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tv   Women War Correspondents  CSPAN  August 30, 2022 11:59am-1:28pm EDT

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we never slowed down. schools and businesses went virtualand we powered a new reality because at media, we are built to keep you ahead . >> media, along with these television companies supports c-span2 as a public service . >> good evening. i'm director of georgetown's undergraduate program and in my other life a columnist for the los angeles times. we'redelighted this evening to welcome you to one of our occasional panels. a professional journalist and all its challenges and its glories . our topic this evening is women on the war. testimonies and reflections from women who have distinguished themselves as workforce vepundits from vietnam until the present day. i want to extend a special welcome to our colleagues students and faculty from george washington university and the university of
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maryland who have joined us as well as the rest of you in the audience including many distinguished former war correspondent. >> .. and who we believe is imprisoned there today. we urge the syrian government to take action to secure her release. we have a very distinguished panel this evening. elizabeth becker, a former "washington post" columnist in cambodia, a former pentagon correspondent for the "new yorkk times" whose new book, you don't belong here, inspired as to produce this event.
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jessica donati, "wall street journal" correspondent and afghanistan and now in washington who has just published a book going on her reporting, "eagle down." sylvia poggioli, correspondent for npr who report on the war in bosnia and who is aerobically coming to us late in her evening from rome and acting as both panelists and moderator, deborah amos correspondent who covered two wars in iraq and who wrote a fine book on the middle east, eclipse of the sunnis. note on on a format you willd somewhere on your screen depending on machine you're using a q&a tab for you to send us questions at any time. the panel will have a spirited discussion for somewhere around 40 minutes and then we will turn to your questions. and with that, deb, it's all yours. up because i think that
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many of you especially journalism students will have interesting observations for all of us. if all of you can please turn on your cameras and we will begin our discussion. hello, sylvia, jessica and elizabeth. i want to start with elizabeth because i now have listened to the book twice and the second time i heard things i didn't hear the first time and i was happy to do that and i tell you what struck me, elizabeth, you by all rights could have written a memoir, your reporting was stiller from cambodia and you kept at it all the way through the trials. but you didn't do that, you wrote something different, yo wrote a piece about 3 women who changed the course -- i was curious about your thought process. did you start thinking this is what i'm going to do or was it an evolution? >> well, thanks, debra, and
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thank you for having us all. debra, you've written several books. of course, i wasn't the original. my previous editor, the lamented loss that we last a few years ago alex suggested a memoir but when i started to take a crack at it, i realized that now this -- what's really interesting in my life is the women who covered the war who i followed, the trick was to figure out how to put that together but once i figured that out, then i knew who the three would be. it was really obvious. i needed a photographer. it had to be the french katrina, i needed a long-form journalist, francis fitzgerald and come combat reporter and the woman that was my role model and mentor kate webb from australia.
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then it was the easy part of doing the research and writing the book. >> yes, the easy part. >> you start with the story that is -- in some ways common to everybody on why they got on that plane. can you just recount why you decided that you were going to go to vietnam? >> well, i'm the late bird. i arrived in january 1973 for the last couple of of the war and i was in graduate studies at the university of washington thinking i knew a lot because i was in graduate school after getting my undergraduate degree in south asia and southeast asia and then i had a master's, my master's thesis, adviser turned down my thesis at the same time i turned down invitation to go to bed with him and being youngish, 25, i-i did the
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obvious thing and took fellowship money and bought one-way ticket to cambodia as one does. the thing here is that i had a friend who i met during my studies and travel in india who had gone onto -- to become the freelancer in vietnam and cambodia, a woman named savannah and she trying to get me to join her, no, no, i don't want to close to b-52 raids. but then when i was in the bind, i said why not and i flew to cambodia. and like everybody else, hay no idea what i was getting into. [laughter] >> every single one of the women bought tickets without a job and without any idea how they were going to survive and had to make it up. >> i don't think any of us had
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any idea, because we survived it they asked us to do it some more. let me ask, sylvia, you did a lot of work in bosnia. that was a risky place to work. was there any -- ever any question about being female in that war? was it -- was there anything that was an impediment to you? >> not really, but, again, i didn't go to a war. i was in the balkin and i was covering the rise of the communist who was sort of ruthlessly trying to take power of what was then yugoslavia and i covered the story for 2 and a half years and, you know, first i was in lubana the day they
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declared independence and the bombs starting falling so the war came to me essentially. so then croatia and then in '92, of course, bosnia. but so, you know, basically those of us who were covering the political story suddenly found themselves covering a war story. so no, i can't say -- i think we could say one thing, though, that essentially the croatian war exploded a month or two after the end of the first gulf war and most of the media had -- had, you know, spent so much money certainly all the tv networks and everything in iraq -- in iraq and there was -- the early stage to have balkin were wars were covered by the freelancers and a lot of them were women and i think a lot of women started in the balkin, their first really big experience. so i think -- i can't say that i
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had any particular challenge or difficulties because of that. >> let me ask all three of you this, it's been true in vietnam that war coverage is a way for women to move up the ranks. we saw that in bosnia. samantha power was a reporter in bosnia and i wondered if you thought that that was true, that, you know, wars thaw you can get to, bosnia was one of them is actually a career booster for female correspondents, let me start with elizabeth. >> vietnam is sort of the bridge between world war ii where women weren't allowed in the combat and then the rest of you so that the women in vietnam had to be very quiet about what they were doing because the pentagon still had a ban against women on the field covering combat. before that, through the vietnam
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war in theory they should have been with the nurses. but because the war had not been declared, all of the rules about journalism were suspended including the ban on woman. so the woman in vietnam, just a handful including the french photographer i mentioned, they convinced the pentagon not put the ban and not make a big deal out of it because they're afraid that if washington knew there would be a blowup and women couldn't do it. so they were the missing link before vietnam not allowed. after vietnam, women automatically got credentials like men and media organizations said women as staff during vietnam, you almost never saw staff women. they all had to come -- >> jessica, you did afghanistan and there were -- there were quite a few women who came to afghanistan, was it a draw, do
