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Remembering Peter Mackler, One Year Later

June 19, 2009

One year after his sudden disappearance, Peter Mackler is remembered by his friends and colleagues.

“It’s hard to realize it’s been almost a year, since I’m reminded almost daily how much he’s missed. People I don’t know, or don’t remember, constantly come over to share an anecdote about how Pete drove them nuts, or inspired them, or maybe just listened to them. Today, outside the Holocaust Museum, where I was trying to get something out of the FBI and the cops on the shooting, Karen Zeitvogel from AFP came over and we laughed about how Pete would have had her and everybody else running here and there on the story. And then she said how much her son missed Pete, who was the only one who took time to talk to him about baseball. AND THE KID IS A RED SOX FAN!!! Pete always went the last mile.”

-Richard Sisk, New York Daily News

“Peter may have gone but I still get nostalgic flashes of his tireless work ethic, colorful anecdotes and unending compassion. His personal qualities and high standards of journalistic excellence have inspired me and those around him this past year, and will continue to do so for many more to come.”

–Ponnudurai Parameswaran, Agence France Press

“Soon after Peter died, I was talking with a former student of mine who is now an Arabic-speaking (American) reporter in AFP’s Jerusalem bureau, and I asked him if he’d ever met Peter. ‘No,’ he replied, “but he’s legendary in the bureau for somehow, against all expectations, persuading the Pentagon to include us, a French agency, in the embedded journalists program for the Iraq invasion.’ It was a reflection of Peter’s tenacity and his refusal to recognize limits. Peter always fought for what was right, both journalistically and in his personal life, and this award represents his ideals

–Jay Brannegan, Project Plato

“Peter was always teaching. Most of what I know about journalism I learned from him over the course of more than 20 years working together. Peter is still my toughest editor. Every story I write I ask myself ‘Would it pass the Peter test?’ It gives me some consolation to know that while Peter may not be around to guide them, through the Peter Mackler Award young journalists will be able to learn the craft that he loved so much. “

-Chris Lefkow, Agence France Press

“During Peter’s time in Washington, I may have spent more time with him than anyone, dealing with matters of the desk, union contracts (since I was the guild representative) and a variety of other issues. We seemed to have a bond because of a number of things we had in common: We were both from New York, both worked in VISTA, married French women and had a dedication to and love for journalism. One thing that struck me about Peter is that during all the meetings we had, all the tough discussions, he always was willing to take a call from his wife or one of his daughters, whatever the issue. I recall the shift from tough editor to tender family man, and then back again, many times. As hard as Peter worked — and he seemed to be the hardest and most most dedicated person in the office — you also knew his heart was at home. And I thought of him as lucky to be doing something at work he really loved while being surrounded by a caring family.”

–Robert Lever, Agence France Press

“A year is a long time in the news business. International crises ebb and wane. Elections bring hope of change, or serve merely to strengthen hardline regime. Science breaks through some frontiers and puzzles over new conundrums. But the drum beat of the news room goes on. And the

last 12 months have sped by for AFP Washington since Peter’s death a year ago ripped the heart out of our small community here. Yet every day his voice is heard, every day we ask ourselves: “What would Peter do?” Every day we endeavor to hold ourselves up to the high ideals he set. Always remember the news is about people and their lives. Strive to get every little detail right. Behind every story lies at least two more. Never assume, never dumb down and never, never accept anything at face value. We miss you Peter, but you are still our guiding light.”

–Joanna Biddle, Agence France Press

“A Renaissance man, Peter was not just a brilliant organizer of war coverage; he could also jump in as both a great writer and editor during such occasions.

When Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait in February 1991, Peter wrote a lucid and gripping 3,000 word account about how the war was fought, peppering it with references to Sun Tzu, a 5th century Chinese military strategist. I still have a copy of it, a precious gem for a wire service that normally runs much shorter pieces. As an editor, he took very seriously the risk of military propaganda seeping into news coverage. In his Brooklyn accent and rapid-fire delivery, the tireless Peter could bring a tired reporter to his or her senses with a biting, sarcastic comment if he felt he or she was falling for hype or outright lies. I recall — now fondly! — receiving a dose or two during both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.”

–Lachlan Carmichael, Agence France Press

“”Where there is one story there are two.” It was Peter who first imparted this basic journalistic axiom to me. It remains, for me, one of the most profound truisms of life and barely a day goes by when I don’t recall it. A year ago Peter departed. That’s one story. The other however is: Peter continues to arrive in our lives every day, in a variety of ways, same as ever. Where there’s one story there are two.”

–Christopher Boian, Agence France Press

“I remember Peter organizing things on a big board, like he always did, and telling favorite anecdotes like the story of Kitty Genovese, a woman murdered on a street in New York and none of the neighbors called the police.

I remember him enjoying AFP reporter Luke Hunt’s Australian accent and gung ho and fearless attitude during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the war, he called me once warning me to be careful because it was getting dangerous. Likewise, he was skeptical of US military claims they had found specimens of WMD. At the Palestine Hotel, surveying the scene and the lack of any US military spokesman or authority to talk to, he called it a scene from the ‘Marx Brothers Duck Soup.

I also remember Peter telling me when I wanted to keep going on with my embed for one more night raid in Baghdad, he said ‘enough was enough.’ And in Cyprus, when he would visit there in 2002, he could school anyone who played him in tennis. And he seemed to take great pride in that. He never lost.”

–Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

If you would like to know more about Peter Mackler, please click here. To help our efforts to honor Peter’s memory, please considering donating to the Peter Mackler. To find out how Peter’s work continues, please visit the Global Media Forum.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.