ROBERT I. FRIEDMAN died July 2 at age 51 at Columbia-Presbyterian hospital in New York City of complications of a rare pneumonia he contracted in the slums of Bombay, India while on assignment for Vanity Fair on a story of sexual slavery. The piece ran as a cover story in The Nation.
Robert investigated the rise of the radical right in Israel while on his Patterson fellowship, work he turned into his first book, “The False Prophet,” a biography of Jewish Defense League founder Meir Kahane. Robert was assaulted by militant Jewish settlers when he was on assignment in Israel in 1994, shortly before his second book, “Zealots for Zion: Inside Israel’s West Bank Settlement Movement,” was published.
He worked for the Village Voice from 1989 to 1995. As that paper wrote, “Robbie will be remembered as a dedicated pro who followed his reporting wherever it took him, no matter whom it offended or what it meant for his own career. In 1993, for example, Friedman castigated the FBI in the Voice for ignoring information it had developed on the Muslim extremist behind the first bombing of the World Trade Center, warning that without stronger action, terrorists would strike at the towers again. Though the story would cost him valuable sources within the FBI, Friedman published it and won a Society of Professional Journalists Award.”
He was a freelancer for most of his career, writing for the New Yorker, GQ, The Nation, New York Times, The Washington Post, and the New York Review of Books, among others. His 2000 book about the Russian mob in America, “Red Mafiya,” is the definitive work on the subject.
He is survived by his wife, Christine Dugas, a reporter for USA TODAY.