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The dangers of reporting from the Middle East

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The Dangers of From the Middle East  vía @CFR_org (útil para análisis en clase)

The Dangers of Reporting From the Middle East

On The Ground: The Dangers of Reporting from the Middle East

Matthieu AikinsSchell Fellow, Nation Institute; Winner of the 2015 Livingston Award for Excellence in International Reporting

Sebastian JungerContributing Editor, Vanity Fair; Author, The Perfect Storm and War; Academy Award Nominated Filmmaker

Lara LoganChief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, 60 Minutes, CBS News

Kevin PerainoFormer Middle East Correspondent, Newsweek; Author, Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power


PERAINO: Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting on the dangers of reporting from the Middle East. I’d also like to welcome the CFR members around the nation and around the world who are watching this on the live stream.

I also wanted to mention that this particular meeting is held in cooperation with the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which are a really prestigious honor for young journalists under the age of 35. They have three categories, I think—local, national, and international reporting. And if you go back and look at the list of winners in the international category, historically it’s, you know, people like David Remnick and Steve Coll and Christiane Amanpour and Evan Osnos and a lot of others; kind of a who’s who of contemporary journalism.

The awards are supported by the University of Michigan, the Knight Foundation, and the Indian Trail Foundation. And we have Patti Kenner here today from the Indian Trail Foundation. So thanks very much.

And we’re lucky to have the winner of the 2015 Livingston Award in the international category, Matthieu Aikins, with us today. And he went for a story called “Whoever Saves a Life,” which is—it’s a really tremendous story about first responders in Aleppo, Syria that you did last year. And I really recommend that you read it if you get a chance, if you haven’t. It was in Matter.

And it’s a tragic story. I mean, it’s a story—these people are on the receiving end of barrel bombs from the Assad regime, and it’s a tragic story. But Matthieu does a really great job of capturing the humanity of these first responders. And it’s kind of—it’s a funny story in some sense. I mean, I laughed a little bit, because there’s—you kind of capture the gallows humor of the people who are living through some of this.

He also did an amazing story for Rolling Stone this year from Yemen. I’m going to ask him a little bit about that later. But Yemen is under blockade right now. He took a 24-foot speedboat across the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait from Djibouti 130 miles to sneak into Yemen to do this story. It’s an amazing story. And so we’ll talk a little bit more about that.

He also won the Polk Award in 2013 for “The A-Team Killings,” which is a story about war crimes in Afghanistan; survived an ambush getting to Nerkh, south of Kabul, to interview some of these witnesses; won the Medill Medal of Courage for that story; was also a finalist for the National Magazine Award in 2011 for another war crimes story from Afghanistan. And he’s now a Schell fellow at the Nation Institute, and he writes for all kinds of different places—Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, GQ, and those kinds of places. So thanks for being with us.

AIKINS: Thanks for having me.

PERAINO: Sebastian Junger, at the end, is the author of “The Perfect Storm,” which was on the bestseller list for, like, five years, I think; a very long time; movie with George Clooney. And even before 9/11, I think you were saying 1996, you were going to Afghanistan and reporting from there; did a profile of Ahmad Shah Massoud in 2000 that became a National Geographic documentary; more recently embedded himself kind of on and off for a year in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan with a unit from the 173 Airborne Brigade combat team—embedded along with the photojournalist, late photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya in 2011. And you used some of the material from those—you know, from that reporting for your book, “War,” and a documentary called “Restrepo,” which won the 2010 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.

Sebastian is also—he’s had an interest in dangerous jobs for a long time. One of his early jobs was he was the guy who climbed the trees at the tree-removal companies and cut the branches off the trees. So he’s been doing this sort of thing for a while. He’s also the author of “Death in Belmont,” “Fire.” You’ve said you’ve sworn off war reporting. I want to ask you a little bit about that. And he’s also doing some really interesting things to improve the safety of foreign correspondents. So we’ll talk a bit about that later.

Lara Logan you know. She’s the chief foreign affairs correspondent at “60 Minutes” and CBS News. She’s originally from South Africa. She’s reported from all over the world—from the Middle East, from Zimbabwe; reported on Ebola. She was the only journalist from an American network in Baghdad during the American invasion in 2003; spent nearly five years in Iraq after that; took some various—very dangerous assignments in Afghanistan. You were in a vehicle that was struck by an antitank mine in 2005, and five years later were in another ambush during—in a convoy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That report won a duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton.

She’s also won an Emmy, an Edward R. Murrow Award, an Overseas Press Club Award. And in 2011, covering the Egyptian revolution, she was sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir Square, and she talked about that on “60 Minutes.” And she’s since returned to Middle East war zones. And this autumn, just in September, I guess, right, you reported from the front lines against ISIS in Iraq, near Fallujah, right, for “60 Minutes” also.

So thanks very much. Let me start by asking maybe just what motivates you to do this job? I mean, it seems like there are some people who do it are adrenaline junkies. There are other people who are motivated by humanitarian considerations.

Matthieu, you said that your goal as a foreign correspondent is to be a radical obituary writer. What did you mean by that?

AIKINS: Well, that’s sort of a reference to a term that the philosopher Judith Butler uses called grievability. And she talks about how grievability—in terms of how, you know, whose lives matter, whose deaths matter. And she mentions the obituary page functions as an instrument by which grievability is publicly distributed. And, of course, it’s not equally distributed. If you look at the obituary page, it’s filled with the stories of the powerful, the famous.

And so I think writing about the deaths and suffering of the ordinary people who are overwhelmingly the victims of these conflicts is sort of a way of trying to alter that equation a little bit.

PERAINO: OK. You’ve said—you said that that’s a cause worth dying for. Is that—I mean, is there—as a journalist, are there really causes worth dying for, do you think?

AIKINS: I think the idea that there’s causes worth dying for is at the heart of, you know, our idea of morality, right? And just as—I don’t know if you’d—you might say a soldier who dies for their country or a mother who dies for her kids that, you know, that’s a cause worth dying for. I think that in some cases the same thing can be said about journalists.

PERAINO: OK. What’s the trick to get—I mean, you’re talking about grievability and also covering kind of non-Western lives. What’s the trick to getting readers interested in subjects with names that are hard to pronounce, who live far from the U.S.? I mean, how do you—

AIKINS: Different—(inaudible).

PERAINO: Readers and editors.

AIKINS: Yeah. No, I think we’ve all had the experience where we’ve pitched a story about—a foreign story. And they’ve been, like, well, we need an American character in this story. That’s one of the realities of the Western media, which, on one level, is understandable because characters relate to Western—Western readers relate to Western characters. But, you know, the Western press is not the local hometown paper. It is the sort of global discourse of power that, you know, affects the lives and the foreign policy that affects the lives of people all around the world.

