JOURNALISTS who become prominent covering wars or politics are generally eulogised for scoops scored or prizes secured. Steve Komarow’s four-decade career was most accomplished, but his main achievement was something even rarer in the often cut-throat worlds of Washington bureaus and foreign corresponding. His calmly intense confidence as a reporter, and clear-eyed equanimity as an editor, produced widespread respect with no lasting enmity.
After Mr Komarow died at 61 from brain cancer, tributes focused on the preternatural calm, intellectual range, high standards, low volume and cockeyed grin that secured his stature in all four newsrooms where he played a pivotal role. The last was CQ, part of The Economist Group, where he was executive editor from 2015.
His approach earned wide notice when he was a cub reporter for the Associated Press. On the morning of December 8th 1982, an anti-nuclear protester called Norman Mayer drove a lorry, which he claimed was rigged with 1,000lb of dynamite, to the base of the Washington Monument, demanding to negotiate with an unmarried and childless reporter. Mr Komarow volunteered, and by nightfall secured the release of nine hostages inside the obelisk.
Covering a Congress just starting its descent into partisan gridlock, Mr Komarow’s countervailing courtesy led the press corps to choose him as their negotiator over access. Hired by USA Today, he went to Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, and was the first to cover a cruise-missile launch from inside a B-52. After September 11th 2001 he decamped to Afghanistan, where his best work, he thought, was smuggling a rescue dog out of the country over the Khyber Pass. Then posted to Iraq, he was among the first to report from the hole where Saddam Hussein was captured.
He returned to AP for four years as deputy Washington bureau chief, helping to manage election coverage in 2008. Then came five years at Bloomberg, directing its reporting on Barack Obama’s White House, followed, for the final 29 months of his life, by nurturing a staff of mostly younger journalists covering Capitol Hill for CQ Roll Call.
“He was adventurous—who else would want to try the marmot for lunch in Macedonia?—and he was wise,” said Dan Rubin, a fellow foreign correspondent. “He always wore a sports coat when flying in case the airlines were overbooked and needed to upgrade someone for business class. He counselled: ‘Always look like you belong there.’ And of course he always did.”