What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
Journalists on assignment in foreign countries often risk their lives to gather and report news. But they also depend on local hires who serve as correspondents, translators and guides. These “fixers” often do journalism of their own and put themselves in danger regularly. Kojo chats with American journalists who reported from the front lines in Iraq and from the rubble in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake — and with the fixers who helped them do their jobs.
- Jonathan Katz Author, "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster" (Palgrave Macillian, 2013)
- Evens Sanon Journalist, Associated Press
- Omar Fekeiki Assignment Editor, Radio Sawa-MBN; Former Correspondent, The Washington Post
- Naseer Nouri Former Special Correspondent, The Washington Post; Co-founder, Refugee Roadmap, Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project
- Rajiv Chandrasekaran Senior Correspondent, The Washington Post
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When you read a news piece reported from the front lines of a war zone or from the rubble left behind by an earthquake, it's easy to appreciate the skill, the perseverance and often the courage it took for the journalist on the byline to bring you that story.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut many foreign correspondents for Western news organizations would be the first to tell you they're only as good as the local fixers who help them, men and women who support that journalism in every way possible, from driving to translating, to providing security, offering up sources, writing up reports and even sharing bylines themselves, men and women who regularly put themselves and their families at risk often in places where just being identified as a journalist is enough to get you kidnapped or killed, and men and women whose work often goes unnoticed by the very audiences they work so hard to serve.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut not today. This hour, we're exploring how fixers make international news possible by meeting a few people who have done that work in some of the most challenging environments imaginable. Joining us in studio is Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He is a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe was the newspaper's Baghdad bureau chief from 2003 to 2004. His piece on the Iraqi members of The Washington Post Baghdad bureau during the Iraq War will appear on the newspaper this weekend and will soon be available online, maybe as early as this afternoon at washingtonpost.com. Rajiv, good to see you again.
MR. RAJIV CHANDRASEKARANGreat to be on with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Omar Fekeiki. He is a former Washington Post correspondent. He's currently an assignment editor at Radio Sawa. Omar, thank you for joining us.
MR. OMAR FEKEIKIThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBack with us again is Naseer Nouri. He is a former Washington Post correspondent. He is also the co-founder of Refugee Roadmap, which is a program of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Naseer joined us a few months ago in studio. Good to see you again.
MR. NASEER NOURIGood to see you again. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIJoining us from the studios of WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., is Jonathan Katz. He's a journalist and author of the book "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. Jonathan Katz, thank you for joining us.
MR. JONATHAN KATZThanks. It's good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is Evens Sanon. He is a journalist with The Associated Press who works in Haiti. Evens Sanon, thank you for joining us.
MR. EVENS SANONThank you for having me here.
NNAMDIAnd all of those who'd like to join the conversation, you can pick up the phone and call 800-433-8850. If you have any questions about how journalists reporting abroad go about doing their jobs, it's your turn to take a peek behind that curtain. 800-433-8850. Rajiv, and then Jonathan, we've spoken with both of you in the past about the extensive reporting you've done from places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, the Dominican Republic.
NNAMDIThe other men joining us today were intimately involved in that work. Starting with you, Rajiv, how did you come to meet Omar and Naseer, and what kind of work did they do for you in The Washington Post in Iraq?
CHANDRASEKARANYou know, in places like Baghdad, in the earliest days of the U.S. occupation, it's not so easy to go and find capable, talented fixers and interpreters. You know, there are no newspapers you can post want ads in. There's no, you know, online career boards. So it was pure luck and good fortune that led me to both of them. Omar was walking next to the Palestine Hotel when he spotted a Western woman struggling to converse with a group of Iraqis.
CHANDRASEKARANTurns out that that woman was a Washington Post correspondent, a colleague of mine. He stepped up to help her. She was so impressed. She brought him to me and said, you should meet this young man, and I hired him. Naseer was a friend of another individual who was working for us. Naseer spent many years as an engineering director at Iraqi Airways. I mean, this is a guy who fixes planes, but Iraqi Airways wasn't flying in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion.
CHANDRASEKARANHe needed a job. He spoke English. And even though he didn't have a journalism background, nor did Omar, they possessed the necessary curiosity, the English skills and the resourcefulness to be my essential, you know, partners in this. You know, put simply, Kojo, I couldn't have written the stories that I wrote from Baghdad for The Washington Post if not for gentlemen like Omar and Naseer.
