The Real Journalists

Christiane Amanpour is my guest on Thursday’s program to draw attention to “Scream Bloody Murder,” her riveting documentary about genocide–and also to celebrate her 25 years of going to the worst places in the world on behalf of CNN. Christiane is a brave, dedicated and indefatigable journalist who has covered wars, famines, and disasters all over the world. A person seeing her arrive in his or her town must figure calamity is imminent.

Christiane is also on TV, and people on TV are easily caricatured. She is an international”star,” a celebrity for whom heads of state would cancel important meetings just to meet her. She is attractive–men all over the world desire her and some women want to BE her. She is paid extremely well, gets the best tables at restaurants, airlines upgrade her, cabbies will not take her money, there are freebies and perks aplenty. Yet I would not dream of trading my life for hers.

I have one of the cushiest jobs in all of broadcasting. I don’t make Christiane’s dough, but I’m doing more than all right. I work with a staff of smart, talented, funny colleagues whose company I enjoy. Sirius XM executives do not tell me how to do my job. My working environment is sheltered from the elements and despite its location in a changing neighborhood, I’ve not yet been under fire. There was a time 35 years ago when I might have sought adventure, then I got married, had children and turned chicken. I wanted no part of war when I was in the army, why should I pursue it as a civilian? Other journalists do and we are all in their debt.

It is the responsibility of journalists to bear witness. Very bad things happen when journalists are not around. No journalist witnessed My Lai or Abu Ghraib, but word leaked and journalists caught up with the facts. How many My Lais or Abu Ghraibs have there been when the word didn’t leak? How many atrocities were averted because someone knew a journalist was nearby? Journalists also need to be there to record the bravery of our men and women in uniform and the positive work that they do.

To get those stories, many other brave Americans–journalists–risk their lives. Daniel Pearl wanted us to know more about the war on terrorism and became one of its victims. Ernie Pyle, one of the most famous war correspondents of all time, was killed on Okinawa. Robert Capa survived the Normandy beach only to step on a land mine in Vietnam. George Polk was a U.S. soldier in World War II and later was hired by Edward R. Murrow at CBS to cover the civil war in Greece where he was assassinated. The list of news people killed covering wars is a very, very long one. It nearly got longer last weekend.

My former colleague, NPR’s Ivan Watson, was doing interviews for a story on security in Baghdad. Returning to his car parked at a marketplace, Ivan and his Iraqi staff were pulled away by Iraqi police officers who’d received a tip that a bomb had been attached to the car. Then the car exploded—and fortunately no one was hurt. Ivan not only was spared, but he certainly learned something about security in Baghdad.

Many other of my NPR comrades have been in danger. Neal Conan was Saddam Hussein’s prisoner in the Persian Gulf War. Deborah Amos and John Hockenberry had very close calls in Iran. NPR reporters were under fire or under detention in Central America in the 80’s. Anne Garrels was one of the very few American reporters to stay in Iraq when the U.S. started bombing prior to the invasion. She risked her life to hide a forbidden satellite telephone so she could talk to me each day on Morning Edition. Sylvia Poggioli and Tom Gjelten saw things in Bosnia that no human should have to endure–and journalists there were major targets of snipers who didn’t want that story reported. Reporters put themselves in danger so that we would know what was going on. They put themselves in danger so that I wouldn’t have to do that job and I could be comfortable in my air-conditioned studio.

For all I know, CNN might have a dozen or so commandos whose job is to keep Christiane Amanpour alive–to protect CNN’s investment. I probably should have asked her that question when I interviewed her, but no matter. She still goes—she’s there for every example of man’s inhumanity to man–and God bless her for that. Whatever they’re paying her, it’s not enough. 



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