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you think, for female correspondents? >> i think the times that you faced in afghanistan, i think there were -- i think it would be surprising to consider like how many there still are. it would be, you know, -- you would be judged by generals and inappropriate messages late at night. i can say that i got, you know -- and also journalists that was working for a big american news organization and so i think you experience specifically as woman and the advantage of being woman in afghanistan is that you have access to women. that's one to have problems that we are finding now in the
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newspaper with our bureau, we don't have a male correspondent there. we want to cover the story about how -- what is going to happen to afghan women after they leaf and it's something that i'm trying to do all the way from washington, d.c. because it's just not that accessible to the local journalist that is we have there. >> that's interesting, sylvia, did you see the same thing in bosnia. i remember there being lots of women there and many of them went onto bigger careers? >> absolutely. yeah. definitely. and i think what was also different about the whole not just croatia, there was no american troops. there was no officials or officers that told us we could go or couldn't get. we didn't get credentialed by anybody. the front line was all over the place. 3 worries factions in bosnia. muslims and coats. it was very scary and dangerous,
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you were crossing lines, sometimes several times a day. the other different thing it was a war where really the whole purpose, the target of the war was to move people. it was ethnic cleansing and therefore women, in previous wars women were marginal and not the story. men would write stories about men and military strategic things. the war, ethnic cleansing was the forced movement of civilians and the torture and, of course, rape and rape had always been sort of a part of war, obviously. but in the ethnic cleansing it really emerged as a very specific strategy particularly by the sunnies against the muslims and that turned out to
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be obviously an angle, story that women were in a better position to cover because we had better access. it's still a very patriot society and meant to distort the family and it was very difficult also for women to cover that story, but i think we had a better access than most of our male counterparts and -- and i can say thanks to reporting that men and women did in bosnia on rape it was later recognized that yugoslavia -- war crimes tribunal as war and we could take credit for that. >> correct. i covered the war in '91, the first gulf war and, of course, we could go and talk to saudi women and the men could not. and that was a huge thing and we were half-half in the war.
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elizabeth, do you think -- part of your title is that we wrote the story of war, do you think that female correspondents just report differently, they see different things and have different sensibility on what they should report on? >> specifically in vietnam, first of all, i avoid the x, y chromosome issue. what's particularly different is these were ultimate outsiders. they had no credentials. hay had no background. they had no nothing. they came untrained and covered the way that did intuitively almost. college degrees were too but the photographs that she took and she won major prices in her
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early 20's, fitzgerald the same thing. all the political and concentration on battlefields. what sylvia was talking about that was in the middle of war and kate changed the way you cover combat. it's an outside. at the same time even back then, women were raised differently than men. no question. war brought against each other. the it was a boys club and the women were treated like outside others by the men that jessica was talking about, you're different and by the way you're going to be subject to sexual harassment. i think because they were outsiders, they had a broader
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and deeper view of the war and that's who i wrote in the book. >> i wonder if by the time we all come along that war changes too. that war becomes about civilians. vietnam was not so much. and so i wondered if you think that changes the stake -- that it's a different way to cover war because war changes. yes, all of the above. the way you reacted to the different situations. >> no question. jessica, you write, quite an eye-opening book and you write about special forces and you also -- and they are the most male of all units in the military in my view.
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they never like it when we show up. but you -- you get deep into their culture and you get deep into the culture of the afghan special force, how did you do that, how did you get them to let you? >> there was a natural divide and then the men would do the sort of more kind of thing and at the start, not be in one kind of reporting because you had access. women obviously -- as i matured in the war, i see differently but started out, yeah, i wanted to do the same stuff that guys did. why couldn't i get access to afghan commanders and that's where the story was and at the time the u.s. calling out, the story was very much what is happening to frontline afghan
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troops and so i had success or afghan journalist who came with me and i talked with him, we were able to spend time with afghan commanders and that by default access and green berets who the u.s. -- if we could figure out which afghans were working with the americans, we could access to both of them. i think just spending time going out, you know, on day and night patrols with afghan soldiers. even the american green berets wouldn't do. it was a step by step process. the other thing was that the policy was so flawed, the fact that many of the green berets so
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they were affected by the way that they were being used for political purposes to sort of prevent, you know, the obvious collapse of afghanistan. they were being used to regain the city but it was short-lived. i think a combination of having spent time doing the same things as them and also the fact that they were frustrated just helped -- >> we have a marching band through our screen. it's 6:00 o'clock at night. i'm sorry, it just made me laugh so i had to explain why i was going to laugh. i want to remind the audience to please send in questions and i want to ask jessica one more question and that is you start in libya and that was a chaotic war and then you go onto
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afghanistan. what was the difference between the two? >> it was really unexpected. i grew up in italy so to me sort of -- i felt close in the sense that we were always reading of things that they did and impacted us as well. i was just covering, big ambitions to be war forces. i became so involved in following the day-to-day movements and companies. [inaudible] >> and so they sent me over there. it was complete chaos. we didn't have as we were saying, we just -- you got into cab with someone and someone was getting you over the border and there was dispute gangs we created by paying them to get in
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and out. you get there and there's one security person for like 20 or so journalists and it's a miracle that we survived. i wanted to prove myself. i did get almost abducted with a taxi and managed to wrestle with the guy and ran out and, you know, and trying to find me and had no idea where i was. it was pretty insane. but after that, i obviously developed an appetite for that kind of reporting because it was so much more interesting and i wanted to go to iraq. they don't need anybody to iraq and afghanistan. that's how i got into it. i mean, it seemed so much work.
