The American journalist Harrison E. Salisbury (born 1908) was well-known for his reporting and books on the Soviet Union. A distinguished correspondent and editor for the New York Times, he was the first American reporter to visit Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
Born November 14, 1908, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Harrison E. Salisbury was the son of Percy and Georgiana Salisbury. His family was descended from English emigrants to the United States in 1640. Departing from a long line of craftsmen and farmers, Salisbury's grandfather, after whom he was named, was a doctor in Minneapolis. His father had a harder life, working for a company which made bags for the flour milling industry. Salisbury grew up in a neighborhood with a large concentration of poor Russian Jews and, with one foot in that culture, he eventually established his reputation as a writer on Russian affairs.
The Cub Reporter
A solitary child, Salisbury spent much of his time alone reading and writing. He graduated at age 16 from North Side High School where he edited the weekly newspaper. Enrolling at the University of Minnesota in 1925, he intended to study chemistry. After becoming editor of the campus daily and working as a reporter for the Minneapolis Journal he decided to pursue a career in journalism.
Expelled from school after attempting to set up a test case, with 20 comrades, of the library's no-smoking rule, Salisbury found a job working with United Press (UP) in St. Paul. He quickly became a star of the news service's eager but underpaid staff. He circulated through other UP bureaus in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and New York before being sent to Europe in 1942. In London—a training ground during World War II for influential American journalists of the coming decades one of his fellow correspondents and friends was Walter Cronkite.
In 1944, following a short tour of North Africa, Salisbury received his first assignment to Moscow, where he covered the Russian army's victory over the retreating German troops. After the war he returned to New York as the foreign-news editor of UP. His initial view of life in Russia appeared in a series of articles for Colliers magazine and later as a book entitled Russia on the Way (1946), the first of over 20 books Salisbury would write relating to Russian history and politics.
Dissatisfied working with UP, he sought a position at the New York Times. He did not want to return to the Soviet Union, but when the Times offered him a job as their Russian correspondent in 1949 he accepted. His reports coming out of Moscow were heavily censored, and in the McCarthy anti-Communist atmosphere prevailing in America at the time were seen as controversial.
In the spring of 1954 he traveled extensively through Siberia. His observations formed the basis for a 14-part report, written after his return to the United States and printed in the New York Times as "Russia Re-viewed." The series received the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.
When Salisbury returned to New York, he was placed on the Times' metropolitan beat. He turned an assignment on garbage collection in New York City into a major investigative story. An examination of teen-age gangs in Brooklyn was later republished in book form as The Shook-Up Generation (1958).
By the end of the decade Salisbury was focusing on the growing civil rights movement. Sent to cover race relations in the South in 1960, his reports led to a six million dollar libel suit against the Times which wasn't resolved in the Times' favor until 1964. In a landmark Supreme Court decision, the Sullivan case established a strict standard for the judgment of libel regarding a public figure.
Although barred from the Soviet Union for five years after receiving the Pulitzer Prize, Salisbury was able to tour Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Albania in 1957, and his report on the deterioration of Communism in Eastern Europe led to a George Polk Memorial award for foreign news coverage. Allowed to visit the Soviet Union in 1959 and 1961-1962, Salisbury wrote several books describing the changes in the post-Stalin era. He also published Moscow Journal: The End of Stalin (1961), which included the censored dispatches from his earlier five-year residence in Moscow. His knowledge of Stalin's regime provided the background for his well-received first novel, The Northern Palmyra Affair (1962).
His Rise at the Times
In 1962 Salisbury was named national news editor of the Times. He supervised the paper's excellent coverage of President Kennedy's assassination and in 1964 became assistant managing editor.
As the United States became more heavily involved in the Vietnam War, Salisbury was eager to travel to North Vietnam, where no American journalists had visited. His patience and inquiries were finally rewarded in late 1966 when he received an invitation and a visa. In a two-week trip to Hanoi he surveyed the extent of property damage and civilian casualties inflicted by American bombing, which contradicted the benign impression presented by the Johnson administration. His reports were given the Overseas Press Club and George Polk Memorial awards. He elaborated his experience in North Vietnam in the book Behind the Lines (1967).
While serving as Times editor Salisbury remained a prolific writer of books. He wrote Orbit of China (1967), the best-seller The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (1969), and War Between Russia and China (1969).
In 1970 Salisbury became the first editor of the New York Times' Op-ed page. In 1972 he was elevated to the rank of associate editor. At the end of 1973 he reached the Times' mandatory retirement age.
Leaving the Times, he continued to churn out books, publishing 12 of his 29 books after his retirement. Salisbury wrote about the Soviet Union in a series of books including Black Night, White Snow (1978); One Hundred Years of Revolution (1983); and A Journey for Our Times: A Memoir (1983), which also narrates his boyhood and early career as a journalist. His memoirs were elaborated in another book published in 1988, entitled A Time of Change. The retired Salisbury also took several trips to China and wrote a book describing following the course of the Long March [/The Long March: The Untold Story, (1985)].
Salisbury wrote an authorized but independent history of the New York Times which was published as Without Fear or Favor (1980). It discusses the shift in the paper from reporting the news to becoming more actively engaged in political events. Salisbury focuses his story on the decision of the Times to print the secret study of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, which provoked a confrontation with the Nixon administration.
Salisbury had two sons from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. In 1964 he married Charlotte Young Rand, and they lived in Manhattan and Taconic, Connecticut. Salisbury donated his 600-box collection of papers and archival materials to Columbia University, which mounted a retrospective exhibit in the spring of 1997 chronicling Salibury's years as a reporter, from his coverage of Al Capone's trial to his presence at the 1989 Tianamen Square uprising [described in Tianamen Diary: Thirteen Days in June (1988)}.
Further Reading on Harrison Evans Salisbury
A prolific writer, Salisbury authored 29 books in addition to pursuing a full career as a newspaper correspondent. For a sampling of Salisbury's work a reader should see his novel The Northern Palmyra Affair (1962); his best-seller The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (1969); his account of his experience in North Vietnam, Behind the Lines (1967); his memoirs, A Journey for Our Times (1983); and A Time of Change: A Reporter's Tale of Our Time (1987); and his history of the making of the Chinese Red Army, The Long March: The Untold Story (1985). Those interested in the inner workings of the New York Times should see Without Fear or Favor (1980); and The Kingdom and the Power (1966), Gay Talese.
Other books written after his retirement included Russia in Revolution (1979); The New Emperors: China in the Era of Mao and Deng (1992); and his last, Heroes of My Time (1993). Multiple tributes to Salisbury can be found on the Internet at sites maintained by Columbia University and the Minnesota News Council.