So I think one of the ways to get people interested in the lives of non-Westerners is to, at least in magazine writing, write in characters. You know, in the case of the Syria first responders story, you know, because you get to write an interminable length of 8,000 words, you get to tell their back stories. You get to make them come alive as characters—make them funny, make them relatable, make people care about them. And so I think that’s one way to do it.

But it’s not easy. It’s something that I think I personally struggle with all the time is just trying to make my work more representative of, again, the majority of the people who are affected by these stories, who are non-Western.

LOGAN: I have to say, I mean, I just did a piece on “60 Minutes” where the main character was Hadi Al-Amri, the head of the Badr Corps—and he spoke no English—and interviewed the Iranian ambassador, and he spoke no English. And that is—when you’re working—when you’re writing in print and you’re writing for a magazine, you translate whatever your characters say. And journalists take the sense and the spirit of what they say and they put it in a form that readers can relate to. You don’t get to do that on television. And it is an extraordinarily difficult thing.

I was heavily criticized when I went to Liberia at the height of the Ebola epidemic and did a story about Ebola, which I will say is—how many journalists in the world are willing to do that? Right? Anyone in this room want to go to Liberia at the height of the Ebola epidemic? Right. Exactly. And so you come back with a story. And I interviewed maybe 40 Liberians when I was there. But Liberians speak with a heavily accented kind of Creole English. And no one back in New York in the screen room could understand what they were saying.

And when you go all the way—one of the things that you do is—for me stories—universal stories are universal stories, stories about humanity, stories about integrity, courage, lack of integrity. They rise above everything. They rise above borders. They rise above culture. They rise above everything. And as an African—I grew up in South Africa—it was always my goal to find the African stories that I could bring to the world that transcended the Africanness of them, because otherwise they wouldn’t make it on television.

So at “60 Minutes” we look for a good story. And honestly, my bosses don’t care where that story is, unless it’s going to cost $300,000—(laughter)—which is the budget for the whole show for one piece, which we just did in Iraq. They will do that. They will commit to that. They just can’t do it on every story. So we—you know, what we did in Liberia is we went—we took the stories of those people and we put them in the hands of Americans who had gone over there, not because we had to have Americans in the story, but because it was a very legitimate question in the United States of who, as a health worker, as a nurse, or a doctor—one of our doctors, Colin Bucks, is at Stanford. These are not people who needed—they didn’t need a break.

OK, Kelly Suter, one of the nurses, she’s been in Haiti in the earthquake. I mean, she’s just been asked to go to Nigeria. I mean, I stay in regular contact with Kelly. If ever there was, like, a person that’s close to being an angel in human form, it’s that young girl, who has been in every place of misery. She went into the bush in Liberia and did hundreds of blood draws in a day, you know, to try and track down Ebola at its source.

I mean, you—so we use people like that, who cared so much about the African people suffering through this terrible, terrible epidemic that they risked everything to go and tell it. And in their eloquence and in their passion and in their sincerity, we paid tribute to the people who were living and working through that.

And we had to do it in a way that would make Americans care. And that’s not necessarily a perfect system. I mean, I agree with Matt, and I’m sure Sebastian will tell you the same thing. I have sometimes spent four hours with an Afghan man just trying to find out exactly when it was that they said that this farmer was killed by the Americans that came in the middle of the night, just to get a date, just to get a date, because he would say Tuesday, Tuesday; this Tuesday, Tuesday; last Tuesday; Tuesday last month.

Was it, you know, exact—you know, the language issue is a huge thing in television. And it’s kind of frustrating when you’re twisting yourselves into knots and speaking to every person you can possibly find, because that’s what good journalists do; speak to the person cleaning the toilet at the hotel in Damascus if that’s what you have to do. It’s frustrating that people don’t recognize that this is a medium. Television is not like print, and there are certain constraints that you have to work within. And, you know, it’s kind of annoying to be criticized for that.

AIKINS (?): Right.

LOGAN: Just saying. (Laughter.) Sebastian. (Laughter.)

PERAINO: Sebastian, could I ask you about—you had said that you were done with war reporting. I don’t know if that was a temporary thing or if I misread it or if that’s true.


PERAINO: But what—

JUNGER: Yeah, I started war reporting in 1993 in Sarajevo, in Bosnia. And it was really the most incredible career choice I could ever imagine making. And there were times I was very scared, that I got very—I was very traumatized, just about everything. War had never really cost me anything personally until my friend Tim was killed. And that was the first time. And I knew people had been killed, but, I mean, nothing that went to the very center of my life.

And when Tim was killed, that’s what happened. And eventually, if you cover war or in war long enough, it will cost you something. It might cost you your life, but it’s certainly going to cost the lives of other people that you love. And it finally caught up with me with Tim. And I just—you know, at 30 I would have made a different decision. Had I not been married, I would have made a different decision. But at age 49 and married, having done it for a decade and a half, suddenly war reporting, instead of seeming—for the first time in my life it seemed like a selfish thing to do, selfish to the people that I care about.

And I would not have thought that when I was younger at all. But at that—in my late 40s, 50, it felt like there’s a point where you really have to put other people’s welfare first, ahead of your own. And at age 49, that meant not going off for a couple of months. We got—my wife and I got the news about Tim through a phone call from someone who’s in this room with us right now.

And so I realized every—if I continued war reporting, that every time the phone rang in our apartment in New York, my wife Daniela would think it was the worst possible news about me. And, you know, I might come home perfectly safe every time, but that wouldn’t—she would start paying more of a cost for my work than I was paying. And that seemed—that didn’t seem noble at all. It seemed selfish.

PERAINO: I’m going to ask Lara to—I think Lara’s the only panelist with children, right? You have two.


PERAINO: They’re—

LOGAN: Go for the jugular.

PERAINO: No, it’s not that. (Laughter.) No, I ask—

LOGAN: Jesus. Any moms in this room—

PERAINO: I ask because, I mean, my wife and I are both foreign correspondents. We have little kids. I know it’s—

LOGAN: Yeah.

PERAINO: I know it’s something that you have to think about. You have a seven-year-old and a six-year-old?

LOGAN: A five-year-old and a six-year-old, yeah.

PERAINO: And I remember when you were talking about Tahrir on “60 Minutes,” you said, you know, during that ordeal what was going through your head is how could I have done this to my kids? And I’m just curious about sort of the process that you went through to get back to the front lines and how you made that decision in the process.