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when i got there, i was surprised. parties in kabul and you can go to restaurants and party lines were very sort of fixed. >> you know, i signed up for 1982 for the israeli invasion of beirut and we had to take a fairy to cypress and turns out that the crew chases you around and wonder that any of us managed and pumping and yelling and moving. but sylvia, i was interested in this notion that you come and cover political story and slide into war. you didn't choose to do it. the war chose you. was there a moment, oh, my, i appear to be a war correspondent and things change and you had to recalibrate how you operated,
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where you went, who you went with. you know, it was -- that was really learn on the job. >> absolutely. it was absolutely like that and, in fact, in the early stages of the croatia war, i didn't have bullet-proof vests or anything like that. that came much later and -- and, you know, yeah, it was tremendous improvisation. i'm not going the say on the battlefield but as i said the lines were always moving and we were always -- i tell you what, as i said, i started with a political story in what was really, you know, the end of the cold war, a year after i went to belgrade for the first time was the fall of the wall and i covered the aftermath of that and i covered the revolution, were there together, i remember, and then the end of communism in hungary. i sort of started covering the political stuff and when the
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bulkin wars started, we need today understand, you had to go find out of print books to find out the history of the bulkins because it was really a dejavu all over again and the ethnic cleansing was something that had been happening in the past century. it was unfortunately a typical method of the balkins. towns the rise of this rabid nationalism was really, you know, you needed old books and what was very interesting and i talked to a lot reporters and sometimes you don't talk to these refugees or people in a town where there had been an attack and they start telling you what happened and you don't understand, older people, you don't understand if they're talking about something that
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happened the week before or in 1944. and there was -- it was a very difficult story to cover because of all of the history that weighed on -- on the events so much and, you know, you to start also learning how to dodge bullets. >> yeah. that was one of the things that struck me a little bit reading the book. the first time reading your book i understood how to be a reporter in vietnam. i don't know because you put the female lens on it but much more that you describe what it is day-to-day, who you lived, you who hung out with and how you got on the helicopter and you got out of the room and you saw nobody on the street and it's the beginning of the attack -- i understood it for the first time ever. i read a lot of vietnam books. there was something compelling
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about that but terrifying. in your epilogue. you understood that you just had to survive. i wonder if you think that you -- the violence in vietnam was more than for any of us. it was closer and more sustained than it was in other wars. >> oh, i can't make that judgment because in some ways -- i look at people like jessica, the younger people and journalists were targets. on the other hand, thank you debra for noticing the dailiness of it because that's the thing that drove me crazy, reading memoirs of people covering the vietnam war. they didn't have families that they road home to. i didn't know what they wore and i didn't know what restaurants. i knew none of that and my book,
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i wanted to show the whole of the women and thankfully they left a lot for me to use and francis is still alive. we had families, we had friends, we had love affairs, we had all of that. >> terrible love affairs. [laughter] >> that's part of war. it's so -- it's so -- as we all know, it's the biggest thing you feel all 24/7. i wanted that in there but thank you. >> i love that part. i realized that i had been missing it forever. [laughter] >> so i did appreciate that. >> the one thing that is also striking in elizabeth's book, jessica, is the fact that these women, they don't hang out with each other, they pretty much are working allen and i wondered if it had changed for you in afghanistan, did you have female friends, was that important to you? >> yeah. i think, there was -- as people
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left in the later years, there were fewer journalists. it was a collegial place to work. you knew what they were working on and discussing and you would share sources and advice. >> yes, in beirut there was two of us. we hung out together. sylvia, there were lots of women more in bosnia than belgrade but the same contingent? >> well, no. there were also a lot of women also at belgrade. yeah, we were always pretty much the same, you know, we were circulating around the entire region most of the time. yeah. we did hang out, yeah, together absolutely. >> so both elizabeth's book and jessica's book has something interesting that's the history
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of your own wars, earlies, that's the subject of the book, the history of the war and i haven't thought about it in so long that it was really interesting to read that, how long did that take you to figure out what's in, what's out, how do you -- i mean, that seemed like the hardest thing that you did. >> you're too generous. >> i read it twice, elizabeth. >> i knew that i couldn't explain the women without explaining the war. i couldn't explain and the american media demand and it was both devicive war since the civil war and their accomplishments had -- their spine had to be the worry.
