With the release of Kill the Messenger, there’s been a lot of talk of journalist Gary Webb, and rightfully so. Not only does his reporting deserve to be recognized, but the film is also being released in a time when the national security state is part of our everyday lives. James Risen, The New York Times journalist who has been threatened with jail for protecting his sources, has been speaking out about how journalism is at war with the current administration (and previously, under the Bush administration.)
In light of this renewed conversation about journalism and the recent deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria, I thought it was important to remember the number of journalists who are committed to reporting stories around the globe and risk their lives doing so. All the ones I’m highlighting today happen to be women since so much of the recent conversation about the field has revolved around male reporters.
Marie Colvin (1957-2012)
An American from Long Island, Colvin attended Yale and graduated with a degree in anthropology. In 1978 she started working for UPI, United Press International, in Trenton, New Jersey, New York, and Washington D.C. By 1984, she was appointed the Paris bureau manager for UPI and began her life abroad. In 1985, she started working for London’s The Sunday Times, where she would remain on staff until her death. First as the Middle East correspondent and then as a Foreign Affairs correspondent, she covered conflicts in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Libya and Syria.
In 2001 in Sri Lanka, she lost an eye to a hand-grenade explosion, but that did not stop her from continuing to go out into the field and cover the atrocities of war.
My job is to bear witness. I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120 mm or 155 mm.
In her coverage of East Timor, she found acclaim for refusing to leave a compound where some 1500 women and children sought refuge from Indonesian forces. The other journalists left, but she stayed and the compound was finally evacuated by UN forces after four days.
In 2012, she snuck across the border to Syria, having been warned how dangerous it was for journalists by both her editor and colleagues, but she wanted the world to know what President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were doing to its own people. Colvin and French journalist Remi Ochlik were killed when a building where they had set up makeshift headquarters was shelled and bombed by Syrian forces.
Colvin, who had a home in London, was part of a group of friends, Maggie O’Kane, Jacky Rowland, Janine di Giovanni, and Christiane Amanpour who were all based in London and who were war correspondents. The women were profiled in Vanity Fair in 2002. (The only reason I didn’t profile Amanpour in this piece is I figured she was a bigger household name than most journalists.) After Colvin’s death, Stony Brook University created the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting.
Priest has been a reporter at The Washington Post for 30 years and specialized in national security reporting.
In November 2005, she exposed the secret CIA detention facilities in foreign countries, now commonly known as “black sites” and where CIA and other intelligence officers used enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees. She won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for her reporting.
In conjunction with Anne Hull and photographer Michel du Cille, Priest exposed the mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2008 for Priest, Hull, and du Cille’s reporting.
In 2010, The Washington Post published a collaborative piece between Priest and William Arkin, called Top Secret America. The report detailed the national security buildup after the September 11 attacks. It was later published as a book. In May of 2014, Priest was named the John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism.
Addario began photographing professionally in 1996 at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her first assignment as a freelancer for the Associated Press was in Cuba.
She’s photographed for The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Newsweek, and National Geographic and has covered conflicts in Iraq, Darfur, the Congo, and Haiti. In 2000 she was one of the first American photojournalists to cover Afghanistan under Taliban control.
Addario often works with New York Times reporter Elizabeth Rubin. Rubin and Addario were in the Korengal Valley the same time as Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. In her upcoming memoir, It’s What I Do, Addario talks about how she and Rubin (who at the time was hiding her pregnancy in order to complete the embed) went on long patrols with the troops. In 2009, Addario was the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant.
In March 2011, she was kidnapped along with three other journalists in Libya. All four were released after five days, although Addario talks about how she was harassed and groped.
Some of her work can be viewed on her website.
Mayer, an investigative journalist, has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. Mayer started her career in Vermont, writing for two small weekly papers before moving to the local daily, The Rutland Herald. She was then a metro reporter for The Washington Star before joining The Wall Street Journal in 1982.