CHANDRASEKARANThey were our essential partners in this endeavor. It wasn't just interpreting conversations. It was helping us to find stories. It was talking our way through checkpoints. It was getting access to government officials. It was opening our eyes to the world, and it was, on multiple occasions -- and I'm sure we'll get a chance to talk about this -- saving our lives, keeping us out of danger.
NNAMDIOmar, you -- your father was a journalist in Iraq, and you have been an English major. So you spoke English. You've never actually spoken with an American before you met Rajiv's colleague, Mary Beth Sheridan, but that's how you started that conversation. But you and Naseer both end up working with Rajiv for The Washington Post almost by accident.
FEKEIKINot almost. Entirely by accident. It was -- in my -- I've never thought in my life I'll be a journalist, although I come from a family of writers, journalists...
NNAMDIYour father was a journalist.
FEKEIKIMy father was -- headed the foreign desk at the Iraqi News Agency until the late '70s. But just in my head, what I have learned under Saddam, journalists were not free to write about real stories. They were mouthpieces for the government, or I -- to be fair, I have to say, for the most part, I wasn't interested in being a mouthpiece for anyone.
FEKEIKIBut when I got the chance to translate for The Washington Post reporters, I just realized I was fascinated by the fact that whatever I translated the day before appeared exactly the same on -- in the newspaper the day after. It was my fascination with conveying the true story, of voicing out people's problems to the outside world, then to the readers everywhere, that really got me interested in journalism, and I've never worked in any field since then.
NNAMDINaseer, in your case, you apparently thought the best thing that you could do with a newspaper was clean windows. Nevertheless, you had gone to school in Tulsa, Okla., and were working in Iraq, but still had yourself a great deal of contempt for newspapers. What drew you in?
NOURIAll my life was aviation, even my hobby. I'm a member of the national aerobatic team of flying. All my life was on the air, never on the ground. And journalism -- and I never wrote. I never read newspaper before. I hate reading the newspaper. But the minute that I met Rajiv in his office in Baghdad when he was establishing his office and recruiting the people to work there, I saw in his eyes what he want to do here.
NOURII thought this guy, he is here to write the history of my country, and I wanted to be there to share this guy writing the history of my country. First, it's an honor to do that. Second, I wanted to be sure that this history will be written the right way. So I wanted to be there to be sure to give him the right stories, and this is how I started.
NNAMDIWell, on to you, now, Evens Sanon in Haiti. How did you get into the business of helping journalists report? I remember reading in Jonathan Katz' book that you got your first taste of this kind of work helping U.S. Marines during a coup back in the 1990s. Could you pick up that story for us?
SANONYes. This is a year I arrived in Haiti, and, I'm, I mean, lost, and there's nothing to do. There's no one around the country. And then the American soldiers arrived, and I just quickly got to work. Since then, I worked for (word?), and with -- we were providing food and doing labor work for the U.S. Marines and -- who I was working with in translating and doing -- driving them around the city.
SANONAnd after they left, I met a journalist named Scott Wilson, who works for The Washington Post, and that's -- this is how I entered in the business of journalism. And he suggested to me that, you know, (unintelligible) other people have access to, that I can access places that have news. And he suggested that I start taking photos and -- which I did, and that pushed me a long way.
NNAMDIEvens, allow me to interrupt you for a second because the reception we're getting from you is not very good at this point, so we're going to try to connect with you again even as we ask Jonathan. Jonathan, what did you need Evens for when you first got to Haiti, and how did that relationship develop?
KATZI needed Evens for absolutely everything. I moved to Haiti in 2007, so it was about 2 1/2 years before the earthquake, although obviously we didn't know that at the time. At that point, we seemed to be on the back end of another story, which was in 2004. It was the ouster of the then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And Evens had been full time with AP since that point, you know, kind of helping to navigate what at that time was basically a conflict story.
KATZJournalists were coming in. It's a dangerous place. There were neighborhoods that was hard to tell if this was somewhere you should go. And if you were going in, you needed all kinds of, you know, entry access, and Evens could provide that because he just knew absolutely everybody. The other thing about Haiti is that, you know, it's an island. It's a very insular place sometimes.
KATZThe language, Haitian Creole, is not widely spoken outside of Haiti. Guadeloupe, Martinique, a couple of other places have similar tongues, but it's not a huge and broad language group. So it's very unlikely that a journalist who's going to come in from the outside -- and this is myself included -- speaking the language of the people. And Evens doesn't just speak Haitian Creole. He speaks Haitian Creole the way it is spoken on the streets and at all levels of society.