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i had the background and i called pull the books and it's the pull and i had a good editor who said, elizabeth, enough on that and that sort of thing. but i didn't want the reader to not the war and i presumed that none of my readers could memorize it and i couldn't see it in any other way. >> great piece of history. and jessica, i have to tell you, i have no idea this war is mainly about special forces and that has been the point and that the american government actually started to downplay this war from 2005. are we still in afghanistan, oh, maybe. let's keep it all very quiet and you must have seen that. when did you figure out that this was all worth a book, that the rest of us couldn't quite get this part? >> it was really frustrating because you could never really
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tell that side of the war because the soldiers that you would get to know would never get on the record with a new story and you didn't really have official access to the green berets and i wrote a story about leaving afghanistan and how guilty of leaving afghan colleagues behind and start life somewhere else and got some attention, reached out to me and said, hey, you represented and, yeah, i think so. i was really angry and they say when i left because of the way things were going and, you know, it just sort of came together over time. more people i thought to, the more access i got and i think just to go to elizabeth's point, if i had known what i had at the end in
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terms of materials, might have been structured differently. it sort of came together as i went along. >> and do you find that, for example, when the military people read this book, do they call you and say, you got it, jessica. >> i've had so many soldiers reach out to me and say, thank me of the years that were covered for documenting that -- [inaudible] >> to me it was frustrating, the training missions, they stopped calling soldiers soldiers and started calling them advisers and most of the journalists in washington are just covering the language that the pentagon uses because they are not there. and so the narrative that was coming out of dc was dominant and people were saying american soldiers are still in combat.
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the government wasn't want to tell the story. >> what are your thoughts of the american withdrawal? >> i think it's difficult. the u.s. has to leave afghanistan at some point and the fact that it was trending in the wrong direction. there was no improvement. violence increasing, but what they did do, no plan, the trump administration had to do with the taliban. and coming and the process that started is now dead and try today launch their initiative and replicate in 2001. and now they are leaving with no
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dates set than anniversary which i think is upsetting to soldiers in afghan that there's no better logic for after 20 years just an anniversary. >> so it's really hard to remain hopeful about how things will go because there's no peace effort. any peace effort that was underway is being wiped out. and what when it goes badly, then it will get covered. >> hopefully, but i know once american soldiers are gone, will people care really about afghan war? you know, that was one of the reasons that i focused on the green berets in the people. you know, i couldn't believe that the american public would really care about afghan and
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cared about americans' lives lost. once the dust settles, what will we cover, probably not that much. >> sylvia, you covered a war where americans weren't involved which is always different than the ones that we covered. and i wondered if you have any experiences of people say thank you for telling the truth or you revealed what was really happening or is that just something that you just think about years later? >> no. you know, basically we were constantly -- the topics of all our stories were mainly the refugees or the victims, the civilians and absolute, it was difficult, there was fear, not everybody was so willing but so many people were willing to talk and i think extremely grateful
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and as elizabeth pointed out also in the balkins, journalist were very much off the targets. up until then war since then it's happened, during the wars and yugoslavia, i think more journalists were killed and injured than had ever happened before than information was -- we talked so much about disinformation but i cannot tell you how much disinformation it was one of the propaganda machines of -- from belgrade in particular were absolutely devastating and -- and many of these people believe these things and so there was communication on that level was often very, very difficult but definitely, definitely they were very happy that we were telling their stories. >> so as a journalist when the americans aren't involved, do you find that you do get drawn to the civilians because you need to find the topic that
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will, you know, get the attention of your listeners because you can't appeal to the way that they understand the u.s. military. and the politics are too complicated. >> yeah, there were no 6:00 o'clock call-ins in balkin. crazy statements made by the insane nationalist political leaders and tremendous amount of false propaganda but the -- the civilians were the topic. i mean, there wasn't any, you know, there were no battles for, you know, strategic heels or dams or whatever. you didn't write about the military at all. also there was no real legitimate -- there were all
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militias and they were basically thugs and it was a very, very -- it was a very, very scary and disorganized in every sense difficult to cover story, but the civilians were the topic. you couldn't -- that was it. that's what you talked about. that was the center of the reporting. >> elizabeth in some ways you have the same task because as a reporter in cambodia the americans were involved but from the air and so how did you think about your coverage? >> well, i thought about it by being sure that i went to the u.s. embassy to read american newspapers which is the only place i can find them so i knew what the debate was in the united states. so even though they were fighting from the air only congress had restricted them, cambodia was a huge issue. it would have been one of the -- one to have articles in nixon's
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impeachment, the supreme court was debating it. there were all kinds of lawsuits because the guilt i cannot -- the guilt of the americans about expanding war in cambodia was enormous. we have no information and so forth but i wanted to pick on something that i hadn't realized until i listened to you all. underneath all of our wars, there was a sense of -- of old race-based antagonism that was hard to pull out. i know you don't think about it with vietnam but, for instance, one of the stories i reported that sort of didn't go anywhere was that the cambodian communists had a real racial antagonism to the vietnamese communist and did not trust the vietnamese communist and got
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outlook opinion because we are deacon to all societies and what do we find, jessica found it, sylvia found it and now in the 21st century, it's taken for granted but we, americans, oh, my god. i could tell you what each had about each other and i heard racism like since cambodia. >> president bush said, i understand there's two kinds of muslims, there's sunnis and shiites and they went, oh, oh. [laughter] >> and so, yes, i think that is correct. jessica, would you go back? >> i really want to go back, yeah. i mean, it's actually now -- a few journalists there and
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there's an opportunity but i just had a baby so going to be home with him for a while but i definitely once he's a little bit older. >> now these things have an interesting topic and i want to ask all three of you on this, in my time war correspondents who had babies left the field. kelly mcevers did but i know that younger women don't. they go right back out there. i wondered if -- if you agree that our generation -- that was -- although men always kept going. that was okay for the men to go back to the war, but now both sides go. do you notice that as a phenomena? >> i was just on a panel with lindsey -- excuse me, lindsey adario. >> yeah, yeah. >> she said, women -- i don't want an editor telling me whether or not i can go back
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because i'm a mother. i make that decision and i thought that was okay. that makes sense to me. she's taking the responsibility. she makes the decision. i mean, the woman i wrote about -- i don't know, no one had -- there's so few of us and none were married much less mothers. but then later as i become an editor as we all know, i -- i tend to let the women decide but i do have to say that once -- you know, i let the women decide. >> but it's not question for men. you wouldn't say we will let the men decide. if we have a 6-month-old baby at home it's not a question. >> they didn't take maternally leave. >> exactly right. >> exactly right. >> so it's and a new question. >> by bosnia, were there women that had children at home or no?
