The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 77 amended the bylaws to allow him to become the first journalist to serve as president for three consecutive terms. In 1989 he became VOA’s first bureau chief in Moscow in the waning days of the Gorbachev era and the end of the Soviet Union. Covering a country with 15 republics that spanned 12 time zones meant the work was nonstop and exhilarating—a dream job for someone with his language skills and deep knowledge of Soviet history and culture. On Dec. 7, 1990, however, he was medically evacuated from Russia, stricken with a rare but reversible total paralysis known as Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). He would spend the next six months in Washington at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he learned to walk, write, eat, and move all over again. Eight months later, he returned to VOA’s Washington headquarters in a wheelchair, where he became editor of the Russia desk and continued intensive physical therapy to regain his strength and mobility. Eventually, he could walk with the use of a cane, though he never recovered fully from GBS. In 1994 he was sent to London as senior European correspondent focusing on the Northern Ireland story and the peace process. He covered other European stories as well as narrating the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 for a worldwide radio audience. Back in the U.S. in 1998, he became national security correspondent until he was named news director in 2000, a post he would hold for four and a half years. Responsible for 185 journalists and support staff worldwide who provided news for an international audience of more than 300 million, he oversaw coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath as well as the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. A decision to air a news story that included a portion of the last interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of the Taliban, brought the wrath of the State Department down on him in addition to several blisteringly critical op-ed pieces in The New York Times. Despite persistent, intense heat, he held his ground, insisting that the principles of the VOA charter governed his decision to run the story. For his courage and integrity, he was awarded the 2002 Tex Harris Award for Constructive Dissent by the American Foreign Service Association and the 2002 Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism by the University of Oregon. The fallout from the Mullah Omar interview never let up, however, and in 2004 he was reassigned as VOA’s senior diplomatic correspondent, a position he held until he retired in 2015. But the furor over what was seen as a politically motivated dismissal led to widespread coverage in the press along with massive protests by VOA newsroom journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Press Institute. In a final note to his staff as news director, he wrote: “We must continue to be objective, to present all sides of a story and to tell the unflinching, unvarnished truth. That is the basis of our credibility. We cannot permit anyone to spin a story, omit a fact, slant a viewpoint. Though the government pays our salary, it has never bought our conscience. … “There must always be a place here for constructive dissent and we must brook no tolerance for anyone who would construe it as disloyalty, or worse, make it a punishable action or a reason for retaliation. To quote Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ Or in the words of my countryman Voltaire: ‘I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to my death your right to say it.’” Mr. de Nesnera is survived by his wife of 41 years, novelist Ellen Crosby; his sons, Peter (and spouse Claudia) of Stuttgart; Matt (and spouse Kristin) of Chicago, Ill.; and Tim of Fairfax, Va.; granddaughter Maeve; and siblings Alex (and spouse Susan) of Concord, N.H., and Elizabeth of Olivebridge, N.Y. n Peter Tarnoff, 86, a retired Foreign Service officer and former president of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), died on Nov. 1, 2023. Mr. Tarnoff was born on April 19, 1937. He earned a B.A. in philosophy from Colgate University in 1958. He joined the State Department and went to his first post, as a political officer in Lagos, in 1962. During 25 years in the department, he served in Nigeria, Vietnam, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and Washington, D.C. During the Carter administration, he served as special assistant to Secretaries of State Cyrus Vance and Edmund Muskie (1977-1981). After retiring, Mr. Tarnoff became executive director of the San Francisco– based World Affairs Council of Northern California. He then became president of CFR (1986-1993) before returning to the State Department from 1993 to 1997 as the under secretary of State for political affairs. In 1997, then–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented Mr. Tarnoff with the State Department’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Award, for extraordinary service in advancing American interests through creative and effective diplomacy. n Lecile Webster, 101, a retired Foreign Service member, died on Dec. 2, 2023, in Silver Spring, Md.