LOGAN: So it’s an ongoing struggle every—you know, I guess I wrestle with it all the time. And when I went to do a story about Christians in Iraq earlier this year, my daughter asked me if she could come with me. She’s five. And she said, mommy, can I come with you? And I had to—I had said no, you know, sweetheart, you can’t come with me. I’m working. But I want come with you. Why can’t I come with you?

And eventually I said, well, you know, there are some—it’s not safe for little kids. There are some bad guys there, and it’s a not a nice place for children to go. And she said, well, then why are you going? So I said, well, because, you know, there’s always good guys. Everywhere there are bad guys, there are also good guys, and I’m going to be with the good guys. And so she said, if you don’t come back, that means the bad guys got you. And I said I’m coming back. Mommy always comes back.

But I have to say that, I mean, not just, you know, going to war. You try looking at your five- and six-year-old when you’re sterilizing every single piece of clothing you’re taking with you in a separate bag and putting everything in waterproof containers to go and do Ebola. I mean, Liberia had one of the most brutal civil wars in history, and the Liberians told me over and over that Ebola is worse than war because it’s a silent killer.

So, I mean, these things are very, very difficult. And I have to say, you know, up here Matt was teasing Sebastian and I because he was—I don’t know if it’s still in high school when we were in Afghanistan. And so he’s at that point, you know, that Sebastian was at 10 years ago when he’s saying I would have made a different decision at 30.

It’s a very hard thing to do. But it’s kind of like—I feel like it’s part of my DNA. I feel, you know, I missed the beginning of Syria because of Egypt, and people looked at me like I was insane if I even—the word Syria even came out of my mouth. And so I felt very constrained and limited by that.

But I think that there are smart ways to try to do these things carefully, and then you have to be lucky. And when your luck runs out, as you know—I mean, Tim Hetherington was killed with one of my very close friends, Chris Hondros, the same day, same attack. And I was just recovering from Egypt. And I remember pulling my car over in Washington, D.C. and just being unable to drive when I heard about Chris. That was a crushing blow.

But when you’ve come that close to dying—and it was in Egypt, you know; I wasn’t being shot, wasn’t being bombed; I was just being raped by 200 men—so those dangers are everywhere now. And I think this—you know, reporting on the Middle East, it’s as dangerous to go to—I was talking to Joel Simon from CPJ earlier. CPJ has done a lot of work in Turkey, and it’s dangerous to be a journalist in Turkey today. (Inaudible) News had two people taken, you know. And I believe the local Iraqi person is still held, right? It was only the foreigners, only the Brits, who were—

PERAINO (?): (Inaudible.)

LOGAN: Yeah—so who were released. So being a journalist today is probably more dangerous than it has ever been. And I’ve never done it for the—you know, the adrenaline or the thrills. I find it insulting when people say that, because you don’t leave your five- and your six-year-old children at home and not know if you’re coming back so that you can go and do something interesting. I think you do it because you just believe passionately that somebody has to do it; that without some form of accountability, you don’t have everything that we have.

PERAINO: Matthieu, maybe—could you walk us through your Syria story a little bit, the one that you won the Livingston for? You had—this was last year, right, in 2014? You went to Aleppo. And how did you—I mean, I think people are interested in how did you get into Syria at this point? ISIS had been driven out of Aleppo at that point, right? But how did you sort of—how did you make your way there and how did you report that story?

AIKINS: Well, that was—that was sort of the reason that I was able to go back is because there was a split between the Syrian rebels in Aleppo and ISIS. And they actually fought a battle and drove ISIS out. So I’d been in the year before. But in the meantime, ISIS had kind of come back, and then they were pushed out again. So we were able to go back.

And it’s—you know, it’s almost an impossible situation working in Syria. But the way that you do it is you have to have the right kind of connections with people on the ground who are willing to protect you and whose motivations you sort of understand insofar as you can. And then we went in with a rebel group and sort of stayed there with them, with this—sorry—with this group of first responders who were literally living every day the kind of lifetime mass-casualty event for someone working in emergency response in the U.S.; dozens of people being killed.

You know, they rush to the site of these barrel bombs and pull people out of the rubble, often at very—under the constant threat of a double-attack strike. Frequently the regime would come back and hit the same site 15 minutes later because they’re trying to hit the responders and the crowd. So we spent about 10 days with them doing that. And, yeah, it was very—it was very intense.

But, you know, they were doing such amazing work. It was kind of something that you—that rubbed off on you. You felt very inspired by them to be there, which is actually kind of—it’s a rarity. And these wars increasingly, I think, defined subjects that are straightforwardly inspirational. And, you know, it’s not just another group of men with guns sort of involved in a dubious war. These guys had deliberately chosen not to take up arms and to try to save lives. And yet they were still—I mean, Sebastian, there was a lot, you know, in them that I thought resonated with stuff you’ve written about brotherhood in wartime and stuff like that. These guys, even though they weren’t fighting, were definitely doing it for each other and had that—and they were adrenaline junkies. They were actually enjoying it, a lot of them, because they were young guys, you know, in their 20s. And they didn’t want to be sitting in a refugee camp in Turkey wasting their lives. So it was just a very interesting, I think, psychological situation as well.

PERAINO: Another interesting thing about that story is that you had a little bit of a window onto the interaction between the rebel groups in Syria. I mean, there was a moment in the story, I remember, where you’re with the first responders and some guys from Nusra drive by and they kind of wave. And the first responders kind of halfheartedly wave back. Oh, hi. You know, I mean, how—what was the—what can you tell us about sort of the intersection of the rebel groups?

AIKINS: Well, it’s funny, because, yeah, that’s like you’re hanging out with good al-Qaida, and, you know, bad al-Qaida is not around, so it’s cool. This is like a cherry-red fire truck that had been donated by the Germans. And as it’s driving by, you just see the kind of guys look out and you see these guys with huge black beards. And they had, like, gotten the fire truck, you know, and were running their own fire service.

It was just totally, utterly confused, you know, the overlaps between these groups and the way that these identities that may seem very clear between, you know, this group and that group, the extremists and the moderates and everything like that, are actually utterly confused and sort of blurred on the ground. I’m sure that’s something you guys have witnessed yourselves.

PERAINO: You wrote an op-ed for The New York Times kind of around the same time—


PERAINO: —where you said if Washington and its partners want to push back against both Assad and ISIS at once, they’ll have to be less squeamish about picking allies in Syria. Otherwise they may not find any left. That was a year or so ago. Are there any left? I mean, what’s the state of that now, in your view?