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>> i didn't know any. i can't say that i -- offhand i can't remember anyone that did. >> when i was in baghdad, my co-correspondent had a young one in istanbul and at 5:00 o'clock every day she would go to -- back then it wasn't zoom and i would hear out of her door, up down, up down and i knew exactly what she was doing. she was talking to her child from baghdad. and jessica, were there women in afghanistan who had kids at home? >> i mean, no, not really. overwhelmingly there were a lot of male correspondents with families back in europe or in the u.s. but very few and from my perspective, i mean, definitely once you get married and you have a baby, it certainly limits the chances of you going overseas, one because
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women generally have more of a role at home especially when the babies are young and also it's more difficult to put myself at risk knowing that this is a personal choice. i would find it really hard to go for 2 or 3 years like the men did and i know how much of that was social construct that it is completely engrained and men feel free to go overseas whenever -- or as much as they want. >> i think the change seems to be that it's your choice and in my generation, nobody did it. you would be seen as some sort of horrible human if you did. i think what i'd like to do is ask doyle to help us with questions, we are getting quite a few and i wonder if doyle, you can begin to open for questions from our fulsome audience?
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>> i will be glad to do that. because of production limitations you will get me rendering the questions but i will do the best i can to be faithful to them. we still have room for more. the first question is from abby who is a student in the journalism program at georgetown and she asks, what do stories like that of austin price, in syria, what implications do we have for conflict reporting and i would like to expand the question a little bit. some of you started by buying a one-way ticket to a combat zone. is that something that somebody will ever do again? >> well, the older -- the oldest one will say that i would not do it today. i think the risks do not come close to the rewards for all the
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reasons we just said. america does not -- if americans are not fighting, the media is not going to buy your work. the respect for a journalist is not what it used to be, from afghanistan, how many times were hospitals with red cross bombed much less journalists? i hope they don't. i hope that they do things like improve our local coverage here in the united states. >> i saw this happen in the syrian conflict. i was in turkey when austin tice disappeared and when james foley disappeared and there were plenty of young, almost all european, americans no. but there were plenty of 22 to 25-year-old europeans who came in as freelancers and it wasn't until the beheadings began that
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everybody had to get very serious about security and how this was going to work because the freelancers would go ahead of all staff people and companies would buy their work and there was a moral hazard to that that i think editors began to understand that you were asking far too much of people and if you're 22 to 25, you aren't quite making the right decisions. so you saw it tighten over time but, yes, i think there are people who will get on those planes. but i've been thinking about this lately, where would you go? what war would you go to now that you would risk your life for and hope that you would start your career on. >> that is a question that sofi sent in. she notes that there are also access problems. how would you get to the front
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in yemen, so if any of you were to advice a young journalist who wanted to be a conflict reporter, where would you go? >> i think younger reporters show up in afghanistan who showed up without any specific -- who gradually sold their work to bigger organizations. i think there's interest in afghanistan. it's pretty easy to get there. a lot of big airlines get there. you can get to kabul and once you get to kabul, you can go anywhere. i think it's possible. not advisable perhaps, but possible. >> i agree with what elizabeth said that if the americans are notifying, you know, there's not going -- at least in the american media, there's not going to be an interest. >> although yemen is one of
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those, you know, humanitarian crisis that is what your story will be and you know it before you get there. you will show skinny babies in hospitals and that is your story. it is possible to get there but it is so damn dangerous that for a freelance tore get on that plane without backup is difficult. james ferguson from pbs got a series that's on this week, she went there and did exactly that. >> sylvia, you mentioned loading on the job when you got to bosnia and the war came to you. so i wanted to ask all of you whether you had any particular training in conflict reporting before you became a war
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correspondent. i'm now having to do that without much training but served alongside reporters who were veterans in other wars in military service. they either had a leg up or certainly believed they had a leg up. do you think that's true? >> well, again, if they had -- i'm not so sure they are covering, say something like vietnam would have been helpful in covering bosnia. but i can say i had absolutely no experience before the war. the balkins are the only wars that i've covered. i don't know what the other ones were like. but i really learned -- i learned on the ground. >> my preparation going to libya was they had a mandatory 5 days hostile environment where 3 days was first aid and they told you what to do from having a catastrophic bleed and one useful session on what to do if
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you were kidnapped which was one thing that helped me decide to try and escape from the taxi when i was abducted by this guy. they told us the best time to escape before you get to place. it was just that -- this is the right thing to do, this is the right thing to do and i just did it. i don't know without training if i would have made the same decisions. we laughed at the training at the time it actually did come in handy. the other thing they did they had me talk to a season war correspondent who was dated and was my guest. >> i took the training course, oh, gosh, maybe 5 years ago. 2013 and i only know that because i have to do it again. really, do i have to do this now.
