TD Allman, Determined Globe-trotting Journalist, Dies at 79

TD Allman, a free-spirited journalist who challenged American mythmaking with clear, personal reporting for more than five decades on topics as diverse as the Vietnam War and Florida contemporary, passed away on May 12 in Manhattan. He was 79 years old.

His partner, Chengzhong Sui, said his death in hospital was due to pneumonia.

In March 1970, as a 25-year-old freelance journalist, Mr. Allman, along with two other reporters, Hike 15 miles through the mountains in Laos to report for The New York Times on Long Cheng, a secret CIA base used against the revolutionary communist Pathet Lao and their allies, North Vietnam.

“At the end of the paved runway were three Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters,” Mr. Allman recalled. “Their presence is said to be one of the reasons why the United States tried to keep Long Cheng a secret. The Jolly Green Giants were seen as evidence that the United States bombed not only the Ho Chi Minh Trail but also Northeast Laos.”

Those words are typical of the style that Mr. Allman, in his colorful reports from around the world – for Harper’s, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, National Geographic and other publications – combines Close observations with sharp conclusions often criticize the wrongdoings of the United States or others who abuse power.

His career took off after he specialized in covering Laos and Cambodia at the end of the Vietnam War, wired The Times and The Washington Post from the war’s peripheries and reported on American bombing raids. killing farmers and destroying rice fields but that did not import the military

An article for Time magazine about the massacre by Cambodian government troops, an American ally, was included in the “Vietnam Report” volume of the American Library. In the 1970 New York Review of Books, Noam Chomsky, always inclined towards in-depth reporting, called Mr. Allman “one of the most knowledgeable and enterprising American reporters currently in Cambodia.” 1989, Harrison E. SalisburyFamous Times war correspondent, call Mr. Allman was “bold and haughty” and “remarkable.”

Mr. Allman will continue to sit on Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s small plane across the desert, watch Soviet president Boris Yeltsin strip in front of a crowd in Siberia, and meet Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in a bunker. his hiding place, walking through farm workers hiding from firing squads in El Salvador and, in April 1989, witnessing the uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square from a balcony your hotel.

He could irritate editors with his steadfast views and his profligate ways with an expense account. But he brought back reports that had been observed and felt.

“Tim was very good at dodgy republics as he covered their leaders like Arafat, Sihanouk and Qaddafi,” former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter recalled in an email, referring to Norodom Sihanouk , former king and prime minister of Cambodia. “He spent so much time in Haiti that we were worried that we had lost him to the spirits down there. Despite difficulties, he always returned with memorable, operatic epics. And expensive.”

Mr. Allman has a second career writing books, focusing on American foreign policy and Florida, where he was born. Here, reviews were mixed, with critics sometimes criticizing him for overdubbing.

Reviewing the book “Miami: City of the Future” in The Times in 1987, critic Michiko Kakutani noted that his writing can sometimes be “grandiose and bombastic” but Written: “It is in passages that rely on the specifics of reportage and history that ‘Miami’ appears most clear. Mr. Allman introduced us to a diverse gallery of Miami personalities.”

However, Central Europe scholar Timothy Garton Ash dismissed Mr. Allman’s 1984 criticism of American foreign policy, “Destiny is unclear,” call it “fat, rambling and passionate” and “an exercise in American self-flagellation.”

And Mr. Allman’s 2013 history of Florida, “Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State,” aims to puncture the myths Floridians tell themselves about their state’s sordid economic and racial history – from massacres of Native Americans to white supremacy to sleazy land grabs – is Strong attack by Florida boosters.

Mr. Allman explains his approach with an interviewer: “I never go into a story with preconceived notions. Whether it’s Laos, where my career started, whether it’s Miami, Colombia or the Middle East. I just go and experience this place. This is how I operate.”

That fact was demonstrated in a March 1981 cover story of Harper’s Magazine about repression and uprisings in El Salvador at a time when America supported the far-right regime there. Mr. Allman allows his sensibility to guide his narration, opening himself up to what he sees and hears, to create an evocative effect.

“No matter how diligently one searches for meaning,” he wrote, “one finds only terrorized, unhappy people – barefoot, abused women without food or medicine for their malnourished children; landless, unemployed, illiterate men and boys fleeing to escape the ‘security forces’ of their national governments; mutilated bodies on the side of the road.”

When he suddenly encountered the rebel peasants he was searching for, he wrote: “The rustling of the trees became a rustling beyond the trees.”

There were many other situations like this where Mr. Allman unintentionally put himself in danger.

“I admire him for his courage and quick tongue,” Jonathan Randal, a former Washington Post reporter, said in an email, describing Mr. Allman as “funny, irreverent, insightful and stubborn”.

“He cultivated a kind of frenetic handball personality to match his acerbic pen.” Mr. Randal said.

Timothy Damien Allman was born on October 16, 1944 in Tampa, Fla., to Paul J. Allman, a United States Coast Guard officer and later an instructor at a maritime school, and Felicia (Edmonds) Allman, a antique dealer. He was 5 when the family moved to Glen Mills, Pa., where Mr. Allman grew up and went to school.

He attended Harvard University, where he “did nothing but smoke, drink and write, and learned nothing,” his partner, Mr. Sui, recalled him saying.

After graduating in 1966, he joined the Peace Corps largely to avoid the draft. Mr. Allman is assigned to a village in Nepal, where he begins to enter a “difficult and painful” world he knows nothing about, growing up as a “middle-class American,” Mr. Sui said.

While the Vietnam War was still raging when Mr. Allman left the Peace Corps, he was hired by an English-language newspaper in Bangkok. Mr. Tuy said American reporters paid attention to him and his career was launched.

He is proud of that period in Indochina, Mr. Tuy said, where “he went into the killing fields in a jeep” and witnessed “people being buried alive.”

Mr. Allman continues to report from more than 80 countries. His last project was “In Deep France: The Long History of a House, a Mountain Town, and a People,” a book will be published in August about his home in southwestern France, the village in which it is located and the deep connections he discovered there with France’s ancient past .

In addition to Mr. Sui, who met Mr. Allman more than 20 years ago when Mr. Sui was completing his Ph.D. at Columbia University, Mr. Allman is survived by a brother, Stephen, and a sister, Pamela Allman. He lived in France and New York.

“He was a man of extraordinary courage,” Mr. Sui said. “He will definitely have to deal with it. TD does not bring results. He is not a negotiator. And he has the most wonderful charm.”


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