The World to Watch- Panel II Zeitgeist Americas 2012

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 16.10.2012

>>Campbell Brown: Welcome to everybody.
I -- Alessio, why don't I start with you. We're going to look at some of Alessio and
Barbara's photographs while we're speaking. And you can talk about some of the images
we see. But I just -- I want you to start, because,
I mean, we're so closely following what's happening in Syria right now. You're one of
the few people who has been there recently. And tell us first how you got in and give
us a sense for what it's like. >>Alessio Romenzi: Okay. So as you know, Syria
is one of those countries that doesn't like that much journalists inside. So to get there,
it can be complicated, especially at the beginning. >>Campbell Brown: And they're not letting
anyone in now at all. >>Alessio Romenzi: (Inaudible.)
>>Campbell Brown: The journalists. >>Alessio Romenzi: So since the beginning,
it's been complicated and, of course, dangerous. You have to find the right way. I mean, and
possibly safe. The best way so far is to get in touch with
smugglers, people that make business along the border.
>>Campbell Brown: Smuggling what? >>Alessio Romenzi: Weapons, fuel, and animals,
not necessarily really bad things. But they know --
Better now? >>Campbell Brown: Yes. We want to hear every
word. >>Alessio Romenzi: Okay.
And so with their help, because they know the ground, it's easier to get inside the
country, basically, illegally, because that country doesn't want you to get there.
And after that, you have to be in touch with the Army side of the revolution, because they
are the one that can let you in without at least trying to avoid to face the regime Army,
which is something bad. Because a journalist probably is dead if it happened.
>>Campbell Brown: If they know you are? >>Alessio Romenzi: Yeah, of course, of course.
I'm wanted. My name is not only mine. It starts to be a lot. Unfortunately, we are kind of
blacklisted. We cannot be (indiscernible). >>Campbell Brown: I want to talk a little
more with all of you about sort of why you do what you do.
But let's show some of your photographs. I'm not sure which ones we have.
But tell us where this was taken and the story behind it.
>>Alessio Romenzi: Oh, okay. This picture has been taken February, and
south of Homs, I don't know how much you get inside the story of Syria. Homs has been one
of the towns most hit by the regime. We are 20 kilometers south. The name of the
village is Al Qusayr. And these are a mother with a son mourning two other sons that has
been killed by a mortar attack. So the husband has been already killed two months before,
and the mortar just entered from the window in the house, killed two of the four sons
she still have. And I decided -- I think it's a very powerful,
powerful picture, this, because it reminds kind of of a religious figure, and the eyes,
it seems only to ask, "Why?" And we are civilian. We don't fight, and why we have to pass through
this. >>Campbell Brown: She looks broken.
>>Alessio Romenzi: Yeah. >>Campbell Brown: Let's pull up the next picture.
>>Alessio Romenzi: Homs, especially Baba Amr. This is the 5th of February. It's the first
day of the siege, let's say, of that -- of that neighborhood. They started bombing for
24 days at 6:30 in the morning, stopping around 6:00 in the afternoon. I don't know why they
do like this. And I could personally count myself in two hours more than 200 explosions,
only in a neighborhood, not in a town, which is quite big, about a million people used
to live there. But it was really amazing how -- you know to think that the regime was bombing
randomly, like if here starts to rain mortars here and there, without any real target. It
was only an ongoing act of terrorism on the city.
These are two brothers. And I think he's still alive, even if the house where he was fell
on him. >>Campbell Brown: Alessio, because people
there don't -- or have very little contact with westerners, and few journalists, do they
feel like the world knows what's going on? Do they feel like the world is watching, is
paying attention? >>Alessio Romenzi: Yes, they know that the
world knows what is going on. But everybody's asking why nobody is doing anything for them.
Yes, they know. They know. And they're waiting for help.
>>Campbell Brown: So, Josh, tell everybody a little about your background, and we'll
mostly focus on Afghanistan, because you have spent a lot of time here. And, I mean, it's
sort of the same issue in that it's harder and harder to get these stories in the paper,
on TV, get your photographs in the paper. It's -- we -- it's been going on for so long
that it is very easy for us to tune things out.