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i have been through, you know, 8 wars by now and there came a moment where they said, okay, we will train you for kidnapping and i said i've been kidnapped twice and i managed it, do i really have to do this and they said no, i don't want to have you rough me up and i'm just -- no, i've been through it. >> yeah, i had the same experience. all the hostile environment training came in after the second iraq war. that was -- none of that existed before and it was for the insurance and i had frankly a very traumatic experience. they sent us to england to do it. it was former british soldiers organized it and it also awful and i said, i never want to do that again. it made me relive all of the things that i had somehow repressed obviously in the balkins but i had gotten rid of
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but it was a horrible and bad experience. i'm not so sure if perhaps you have it the first time, maybe it's helpful but first aid was good, that would have been nice to have that before but the simulated kidnapping and hostage taking, no. >> i had heard about that. >> one woman from the bbc fainted. it was not good. >> elizabeth, you -- i remember coming back from beirut in particular and i couldn't be around fireworks and if a car backfired, i would roll into a ball on the street. it took a while to calm down from that and i wondered -- you were there a long time. how -- did you have trouble reinserting yourself to normal america? >> yes. but i didn't know i was having trouble which is normal. i just thought it was normal that half of my head was still in cambodia and the other half
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was in the united states and it was normal that i was writing letters as much as i could to the beijing embassy for cambodia and that i thought too much of it and i went back and had a more traumatic experience and so -- and i spent a lot of money on a therapist without saying why i couldn't concentrate. yeah, this is way before anybody knew about ptsd and -- and in the process of talking about the book i remembered something that really brought it home to me. i was lucky they posted me to prince george county which is a fabulous story here in the washington area and vietnam vet was in those days right after the war was -- they were considered lonely losers, crazy. and pg county had one of the
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veterans was a sniper and was killing people in the region. and the police knew that i had covered the war and so they actually called me in the bureau in dc and said, do you want to talk to him and they gave me the phone number. they said you can talk him down and so i said, okay, i talked him count and while i was talking him down he quieted and started listening to me and they shot and killed him. >> so, i mean, this whole thing and whenever something happened, becker, you were there, is even if you're making headway, this war was -- i felt that it wasn't the only one. i mean -- >> i think you had worst experiences certainly than i ever did. the second time you go to cambodia and they killed one of you, how did you manage that? >> debra, it's no accident
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within a year or so i was the mother of a beautiful little girl. i will just go that far. i just think it was so bad i did something really good. i had really. >> that's better than therapy. [laughter] >> we have a similar question from ellen and she says she's a female veteran and has been grappling with reentry and would like to hear from all of you how you deal even with the simple problem of culture shock that's coming out of the intensity of war to the civilian life. i'd like to know whether news organizations provide any kind of reentry help these days. anybody.
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>> recent experience? generally, i arrived in washington after four years in afghanistan and i was not in the best place and you didn't get anything. a number that you can call and they would give you another number and counseling and i didn't understand american health insurance and even then it wouldn't be included. there was no -- there was no follow-up or anything. nobody asked how you're feeling. there was a day when a whole group of afghan journalists were killed in a secondary and went to cover a bombing and i went to the office and i just started crying and so they sent me home but there was no question you arrived sort of thing and the same when i was working and i i had the near kidnap experience
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and my editor in london didn't know that it had happened and the security adviser said i hadn't told him where i was going which i had and that was another headache to resolve when i got back because they didn't want to label that they were responsible because he told me to get in the cab. either way, there's no real effort. even worst case, my -- my role model was lydia, she did a lot of great work in libya and went to afghanistan and being bureau chief there. she very obviously was breaking down over her last year. she was -- [inaudible] >> she had substance abuse problem and nobody did anything at all. we talked about it, me and other reporter in pakistan about how to intervene without gentlemen
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jeopardizing her career and she was found dead in the bathroom just a month, a few days after that. it prompted a lot of soul searching in the organization but it felt like it was too little too late because she was only 34. .. .. spend more time in combat. kate had been captured by nearly a month by the north vietnamese. was severely injured. they were both functional
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blockade was the functional alcoholic. i talked to her sister at length for the book. she said for kate to acknowledge all of the problems she felt she would've fallen apart. you could not talk about it. and jessica's story, i was thinking about kate and katrina. they never, never adapted. kate never settled down. katrina never felt at home anywhere. and that is the sadness of the book. these two really, really gave up their sanity and well-being for this job. although both before they died said they would not change, they are so proud of what they had done. katrina said i told the story.
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that is the bittersweet stories of this these women. it was heartbreaking to see kate at the end, heartbreaking. specular miami of marie who struggled mightily, and when she died many of us said that it was suicide by. [inaudible] perry had the chance to interview i put that to him if he thought that's what had happened and i left every single gesture in the tape. he clicks, he signs and he says many of her friends wondered what marie would be like if she retired and now they neverhave to know .