KATZAnd so he's -- he was able to be there and open those doors, keep me safe, you know, drive around and listen to the radio and say, hey, look, you need to be paying attention to this, and, hey, look, you need to be paying attention to that. And he was my teacher and my guide and my introduction to the country. And so, you know, even later on, once I was able to start finding stories on my own, it was really as a result of his tutelage. I owe quite a lot to him.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation about journalists and the fixers who help them in the countries in which they are working and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you ever traveled somewhere you felt was impossible to fully know or understand without the help of a local guide? How did you ultimately get outside of that foreigner bubble, obtain a different perspective, if you will? You can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIRajiv, how did you go about building your bureau in Baghdad with men and women like Omar and Naseer? On top of these two, you work with an Iraqi physics professor, a driver who had flown MiG fighter jets in the Iraqi air force, a woman you say was the bureau's secret weapon, just to name a few people.
CHANDRASEKARANIt was an amazing cast of characters, and I was fortunate that they all somehow came into my orbit. You know, The Washington Post has a very strict no nepotism policy. You know, my brother can't get a job there or my wife can't get a job there because I work there. In Iraq, I joked that I violated our nepotism policy with almost every hire because I had no idea if somebody coming through the door was a good guy or was somebody who might seek to do us some harm.
CHANDRASEKARANSo I wanted to make sure that the people that I was hiring were friends or relatives or neighbors or former co-workers of other people I had. So I had real-life personal references. So everybody was one big sort of network. It was sort of a social network, if you will, in that bureau. And then I joked that we -- we sort of ran a journalism 101 program, Kojo. I mean, Omar graduated from college a year earlier. Naseer fixed planes. He had no journalism background, nor did anybody else who was coming in.
CHANDRASEKARANAnd if you had a journalism background in Iraq, those were people who were sort of suspect because they worked for a government-controlled media. They were propagandists. You didn't want them. So we had to teach guys like Omar and Naseer the basics of how you go out and report, how you get both sides of a story, how you get the necessary facts to pull together to write a dispatch that you send back to The Post.
CHANDRASEKARANAnd they began by seeing us operate, by helping to interpret conversations, but, really, just being observers and all of that. And then they grew into fixers, to guys who would come with us excitedly in the morning and say, I just heard this in my neighborhood, or this is happening over there. You should go and, you know, look into it.
CHANDRASEKARANAnd then when Baghdad became too dangerous at times for Westerners to go out and about, they would go out, and they would go and do all the reporting and come back with a notebook full of notes. And we'd write the story based on all of their reporting, and their names would be tacked on at the bottom of the story.
CHANDRASEKARANYou know, Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report. And then after a few more months, they became correspondents in their own right, and they would go out not just report stories, but they'd come back, and they'd write a draft. And we'd work with them and edit them. And then the stories would be published with their name on the top.
CHANDRASEKARANIt was just an amazing transformation. And so, you know, the bureau that was built in early 2003 was one that was an evolutionary thing and the skill sets that developed. And, you know, by 2006, Omar was accepted to go to the graduate school in journalism at UC Berkeley. Just a remarkable transformation in three years.
NNAMDIWell, how did people like Omar and Naseer grow to trust Rajiv? That is you said, Omar, that the first time you file something and you saw that it was reported exactly the way you reported it, I guess that helped to build a level of trust. But you -- could you talk a little bit more because Rajiv looks quite untrustworthy to me. How do you...
NNAMDIHow did he -- how did the trust relationship developed?
FEKEIKIWell, first of all, you can't say that about my first mentor. So -- but I'll let it go now.
FEKEIKII guess, to me, it was those foreigners, those strange people, strange in terms of I don't know them who are coming to my country, let me see what they are going to do. When I reported -- when I translated for them first and the next day I saw the whole story, the exact, same story in the newspaper and then I remember when I was still working with one of my older colleagues, Carol Morello, I remember I was translating for two days for a story she wrote about people who were displaced and who were living in government buildings.
FEKEIKIThe next day, the story appeared. Three, four days later, we checked on those people. They were getting help from the U.S. -- what should I call it -- U.S. administration in Iraq. I thought those are people who are trustworthy because those are the only people -- in my head, those were the only people who are actually trying to help Iraqis. And it worked.
CHANDRASEKARANThe trust issue goes both ways, though, Kojo, because when somebody like me winds up in a strange city, you know, and you start working with a local interpreter, with a fixer, how do you know that they're honestly interpreting that conversation? How do you know that they're taking you to the right people that you're not just taking you to one side of story to people who are from their own ethnic group or their own religious sect or -- and that you wind up getting a skewed picture of what's really happening?
