Journalist John Goshko dies at 80

March 24

John M. Goshko, a journalist who opened The Washington Post’s first bureau in Latin America and became one of the newspaper’s stalwarts covering diplomatic affairs and foreign policy for more than two decades, died March 23 at an assisted-living center in Washington. He was 80.

The cause was kidney failure, said his son Matthew Goshko.

Mr. Goshko joined The Post’s metro staff in 1961 and advanced quickly to the foreign desk, spurred by prestigious fellowships that deepened his interest in Latin America. The paper, with growing ambitions in international coverage, made its beachhead in Latin America by sending Mr. Goshko to establish a Lima bureau in 1965.

He spent the next five years trying to make the continent relevant to readers while much of the world’s attention was focused on the intensifying war in Vietnam.

In addition to his stories about the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who was executed by Bolivian forces in 1967, Mr. Goshko wrote extensively about the destabilizing effects of U.S. arms trading with Latin American governments.


John M. Goshko in an undated early photo soon after joining The Washington Post in 1961. (The Washington Post)

The military, he wrote, is “an institution that is at once the region’s chief shield against internal subversion and the frequent disrupter of its democratic development.” One of his last series from Lima concerned the 1968 military coup in Peru that installed Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, who was later overthrown.

Mr. Goshko followed his work in South America with an important Cold War assignment in 1970 as Bonn correspondent. He chronicled West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s efforts toward rapprochement with Germany’s former enemies and the communist countries of Eastern Europe — a tricky path that would bring Brandt the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

One moment that stood out to many observers at the time — Mr. Goshko among them — was Brandt’s 1970 visit to Poland in an attempt to normalize ties with Warsaw 25 years after the end of World War II.

The chancellor stopped at a monument to Warsaw’s wartime Jewish ghetto, where hundreds of thousands of Jews had perished under Nazi control. With a colleague, Mr. Goshko recorded how Brandt, with lips trembling as he stood at the monument, “sank to his knees and bowed his head in a spontaneous gesture of sorrow.”

After a decade overseas, Mr. Goshko returned to Washington in 1975 as a Justice Department reporter. He covered one of the most sensational news stories of the period: the trial and conviction of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst on charges of helping her kidnappers rob a bank.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Goshko began a long tenure reporting on the State Department as a diplomatic correspondent with an intense focus on the Middle East. His notable stories included an analysis of U.S. policy toward Lebanon after a terrorist bombing in 1983 at the U.S. military compound in Beirut left 241 U.S. service members, most of them Marines, dead.

From 1995 until his retirement in 2000, he was a New York-based reporter writing about the United Nations and the often-strained relations with its host country.

John Myron Goshko was born July 29, 1933, in Lynn, Mass., where his father was a pharmacist. He participated in the ROTC program while attending the University of Pennsylvania.

After graduating in 1955 with a degree in English, he spent three years in the Army and received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1959.

The next year, while on the reporting staff of the Minneapolis Tribune, he toured Latin America for several months on a Pulitzer traveling fellowship. He received a Columbia fellowship for advanced international reporting in 1964.

Mr. Goshko received an Overseas Press Club Award and Columbia’s Maria Moors Cabot medal for his Latin American coverage. Later in his career, he was a recipient of the Korn/Ferry International Journalism Award for Excellence in United Nations Reporting, an honor bestowed by the executive search firm in conjunction with the Business Council of the United Nations.

In 1962, Mr. Goshko married Linda Levitt. Besides his wife, of Washington, survivors include four children, Anthony Goshko of Chicago, Matthew Goshko of Washington and Gigi Goshko and Jean Goshko, both of Manhattan; two brothers; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Goshko was widely regarded as a steady journeyman, quiet, conscientious and determined in presenting facts about often-murky international situations.

Michael Getler, who replaced Mr. Goshko in Bonn and later served as The Post’s deputy managing editor, said that his onetime colleague took satisfaction in telling off editors who assumed at any point that he had been scooped on a piece of information.

“We had it,” Mr. Goshko would famously and repeatedly say, then point to a line from one of his stories that ran weeks earlier.

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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