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and so i thought that was as close to yes as you get. it's tough. sylvia, did you have trouble when you came back from bosnia? >> yes, but like elizabeth i didn't know what ptsd was at the time. the conflict didn't exist. and people would ask me what was it like there and i never had great panic or tanxiety in bosnia. i had it when i came back to rome. over something ridiculous. i was upset that gas was going to explode or i was going to be run over by a bus when icrossed the street . the fear became the fears of thefinality of the day . and then i developed a weird
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fear of heights which i told some other people haveto . >> i can't drive over bridges . out of nowhere, i couldn't. and i talked to other people who do this for a living and they say fear gets displaced and soldiers talk about. they can't park in basement parking lot. they just can't do it or they can't drive over a two lane bridge because there's nowhere to turnaround . and it's all that training that you have about what to watch out for and it justgets displaced . and then you have to deal with it in ways that are like really, that's what i'm afraid ofwhat you are . >> while her on the subject of fear and danger of practical question from neil whiting. when you're in a conflict zone you have to rely on
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local officials, sometimes local militia commanders or local military officers who may or may not answer to a higher authority. how do you figure out who to trust? and sylvia, why don't you go first. >> you have to play it by ear. often you couldn't get into an area because there be these militia men who hated reporters of course, all sides especially the service but even the chrome weights and especially if you were in and an american reporter but sometimes a pack of cigarettes would get you, would open passage. sometimes it wouldn't. you never know. but again, we didn't have this problem of credentials. later george last year of
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course there were the un so-called un peacekeepers all over. but they weren'teverywhere . and they were pretty ineffectual and more damaging in the end wthan helpful to the people on the ground. but yes. you play it by ear, what can i say? there's no rules that i can think of. >> i think you trust your sisters and you trust your sisters to warn you. most of the time, that works although i do remember being in northern lebanon and i had a fixer, a female, a brilliant woman and we were in a very sunni area where these people if they weren't al qaeda they were pretty close. we left about who was in more in danger, a shia or an e american. and it was pretty much a y
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tossup at that time but i think that you learn to trust your fixers. they can feel when things are going bad. >> you couldn't often go. you couldn't take a muslim into a serving area. so we were usually reporters together and driving our own vehicles because when you're crossing the line, you would have been endangering your fixer by putting theminto the enemy territory . >> and elizabeth you're in cambodia when there were no fixed lines and there was no american military to embed with . how did you navigatethose ? >> we had an informal deal among reporters. those of us who live there knew each other and even if
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we didn't like each other always we knew we were going to go out during the day and we listened to the communist broadcast and new, we took them literally and then you were very good friends with the military attaches had intelligence out in the field so it was a group effort and yes, we would have our drivers with us and you knew how to tell when the line had moved. when the children worked there. when you didn't know whcooking . you had this old set and it works and the thing that broke my heart was with a couple of my really close buddies, they were two a japanese journalists, they broke the rules and went across to the khmer rouge site which we always said we would never do. tthey purposely went across and were killed so it was in
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that sense we took them seriously. we never crossed the line, never because we knew what would happen. >> jessica, i know you've covered afghan units, not only american units. how did it work? when youwanted to embed, i don't know if that's the right term or if you want to go to a company and afghan units . >> they different greeks controldifferent areas so you had arrange . you had this elite well-equipped trains air support but you could go with these sort of ministers that were raised up and they were raised against islamic state. so you really just playing it by ear. you travel with your local afghan journalists that would get you out of trouble and other times itwas just a gamble .
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one group we went there and spent the day walking around. with the second assignment, the americans insisted. they really felt that things could go either way so we got out of therequickly. we just got a bad feeling off them . but really locals are the best guys tostay safe . >> a courageous question here from sarah wheaton who is watchingus from brussels . she says she's 37 years old and is she too old to become a war correspondent ? [laughter] >> i was in my 40s when iwas covering it so no . >> i was older than that going to southern turkey to cover syria. i was. >> i think that it's hard to start at 37.
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so if you're a journalist now , then you're probably fine but if you're just becoming a journalist at 37 80 not so much. you probablyshould start as a war correspondent . >> a question from deborah king. have you returned to the war zones that you covered to see how life has changed? jessica said she would like to go back to afghanistan, one of the 30 months? >> i went back to sarajevo i guess about 10 years after the war had started and of course, there was peace in that sense and everything but the situation you know, the balkans is still a bit of a mess and lots of corruption so anyways, it's not in great shape.
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it's not in great shape atall . >> i go back a lot. i've been back a lot and the first few times i went back it helped me get rid of my jitters. and with the ups and downs in cambodia, with cambodia and withvietnam , i find it reminds me that it's just a country. it's not a war zone, it'sa whole country and it has history and i can stay with it . i found it very helpful to keep going back . >> have you gone back to beirut or baghdad? >> i have, beirut, not baghdad. i was there when the pandemic began in january or february. i've been going since 1982. so i know the place episodically and this time
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was very sad and it's gotten only sad or with the big explosion and half the country the low the poverty line. it used to be the place and in some ways it still is but it's a place where young journalists could get a start . there is a huge contingent and there's a lot of women there . who you know, could jump off and do middle east reporting from beirut. but it is so precarious now in lebanon because the economy is tanking. it just, it's very sad to go there these days. and syria ican't go at all but that is the story i keep up with . i will go to berlin in january. i will look at the trials, the war crimes trials happening in germany. i don't know. elizabeth, you're a role model about this. i could imagine spending what
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time i have left is a journalist looking at syria because that was the one that i knew the best . that was the one that i followed the most, that i knew those people before the war. i was there when the war broke out. it's a 10 year war, it's not over yet so i'm still, at some moment you must have wanted to know how this is all going to turn out and i feel that way about that in ways that i don't feel about all the other ones . i went to afghanistan, i was in bosnia. i was in iraq, i was in iran but somehow that one has stuck with me. it's hard to know which one gets you but that is theone that has gotten me . >> sorry, go ahead elizabeth. >> if you look at syria i think me and mark is one of thosestories now . i just can't stop looking.