CHANDRASEKARANAnd so, you know, you have to really start to get to note these individuals. You have to impress upon them the need to be fair and comprehensive. And it becomes a process. And, you know, I have to say the first day they walked in, I didn't sort of entrust them with trying to explain Iraq to me in its entirety.
CHANDRASEKARANThat grew over time as I spent hours and hours with them and began to understand how they view the world, began to understand their backgrounds, their own biases. And it was a bond of trust that grew over time. But it's really important because these guys play such a crucial role. And if you get a bad fixer, you can get bad journalism. And that can skew the way readers back home view a situation.
NNAMDIJonathan Katz, I'd like to hear you and Evens Sanon, who's back with us by phone, now talk about the same thing how you develop trust because it's my understanding, Jonathan, that at one point, I guess it was right after the earthquake that when you and Evens showed up at the U.S. Embassy, they wouldn't let either both of you, or they simply wouldn't let Evens in. You guys had to sleep someplace else.
KATZYeah -- yes, exactly right. I mean, just to set the stage here, when the earthquake struck at about 4:53 in the afternoon, I was upstairs on the second floor of the Associated Press house in Petioville, and Evens was downstairs. And, you know, some of Even's remarkable reporting instincts came in very handy at that moment. He noticed that there was little bit of mortar falling between the bricks in the wall, and he stood up and walked out of the house right before that wall fell on his desk.
KATZAnd then he ran back into the house and was able to shout for me and then talk me down from the second floor where everything had basically fallen down around me. So at the point that we got to the embassy hours later, you know, I mean, this -- Evens and I had a great relationship for the two and a half years beforehand. But at that point, you know, I really felt that I owed him my neck when we got to the embassy. And at first, they won't let either of us in.
KATZThey knew who -- they knew exactly who I was, maybe that's why. But then, you know, after a little bit of time, I was able to talk to, you know, some of my friends in the embassy and some of the officials. I was like, look, you know, we're from the Associated Press. Like, my house fell down, like we -- Evens' house fell down. We have nowhere to go.
KATZWill you let us in? And after hours of pushing, they were finally willing to let me inside, but they wouldn't let in Evens. And it was just -- it was so wrong, and I'm still mad about it more than three years later. But, you know, I grabbed a couple of waters and some ration packs and went back out, and we both slept out there on the floor. I think Evens remembers that as well as I do.
NNAMDIEvens, how did you grow to trust Jonathan Katz at the beginning of your relationship?
SANONWell, you know, I worked when I (unintelligible) know, we have a -- the caller has pointed out that each amount of time that we live in a country and, you know, and one left and then another one shows up. And, you know, I'm continuing to do the work that I was doing, which is assuring that we beat the competition and to know what's happening in the country. And part of my job was to make sure that, you know, (unintelligible) we don't miss the news.
SANONAnd Jon came in, and we worked and covered different activities. And the days have gone by, the months are going by, the year went by, and we kept it strong and kept it real. You know, Jon is open -- John is a very open person to work with and in situations -- in a difficult situation or a good situation.
SANONAnd as -- and he'll give you (unintelligible) what are the ups and down in it, (unintelligible) trying to get the information (unintelligible) not coming through. And he's very patient (unintelligible) and, you know, we really (unintelligible) together on the job to work.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. But before we take that break, Jonathan, it is my understanding that when you volunteered to go to Afghanistan and you had to inform Evens that you were leaving and he asked if the person who was replacing you would hire him, you gave him every assurance that that person would even though you said, both you and Evens knew that you didn't know what the heck you were talking about.
KATZWell, I just -- I did -- I couldn't know what was going to be after I left. I mean the thing is that the relationship that we're talking about here is really hard to define. I mean, it's like a brotherhood or, you know, like almost some kind of like quasi, like, plutonic marriage. I mean, like we're spending all our time together, you know, and going through these really complex and difficult experiences of going through riots and periods of political tumult.
KATZAnd then natural disasters, there had been a lot of them before the earthquake struck, you know, a bunch of hurricanes. Four hurricanes struck in a month in 2008. And you're in that every single day with each other, and you'd, you know, it's either you're going to develop, you know, an amazing unspoken bond or you're not, and fortunately, we did. But, you know, then there comes a time where you've got to go. You've got to move on to the next post.
