Dillon, Sam(uel) 1951-

views updated

DILLON, Sam(uel) 1951-

PERSONAL: Born 1951; married Julia Preston (a journalist).

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Farrar, Straus & Giroux, c/o Author Mail, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.

CAREER: Associated Press, chief of El Salvador bureau, 1981-82; Miami Herald, Miami, FL, San Salvador bureau chief, 1982-95, Nicaraguan bureau chief, 1987-89, South America bureau chief, 1990-92, Latin American correspondent, 1995-97; New York Times, New York, NY, metropolitan reporter, 1992-95, Mexico City bureau chief, 1995-2000, foreign and national correspondent, 2001.

AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize, 1987, for reportage on Iran-Contra scandal, and 1998, for reportage on drug corruption in Mexico; Tom Wallace Award, Inter-American Press Association, 1988, for reportage on Nicaraguan civil war, and 1989, for a profile of Manuel Noriega's business empire; Alicia Patterson fellowship, 1989; MacArthur Foundation research and writing grant, 2000-01; Overseas Press Club Award for Best Book on Foreign Affairs.


Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

(With wife, Julia Preston) Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Sam Dillon's news reportage from Latin America has been rewarded with numerous honors, including two Pulitzer prizes. He began his journalism career in 1981, when he reported on the civil war in El Salvador for the Associated Press. In 1987, Dillon was part of a team that won the Pulitzer for a series of stories on the Iran-Contra scandal, a situation in which the administration of U.S. president Ronald Reagan was accused of illegal arms dealings and negotiating for hostages. Dillon won his second Pulitzer for a series of articles on the effects of drug-related corruption in Mexico.

Dillon's book Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels drew on his knowledge of the civil war in El Salvador, which pitted the contra rebels against the Sandinista government. Comandos shows some positive points about the contras as well as detailing their record of human-rights abuses, and also reveals the complicity of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their activities. Dillon focuses his account on Comandante Johnson, a contra leader who attempted to stop the abuses that were so commonplace among the rebel forces. "No one has written about the conduct of the contras on the battlefield with the insight and authority of Mr. Dillon," claimed a reviewer for the Economist. A different opinion was put forth by Brian Barger in Washington Monthly, however; he felt that "Dillon fails to offer the kind of critical perspective expected in a reporter's book. Nonetheless, he provides a significant contribution to the body of knowledge about the latter years of the contra war."

Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy describes how the election of Vicente Fox in 2000 brought an end to seven decades of government control by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (IRP). The IRP was an authoritarian ruling party, despite Mexico's claim of democracy. Dillon and coauthor Julia Preston "brilliantly" tell a significant story, according to a Foreign Affairs reviewer. They discuss how the authoritarian history of Mexican rule compounded the problem of establishing true democracy in that country. Scott W. Helman, a contributor to the Houston Chronicle, stated that the writers "paint a moving portrait of a people fighting great odds to force democracy on a country that had long been democratic in name only." New York Times Book Review critic Michele Wucker believed that readers might want a more "analytical elaboration," but added that "Preston and Dillon more than make up for this minor shortcoming with their classic, nuanced storytelling." Walter Russell Mead, evaluating the book for the New York Times, found Opening Mexico somewhat flawed in its lack of a more critical examination of the IRP, but concluded: "The story of how the perfect dictatorship came unglued is one of the most fascinating stories of our time, and the authors tell their story well."



Columbia Journalism Review, November-December, 2002, Jay Cheshes, "A Drug Reporter's Strange Brew," p. 62.

Economist, February 15, 1992, review of Comandos: The CIA and Nicaragua's Contra Rebels, p. 104.

Foreign Affairs, March-April, 2004, Kenneth Maxwell, review of Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy.

Houston Chronicle, March 12, 2004, Scott W. Helman, review of Opening Mexico.

New York Times, March 26, 2004, Walter Russell Mead, review of Opening Mexico.

New York Times Book Review, March 28, 2004, Michele Wucker, review of Opening Mexico.

Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1991, review of Comandos, p. 52.

Village Voice, May 24-30, 2000, Cynthia Cotts, "Mouth of the Border: Mexico City Gets a New Bureau Chief."

Washington Monthly, January-February, 1992, Brian Barger, review of Comandos, p. 55.


Book Passage Web site,http://www.bookpassage.com/ (October 4, 2004), interview with Dillon.

Narco News Bulletin,http://www.narconews.com/ (May 28, 2000), Al Giordano, "Times Dumps Dillon."*