A Correspondent With Few Peers
HE should have won two Pulitzer Prizes. He received only one.
Edmund Stevens, who passed on in Moscow late last month, was a giant of the foreign correspondent craft. He was honored as such with a 1950 Pulitzer - The Christian Science Monitor's first such prize - for his tough-minded series, "This is Russia - Uncensored." It summed up more than a decade's acute study of the hardship, bureaucracy, and corruption that lay behind the wave-of-the-future facade of Stalin's empire.
It was in 1934 that Ed Stevens first grappled with the reality of the land later to become his home. Ed was Moscow agent for the Cunard Line, turned freelancer in 1938 for the Manchester Guardian. A year later he began freelancing for the Monitor, covering the squeezing of the Baltic states by Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR and the start of the Russo-Finnish War. His dispatches were both pungent and analytical, and he soon became a staff writer. The little wars on his terrain graduated into World War
II, and Ed graduated into the wandering life and risk-taking of a war correspondent.
After the war, censorship and bureaucratic harassment made journalism increasingly difficult. In 1949, Ed, his Russian wife, Nina, and their two children set sail for America, closing down the Monitor bureau. Upon arriving in Boston, Ed started work on his Russia-uncensored series, and the family bought property on an old farmstead in a western suburb. But that dream of a suburban American existence was to be put on permanent hold. Stevens shipped out again, this time to become the Monitor's Mediterranea n correspondent, working out of Rome from 1950 to 1956.
During that stint, Stevens wrote a series of dispatches about the erosion of French colonialism in Algeria that was if anything more prophetic than his Russia-uncensored series. That year's Pulitzer jury, quirky as such juries often are, passed it by. But a young senator named Jack Kennedy took notice and began to build his foreign policy reputation by attacking Paris for doctoring the facts and covering up the costly rebellion in its nearest colony. Stevens's expose was a dress rehearsal for a generatio n of correspondents covering the more distant colonial foot-dragging in Vietnam and in Africa south of the Sahara.
D and Nina had bought a traditional log home in central Moscow not long after they married. It was to this, rather than their Boston suburban property, that they returned from Rome. When that house was torn down in the 1960s, they persuaded local officials to deed them a three-story mansion near Arbat Street. Stevens was often said to be the only American (with the possible exception of Armand Hammer) who owned a separate house in Moscow.
Long service (Ed eventually became the dean of the Moscow press corps) and a private house helped the Stevenses develop a huge array of contacts in the hard-to-penetrate capital of the communist empire. But this access also led to persistent rumors - unsubstantiated - that he was too cozy with Soviet authorities. After his return to Moscow in 1956, Stevens worked for a rapidly changing list of employers: Time, Life, Newsday, The Saturday Evening Post, NBC radio, The Times of London and Sunday Times, and the Evening News of London. He and Nina added to their collection of Russian icons and impressionist art.
Last year, a young man interning at a think tank in Washington crossed the room during a conference of media executives and told me he was Ed Stevens's grandson, Nicholas. It seemed appropriate that he, like much of the Muscovite world his grandfather covered for four decades, should be in Washington trying to understand the new one-superpower world. The last time I saw Ed himself, he was in the Monitor research library, gathering material for memoirs. What he talked about on that occasion was a kind of obituary for Lenin's empire. His first, best sketch for that obituary was the series completed in 1950 - when much of the world thought the empire invincible.