KATZAnd that's one of the hardest things about this relationship for me, you know, with Evens and with other people that I've worked with, is that the one thing that I can always count on is that I can get out. I mean, I can move on to the next story for whatever reason. And, you know, Evens is there, and he's still in Haiti right now. And, you know, you can hear just, you know, over the quality of the phone connection like it's -- it can be a really difficult place. But he's always there, and he's always there, day in and day out.
NNAMDIThat's one of the things we want to talk about when we come back, how the danger affects the individuals who are fixers and their families in their home countries. You can still call us. If you have, stay on the line. We will get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850. If you have any questions about fixers, journalists and the relationship that leads fixers to become journalists, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation about fixers in foreign countries, what they do for journalists and how they then often become journalists. We're talking with Evens Sanon. He joins us by phone from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He's a journalist with The Associated Press who works in Haiti. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster."
NNAMDIHe worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. He joins us from studio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Naseer Nouri is a former Washington Post correspondent. He's also the co-founder of Refugee Roadmap, which is a program of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Omar Fekeiki is a former Washington Post correspondent. He is currently an assignment editor at Radio Sawa.
NNAMDIAnd Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associated editor of The Washington Post. He was the newspaper's Baghdad bureau chief. His piece on the Iraqi members of The Washington Post Baghdad bureau during the Iraq war will be appearing in the newspaper this weekend and will soon be available online at washingtonpost.com. Naseer, so much of the work that all of you do or you did was unsafe, not just for you but for your families. It's my understanding that your nephew was abducted because of the work you were doing for the Post. Tell us about that story.
NOURIYes. One of the, you know, working in journalism in Iraq itself, it's a very dangerous job. And work for an American organization among people who think especially those armed groups and the terrorists over there, they will consider you like you are a spy and agent and that you give information to their enemies. And one of the things that when you hire a special correspondent or a fixer, you have to be sure that those people are neutral, they don't take sides.
NOURIOtherwise, when they will translate, they will take sides, you know? And also, you have to choose people who -- they know exactly the culture, what they are doing there, even the translation. You know, sometimes, when you translate something like, for example, if the journalist or the reporter asked me to ask the guy like after this car bomb, do you support the terrorists? If he said, oh, yeah, like making fun of it and you translate it, you say, oh, yeah. So the reporter will get the -- because he get your attitude...
NNAMDIJust the literal translation. He didn't get the sarcasm.
NOURIYeah. Yeah, exactly. He take (unintelligible), so you have to speak or translate and put yourself as that guy, the same attitude, the same thing. This will make the people around you or the groups hate what you are doing because sometimes, they want you -- they feed you with the story and -- which is not right and they want it to run to The Washington Post to be a story. And from there, the hate starts from those groups, and then when -- your situation will be in danger.
NOURIIt happened with me when -- started when my daughter's teacher called and she said some strangers in a car was following your daughter. So we hid her in our house and we are waiting until they are gone. And they waited. They thought that they are gone. They took my daughter to my brother. The next day, my brother was disappeared. We discovered after a phone call that he was kidnapped.
NOURIAnd when my brother was talking with the kidnappers that how much you want to release him, they said, we don't need your money. We're al-Qaida. We have a lot of money. This money, you keep it to use it in his funeral service. And they were supposed to kill him the next day. He was able to manage to run away, threw himself in a crate.
NNAMDIThis is your nephew.
NOURIThat's my nephew. And he was saved by a family of farmers, which they thought -- in the beginning, they wanted to kill him because he came running. And he told me that farmer, when we went there to pick him up, he said it took him 20 minutes to remember his name and where he was from or a phone number because he was beaten badly. And we could not release him because either the kidnappers will take him or U.S. military will think that he has no identity, no identification cards or anything.
NNAMDINo IDs, yes.
NOURISo he discovered that they were good guys. When we went there to pick him up, my nephew, he said, in the beginning, we didn't think it's connected with my daughter...
NNAMDIThe day before.
NOURIYeah. So the driver -- he said the driver, when he kidnapped me, he said your uncle thought that he could hide his daughter from us. See how we were able to reach you? And when we will kill you, this would be a good lesson to your uncle and those who work for Americans to stop cooperating with Americans.
NNAMDIThat was the whole point of it all. And it's my understanding that after your nephew did get home, his mother wouldn't let him out of the house for more than a year after.
NOURIFor a year, and we hid him in his house for one year and a half. He stopped going to school. My daughters start blaming themselves for what happened to their cousin because it's -- they have nothing to do with that. It's all because of we work with the American organization.
