Marcus Walker Brauchli was born in 1961 in Boulder, Colorado. His maternal grandfather owned the Huntington Herald Dispatch & Advertiser in Huntington, West Virginia; Marcus never had any contact with the paper. His paternal grandfather, a Swiss immigrant, was a geologist who worked for an oil company in Oklahoma. His father, Christopher, is a lawyer in Boulder who writes political commentaries that appear regularly on The Huffington Post and Counterpunch. His mother, Margot, is active in the Colorado arts scene. He is married to Maggie Farley, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and they have two young daughters.
Brauchli’s interest in journalism sprouted early. By the tenth grade he was already writing and taking pictures for a weekly newspaper in Boulder. At Columbia University, where he arrived in 1979, he gravitated toward the Columbia Spectator, and became a stringer and contributor to The New York Times while still an undergraduate. In 1982, he worked briefly as a copyboy at the Times. But the young Brauchli set his sights on The Wall Street Journal, and in 1984, he was hired as a Hong Kong correspondent for the AP-Dow Jones news service; his beat included Taiwan, China, and the Philippines. His bosses were immediately impressed: “He seemed like a really fine breed of hunting dog who was on the hunt,” says Rusty Todd, who edited Brauchli in Hong Kong. “I don’t want to blow too much smoke up his ass, but he seemed really eager to learn.” Brauchli became the Journal’s Tokyo correspondent in 1988, and landed the post of China bureau chief in 1995. Along with some friends, he launched a nightclub in Shanghai called Park 97 that, in his words, “became very trendy, especially so after I left China and stopped loitering around the back tables in the lounge.”
I asked Paul Steiger, the Journal’s longtime managing editor who now oversees ProPublica, where Brauchli ranked in the pantheon of Journal foreign correspondents. Steiger replied that he was not in the highest class—a class that included Tony Horwitz, Geraldine Brooks, Andrew Higgins, and Ian Johnson. “I wouldn’t put Marcus at that level,” Steiger said. Rather, he was in “the top ten percent.” Steiger is full of praise for Brauchli, recalling that, in 1991, when Marcus was on his way to Harvard to begin his Nieman fellowship, he asked him to go to Pakistan to do some reporting on a huge banking scandal involving the Bank of Credit & Commerce International, or BCCI. “In a very short space of time, he did three or four just terrific stories, both on his own and in collaboration with other people.” Adds Steiger: “He was a charismatic star reporter who could do everything from politics to heavy finance. And cultural stuff, too.”
His finest reportage chronicled patronage and instability in Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan, illegal logging in the Philippine rain forests, and the World Bank’s cozy relationship with the Indonesian dictator Suharto. But at least one of his clips makes for uncomfortable reading in hindsight. On April 27, 1995, Brauchli wrote a page-one story for the Journal that chronicled Enron’s plan to establish power plants in India. The article, datelined Guhagar, India, began: “High on a remote volcanic bluff overlooking the Arabian Sea here, a U.S. group is carving out a more modern future for India. Not everybody is ready for it.” In Brauchli’s upbeat narrative, Enron executives were depicted as bright-eyed, well-intentioned entrepreneurs, while Indian politicians and activists who asked pointed questions about Enron, which would be exposed as a criminal syndicate in 2001, come off as stuffy bureaucrats and backward-looking nationalists. (Oddly, Brauchli included the Enron piece in the pile he gave to me.)
Many people interviewed for this profile noted Brauchli’s considerable intelligence—and his colossal ambition. Byron Calame, who spent thirty-nine years at the Journal, where he held a range of positions that included deputy managing editor before becoming the second public editor of The New York Times, calls him “a very sophisticated journalist. A very sophisticated global thinker.” Those qualities, combined with his swift rise through the ranks, earned him a nickname at the Journal—“the Rocket.” In her fine new book, War at The Wall Street Journal, which informs the paragraphs that follow concerning Brauchli and the Journal, Sarah Ellison calls Brauchli “a master manipulator of newsroom politics” at Dow Jones. His sharp elbows and acerbic tongue facilitated his rise. “Marcus was go, go, go, go,” says Calame. “Marcus was feisty. Marcus could be way too political and competitive, and had a tendency to single out his competitors and make it personal.” Calame remarked to a colleague in the late 1990s, when Brauchli was getting ready to take up the post of national editor: “I’m tired of Marcus coming into my office and running people down.”