Tunisian on Fire Spelled ‘Luck' to NY Times Reporter
By Ivan G. Goldman
Emergency personnel and journalists all chase tragedy. The difference, I can tell you from personal experience, is that medical technicians, firefighters, and cops, for example, respond by fighting whatever dark force they’re responding to. The journalist is just there to record it. If someone’s on fire you don’t smother the flames with a blanket. You snap a picture.
There’s a conflict of interest between the journalist’s career and his/her humanitarian instincts. Because the journalist essentially chases the news that sells, and that is in almost every instance bad news of one sort or another -- fire, flood, murder, mayhem, poverty, disease, disillusionment and death. You want to get ahead? You find yourself some horror. This was artfully portrayed in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, whose paparazzi were odious locusts burrowing deep into the victims' suffering in the hell beneath the façade of postwar
I know a fair number of journalists who quit the business over this inescapable set of circumstances, over the continuous chase after whatever is ugly. They understood they weren’t the cause. There’s something within the human psyche that lusts for bad news. But at some point they just couldn’t take it anymore. Journalists at prestige media -- The New York Times comes to mind -- tell themselves they’re above the race to bad news, that they pursue greater ends and seek to get at the heart of things. But do they? In the car yesterday I tuned into NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Gross’s guest was David Kirkpatrick of the Times
Middle East bureau in . As the interview began she recalled
that when he was a Cairo reporter she’d interviewed him on a
wide array of topics prior to his overseas assignment. Did he, she wondered,
get ordered to the Washington Middle East? Or did he volunteer?
This was his answer. I couldn’t believe I was hearing what I was hearing so I went home and replayed it off the Internet. Yes, there it was.
Kirkpatrick: “I volunteered and now I probably am the luckiest journalist working today. I arrived, I was on duty in
beginning in January, I think Egypt January
January 10 I arrived in where someone had killed himself by
burning himself alive and January 14, four days later, the president of Tunisia fled and then the whole region was
up in flames.” Tunisia
Let's be frank. The answer was hideous, curiously devoid of introspection and reeking of the most simplistic analysis possible. He thanks his lucky stars that someone torched himself just as arrived and then, oh what a gift, the whole region went up in flames. Apparently looking any deeper than this was just not part of his job description and something he preferred not to do. He never seemed to examine the true nature of hiw work or how he viewed it. Dealing only with surface realities, his answer was downright creepy. Apparently if two people had set themselves on fire he'd have been twice as lucky. I have nothing personal against this Kirkpatrick, but if he ever comes to my town I fervently hope he has a run of bad luck.