NNAMDIRajiv, what kind of effect does that story that you happened to be there when this was going -- what kind of effect does that have on you?
CHANDRASEKARANYou feel responsible.
CHANDRASEKARANI mean, their work with me that led to threats, that led to kidnappings. One of our Post colleagues was murdered in 2007 while he was out reporting in Baghdad. It's an enormous amount of responsibility and guilt that hangs over one in these situations. And so what we tried to do with the Post was to address these threats as they emerged, in Naseer's case, soon after that kidnapping, moving his family to neighboring Jordan for a year, a little longer until they were able to get resettled in the United States.
CHANDRASEKARANAnd this happened, too, to other families as well. If they were under threat, we wanted to try to mitigate that. It got to a point where we had a number of our staffers actually living in our bureau house at the height of the civil war because it was simply too dangerous for them to go back home.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Sinclair in Washington, D.C. Sinclair, thank you for waiting. You're on the air. Go ahead please.
SINCLAIRYes, a very interesting conversation. And I must say that I am not someone who's very comfortable speaking to the public, on the radio or otherwise. But I felt I had a responsibility to mention something which probably is in the heart and minds of many listeners, if not, the journalists on this program. You know, one of these gentlemen who became a journalist without officially being a "journalist" talks about the problems of being a mouthpiece of the government and tendering to the government.
SINCLAIRAnd it made me think, of course, of what's going on in our country with journalism, you know. At the time of the Iraq War, virtually all the news outlets, including NPR, were mouthpieces for the government to a greater, lesser degree, but virtually all of them were. And there were many mea culpas afterwards.
SINCLAIRAnd it makes me also think about the -- what's a journalist? Naomi Klein, is she a journalist though she's not officially a journalist? Arundhati Roy, who's an architect by training, Daniel Ellsberg (unintelligible), you know, these people are journalists, and they are important because they reveal things that we need to know as a democratic society (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWell, Sinclair, you're raising questions that I know that our journalists have thought about and discussed over and over. So I'm going to start with you, Jonathan Katz, for a response. Oh...
KATZHe's getting in a number of interesting ideas there. I think one of the things that he touched on at the end that I think is very important when we're talking about fixers is that there really -- in journalism, even within the United States, there really aren't these well-defined professional boundaries. Like we're -- it's not like doctors or lawyers where you have to be admitted by a bar association or a professional association.
KATZI mean, to some extent, anyone who says that they're a journalist can be one, and it's really up to the audience to decide whether or not they want to take their reporting seriously. And I think that one of interesting things about the fluidity of that relationship is seeing how it plays out on the ground, you know, when you're talking about working with local hires and local fixers because it's the same thing. You know, you can learn on the ground, you can take the local journalism style and then, you know, taking the journalism style of the visiting or the temporary correspondent who's been posted there.
KATZAnd so I think that fluidity really does express itself, and I think that one of the interesting things about being able to work with local hires and fixers is that you are able to get different points of view and outside points of view that you wouldn't get just from any number of Americans going into other parts of the world and bringing their own ideas with them. And I think it really does enliven and enrich the conversation that everybody gets to be a part of.
NNAMDIRajiv. And then I got a question about this for Omar.
CHANDRASEKARANSo, Kojo, I'm not going to make any excuses for the pre-war Iraq reporting, other than to note that going out and doing original reporting in Iraq was next to impossible because it was a dictatorship. At that time, you couldn't drive around and really do the sort of foreign correspondency that we could, starting in April 2003.
CHANDRASEKARANBut remember, in those first few years of the U.S. presence in Iraq, you had officials at the White House, at the Pentagon, elsewhere, making grand claims of progress. You know, these are just a bunch of bitter-enders, it's all going to be fine, the insurgency is in its last throes. How did we come to know that wasn't accurate, that wasn't truthful? We came to know it because of brave, on-the-ground reporting.
CHANDRASEKARANThe only way we got those stories was from guys like Omar and Naseer and their brave colleagues, guys like Naseer who would take me to Fallujah again and again to go and talk to people there to understand why the insurgency was gaining steam. And so it's their work that is directly responsible for helping Americans to understand that that claims made from behind the podium or in the Rose Garden or the White House are always accurate.
NNAMDIOmar, I wanted you to address our caller on what you see as the difference, the distinction between a writer who may have a bias, a writer who may be getting information from someone who has a bias and a reporter who simply has to write what the government tells them to.
