, I left Paris before the French gave up Algeria and angry settlers fled to France rather than live under Algerian rule. That same year, I arrived in Moscow after Soviet missile forces shot down our U2 spy plane and captured pilot Gary Powers.In Rome, my fellowship fell between the 1960 Olympics and the 1962 Vatican Council and I missed both. London in the early 1960s was all about Beatles and miniskirts and the IRA wasn’t the terrorist threat it became. We had the Profumo-Keeler sex-and-security scandal, but it was little more than high society and low drama.  JFK visited England in 1963 and I was the local gofer for the UPI White House team traveling with the president. My only excitement was enjoying a very late drink at a rural pub that stayed open to accommodate the alcohol-fueled press corps and “covering” the crowd outside a country chapel when JFK went to mass.On the way from London to my new job in Central Africa in late 1963, I covered a visit to Liberia by the president of the Philippines. The bloody overthrow of the Liberian government and its elite descended from freed American slaves came later. Winds of change were sweeping black Africa, and the former Belgian Congo gained what passed for independence before I arrived in 1963 and the Western-backed secession in the southern province of Katanga effectively had ended. Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was murdered, probably with Belgian or U.S. connivance, and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia a couple years before I started as a photojournalist there.Kenya was newly independent but the Mau Mau resistance to British colonial rule was over. The Central African Federation, aka Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, broke up peacefully into independent and black-ruled Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and Malawi (Nyasaland) and quasi-independent (Southern) Rhodesia.  Our new daily Zambia Times supported black majority rule and covered the first nonracial national election in Zambia and 1964 independence celebrations. Few countries moved from colonial rule to majority rule so peacefully. A new owner bought the Zambia Times and I  took his Golden Handshake offer and left in early 1965. Apartheid South Africa had declared itself a republic, free of ties to Britain in 1960, and I was barred from entry after leaving Zambia. I assumed South Africa’s Special Branch kept tabs on people running black nationalist papers to the north, and I was sent back across the Limpopo River at Beit Bridge into (Southern) Rhodesia.In November 1965, white-ruled Rhodesia declared what it called Unilateral Independence from Britain and began the slide into a race war and eventual kleptocratic and murderous black majority rule as Zimbabwe.  I missed the wars of independence  in Angola and Mozambique in Southern Africa and the civil wars that followed in those former Portuguese possessions. In mid-1965, I returned to the States and was hired by the Minneapolis Star. With much of the past five years abroad, I’d missed high points of the early 1960s civil rights movement. My talent for missing newsworthy events continued as my bride and I arrived in Cincinnati while ashes from the 1967 riot still were hot.I joined the Enquirer, and in the late 1970s the paper sent me to Panama with the final butterfly collecting before the Cincinnati Zoo opened its butterfly house. However, I missed the initial Panamanian and American residents’ responses to the new Canal Treaty. I missed Sadat’s first, historic visit to Israel, but I did get to cover the return of the first Arab land at El Arish in the Sinai Sadat’s second visit to Israel. An American correspondent urged me to apply for a Jerusalem bureau job, but our family wasn’t up to the demands of Israeli daily life. We visited the Occupied West Bank without incident, I missed the start of terrorist kidnappings of journalists and the first Intifada was years away. No one was threatening tourists yet in Egypt or the Israeli-occupied Sinai when we were there. That came later.The next couple decades were spent largely in Cincinnati, covering the environment and federal courts. The positive side of those assignments was that I didn’t miss much. Then I retired. We went to South Africa in 2011 and I saw how much and how little I had missed when I was barred from entering in 1965.I missed the great transition from white-minority to black-majority government, but race still dictates so much of what happens there. South Africans still are working out how to achieve greater equality within the racial categories they inherited.That’s something I don’t want to miss. 

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]