DEATH OF A FELLOW CORRESPONDENT
January 8, 2013 - Somewhere in Australia.
Life is full of ironic tragedies.
Yesterday I was told a friend, Reuters correspondent Doug Hamilton, drowned in the sea
off Tel Aviv on Christmas Eve.
Doug was one of the good guys, the type who gave you a lift in his company car in a war
zone even if it meant he had to share the news story with you; the guy who offered you his
agency wire so you could file your story even if that meant he did not have the exclusive
version for himself.
After dodging bullets in the Bosnian war, being wounded in Iraq, surviving terrorism and
the wrath of those who want to see you dead if you are not on their side, Doug died during a
banal swim off a popular beach in Israel. That's so hard to digest.
In our media business you become like brothers in times of conflict when you share tents,
bed bugs, tinned food and the possibility of death. Then you drift apart, often assigned to
different regions of the world. One day, maybe years later, you meet in some other hellhole or
in a hotel bar covering some political jamboree issuing more lies about world peace and
global justice. Your reunion always feels as if you haven't been apart at all. You just seem to
take up where you last left off, half a world away, maybe two decades ago. And you always
recall what struck you about the other.
I will terribly miss running into Doug lighting a cigar, something he always did if the
situation became hairy - or once the danger had passed.
We drove in clouds of cigar smoke down Sniper's Alley into Sarajevo during the Bosnian
war. He lit a cigar when Arkan's Tigers, a murderous paramilitary unit, surrounded us and
ordered our media convoy at gun point to return to Belgrade. While the rest of the convoy
obeyed Doug and I took perilous back roads to sneak into besieged Sarajevo.
All the way he was puffing.
The news agency business is cut-throat. An urgent news item filed a minute before the
opposition will gain you an accolade from your bosses. Dirty tricks were many before the sat
and smart phones made those tricks redundant. But Doug was never the type to station an
employee in the only telephone booth to prevent the opposition filing their story. If you ran out
of funds on the road in some remote place he was the first to stake you. A man of talent,
confidence and compassion he had no need to envy others. His own stories were masterful.
Doug was a gentleman journalist, fearless not just in combat situations but in writing
what had to be written, in exposing what was wrong, unjust or downright unfair. His editors
not always saw it his way. But after bitching to them and muttering about imminent resignation
he kept going, as most of us did.
I am not surprised in a recent internet story the Zionist lobby accused him of being an
anti-Israel propagandist. The lobby tolerates no criticism of the Jewish State. Its clout is
awesome - and intimidating.
Nor am I surprised Doug volunteered to be correspondent in Israel. I am sure he firmly
believed the story had to be told from both sides, not just from their' side.
Last time Doug and I had a drink together was in Vienna, eons ago. I had just pulled
off a scoop. Great bloody story, he said and raised his glass. There wasn't a trace of envy in
And that was Doug.
Uli Schmetzer was foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of four books among them 'Times of
Terror' the memoirs of a foreign correspondent. All are available on