FEKEIKIIt's a huge difference. From what I understood, under Saddam, it wasn't the bias of the reporters or the writers that dictated what it was going on or what was put in the media. It was the dictatorship that said, either you write this or you're not going to have a job, or go to the extreme to say, or you're going to be killed and your family will be displaced.
FEKEIKIBut I understand -- I totally understand the concern of the caller, but I have to say, that we weren't -- at least at The Post in Baghdad, we were not allowed to either report or write our own stories until we became trusted reporters. We went through months, if not years, of training, of vetting, and then we were allowed to report on stories.
FEKEIKIAnd that's exactly why I decided to go fight my way through and go to Berkeley because even with the best training, I think, a journalist can get from pillars of journalism like many in The Washington Post every single day, I thought a classroom-setting training was very necessary, and that's what I got. But not many -- not all of the reporters in Iraq can get that. And the training, the hands-on training we can give them, which was extended to me, was a very important step that made me who I am now.
NNAMDINaseer, and then I got to go to a break.
NOURIYeah. What the caller was saying is -- could be right in some way somewhere else. But the way that we're talking now, like about Iraq and covering the war over there, the way I was -- I look at it, everything we will find out, everything we see when we report it, it's there on the paper with no change. I like really one of the stories that we've covered at The Washington Post in a great way. It was in 2004, during the battle between Mahdi army and U.S. military. I was almost like embedded with Mahdi army side in Najaf.
NOURIWe have a reporter, Kalvik, (sp?) he was embedded with the U.S. military. Rajiv and Omar was in the office covering the political side, the green zone side and the Iraqi politicians from Oman. We covered from all sides. And I remember something that's -- this is why working with Rajiv is great. Sistani -- Ayatollah Sistani, the (unintelligible) he gave orders to all Shia to come visit Najaf at six o'clock in the morning. So at 8:00, when they withdraw all the Mahdi army, we withdraw with them. I had (unintelligible) because at the time, I was reporting...
FEKEIKIA satellite phone.
NOURISatellite phone -- so just in case if I get killed so they -- I don't lose the story. So I reported before something get because very danger. So when I told Rajiv I think this is what would happen: the Mahdi army followers will leave with those visitors. And so I told him and I hope that you will be the only one who will discover that. He told me, be sure that we will be the only paper that will get it. I said, how do you know? He said, because not every paper has Naseer Nouri.
NOURIThis encouraged me, you know, like that. And I remember one of the reporters one time, when I was telling him -- we were covering somebody who was killed in a car bomb, I told the reporter that his brother was sick. And he said, how did you know he is sick? Are you a doctor? I said, well, his face was yellow. I saw pills in his pocket. And he was leaning on a wall. He couldn't stand. He said, that's what you say. Don't say that -- don't say he's sick. And he could not be sick, then we will put lie in the paper. See what (unintelligible) and have the reporters...
NNAMDIAnd tell exactly what's going on. We have to take a short break. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. When we come back, we're discussing fixers and the journalists that they assist and how the fixers themselves often become journalists. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Rajiv Chandrasekaran. He's a senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post with the newspapers Baghdad bureau chief. His piece on the Iraqi members of The Washington Post Baghdad bureau during the Iraq war will appear on the newspaper this weekend and will soon be available online at washingtonpost.com.
NNAMDIOmar Fekeiki is a former Washington Post correspondent. He's currently an assignment editor at Radio Sawa. Naseer Nouri is a former Washington Post correspondent. He's also a co-founder of Refugee Roadmap. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and the author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster."
NNAMDIHe worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press in Haiti. And Evens Sanon is a journalist with the Associated Press who works on Haiti. Rajiv, interesting is in the fact that after, oh, about a decade or so, what made you feel that it was important to capture the stories of the people who worked with you in the Baghdad bureau of The Washington Post?
CHANDRASEKARANWell, a couple of months ago, I was asked to write a 10-year anniversary piece of the invasion of Iraq, and I didn't want to do the predictable thing, going to Iraq and doing sort of a (word?) the government and the legacy of all the billions upon billions of dollars we wasted there and the cost in lives.
CHANDRASEKARANI had this amazing relationship and a relationship that I should note I allowed, in some cases, to become detached. Naseer and Omar lived in the D.C. area. I stayed in touch with them, but many others who worked in the bureau have resettled in other parts of America -- Portland, Oregon, San Diego, Phoenix, Toledo, Ohio. And I really...
