Why We Should Not Go To War Over James Foley
Back in June 2011, James Foley gave an hour-long interview before an auditorium of students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he had graduated three years earlier with a Master’s degree in journalism. It was 15 days after he had been released from 45 rough days of captivity in Libya. He was a handsome young hero returning to his alma-mater.
In a recent item in The New Yorker, Mark Singer quotes Foley that his Libyan captivity was “a cautionary tale.” He makes it clear to the journalism students at Medill that the business of covering wars was pretty new to him when he was captured in Libya in early 2011.
"I started as a leftist war protester," he tells interviewer Timothy McNulty, a Medill professor and former editor at the Chicago Tribune. Foley's brother was a soldier in Iraq, which led him to sympathize with his brother. He began to feel pulled to get into the middle of conflict himself; he aspired to become an active voice in the affairs of the world. So at Medill he took academic coursework on covering international conflicts. Singer points out he participated in something called the National Security Journalism Initiative, in which ex-British commandos grabbed him in a mock kidnapping and shot blanks by his head they'd covered with a bag.
In the interview, he says one thing the US military learned in Vietnam was the need to control journalists. So they came up with the "embed" idea. With a shiny Masters degree in hand, he got a job embedded with a US National Guard unit in Iraq. At one point, he worked for US-AID.
"You start to bond with these guys," he says. "You wonder about your objectivity sometimes -- especially with US soldiers." He fully appreciates the history and the thinking behind the military’s embed program, which relies on a reporter bonding with the soldiers he is covering. These same soldiers are protecting his life. He seems to understand the pressures this relationship puts on his ability as a journalist to be “objective.” By now, everyone in the journalism business knows there is no such thing as objectivity. I have a Masters Degree in Journalism from Temple University and I first learned the same lesson about objectivity in coursework there.
Foley next reveals the key to why many war journalists are so driven to do what they do.
“When you see something violent it doesn't always repel you. It can draw you close,” he says. Shots of individual students in the audience reveal young faces in rapt attention. “Feeling that you survived has a strange sort of force." There's the famous adrenaline rush.