In her twelve year career at WSJ, she became the first female White House correspondent. She also served as a war and foreign correspondent, covering bombings in Beirut, the Persian Gulf War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At The New Yorker, she’s written about money in politics, civil liberties, including the government prosecution of whistleblowers, and the U.S. Predator drone program.
Mayer has written three books. The latest, The Dark Side, addresses the possible war crimes the U.S. committed because of the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA and DOD.
Akre is a journalist known for the whistleblower lawsuit filed by herself and reporter Steve Wilson against the Fox station WTVT in Tampa, Florida. In 1997, Akre and Wilson were researching a story about the agricultural biotechnology company, Monsanto, and its use of a recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a milk additive that was approved by the FDA. rBGH was blamed for a number of health issues.
Akre and Wilson planned to air a four-part investigative report on WTVT. But Monsanto contacted Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel, and tried to have the report reviewed for bias. WTVT did not air the report and said it did not qualify as “breakthrough journalism.”
The year after, Akre and Wilson’s contracts were not renewed by the station. They filed a lawsuit under Florida’s whistleblower laws. The pair claimed their termination from WTVT was retaliation for not dropping the Monsanto rBGH story. In a joint statement, they said WTVT instructed them to rewrite the report about 80 times and they were ordered to air dishonest versions of the story.
Akre and Wilson won the Goldman Environmental Prize for the Monsanto report. Even after several trials and appeals, Akre and Wilson continued to fight WTVT’s license until July 2007. That final battle with the FCC was lost and the court stated that the conflict was an “editorial dispute” rather than an effort by WTVT to “distort news.”
Reitman is an investigative journalist at Rolling Stone and her work has appeared in GQ, Men’s Journal, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and Salon.
She’s reported from Africa, covering conflicts in Sudan and Sierra Leone, as well as profiling Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe. Reitman has written on national security, including the trials of Chelsea Manning, Internet activism, abortion, and scientology for Rolling Stone.
In July of 2013, her cover story on the younger Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, received a lot of criticism. Some claimed the story sided with Tsarnaev, others said putting him on the cover glorified his actions and would lead other young men to take similar violent action.
As criticism flooded Rolling Stone, Reitman posted the link on Twitter and simply said, “Here is the story whose promotion everyone seems to be talking about. Hope you read. That’s all.”
Fassihi is a senior staff writer at The Wall Street Journal. She reports on the Middle East and is currently based in Beirut, Lebanon, covering Iran and the region.
Prior to WSJ, she worked as an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for Newark’s The Star-Ledger. She covered the September 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan, and the second Palestinian intifada, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
From 2003-06, she served as WSJ‘s Baghdad bureau chief. While there, she penned an email to family and friends which reported on the situation in Iraq more freely than her articles. She wrote, “One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it’s hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can’t be put back into a bottle.”
The email also revealed the danger of reporting in Baghdad and Iraq. Fassihi said reporters were essentially under house arrest:
I avoid going to people’s homes and never walk in the streets. I can’t go grocery shopping any more, can’t eat in restaurants, can’t strike a conversation with strangers, can’t look for stories, can’t drive in any thing but a full armored car, can’t go to scenes of breaking news stories, can’t be stuck in traffic, can’t speak English outside, can’t take a road trip, can’t say I’m an American, can’t linger at checkpoints, can’t be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can’t and can’t.
The email was somehow leaked and then published in newspapers, websites, and blogs. Fassihi wrote about those experiences and Iraq’s struggles as a country in a 2008 book, Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq.
In an interview with Democracy Now, Amy Goodman asked Fassihi why the email was such a shock to people. “I think it’s probably because the email was personal, and it didn’t just pile facts on top of each other the way that we do when we’re writing for the paper or for any media organizations. I think the fact that it had some emotion in it, that it kind of wasn’t distant — you know, war is a very emotional, very traumatizing experience to both witness and go through. And I think I had sort of set aside those objective, you know, standards of writing a piece and had really spoken from my heart, and I think that kind of grabbed people,” she answered.