NNAMDIYou guys had 75 people at the first party you have that...
CHANDRASEKARANYeah. That was family members...
CHANDRASEKARAN...but we had a lot of people. In fact, one of the editors, senior editors of The Post -- I had a big poster that's blown up in my office -- admonished me, when I came back from Baghdad, not to show it to our publisher because, you know, I was employing...
NNAMDIIs this how you're spending our money?
CHANDRASEKARAN...I was employing more people, he was joking, than we did in one of our printing plants. But as I turn my attention to the Afghan War, Kojo, focus on other issues, I didn't stay in touch with a lot of my former Iraqi colleagues, who worked -- who'd come to this country. And I wanted to know how they were doing. Were they thriving? Were they flailing? What was their experience like? And so I set out a couple months ago to track most of them down. And I spent a lot of time with them.
CHANDRASEKARANAnd the result is the 9,000-word piece that will take up the entire Sunday Outlook section on Sunday. And it really is an effort to trace their lives from Iraq to this country and to understand how these individuals who had such great hopes in 2003 at this party that we talked about in November '03. They're all smiling in this great group photo because they thought Americans were going to deliver them a brighter future in Iraq.
CHANDRASEKARANThey were going to rebuild their country, their lives after years of economic sanctions and strife in their country, and dictatorship would somehow, you know, magically improve. And what they have discovered is they faced those years of threats for working for us, they served bravely. But that they're hopes of rebuilding really are now taking place in America. It's not America rebuilding Iraq, it's Iraqis rebuilding their lives in America.
NNAMDIHere is Dee in Washington, D.C. Dee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEEThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I just would like to thank you for (word?) the subject, this very subject. And I consider myself a linguist/interpreter/fixer, but I guess I haven't find my Rajiv or my Jonathan.
DEEAnd -- OK. And I do lot of thing on my life (unintelligible) by training -- I'm veterinarian by training, did a lot of sales marketing, transportation business. But my real fashion is journalism. What...
NNAMDIWhich makes you a lot like Naseer, but we're running out of time fairly quickly, Dee. And, Jonathan Katz, I'd like you to talk about the fact that Rajiv has done this, as he said, 9,000-word story.
NNAMDIAnd the fact of the matter is that people will always tell you that journalists in general, but foreign correspondents in particular, are really interesting people to talk to because the back stories of what they're doing are often as or sometimes more interesting than the front page stories they're doing because these are the stories of relationships that they have developed with people in the different places during very dangerous times. How important do you think, Jonathan, it is for the public to know a little bit more about those kinds of stories?
KATZI think it's intensely important. I mean, one of the decisions that I made when I was writing my book was to really explore the relationship, the working relationship and the friendship that Evens and I had in Haiti. I mean, among other things, it was not only important for understanding exactly what my entree to reporting in the country was.
KATZHow it was that I was able to avoid, you know, being ensconced in the bubble and the echo chamber of only talking to people who speak English or only talking, for instance, to very wealthy Haitians in one particular neighborhood, and how Evens was able to, you know, open all these doors and allowing me to meet all these people.
KATZBut also that the relationship that Evens and I had was in many ways a model or a microcosm for the relationship between the United States and Haiti, between the wider world and the place that I was trying to cover. And I thought that there was really no better way to tell that story. I mean, one other thing that I want to say is that, you know...
NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds to say it.
KATZWell, you know, at the end of the day, we are so luck and privileged to worked with guys like Evens. And I also want to mention two friends of mine, Evans Bruno (sp?) and John Restie (sp?) or John Baptist, (sp?) both of whom were incredibly important to our work and passed away at a very young age. Because the lives of these guys lived in trying to help us get the news are incredibly hard, and they deserve our respect, and they deserve our support. And far more people need to know about the work that they do.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and the author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press. Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post. He was the newspaper's Baghdad bureau chief. You can read his pieces, the entire Outlook section, this Sunday, or it will soon be available online at washingtonpost.com.
NNAMDINaseer Nouri is a former Washington Post correspondent, co-founder of Refugee Roadmap, a program of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Evens Sanon is a journalist with the Associated Press, who works in Haiti. And Omar Fekeiki is a former Washington Post correspondent, currently an assignment editor at Radio Sawa and the first, it's my understanding, of the Iraqi fixers to become an American citizen.
FEKEIKIYes, I have.
NNAMDICongratulations. And I'm afraid...
FEKEIKIThank you very much.
NNAMDI...that's all the time we have. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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