Mort Report is a labor of love by old-style correspondents with lifetimes on the road and young ones with fresh eyes. Our philosophy is simple: we report at first hand with analysis based on non-alternative fact, not opinion. If we get something wrong, we fix it.
PARIS - Robert Mugabe, who died in ignominy this month at 95, swept into his first African summit in 1981 as a conquering hero, a teacher-turned-guerrilla leader in a snazzy suit and silk tie. He preached Marxism, but as prime minister he ran a laissez-faire economy that was anything but.
“I'd lay good money that Zimbabwe is going to hold together and prosper to boot,” Gregory Jaynes wrote in the New York Times. “Mugabe fought colonialists of British stock for majority rule and a finely tuned capitalist system he appears to want to keep.”
We reporters at that Nairobi summit mostly agreed, and that remained a safe bet for more than a decade. Despite a vicious seven-year civil war that took 20,000 lives, Zimbabwe thrived with a multiracial parliament and an uncommonly well-run government.
White-owned commercial farms exported enough maize to feed 10 percent of Africa and paid laborers fair wages. Industry bustled. Tourists flocked to the spectacular Victoria Falls, hobnobbed with rhinos along the Zambezi and explored ancient Great Zimbabwe ruins.
Harare was sensational when jacaranda blossoms fell like purple rain on the main city square outside the elegant paneled bar at Meikle's Hotel. Wealthy Zimbabweans, black and white, filled restaurants, clubbed until late, walked home without looking over their shoulders. Reporters blew in without visas, and officials spoke freely with rare frankness.
PARIS — My friend Sidney died in Arizona. I saw him there not long ago, and he exuded life. He pocketed his latest Apple iWhatever so we could pig out in peace on mammoth racks of fiery ribs. Then we drove off, laughing, in his new Tesla. When his time finally ran out late last month, he was two years short of 100.
Sidney Rittenberg’s trajectory from Mao Zedong sidekick to well-heeled adviser who helped presidents and industry moguls fathom the opaque Middle Kingdom tells us much about the complexities of human nature.
I think of him when a kid tries to find a nice way to say dotty old fart. “Old age” is relative. Nature might deal from the bottom to cause early dementia. Some people sink into sofas at 40, brains atrophying. Others blaze on until their lights flicker out.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, at 87, bounds out of hospitals to ensure America is not handed over to a kangaroo court. Jimmy Carter, almost 95, still shows why he was so vastly underrated as president. Donald Trump, 73, at times evokes a spoiled 3-year-old.
New generations have dissed old ones since forever, but it’s different now. Technology helps smart young people be smarter. But it also gives a false sense of omniscience that causes others to spurn elders as irrelevant wastes of space.