AIKINS: I mean, it’s the same groups. You could arm these radical Islamist groups, like Ahrar al-Sham and—against ISIS, but, you know, I don’t think they’re substantially different in their kind of Salafist ideology.

PERAINO: Sebastian, I wanted to ask a little bit about—you’ve been writing a lot lately about the kind of the process of returning home after war, both from—both soldiers and foreign correspondents coming back. And you wrote recently about your own acute short-term PTSD. Maybe could you—I want to ask a little bit about, you know, your views about this in general. But maybe you could share your personal experience.

JUNGER: Yeah. The first time that I really was sort of a little deranged by trauma was in 2000. I’d been in northern Afghanistan with Massoud’s forces. And, you know, at that point the Taliban had an air force. They had tanks. They had artillery. And, you know, we really got pretty pounded a few times and saw some pretty ugly things. But this was before 9/11 and the country wasn’t at war and we weren’t—no one was really talking about PTSD. I had no idea what it was.

And it never occurred to me that you could be traumatized in any kind of enduring way. So I came back from Afghanistan. And I’m not a particularly neurotic person, right, so I was really puzzled when I started having panic attacks in situations that ordinarily wouldn’t scare me, like the New York City subway at rush hour, you know—(laughter)—or a ski gondola; like all of a sudden I was having these full-blown panic attacks. And I didn’t understand it.

You know, if I jumped at a loud noise, maybe I would have made the connection. I was panicking in small places—small crowded places. And I was just sure—a very strange feeling—everything I was looking at seemed like a threat. The crowd of people was somehow going to turn and attack me. The trains were going too fast and they were going to jump the rails and somehow plow into the people on the subway platform and kill everything. The lights were too bright.

You know, like, everything was a threat, except rationally I knew none of that stuff was a threat. But my body reacted as if it was, and I couldn’t take the subway for a while. I had no idea it had anything to do with my experiences in combat. I just thought I was going crazy. I mean, literally, I was, like, wow, age 38, it’s finally happening. (Laughter.)

LOGAN: That’s what happens when you have babies. (Laughter.)

JUNGER: Right. And then later—you know, some years later, in 2003, I was talking to a woman, a friend of a friend, at, like, a picnic or something. And she was a psychologist. And she asked me, have you ever had any emotional consequences from covering war? And I was like, no, I don’t think so, really, no. And I said, but, you know, it is kind of strange. I keep having these weird panic attacks. (Laughter.)

And she’s, like, well, that’s called PTSD. And you’ll be hearing—this is 2003, right. This is right before we—right after we invaded Iraq. And she said you’ll be hearing a lot more about that soon, I think.

And so what I found in my—I wrote an article for Vanity Fair Magazine about post-traumatic stress disorder. And basically there’s two sorts. I mean, there’s a short-term reaction to trauma, which is completely adaptive. And by that I mean where humans are animals. We’re primates. We evolve to deal with things that threaten our lives, the whole Darwinian—the sort of logic of Darwinian selection. If you survive the threat, you’ll go on to have—pass on your DNA. You know, it’s—you know how that all works.

So we react—we react to danger in ways that are adaptive and help us survive. And it’s a short-term reaction. If you’re in danger, that threat probably lasts a day, a week, a month, a couple months. It—your reaction—your trauma reaction is sort of calculated to get you through the typical sort of dangerous period in terms of our human evolution.

What’s not adaptive is long-term PTSD that goes years or a whole lifetime. You’re not—in that case, you’re not adapted to a short-term danger. You’re maladapted to normalcy, to life. And very—that’s pretty rare. That’s, like, 20 percent of people wind up with long-term PTSD. And it’s—and that’s maladaptive; it’s not good.

And so I wrote an article about that, why that rate is so incredibly high in the U.S. military. It’s way, way higher than in the—in the Israeli military or in the British military. I studied anthropology in college. I did my field work with the Navajo—on the Navajo reservation. And you know, they have a very warlike people. The Apache, the Comanche, the Sioux, the Cheyenne—they’re all fighting like crazy when Europeans showed up in North America and continued to until the end of the 1900s.

And I just had this idea. I was, like, I bet the Apache really weren’t getting long-term PTSD when they were fighting the U.S. cavalry or fighting the Comanche and maybe long-term PTSD isn’t a function of the trauma you went through; it’s a function of the kind of society you come home to and if you come home to a cohesive tribal society, that you get—you get over trauma really—you know, pretty easily. And if you come home to a fragmented, alienated modern society such as ours, we have—modern society has much higher suicide and depression rates than you find in the Third World, in poor societies, for examples. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

So maybe it’s a function of the society you come home to. And that was my whole thesis. And I broadened that article into a book called «Tribe,» which is coming out in May.

PERAINO: Good. I have a million questions about that. It’s a really interesting topic. It’s 1:30, though, so I think I better open it up to questions from the members here. And I just want to remind people that this meeting is on-the-record. And if you could raise your hand, and someone will bring you a microphone. If you can just speak directly into the microphone, stand up, state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question, and keep it short so as many people can get questions in as possible.

Yeah, Charles.

Q: Hi, I’m Charles Eisendrath. I run the Livingston Awards.

I have a question really for each of you and all of you together. How has social media changed the reporting of war?

JUNGER: When I was—the last time I was in a war was ’07-’08 in the Korengal Valley. And there was no—really no—

LOGAN: No social media. (Laughs.)

JUNGER: There was none. There was no Internet—yeah, there was—

LOGAN: Or electricity. Or media.

Q: That was its prehistory. (Laughter.)

JUNGER: It was prehistory. It was a very remote outpost, so it actually really didn’t affect the soldiers I was with. And I wasn’t—I mean, we were on Mars, basically.

LOGAN: So, I think Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is a perfect example of how social media has changed the coverage of war. They’re a group of young people from Raqqa whose organization—their name is also their purpose. You know, they want to draw attention to the world. And we can’t go to Raqqa because it’s under Islamic State control. I mean, only one journalist, Jurgen Hoffler (sic; Todenhofer), and his son—two Germans—managed to get permission from the Islamic State and go into Raqqa under Islamic State control; and another journalist from VICE, who grew up with a lot of those guys and did an incredible series about life in Raqqa.

But really social media has become, I think, the lifeblood of many of this—much of the war coverage. I mean, it’s very hard to know what you can rely on and what you can’t. And that’s why organizations like Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently are so important, because like any journalist, over time you get to know their work and you—and you get to trust them. And they work to a certain standard.

