I was a journalism major, I worked as a journalist in the past, and I am an advocate of honest, truthful reporting and the freedom to do so. I’ve always harbored a desire to be a foreign correspondent (I still do), and I love to live vicariously through memoirs of journalists who have been there and can tell their stories.
Breaking News: A Memoir by Martin Fletcher is an interesting read. Fletcher has decades of experience as a cameraman, producer, and eventually correspondent in the field reporting harrowing stories from front lines of war and more. I know, another book by an old white man reporting on wars happening in foreign lands. However, that’s the sad fact of journalism in general, and one of the aspects of the book I didn’t enjoy. Fletcher writes about his colleagues very often – all white men. When a women is mentioned, she is a secretary, at the assignment desk, a sexual conquest, or wife. His tales of being young, having money, and enjoying white privilege in Africa are not appealing, but they are the truth – at least he admits that.
That’s not to take away from the actual stories of war – they are harrowing. The battle between ethics and humanity and trying to “get the story” is also fascinating. Dealing with filming a woman dying to get the story across. He put his life on the line to bring these stories to the world.
However, the good is often out shadowed by the bad. Fletcher often repeats himself when referring to his family’s history in the holocaust in relation to the stories he’s covering. That’s not bad, but he opening admits he did not care enough about the genocide in Rwanda (many didn’t), and turns around to say he cared too much about Sarajevo, because it was happening in Europe to people that looked like him. In the case of Africa, he says it’s more expected. That is outrageous, and not the only offensive comment and generalizations he makes about the countries he covers.
A few comments stuck out to me, for example: “After all, like many Palestinians, I am the son of refugees. But unlike the Palestinians, I was not raised to hate, or to demand restitution of every final inch of earth.” – about the Israel-Gaza conflict. By admission, Fletcher does say he understands the plight of Palestinians.
Another – “We were used to desperate refugee scenes in Africa and Asia, but in Europe? People who looked like us and wore clothes like ours and were accustomed to sleeping in warm rooms, having a fridge in the kitchen and a television in the living room, were suddenly reduced to living like famine-stricken Somalis or Ethiopians. In Africa, such tragedies fit into the seemingly endless cycle of drought, war, and famine. Here in Central Europe, they had seemed no longer possible.”
Those statements only help to prove that journalism as a profession, more specifically, foreign correspondence, is in dire need of diversity. Fletcher often writes about the pull he felt for those suffering in Israel, understandably, but that alters the way he reports there or anywhere else. He openly admits to not caring enough in other places of the world. We desperately need war and foreign correspondents who aren’t just white men who can’t relate to the people they are covering. Maybe then we’d get stories more fair stories and coverage. Circling back to the book, it is a good read, but fair warning it will make you angry at many turns.