RIP New York Times Osama Bin Laden Obituary Writer, 1938-2010


The world is ringing right now with news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the terrorist mastermind having been killed by the United States almost 10 years after the September 11 attacks he planned. But as an interesting footnote, it’s worth pointing out, as FishbowlNY did, that Michael T. Kaufman, one of the two writers responsible for Bin Laden’s extensive seven-page obituary in the New York Times, (published online late last night and on the front page of Monday’s newsstand edition) actually died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

It’s the same phenomenon we noticed when Elizabeth Taylor died in March, having outlived the lead writer of her New York Times obituary, Mel Gussow, by almost 6 years.

It is common newspaper practice to have obituaries prepared for notable world figures, to be published in the event of their death whenever it may come, and so it’s not unheard of for the writer to have passed away first. But it is fascinating!

Bin Laden, killed yesterday in Pakistan, outlived Kaufman, “a former foreign correspondent, reporter and columnist for The New York Times who chronicled despotic regimes in Europe and Africa, the fall of Communism and the changing American scene for four decades,” by over a year.

Kaufman’s own obituary in Times can be read here, and tells of his adventurous life witnessing history worldwide:

A versatile, imaginative writer of seven books and thousands of articles, Mr. Kaufman covered wars, revolutions, politics and America’s turbulent 1960s. But he also explored the foibles of raising children in a violent world, his father’s years as a political prisoner in Poland and his family’s escape from invading Nazis in World War II.

Taking after his boyhood hero, Jack London, he traveled widely as a correspondent, interviewing kings, presidents, dictators and the Dalai Lama. He accompanied mercenaries in Rhodesia; covered wars in Angola, Zaire, Ethiopia and Afghanistan; talked his way through roadblocks; befriended an Israeli secret agent; was once arrested at gunpoint; and documented the approaching death of Communism in Poland.

Kaufman’s posthumous Bin Laden obituary was eventually penned and published in collaboration with Kate Zernike with reporting from Tim Weiner. A note at the bottom reads simply, “An author of this obituary, Michael T. Kaufman, died in 2010.”