And it’s not—I mean, there’s a lot of crap on social media. Let’s be honest about it. And everyone loves to say that social media is the answer, mainstream media is corrupt, and we don’t do our jobs, and we don’t do anything right, but social media is wonderful because they’re not paid by any lobby groups or—you know, et cetera, et cetera.

So you have to filter all of that out and just be honest about what you’re dealing with, is that at the core of the mainstream media and at the core of social media, those two things come together to sustain the First Amendment. And without social media today, I mean, we would—we would not be in a good place.

AIKINS: I mean, speaking—and also speaking from very personal experience, I think it’s probably increased the amount of distraction and procrastination in the coverage of war as well.

Q: Spell that out a little bit.

AIKINS: No, I’m just—I’m just kidding. No, I mean, I agree obviously when you said—I do waste a lot of time on Twitter. (Laughter.) I’m just sort of divided as to whether it’s a net—

LOGAN: I’ve never been on Twitter.

AIKINS: You’re not on Twitter. I was wondering about that actually. I noticed in the tweets you were not using—

LOGAN: I get myself into enough trouble without going on Twitter.

AIKINS: So that is the—that is an interesting question. And I mean, for—I would say, though, there’s very few young freelancers who are able to ignore social media. You—it’s basically become such an essential tool in self-promotion, if you want to call it that, online that I don’t think people make that decision anymore.

LOGAN: Yeah, that’s the less-attractive side of it, right.

AIKINS: Right.

LOGAN: And it’s a slightly annoying side of it. But on the other side of that, you know, to have brave people like Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, who are able to form a network and can talk about all the cameras all over the city and get information out of there and it becomes something of a—you know, people go to them to find—to see if stuff is true.

AIKINS: I mean, the scoops—the Syrian war, I think, probably is a really great example. The secret program of Croatian weapon supply to the Syrian rebels was uncovered through social media. It was Eliot Higgins, who is a blogger, who does a lot of stuff; and Chris Chivers of the New York Times, who noticed that these Croatina weapons were showing up in the hands of rebel groups who are filming them.

And it turned out these—this is a Saudi-funded, CIA-run pipeline of weapons to the Syrian opposition. That was social media in its origin.

PERAINO: In the red tie.

Q: Tom Schick, New York University.

Have you ever—has any—have—has any of you been confronted with a situation in which you felt you wanted to become or you needed to become a participant rather than an observer or in addition to an observer? And how has your journalistic training helped you in addressing a dilemma like that?

LOGAN: Well, I’ve never picked up a weapon to shoot anyone, because I’d be more worried I’d shoot myself in the foot first. But I don’t know. I think that your journalistic training is everything. I mean, your commitment to the process of being thorough and of being fair and of putting yourself in everyone’s shoes and trying to understand it is essentially what protects your journalism, because if you just say, well, I don’t agree with this person, so I’m not putting their view into this story, I mean, you’re not advancing the conversation in any way, shape, or form.

So it begins with understanding. And that’s why I do five-, six-, seven-hour interviews sometimes. That’s why I’ve driven every producer I’ve ever worked with crazy, because trying to understand everyone’s position—I think maybe I learned that in South Africa growing up because obviously we—I grew up under Apartheid, and we were part of something very—that we believed was very noble and very just, which was the fight for, you know, human rights and equality for everyone in the country. And we grew up despising the right wing and not wanting to have anything to do with them.

And then I worked for a news agency, and I realized actually that every time an event happened, I had to—as an agency person, I had to provide, you know, everyone’s perspective. That was what our job with this agency—we offered up all the information, and then people used it.

And so in the course of that process, I guess it taught me how to be open to everything. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I mean, I’ve been running a ban-your-burqa campaign with my guys in Afghanistan for 15 years now. They know how I feel about it. I always think it’s so dishonest when journalists pretend that they don’t have feelings or they’re not passionately involved. And we don’t go and do stories because we don’t give a shit, right. We go and do stories because we believe that they’re important and they matter. And I give 150 (percent), 200 percent to everything I do when I walk out the door.

But the process of being a professional journalist and putting all of your work through that process is what protects, I think—that is really what protects. And that’s the danger of social media, is you don’t know if anyone else is being—you know, how much of that is put through this process and how much of that is just rumor and innuendo that’s just thrown out there anytime people like.

I mean, you know, even on the blogs, right, I mean, how much of the journalistic process is there? I don’t know because I don’t work there. But I know I’ve seen stuff reported on blogs that in a million years I wouldn’t have reported, because when we—when we looked into it, it didn’t stand up.

JUNGER: Yeah, also I think it’s unrealistic to think the journalists won’t have a profound impact everywhere they go. I mean, for one thing, you’re bringing in typically a fair amount of money and putting it into the local economy by hiring a fixer and paying a hotel and, you know, whatever. I mean, just right there you’re affecting the situation you’re reporting on. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but let’s be honest. And I’m not saying it perverts the process, but it—you certainly are affecting things.

I’ve helped carry wounded civilians. I’ve passed ammo to soldiers during firefights. You know, I’ve—whatever. I mean, you’re—there’s a whole gradation of involvement. And I mean, just taking a ride on an American helicopter is making you part of the machine that you’re reporting on. But that’s the only way to get out there.

So I—you know, I think it really comes down to—it comes down to your intent. Like, if you’re—if you’re—if you’re doing something that really—in a—in a describable way changes the story that you’re reporting on, then it turns into what, a kind of circular Escher drawing, right. And you don’t want that. But the idea that there’s some pristine way of traveling financially, morally, logistically that—where you never step off the—you know, the wonderful Ray Bradbury story where, you know, he goes back in the time machine and goes back a million years and don’t step off the path and he does and he crushes a butterfly, then he gets back to the present day and the—a different person just won the election.

And just to say, you know, that you can go through these situations and never step off the path and kill a butterfly? It’s just not realistic.

AIKINS: Well, I think we’ve also become participants in death as well. I mean, one of the macabre things about this war and ISIS being a phenomenon that exists as much in the media and social media is that journalists have become these kind of political pawns. And if you think about the murder of Jim Foley and the way that that was such a sort of—had such a powerful political impact on Americans’ perception of the war and policy as a result, we go into these conflicts already sort of as being in the game.

LOGAN: And can I just say, don’t forget Daniel Pearl, because Jim Foley wasn’t the first person whose head was chopped off in an orange jumpsuit. Daniel Pearl was the first. And that tactic wasn’t learned—it wasn’t invented by these people. It—you know, our job as journalists is that context is absolutely critical, because there are a lot of people that seem very eager to forget that context and to rewrite history.

