War Correspondent's Unflinching 'Diary Of A Bad Year'
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
Throughout the last several years, NPR correspondent Kelly McEvers has been covering the uprisings that grew out of the Arab Spring. She's been in Yemen and Bahrain. She's essentially embedded with Syrian rebels in that country's civil war. Here she is among protesters getting tear gassed in Bahrain. It's an unscripted moment in a frightening situation.
KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: OK, now we're hiding.
(SOUNDBITE OF A GUNSHOT AND SCREAMS)
MCEVERS: Oh, Jesus Christ.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: They're shooting in the house.
NEARY: That tape was used in the report she filed for NPR. But then she recorded this.
MCEVERS: It's one of those day, you know, where across the Arab world people are getting tear gassed and beaten. And part of you is, like, feeling what they feel and knowing what they know. It's really important to be able to tell the story. But is it really worth it? I don't, I don't know.
NEARY: That part of the tape is from Kelly's new documentary, "Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent's Dilemma."
After a year of stressful embeds, she grappled with the question of why foreign correspondents do what they do - put themselves in danger to tell stories and, in the end, is it worth it? She joins us now from Illinois, where she's taking a rare stateside break.
Good to have you with us, Kelly.
MCEVERS: Well, thanks for having me.
NEARY: Let's start at the beginning of your story, which is why did you want to be a war correspondent in the first place?
MCEVERS: That's a really good question. I didn't want to be a war correspondent. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. And then I found myself in the middle of this thing that turned into conflict, you know. I mean, you're covering these people who, you know, feel like they've been dormant for generations. And all of a sudden they want to topple their dictators. And they're taking to the streets by the hundreds of thousands. I mean, that was an amazing story, even though a lot of them, you know, didn't win, and they were met with violence and horrible detentions, and things ended up turning up into a really bad conflict.
So I don't think I wanted to be a war correspondent. I think I just kind of ended up as one.
NEARY: But in this documentary you talk about the fact that people who do cover these kinds of stories, these kinds of conflicts, on the one hand there's a thrill to it. On the other hand, there's a sense of mission. What's happening now in your life that's making you pull back from wanting to do this kind of thing?
MCEVERS: Well, I think there's a whole lot of things, right? I think that what happens to most people after they've done this for a long time is they start to realize that there might be other things that are also important in the world. And for me, it was, you know, I'm getting older. I'm tired.
MCEVERS: And, you know, I have a child.
NEARY: You know, one of the most compelling interviews in this documentary is one you did with the daughter of foreign correspondent David Blundy. Her name is Anna Blundy and her father was killed in El Salvador. We're going to listen to some tape, an excerpt of that interview, to hear what she had to say about his decision to put himself in harm's way:
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO DOCUMENTARY, "DIARY OF A BAD YEAR")
ANNA BLUNDY: He loved it, and I think that is part of the pain for the child left behind. It's not an altruistic crusade for truth and beauty. And anyone who pretends it is, is either lying or probably isn't a very good journalist. People do it because it's fun.
NEARY: What was that like for you to hear that, Kelly?
MCEVERS: It was extremely difficult interview. You know, her father died decades ago and she's still angry and hurt. So I mean, you know, here was my own child confronting me, you know, 40 years later, saying...
MCEVERS: ...you know, I'm really mad at you for doing this job.
NEARY: I wanted to ask you also about people who are covering wars who are not foreign correspondents, who are covering conflicts in their own countries. They have a very different kind of mission, I would think. And where do they fit into your thinking about all this? Or do they? Is this a completely different kind of reporting?
MCEVERS: I mean, these are people we spend every single day with, you know, the citizen journalists, the local journalists who are covering these conflicts. I think one of the things that I wanted to accomplish with doing this piece was not just to gaze at my own navel and talk about my own problems, but to bring some of these ideas out into the open more. We have to just say it out loud that these are very risky jobs. You could die doing this work. That means you need to plan.
You know, in this piece, I sit down and I write a letter to my family because that's the right thing to do, in case something happens to me. You know, it's not a pleasant thing to do but it's the right thing to do.
NEARY: Kelly McEvers, NPR's award-winning Middle East correspondent. Her new radio documentary is called "Diary of a Bad Year: A War Correspondent's Dilemma."
MCEVERS: Thanks, Kelly. It was good talking with you.
NEARY: And you can hear Kelly McEvers' documentary on npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.