Home News TD Allman, the self-assured globetrotting journalist, dies at 79

TD Allman, the self-assured globetrotting journalist, dies at 79


On May 12, free-spirited journalist TD Allman died in Manhattan at the age of 79. For 50 years, he challenged American myths with sharp, personal reporting on subjects ranging from the Vietnam War to contemporary Florida.

He died of pneumonia in hospital, his partner Sui Chengzhong said.

In March 1970, Mr. Allman, a 25-year-old freelance journalist, accompanied by two other journalists, 15-mile hike through the mountains of Laos Reporting to the New York Times about Dragon City, a secret CIA base used to fight communist Laotian revolutionaries and their allies, the North Vietnamese.

“At the end of the paved runway were three Hulk rescue helicopters,” Mr. Allman reported. “Their presence was seen as one of the reasons the United States was trying to keep Dragon City secret. The Hulk helicopters were seen as evidence that the United States was bombing not only the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but also northeastern Laos.”

The words are typical of Mr. Allman’s colorful reporting around the globe for Harper’s Magazine, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, National Geographic and other publications, combining close observation with pointed conclusions, often indicting the United States for wrongdoing or other abuses of power.

His career took off when he began reporting exclusively from Laos and Cambodia toward the end of the Vietnam War, serializing stories from the war’s margins for The New York Times and The Washington Post about U.S. bombings that killed farmers and destroyed rice paddies but had nothing to do with the military.

A Time magazine report on the massacre by the Cambodian government forces of the US allies is included in the Library of America’s volume of Vietnam Reports. In 1970, in the New York Review of Books, Noam Chomsky, who always preferred positive reports, wrote: Mr. Allman “One of the most knowledgeable and aggressive American journalists currently in Cambodia.” 1989 Harrison E. SalisburyA famous Times war correspondent, called Mr. Allman was “bold and brash” and “spectacular.”

Mr. Orman would later fly across the desert in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s small plane, watch Soviet President Boris Yeltsin undress before a crowd in Siberia, meet with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a bunker, hide from death squads with El Salvadoran farm workers and witness the Tiananmen Square uprising in April 1989 from a hotel balcony in Beijing.

His opinionated ways and profligate spending might have irritated editors, but he delivered coverage that people saw and felt.

“Tim did well on the ground in those dangerous republics, covering leaders like Arafat, Sihanouk, and Gaddafi,” Graydon Carter, a former Vanity Fair editor, recalled in an email, referring to Cambodia’s former king and prime minister Norodom Sihanouk. “He spent so much time in Haiti that we feared he had been lost there. No matter how hard it got, he always came back with rich, operatic epics that were unforgettable. And expensive.”

Mr. Allman, who has a second career as a writer of books that focus on American foreign policy and his native Florida, has received mixed reviews, with critics sometimes accusing him of going too far.

Reviewing his book Miami: City of the Future in The New York Times in 1987, critic Michiko Kakutani noted that his work could sometimes be “exaggerated and exaggerated,” but wrote: “Miami’s most revealing passages are those based on reportage and historical detail. Mr. Allman introduces us to Miami’s colorful characters.”

However, Central European scholar Timothy Garton Ash was dismissive of Allman’s 1984 screed against US foreign policy, The Unmanifested Destiny. Call it “Fat, aimless, passionate” and “a manifestation of American self-flagellation.”

Mr. Allman published a 2013 history of Florida, “Searching for Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State,” which aimed to debunk myths Floridians claim about the state’s ugly racial and economic history — from the massacres of Native Americans to white supremacy to sordid land grabs. Fierce Attack It has received attention from supporters in Florida.

Mr Allman explains his approach An interviewer: “I never go into a story with preconceived notions. Whether it’s Laos, where I started my career, or Miami, Colombia, or the Middle East. I just go and experience the place. That’s the way I do it.”

That approach was exemplified in a March 1981 Harper’s cover story on repression and insurgency in El Salvador at the height of U.S. support for the country’s far-right regime. Mr. Allman let his sensibility guide his reporting, opening himself to what he saw and heard, with evocative effect.

He wrote: “No matter how hard one searches for meaning, we find only fear and helplessness – abused barefoot women without food or medicine to feed their malnourished children; landless, jobless, illiterate men and boys hiding from their own government’s ‘security forces’; mutilated bodies littering the roadsides.”

When he suddenly encountered the peasant rebels he had been seeking, he wrote: “The rustling of the trees became a rustling beyond the trees.”

There are many similar situations where Mr. Allman has recklessly put himself in danger.

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

“He developed a flamboyant, eccentric personality to go along with his acerbic writing style,” Mr. Randall said.

Timothy Damien Allman was born on October 16, 1944, in Tampa, Florida, the son of Paul J. Allman, a U.S. Coast Guard officer who later became an instructor at the Maritime School, and Felicia (Edmonds) Allman, an antique dealer. When he was five, the family moved to Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Allman grew up and attended school.

When he was a student at Harvard University, he “did nothing but smoke, drink and write, and learned nothing,” recalled his partner, Mr. Sui.

After graduating in 1966, he joined the Peace Corps, primarily to avoid the draft. Sent to a village in Nepal, Allman was introduced to a world of “hardship and suffering” that he knew nothing about, said Sui, who had grown up as a “middle-class American.”

When Mr. Allman left the Peace Corps, the Vietnam War was still going on, he was hired by an English-language newspaper in Bangkok. Mr. Sui said he was noticed by American journalists and his career took off.

Sui Wenjing said he was proud of his time in Indochina, when he “drove a jeep into the killing fields” and saw “people being buried alive.”

Mr. Allman later reported from more than 80 countries. His last project was “Profound France: The Long History of a House, a Town, and a People” The book, which will be published in August, tells the story of his house in southwestern France, the village where it is located and the deep connection he discovered to France’s ancient past.

Sui Wenjing and Allman met more than 20 years ago when Sui was pursuing a doctorate at Columbia University. In addition to him, Allman also left behind his brother Stephen and sister Pamela Allman. He had lived in France and New York.

“He’s a man of tremendous courage,” Sui said. “He will face this. TD will not give in. He’s not a negotiator. And he has the best charisma.”

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