And Daniel Pearl changed—what happened to Daniel Pearl changed—that set the stage for the changing of journalism. From that moment on, it was impossible for people like us to go and—and go and meet with Zarqawi and, you know, different members of al-Qaida. And that become the moment when we realized how little they needed us. They didn’t need us anymore. Social—you wonder about social media. They speak to their audience when they want to on their own terms, in their own way. And that is probably one of the most powerful changes in the world media landscape.

PERAINO: The front there.

Q: Well, hi. Joel Mentor from Barclays.

One question for all of you: What was your biggest misconception about the Middle East—or feel free to make—you know, bring it down to a particular country in the Middle East—that was changed by your on-the-ground experiences reporting?

PERAINO: Matthew, you want to go for that one?

AIKINS: I—it’s a tough one. I mean, I think that I knew so little about countries—the first was that I barely had any misconceptions to begin with really. (Laughter.) So that may have been part of it. No, I mean, I think—I think—I think it’s—you know, I think one of the things that I learned was just how radically different people over there perceive the world and the U.S., for example, the way that the conspiracy theories about 9/11 are so commonly held in the Middle East—

LOGAN: And powerfully held.

AIKINS: Exactly.

LOGAN: People really believe it.

AIKINS: And it is silly in one level, but on another level it speaks to the—just the way that they view this country as a sort of villain in the world rather than a hero. And so seeing the world and then history through that lens, I think, was something that really changed the way I thought about it.

LOGAN: I think one of the greatest misconceptions for me was this idea that the CIA trained and funded Osama bin Laden and that—and he fought bravely on the fields of Afghanistan—(laughs)—because there was only one Afghan commander who could stand to have any Arabs in battle with him, and his name is Abu Sayyaf, and he is today in the Afghan government. And Osama bin Laden only traveled once onto the battlefields. And most of his work was done in Pakistan. And you don’t really understand how powerful that is until you’re there and you understand the role that Pakistan still plays and the fact that there are more terrorist groups on Pakistani soil than any other place in the world until Syria—I think even Syria doesn’t measure up right now.

So it’s a misconception to think that Afghans and Arabs are the same. They’re not. They’re two entirely different people. It’s like—literally it’s like saying Spanish people are the same as Mozambicans. You know—I mean, they speak a different language, and the Afghans feel very powerfully about having had the Arabs come to their country and tell them how to—how to worship Islam and how to, you know, think about Islam.

My greatest misconception was not really understanding how unique Afghanistan is as a place and as a people. And it took me—took me a long time to learn and understand and appreciate who they are for who they are, because I think Afghanistan is vastly misrepresented in the rest of the world. Either it’s this romantic thing of Afghanistan being this great place of, you know, «The Great Game» and this nexus of all these fascinating things. And then Rudyard Kipling, right, you know, wrote about the soldiers on the plains: When the Afghan women come out to chop up your remains, roll onto rifle and blow out your brains, and go to your death like a soldier. (Laughter.)

JUNGER: I was in Afghanistan in the fall of 2000. And back home in the U.S., the U.S. election was sort of hanging in the balance, remember, with Gore and Bush? And it went on and on. And it went on for so long that the northern alliance fighters actually heard that there was a sort of hung election in the United States. (Laughter.) And they—one of them asked me, really quite concerned, sir, do you think there’s going to be a civil war in your country too? (Laughter.)

And I realized—I realized that a state of—I mean, the sort of state of simmering warfare and conflict is a pretty common thing in a lot of the world. And we think of war as this sort of dramatic, outrageous thing that sometimes happens and it consumes everything. And actually a lot of war is not that dramatic. And it can go on for five years, 10 years, 20 years, generations. And it’s—it has this sort of slow-motion metabolism. And a lot of ordinary life happens inside of war, you know.

And the first time I saw tracer fire was in Sarajevo, and I was having dinner with some people, with a nice—very nice family in the suburb of Dobrinja in the safety of—sort of behind some buildings outside, a nice summer evening. And tracer fire was just pouring down the street about 30 feet from us, but we were behind a building, and so we were safe. And we were having a really nice sort of summer evening picnic dinner, right. And it was completely ordinary except—unless you were in the middle of the street, which we weren’t.

And so I didn’t understand the sort of ordinariness of war for many, many people in the world. You know, D-Day is the exception. That’s war too, but it’s the exception. A lot of it happens in this sort of weird slow-motion way that people accommodate within their lives and they adjust to. And they kind of think it’s kind of normal sometimes and maybe the U.S. will have its own civil war for, you know, a decade or two, you know. Like, it’s really interesting, very different perspective.

LOGAN: I lived with the Afghan soldiers in the war with the Taliban, and they—we were being shelled one day, and my cameraman—I only had a cameraman for about a week. And then he went home. And I spent most of the time there on my own. But when we were being shelled, the roof of the mud house we were on cracked, and it caved and gave way. And he went plummeting down. And the Afghans thought that was the funniest thing they had ever seen. I mean, that’s all they wanted to talk about. Every time I saw them for the next few weeks, all they would talk—they would mime the cameraman going—plunging two stories, potentially to his death. But that for them was—that was the height of wartime entertainment—(laughter)—was to see the foreigner.

PERAINO: Maybe in the front with the badge.

Q: Hi. Wendy Luers with the Foundation for Civil Society.

What role and what contact do you have with American embassies and American diplomats and American envoys when you’re covering these wars?

LOGAN: I think it varies wildly, depending on how—depending on the American diplomat and depending on the American embassy. I just came back from Iraq. And boy, it was hard to find anyone in that country that wanted that war covered. I mean, the American military were unbelievably difficult to deal with. They didn’t give us access to a single base. We weren’t given access to a single trainer. We weren’t—I mean, I even, you know, have the benefit of living in Iraq for a long time. I could—I said to them, I know you’ve got guys at Taji; we’ll drive ourselves to the front gate; all you have to do is send someone to the front gate, let us come in for an hour, and give us some kind of background briefing, you know, do something for us. They said, oh, no, we’re handing over. I said, well, is this, like, the longest handover in the history of any military in the frickin’ world? Because we’ve given you a three-month window. You know, it was all nonsense.

So—and what we try to do is we always—if we can’t get an interview or don’t need an interview with the U.S. ambassador, we always try to get a background briefing from that person. But I’ve never found—I’ve never found organizations like that bending over backwards to assist your coverage in any part of the world anywhere in any circumstances.

AIKINS: U.S. diplomatic presences in conflict zones have become so incredibly bunkered as well these days that it’s even just physically difficult to meet with people. They can’t—often can’t leave the embassy. And getting in through the multiple layers of security is a hassle in itself. So that’s, I think, another way that I think the conflict—our—sorry—conflict has changed. It’s difficult to see American diplomats in the field anymore.

