Famed Vietnam War Scribe Kate Webb Dies
Monday, May 14, 2007; 10:55 PM
SYDNEY, Australia -- Kate Webb, a pioneering journalist whose powerful reputation was forged on the front lines of the Vietnam War and who roamed Asia for nearly 35 years covering coups and strife from India to the Philippines, died Sunday. She was 64.
Webb, who once made the news instead of writing it in 1971 when she was captured in Cambodia and held prisoner by North Vietnamese troops, succumbed to bowel cancer in Sydney, her brother Jeremy Webb told The Associated Press on Monday.
"There wasn't a story that she ever covered poorly, but it was her war reporting that drove her and incidentally turned her into an icon of her generation," said Alan Dawson, a colleague of Webb's at the news agency United Press International during the war years.
The New Zealand-born, Sydney-trained Webb first went to Vietnam in 1967 and spent more than six years covering the war for UPI, building a reputation for brave, honest reporting and insightful writing.
After the war's end, she worked throughout Asia for UPI and later Agence France Presse, covering some of the region's biggest stories from South Korea to Afghanistan and half-dozen other countries, as well as Iraq during the first Gulf War.
After covering the fall of the Suharto regime in Indonesia in 1998, she retired from journalism in 2001, saying she felt "too old to keep up with front-line reporting, and that was the only kind I liked."
Webb, who lived the hard-drinking, chain-smoking lifestyle of her journalistic generation to the hilt, returned to her family's adopted home of Australia, where she lived in relative seclusion on the Hunter River north of Sydney.
"Kate was a very good journalist in every way," said Richard Pyle, who spent five years covering the war for The Associated Press. "In the heated competition between UPI and AP during the Vietnam war, she was an especially formidable presence."
Webb was born in 1943 in New Zealand and moved with her family to Australia's national capital, Canberra, as a child. She graduated from Melbourne University with a philosophy-related degree, but ended up as a cub reporter at the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid Daily Mirror in Sydney.
She quit the paper at age 23 and went to Vietnam, ending up with UPI. She became one of the few women to cover the war full-time. Colleagues said she was courageous, empathetic, and dedicated.
"She never sought to be a role model or a trailblazer, but the duties were thrust upon her," Dawson wrote for the Bangkok Post this week. "She was only in it for the news."
In April 1971, she was among six people captured while covering a battle in Cambodia. Webb was given up for dead after officials said a body had they found and cremated was probably hers, prompting front page news reports and an obituary in The New York Times.