Again my friend Achilles (Archie) Schiano has taken the time to write for us here at the Press Club. Below is his report from the April 4th women’s panel at the New York Times.
By Achilles Schiano
If anyone thought that women were the weaker sex, they would be rethinking their bias after hearing four international journalists trade experiences at a panel discussion about war coverage, held at the New York Times and sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association, the Asian Heritage Network of the Times, The Online News Association of New York, and the New York Press Club .
Edith Lederer, 46-year veteran of the AP and UN Chief Correspondent for the past 13 years, had the 80-some audience members in stitches with her memories of Vietnam and worldwide coverages. After Egypt invaded Israel and a peace accord was eventually signed at Kilometer 101, The UN checkpoint along the Cairo–Suez road, she explained how she almost missed it. It seems another AP reporter was assigned to do the main story, and she the color. They boarded a giant transport via the tail ramp but the UP representative and others complained that the AP had two reporters. She was invited to exit the plane. So as she stood at the end of the ramp on the runway, she noticed a hand from the cockpit waving. She circled the nose and the pilot had opened a side cockpit door and invited her along. When it came time to land, he told her to get off first and wait at the tail as the ramp came down. She was there to greet her colleagues, no doubt scratching their heads wondering how she got there.
The Press Club’s own Stephanie Gaskell, founder and editor of The War Report, jokingly asked if the pilot had asked for her phone number. Gaskell, herself a veteran of two Afghanistan and an Iraq tour, and Lederer shared one common experience: High military officers giving them interviews while Public Information Officers would stand behind them giving hand signals on what to answer or not.
Lebanese-born and American citizen Raghida Dergham, columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Al Hayat, said while motherhood impelled her to cover the diplomatic beat, nevertheless the war came to her. She detailed a situation where she was marked for assassination, following the murder of colleagues, and made sure she was surrounded by “big” soldiers while moving about.
A NJ born, North Dakota raised Iranian-Japanese journalist named Roxana Saberi, enthralled the audience with her story of being jailed in Iran on trumped up espionage charges. This was after freelancing in iran for six years, and doing extensive interviewing for a book she was planning. She was held incommunicado and finally allowed to call her parents in Fargo, ND but she was not to reveal her location, and was told to say that she was arrested for trying to buy booze. Saberi advised steps to take when reporting in dicey areas, such as lining up a good lawyer ahead of time, leave whereabouts information with friends, and also have a “code.” She explained that she tried–unsuccessfully–to alert her father that something was amiss when she asked the father to wish her Japanese grandfather a happy birthday. But in the confusion, the father didn’t pick up on it. It seems the grandfather had deceased years before.
Gaskell chimed in that it was a good idea to have a “code’ even here in the States. Journalists and photographers have been arrested across the United States while covering stories and the NY Press Club has taken a leading role in exposing that.
Saberi, writing her second book and working in radio and TV, in 2010 penned Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran. As for the “espionage” charge, after four months imprisonment, the accusation was tossed and she was freed.
What’s it like to be a woman in a war zone. Gaskell said many service people were helpful and didn’t even consider the feminine aspect. She felt the pros and cons even out. One interesting observation she made was how male colleagues would confide in her. One guy wouldn’t tell his wife or mother that he cried because of the horrible things one sees.
The ratio of women vis a vis men now in foreign and war reportage was pegged at about 50-50. It was not always like that, Lederer noted. She started with AP in 1966 and was one of a handful of women. A few years later however, Wes Gallagher, president of the AP, called her directly in San Francisco where she was then bureau chief, and asked if she would like to go to Vietnam,Yes, she said. Gallagher’s action bypassed the traditional way of becoming a foreign correspondent for AP. The then foreign editor who came from the old school, required someone to work on the foreign desk before even being considered for overseas posting.
What’s a young person desiring to freelance overseas to do? The panelists mulled that over and the best advice seemed to be to line up your contacts ahead of time, not while already in a war zone.There also are costs involved which Gaskell pegged at several thousands of dollars, such as armor vests, air fare and the use of expensive satellite phones. Moderator at the recent event, was Rogene Fisher Jacquette, Assistant news editor at the Times.
It was a terrific presentation by four talented and gutsy ladies.