JUNGER: I’ll just answer it quickly. I was—I was evacuated from Liberia during the civil war by the U.S. embassy. I felt extremely grateful to them. I was in a lot of danger. I mean, I particularly was because the Taylor regime had sort of fingered me as a—as a spy. And I sort of went into hiding. And it was a very, very scary time. And I was very grateful to them.

But also what happened is they—you know, they couldn’t really leave the embassy walls very much at all. And I had been all over Liberia, and they sort of debriefed me about, like, what’s going—I mean, I—journalists can become the sort of eyes and ears of the embassy if they’re not careful. And they wanted to know what kind of weapons I saw, you know, like, really sort of detailed stuff.

And at some point, I mean, a journalist—at some point a journalist effectively becomes a spy for the embassy. You know, I don’t know where that line is, but you do have to be aware of it. And—

LOGAN: Can become. Can become.

JUNGER: Yeah, I mean, it’s really tricky. You know, I mean, at what point is—what level of granularity, like, are you—are you really just functioning in a different capacity that you never intended to?

LOGAN: Well, and I will say that, you know, when I was attacked in Egypt, obviously I was very grateful that there was an American embassy nearby, that we could reach them, that we could get, you know—at least there was somebody that you could lean on. We didn’t—we didn’t end up using them for very much at all, but there were two embassy people who came to the airport to help me get on a plane. And that—you know, that—in those circumstances when you’re that afraid, it can mean a lot.

PERAINO: Maybe in the beige shawl.

Q: Thank you. My name is Raghda Dirgham. I’m the bureau chief of Al Hayat here in New York, and I’m a diplomatic correspondent.

I’ve never been to a warfront. And I’m just wondering the relationship you might have, three of you, being the war correspondents, basically being on the—in the field with those who are on the diplomatic front. And in that light, what do you see coming? Yemen, Syria, Iraq—what do you see coming if you were to think what’s next, having been on the ground?

Thank you.

AIKINS: What’s the next country to get horribly invaded and destroyed? (Laughter.) I don’t—I don’t know. I mean, I was in Yemen this summer, and it was incredibly heartbreaking.

LOGAN: But that’s already been horribly invaded and destroyed.

AIKINS: Yeah, and it—and it’s going to be like Syria. You know, it’s going to—you’re going to have ISIS. You’re going to have—al-Qaida already—is already, you know, rearing its head. The country is fragmenting. So, you know—Libya, you know, is obviously—

LOGAN: It’s gone.

AIKINS: Yeah, it’s sort of descending into chaos again.

LOGAN: I think as far as diplomats are concerned, you know, you look for good people wherever you go, I mean, whatever you’re doing. And there are always—so you gravitate towards, you know, the diplomats that you feel that you can trust and the ones that you can respect and the ones that are willing to engage. And those can be in any government, you know, in any government anywhere.

And I mean, it’s—you say what’s coming next, but we’re already in the middle of what’s coming. None of this is resolved. So this is only going—I mean, this is growing and spreading in front of—I mean, you don’t—you know, that’s not based on what I see. It’s in front of all of us. Yemen is unresolved, and Syria is escalating every day. And Turkey’s engagement is escalating. Russia’s engagement is escalating, right. Iraq—it’s interesting. The Iraqis are moving towards Ramadi. Everyone knows that, you know, they have to cut the lines that—I mean, Mosul is just a bomb factory, right. There’s just tens and tens and tens and tens and thousands of bombs everywhere. The Islamic State uses homemade bombs like countries in the past have used landmines. Landmines are a weapon that denies terrain. So that’s what they have used.

I mean, when I was up around Fallujah, there were still hundreds of these bombs. I mean, they’re just everywhere. They just take a jerrycan, fill it with homemade explosives, put a rough detonator on it, and they can—they’re using—they’re using children to plant those bombs. There were some children who have been spoken to—I’m working on something else at the moment—who lay 30 to 40 IEDs in a day. They’re doing suicide operations where they’re using 15 to 30 suicide bombers in one operation in one day. I think they’re using more suicide bombers every day than has ever been witnessed in any war in the history—in history. I mean, and there’s no shortage of them coming to die.

So the Iraqis have an incredible battle on their hands. The Iranians appreciate that because they share that border. That’s why Soleimani is all over the battlefield. The «man from the shadows» is no longer in the shadows, right? Lebanon today just did a massive prisoner exchange with al-Nusra, which is al-Qaida. I mean, you talked about—

AIKINS: It’s good al-Qaida.

LOGAN: Good al-Qaida—for now, right?


LOGAN: I mean, what qualifies as good al-Qaida? So I see those problems being widespread.

JUNGER: A good friend of mine, Melik Kaylan—he’s a Turkish journalist—he’s pointed out that there’s really a new axis of power forming with Moscow, Iran, Assad, Hezbollah, and even China in there in some ways. And that’s a real—that’s recent, and it’s a really interesting development. And it’s—you know, basically it’s being created as a counterbalance to Western power. And it’s part of—it’s also connected to a Shia-Sunni conflict. I mean, it’s a really interesting—

LOGAN: Well, other journalists would say that it’s also—it’s a counterbalance to a lack of Western power—

JUNGER: Yeah. Yeah.

LOGAN:—because the Saudis are leading a coalition in Yemen—

JUNGER: But for Putin—I mean, for—if you look at it through Putin’s perspective, this is how you equalize things with the West.

LOGAN: Right.

JUNGER: I mean, I haven’t been out there in years. So I—you know, I don’t—you know, the only way I really want to express an opinion is through someone else’s opinion, because I—you know, and Melik is a pretty sharp guy. And so we’ve talked a lot about that. I think he has a really legitimate point about that.

PERAINO: OK. Yep. Thank you.

Q: Inger Elliot, IME and the Lively Arts.

Here’s a question. You’ve all been talking about fragmented societies that you’ve worked in a lot, and you know about it. I’d be interested to know—maybe all of us would be interested to know—what you think about the American, the U.S. fragmented society, especially vis-à-vis what’s been happening about the refugees coming into the United States or not coming.

JUNGER: I actually—if I could just jump in, I actually think that plays a big role in the really high levels of combat trauma that American troops experience. I mean, you know, they’re in situations where they’re in a platoon of 30, 40 people, very tightly bonded to—with each other, committed to each other, sleeping in the same space, eating together, doing missions together. Basically a platoon recreates our evolutionary past, the way humans evolved to live.

