It’s late on a sweltering mid-summer afternoon in the nation’s capital, and inside his air-conditioned condo/gallery, Krause is speaking to a dozen or so Penn students who are getting a private tour as part of the Penn in Washington internship program. He’s been pretty involved with the University over the years, having served for three years as a young alumni trustee back in the early 1970s and participated in the occasional alumni event for The Daily Pennsylvanian, where, as a student (then known as Chuck) majoring in political science, he had risen through the ranks to become editor-in-chief. Now he’s telling them a little about his journalism career, beginning with his stint with The Washington Post.
“I guess the first big, big story that I was involved with that you would know of is ‘Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid,’” he says. “Does anyone know where that comes from?”
Only one student offers an answer, and while she gets the gist of it right, she’s a little fuzzy on the details. Which is hardly surprising; the murders and mass suicide at Jonestown took place more than a decade before these kids were born. So Krause fills in some of the details, though he is so reluctant to dramatize his own story in conversation that it doesn’t really pack the punch that it could.
Consider, for example, this snippet from Guyana Massacre: The Eyewitness Account, which Krause, aided by a team of Post writers, knocked out in six days, and which sold upwards of 250,000 copies in half a dozen languages (it was later made into a riveting TV movie):
The shots were louder and closer now. Someone landed on top of me and rolled off. I could feel dirt spraying over me, but there were no screams or moans. Just the pop-pop-pop of the bullets. The shots were coming from one side of me and from the rear, and I knew I was on the wrong side of the plane. Suddenly, my left hip burned and I felt a tooth chip. I knew I had been hit.
I was thinking, this is crazy. It couldn’t be. I was going to die in the middle of the jungle, in Guyana, so far away from my family and friends. I thought about the coming Thanksgiving.
I wasn’t going to be there. I was going to be dead. It was all so unfair, so unjust, so ironic. I was here working. I had nothing to do with the People’s Temple. I did not want to destroy it.
I hadn’t believed it was what its detractors said it was. How stupid, I was thinking. How Goddamn stupid I’d been.
It’s an extraordinary story, though as Krause makes clear, he was only a lucky survivor, not a hero. He had known virtually nothing about the People’s Temple when he reported to Guyana, and during his brief tour of the compound with Congressman Leo Ryan and some other journalists he had not grasped the truly evil mindset of Jim Jones that led to 900 men, women, and children committing mass suicide or being murdered. But he survived the terrifying ordeal, and made up for what he had missed with coverage that won the Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award.
Two years later, Krause switched over to the broadcast side of journalism as a correspondent for CBS News, where he reported on, among other things, a Cuban artist named Roberto Fabelo. In 1983 he moved to PBS and its NewsHour, spending 16 years as the program’s senior foreign-affairs correspondent. He covered everything from the Middle East—his reports of the 1996 Israeli elections won an Emmy—to Operation Desert Storm and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Wherever he went he followed his nose for art, tracking down artists the same way he tracked down stories of political dissent.
His first Russian love was Soviet propaganda art, but he soon discovered that there were other artists in the Soviet Union who had refused to paint in the official socialist-realism style. It wasn’t until more than a decade later that he first saw some of the Nonconfirmists’ work at the state Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
“I was stunned, amazed, simply blown away by what I saw and vowed to myself that I would learn as much as I could about them and build a collection of their art,” he told Russia Behind the Headlines’ Nora FitzGerald, “both because many of them were extraordinarily inventive and original and because of the example they set and the risks they took to create art that, in and of itself, made a political statement even if there was nothing else political about it.”
By then, ironically, Krause had left journalism. It can’t have been an easy decision, even though, for all his skills as a reporter, broadcast journalism had been a difficult medium for him. As a speaker—at least as an interview subject—he’s more of a writer, one who constantly edits himself as he goes along.
“I wasn’t a natural-born actor or presenter,” he acknowledges. “I never, ever developed a natural delivery, which you really must have. I was a good reporter, and that got me to a certain point. But unless you can deliver it with a kind of style, you’re only going to go so far.”
As a result, he more or less hit a wall at the NewsHour.
“I wanted to be an anchor at PBS,” he says. “I wouldn’t deny that for a minute. And it just didn’t seem like it was going to happen. At a certain point, you start to think, ‘If this isn’t going where I want it to go, and I’m just increasingly frustrated by this whole thing, how do I get out of it?’”
A somewhat circuitous path led him to APCO Worldwide, an international public-relations and communications firm, where he became a senior vice president. On the surface, it was a surprising career move, though it led him to some important connections.
Robert Amsterdam, an activist lawyer and founding partner of the Toronto law firm Amsterdam & Peroff, first met Krause when they were both working on the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire Russian petroleum executive who was imprisoned by the Putin regime on tax evasion and other charges; the case was widely considered to be politically motivated. Amsterdam represented Khodorkovsky in court, and was expelled from Russia for his efforts. Krause was representing Khodorkovsky in the court of public opinion on behalf of APCO. The Putin administration took away his visa.
Amsterdam, who grew up watching Krause on CBS and the NewsHour, describes him as “an incredibly heroic, courageous, principled individual,” and says that he invariably “put himself in the middle of the action, whether it was in Latin America or Russia.”
“Charles is a political actor,” Amsterdam adds. “That’s what I find so interesting about him. He’s not a sideline communicator. He is somebody who transmits the truth of a political conflict in a way that is incredibly unvarnished, unbiased, and real.”
For Krause, having his visa revoked was both a blow to his collecting and a grim reminder of the rough capriciousness of power.
“The whole Khodorkovsky affair affected my view of Putin,” and not just because of the visa, he says. “But the point is that it isn’t one individual, really. It’s the system. The KGB or the FSB is certainly a part of it, and they’re the ones who decide if they’re going to take your visa away. They did it totally arbitrarily.
“It makes me sad, because I like Moscow,” he adds. “I like Russian art. It’s meant that I’ve had to buy the art at auctions or in other places—not in Russia.”
Amsterdam recalls traveling with Krause in Russia: “He would be talking to people in the art community and out looking for that kind of work, and frankly, he left me in the dust. He knew everybody in the arts community in Russia. He would be going to their very remote shows, and strange apartments in God-knows-where. I wasn’t part of that milieu.
“He brings a whole different sensibility to the kind of political art that we’re dealing with,” Amsterdam adds. “There aren’t many [collectors] who’ve been in the field, who’ve experienced repression, who’ve experienced a fear of torture—I mean, he’s seen and done it all, and at the same time now he gets to sort of curate it and collect it. It’s a very exciting combination.”
Amsterdam is underwriting Krause’s upcoming exhibition: Defining the Art of Social and Political Change (see page 54), which will open sometime in February.
“I’ve never sponsored anything like this before in my life,” says Amsterdam. “The only reason I’m doing it is because I think it’s so important. We’re living in an incredibly complex world, where Americans in particular need to understand the different shades of gray that are involved. And I think what Charles is trying to do is provide a platform in elevating the public discussion. If you find something which speaks to you, is real, and which elevates the discussion about important political themes, then from my standpoint, you need to reach out to support it.”