The Importance of Foreign Correspondence

Following are comments I delivered last night prior to the screening of “A Mighty Heart,” about Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent Daniel Pearl. A panel discussion with some of Pearl’s colleagues preceded and followed the screening, held at the Newseum in Washington, DC:

“At no time is the free flow of information more important than in times of conflict and war. This is because so much is at stake. For the combatants, of course, everything is at stake.

“It is the job of foreign correspondents to seek out and to convey information, perhaps not primarily to those combatants in the field, but to their family members, to policy makers, to the citizens of those nations engaged in war – and to the broader international community affected by war.

“This job of covering war is a critical task, as it brings to our kitchen tables and to our living rooms the real, human cost of war. It provides us the information with which we can confront the men and women in the shadows, the ones who sell us their wars the same way they sell us religion, cars and toothpaste. It enables us to ask them, ‘Why?’

“Our nation now is engaged in two foreign wars. Sadly, I think, we see far too little evidence of these conflicts in our mainstream media. For example, how many of you in this audience have seen at least one battlefield photograph of just one of the 5,000 plus American service members killed in action in Iraq?

“For most Americans, these conflicts are invisible. Who would know that these wars are claiming some of the finest sons and daughters of our nation?

“At American University’s School of Communication, we understand this, which is why we created a class, called, Foreign Correspondence, and the Foreign Correspondence Network. We train students to cover the range of foreign news, including conflict. Former student Rick Steele worked in Africa. Satomi Kato ventured to Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Danielle Desnoyers recently returned from Egypt. Chole Current still is working in Turkey. Peter Holley is working in Pakistan with the Huffington Post. Nick Clayton soon heads to the Caucuses to freelance for the Washington Times. David Coffey is headed to Bangkok at the end of this month for an internship with the Associated Press.

“We take enormous pride in these success stories. My overriding concern, however, is that something bad may happen to one of these young journalists while performing a craft that I encouraged them to practice.

“How do you balance the need for critical information with the realization that there may be an extraordinary price for pursuing it? After nearly a decade of preparing students for this endeavor, I still wrestle with this question. And I still don’t know the answer.

“What I do know is that without foreign correspondents, without journalists like Daniel Pearl, we would have less information about important events and conflicts that affect us all, in our increasingly dangerous world.

“This program, Reel Journalism, represents the shared mission of the School of Communication and the Newseum to use great films to promote widespread discussion about the role of journalism in public affairs, in peace and in war. The stories we tell about journalists set our expectations for journalism as a profession, as a craft and as a social responsibility.

“There’s no better guide for the mission of Reel Journalism than our host, Nick Clooney. He’s been a TV news anchor and news director, a newspaper columnist and host for the cable channel, AMC, American Movie Classics. Nick has a joint appointment at American University and the Newseum as a Distinguished Journalist in Residence. He has been teaching students opinion writing, and last semester a course based on his book, ‘Movies That Changed Us.’ It is my pleasure to introduce Nick Clooney.”