And then they come back to modern society. And it’s—and they—you know, here are the political parties, are literally accusing each other of deliberately trying to sabotage the safety and the welfare of their own country. Race relations are terrible. The gap between rich and poor is getting worse.

And so they come back—you know, like, and no tribe, no platoon would ever treat itself that way. And soldiers—somehow intuitively, I think they understand this. And they come back to this country, and they kind of can’t believe it. And I think, like, a lot of the guys that I was with—and they were in a lot of combat, and they—you talk about war costing people costing something, like, it cost those guys a lot. And they—just about every single one of them misses it and wants to go back. And if you’re returning to a cohesive, healthy society, you don’t want to go back to combat; you’re glad to be home, you know.

And that to me is, like, the illness of modern—of, like, the modern life is exactly what you’re talking about. And you—and then you can see it in things like immigration. You know, we don’t have any kind of cohesive response to immigration because we can’t, because we’re not a cohesive society. We’re not going to have a cohesive response to global warming, to anything, until we start to see ourselves as one country. And I—sometimes I really think that’s just never going to happen again.


We have time for one more question. Right over there.

Q: Hi. I’m Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And Lara, you touched on this—I think actually all the panelists have touched on this in various guises—but could you talk a little bit about the journalists you work with in these places that you visit, both the journalists who are part of your team and the journalists who are part of the broader information ecosystem that informs your understanding of these places? Sebastian, you just mentioned a colleague in Turkey, for example. I’d like to hear a little bit more about that.

LOGAN: I don’t think there’s anything I’ve done in my entire career that hasn’t been because of a great local journalist. I mean, I’ve leaned on and relied on them in every single place that I’ve been. One of my closest friends, Faras (sp) Ibrahim al-Samarrai, is an Iraqi who, when I was attacked in Egypt, didn’t even pick up the phone; he just got on a plane.

And I remember being in my house in Washington, D.C., thinking—he brought me a necklace with my name in Arabic that he’d had time to get made up at the airport while he was waiting for his fight. And I remember thinking how ironic that, you know, I had just almost been killed by a mob of Arab men, and that the one person that was of the greatest comfort to me in my—in one of my most difficult moments was an Arab man.

And for us, you know, these are not—these are not matches made in heaven. We have—you know, I remember when the Marines were coming into Baghdad down towards Firdos Square, and there were snipers all around, and he was trying to get me to go inside and go to safety. And it was beyond—I couldn’t imagine that at the one moment that I’d been there for months through the end of Saddam, through the whole war and everything, and at the very moment when the city is falling you’re going to actually take me down into the hotel basement and put me away to safety? I was, like, I’m not going. And he’s screaming at me: you got to go, you got to go. And eventually all I could say was, “I am a journalist!” Literally. (Laughter.)

And there was a French journalist there at the time who’s never forgotten it, who reminds me of it whenever I see her. But those people are your lifeblood because they know that there’s no substitute for knowing every inch of ground and every street and every—they help you understand motivation. They help you understand history. They help—they give you context. They risk everything.

When CBS pulled us out and we were on the Jordanian border, Faras (sp) woke me in the middle of the night—I didn’t know him very well at that time—with his hand over my face and took me outside and said, don’t tell anyone, but if you want to go back to Baghdad, I’ll take you. And I said, Faras (sp), if they find you, they will kill you first. And he said, insha’Allah—God willing—if I’m going to die, I want to die in my country.

And so it’s those kind of people—and it doesn’t mean that every local person you work with, you know, you just lay your life in their hands. I’ve had—the ones who say to me, “I’ll take a bullet for you” are the ones you know are lying. (Laughter.) So those are the ones you steer clear of because the ones who really will, who know the—you know, who know the place so much better than you and who can guide you, and you trust and you literally—I went—Sami Yousafzai, one of the greatest journalists in the world. I mean, no one has done reporting on the Taliban like Sami Yousafzai. He’s written for The Daily Beast. He writes for Vocativ. And he wrote for a bunch of people. But, I mean, I embedded with the Taliban because of Sami Yousafzai, and several times. And there were times when we were on the road and Sami pulled us back, I mean, because I understood that he knew better than I did, you know.

And, I mean, Matt alluded to it. You can’t go into Syria if you don’t have a good local network. And some of that is local journalists, and some of that is local fighters. But it begins with local journalists.

AIKINS: Behind every good foreign story is a good fixer. There’s no doubt about that.

LOGAN: Without question, at least one.

AIKINS: And I think it’s incumbent on us—I mean, Joel, I know you guys have done stuff on this—is to—is to do more for fixers. And there’s maybe some parallels that could be drawn with some of the initiatives out there for freelancers. I mean, you’ve both been independent journalists working conflict zones. That’s all I’ve ever been. It’s pretty difficult being out there on your own. And this war is being increasingly covered by freelancers. Costs of the war in terms of deaths are increasingly covered by freelancers.

So stuff—we didn’t really talk about it today, but I mean, one of the best programs—we talk about it, but someone who actually put their money where their mouth is—RISC, this amazing program to train—first of its kind to train freelance journalists life-saving medical skills that Sebastian started up. A lot of my friends have been through it. And you know, so stuff like that. Awards—I mean, the Livingstone Award, for example, means a lot to a young freelancer out there. Just to—you feel like you’re on your own out there, and so an award like this, like, really means a lot.

LOGAN: And the Rory Peck foundation.

AIKINS: Yeah, and—well, there’s something—exactly. There’s something for fixers. The Martin Adler award, which people don’t really know about—maybe they should—is an award, perhaps the only one of its kind, for fixers.

Q: Define “fixers.”

LOGAN: (Laughs.)

AIKINS: Well, fixers—

Q: In that context.

AIKINS: In that context? I mean, it’s basically just someone who works for—who’s employed by other journalists, you know what I mean, who aren’t local journalists. They’re working in the employ of other journalists, but they’re locals.

LOGAN: Remember the movie with Harvey Keitel when he was the cleaner? So the fixer does everything.

AIKINS: Exactly.

LOGAN: The fixer fixes everything and puts you in contact with local politicians and tells you whether it’s safe to go in an area, talks to the police, it runs down leads, it—find people for you. I mean, they help you in every way. They translate sometimes.

AIKINS: But they often are local—

PERAINO: Sorry to—sorry to stop you here. I think I’ve got to stop you here. We’ve reached 1:00, and we—or 2:00, and we’re pretty strict about it. (Applause.) But thanks very much to the panel. It was really interesting. And thanks to the Livingstone Awards for helping to host this. (Applause.)


This is an uncorrected transcript.




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