They were demanding freedom for themselves. And they also wanted Mr. Claiborne, a Washington Post reporter who had written about the city’s corrections system and the prison uprising at Attica, N.Y., as their go-between in negotiating with authorities.
Mr. Claiborne, who died March 1 at 77 at a hospital in Kew, Australia, was 36 at the time and hungry for a good story. In 10 minutes, a police scout car was waiting outside his home. Lights flashing, sirens sounding, it sped through darkened streets to the massive jail complex near RFK Stadium.
Through a peephole in a steel door, Mr. Claiborne saw a man holding “a snubnosed revolver to a guard’s head,” he wrote in the next day’s edition of The Post. “I was scared.”
For nine hours, Mr. Claiborne practiced his own brand of shuttle diplomacy, moving back and forth between the inmates and law enforcement authorities.
The standoff ended with the hostages being released unharmed in exchange for a promise of amnesty and an opportunity for the inmates to air their grievances before a judge.
In 1975, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of nine prisoners on charges including attempted escape and armed kidnapping. The court found that a note offering amnesty signed by Hardy, the corrections official, was invalid because it was coerced under threat of violence.
For his stories about the jail, Mr. Claiborne made the shortlist for the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. The articles also made his reputation as a courageous journalist whose career would take him all over the world, covering everything from natural disasters to wars.
For 32 years, he was on the news staff of The Post but seldom reported from the nation’s capital. “Life in the home office,” he once wrote, “never suited me particularly well.”
He directed Post bureaus in Toronto, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Jerusalem and domestic ones in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. He joked of immersing himself so deeply in the Hollywood culture that he began pairing Armani jackets and Mickey Mouse T-shirts and signing off conversations with “Love ya, babe. Let’s do lunch sometime.”
The image was in stark contrast to Mr. Claiborne’s reputation as a journalistic emergency fireman, a rumpled veteran of conflict zones. While in New Delhi in the 1980s, he traveled often to Beirut to cover the civil war in Lebanon. While posted in Toronto in the early 1990s, he was sent to Somalia to cover fighting there. He also reported from Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Mr. Claiborne was “resourceful in following leads wherever they took him,” colleague William Branigin wrote in a memorandum for this obituary.
In Lebanon in 1983, Branigin recalled, Mr. Claiborne interviewed a U.S. Marine whose unit was under fire from a Shiite Muslim militia post, then made his way across a no-man’s land to interview the Shiite Muslim militia leader. The result was a page-one story illustrating what Mr. Claiborne described as “Lebanon’s checkerboard of territorial sovereignty by gun.”