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there are people there, journalists who are very much attached to that country. >> we have time left for one or two more questions before i send this back to them for any final remarks you may want to make so let me warn the audience, if you have a lightning round question you've been desperate to ask now is the time to get in. here is a big question about the americans and war from joint stock. the united states seems to have apattern not only in afghanistan of getting into wars without an exit strategy . after so much experiencewhy are we so bad at this ? m >> i was just writing this book which was the first time we did it, vietnam was the first one we were on. one of the problems is we have just too much of our
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foreign policy in the hands of the military and we're expecting the military to do things we should not. and vietnam was one of them and i think of the forever wars after, armies don't bring democracy. armies don't start all these issues. armies don't do it and i think the first thing i would dowould be to beef up the state department budget . just let's go back to diplomacy and let's not put anything in the military, the mission has gone way beyond belief and i think weall suffer from that . >> you must have an eyewitness approach to that one. >> i think the main conversation is it has to do with vietnam. and i think that's common. of the strikes that they're able to deliver, it's women's
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rights and justice and its a country they really know nothing about. as opposed to fixing and it's a completely different culture. you can just immigrate to work. >> and this last question, this one i will confess is from me and it's afundamental question . i'd love to hear each of you address it. it's one i've tried toexplain to students withoutmuch success. going out and covering the war is dangerous . it's draining . fit's dirty. it takes you away from most of thepleasures of normal life .. why do you do it? deborah, why don't you go first. >> i've thought about this and when i look back at
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myself, i realized that i was an adventurer. i was a pirate. i wanted experiences. i was willing to take risks. i don't think i ever said that. i don't think i even acknowledged it but i do remember when we got ourselves to beirut , i was beyond happy that i had pulled this off. and when ikept going back i thought this was fabulous . there's a moment i think you get old enough and you think i really shouldn't be doing this because you know that if anything bad happens to you your friends will all go you should have known better and the truth is you should have read there's a moment you probably should stop doing it but the attraction to doing it is you see people at their worst.
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everybody understands that. it will also see people at their best. really their best. surgeons are in basements doing emergency surgery by candlelight. women who step forward and organize the food campaign at the stadium for sudanese refugees. you see people do extraordinary things and so it's that heightened sense of life that is enticing. >> sylvia, you laughed at the question so tell us. >> i repeat, i didn't look for it. it came to me and i found myself there. you might ask why did i keep going for a period of 10 years. at that point i had really i think i began to understand as part of the world and history i'd invested in certain also emotionally in
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this area i wanted to see it through. i'm not sure that after the balkan wars if somebody had said another war, by that time i think also i had done enough. i did not have the attraction to cover another war but i'm very glad i was there. i'm very glad that iwas able to be part of that extraordinary story . part of for european history it was extraordinary but as deborah said the best things come out of people in those situations and i met a lot of extraordinary peoplethere but i wouldn't do it again . >> jessica, you do want to go do it again, what keeps you going ? >> i couldn't express it better than deborah. it's very difficult to walk away from that and from
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afghanistan it feels like there's a general shortage of people with a lot of experience and a lot of time understanding conflicts will cover it. attention moves away and i feel it's important to keep returning to the story of what happened so part of it is that. i don't know whether they invited me to cover the war or whether i would be able to go through all that those horrible things again. obviously i don't think i would feel like i would be different becauseit's just too painful . >> elizabeth, i'm going to rephrase the question in your case because you wrote a book about three extraordinary
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with . why do they ? >> they didn't, they went to vietnam because there was no more important story in the world and women at that stage were only allowed in the media to cover fashion and women's sections. so they all had the spirit of adventure that deborah mentioned and all made the commitment that both jessica and sylvia talked about. they started out in 66 and they made sure they were there at the end of 75 so the commitment is full. funny 47. you are living like you don't live any other time and yes, you see the worst and you see the worst in yourself as well as the best. that was enough for her. and kate continued to go. i think she was afghanistan a bit but she stayed in asia moving around and katrine
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went on to the middle east and that's when she won the big rubber capital board but i must say that to tie it all with the mother stuff , when the new york times asked me to go to iraq, my kids were teenagers and i think that's the worst time to leave them so i did not. i wasn't anxious to go and i did not look forward tobeing embedded at my age . i couldn't imagine leaving my teenage kids. >> that sounds like the onset of wisdom. dad, do you have any final questions or any wrap-up you want to do? >> i want to say that i think what elizabeth's book shows us is that what we do is reason enough. you highlighted these three extraordinary women but it took all these years for you to do it. i think all of us who've been female war correspondents would like to think that we made our mark out there but
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you know, it's just another war and some war correspondents will come after us. we can all, this has been just terrific. to have this conversation with all of you because i do feel like we are a special breed because we did these things. but you know, so what really. we changed things a little bit and there will be others behind us and it was nice to talk about it with all of you tonight. i'd like to think everybody became. doyle for inviting all of us. that was grand. elizabeth becker, former washington post correspondent in cambodia. author of you don't belong here, great title of three women rewrote the story of war. jessica, good. wall street journal correspondent in afghanistan, author of eagle down, last forces fighting of the war and sylvia erpoggiolo who reported from bosnia in the
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90s and winner of the georgetown weinstock prize for diplomatic reporting. thanks everybody who came that was great. we had a good audience tonight and thank you again doyle for asking us . >> let me thank you for doing extraordinary service as moderator and also as author of the study for those who want to know more about the war and some of the underlying message of this panel is that sylvia, you and i need to getwriting soon so that we have some books to show. i want to thank all of you and thank our audience . roi want to thank our producer lynn bellis who kept the train running. if you are curious about our journalism program at georgetown you'll find us at or other programs and events are listed.
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thank you all, thank you for joining us and good evening from dgeorgetown. >> night. >> good night. >> be up-to-date with the podcast on books on nonfiction book releases plus bestseller list as well as industry news and trends through insider interviews. you can find about books on c-span now, our freemobile app or wherever you get your podcast . >> c-span now is a free mobile featuring your unfiltered view of what's happening in washington live and on-demand. keep up with today'sbiggest event with live streams of floor proceedings and hearings from the us congress, white house events, the courts , campaigns and
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