But kind of tell people, at least based on your latest time there, what things are like
on the ground. >>Joshua Partlow: I've worked probably most
of the last six years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I came to move to Iraq in the summer of 2006
and have pretty much been covering the wars, with one lovely ten-month interlude in Rio
de Janeiro in between. But mostly in those parts of the world.
And, you know, I think -- now is an interesting time in Afghanistan. The president early in
his term sent 30,000 new troops to the country. They have left now. So, you know, it's interesting
to look at where we thought we might -- or where they hoped to be at this point in Afghanistan.
I think they hoped that the Taliban, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the country,
would have been significantly rolled back or disrupted. I think, you know, they were
hoping they could focus primarily on training the Afghan soldiers and police to take over
and strengthen the Afghan government. And a lot of that, I think the most important
development in the past year has been -- which has prevented some of that from taking place,
has been these -- the spate of what they call the green-on-blue attacks, these insider attacks
where the Afghan soldiers and police are turning their guns on the U.S. soldiers who are there
and really fundamentally undermining the partnership. And the if you can't, you know -- even temporarily
has halted missions. They often go on missions, the U.S. troops will go out on patrol and,
you know, on operations to hunt for the Taliban with Afghan soldiers. And these are mentor
-- the idea is these are mentoring opportunities that the Afghan soldiers will ultimately be
able to do this on their own effectively. Anyway, they had to suspend some of those
operations because of these spate of killings. I think it's something like 15% of all U.S.
soldiers killed this year were killed by Afghan soldiers or police or someone wearing their
uniform. So It's become a significant, huge issue for how they -- you know, the core of
the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. And so that's -- that's been a big challenge.
They had to pull a western U.S. advisors out of the ministries at various times.
And, you know, the Taliban is still pretty strong. They've -- just last month, they -- they
attacked one of the biggest U.S. and British bases in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan
and destroyed something like $200 million worth of aircraft, which I heard was the largest
loss of U.S. aircraft since Vietnam. They're still capable of pretty significant acts of
violence. And a lot of the country is still not -- you know, I would say is in their control.
So it's -- so I think right now, we're in a slow motion withdrawal. So the 68,000 U.S.
troops that are left, they'll be leaving over the next two years. But it's a fragile and
a dangerous time for that to be happening. So I think it's an important time to be watching
Afghanistan. And, you know, we've obviously spent a lot of time and money and lives there.
And all the structures we set up in terms of their government and their soldiers and
police, you know, are going to be durable enough is the big question.
>>Campbell Brown: That slow withdrawal is not likely to change, regardless of who is
elected president, I think. >>Joshua Partlow: Yeah. It hasn't been much
of a campaign issue at all. President Obama, you know, Governor Romney,
nobody's really talking about Afghanistan. And when they do, they don't have much of
a -- you know, their opinions -- their -- you know, their approach is pretty similar.
>>Campbell Brown: They basically have the same position.
>>Joshua Partlow: 2014, we're going to do get out of, no matter how that curve will
be. There may be some slight difference. And President Karzai's government as well.
I think they're all on the same page broadly, that they want the U.S. troops out, or the
bulk of them. >>Campbell Brown: Americans are exhausted
by it. How do the troops feel? And did you, when
you were there covering it, feel like nobody wanted to hear what you had to say? I mean,
in a way, is it sort of -- were you exhausted by it in the same way that many of us are?
>>Joshua Partlow: It's hard coming up with new and interesting ways to cover a conflict
that's been going on for 11 years. And there isn't a lot of -- you can just tell -- you
all probably know better than me. I haven't lived in the U.S. for a long time. But it
doesn't feel like people are really paying attention that much. When I was writing about
Iraq, just from the volume of reader email, that sort of thing, you know that there was
a level of engagement. And with Afghanistan, it's kind of like you send articles out into
the void, and there's -- just silence greets them.
I mean, I don't know, I still think it's a -- an important issue, obviously. But....
>>Campbell Brown: Critically important, but challenging and hard for people to absorb
and to look at or read about. >>Joshua Partlow: Right.
>>Campbell Brown: And Barbara, let me bring you in here, because, you know, we're talking
about places far, far away. And, yet, many things equally challenging are taking place
in our own backyard that we don't see, that don't get covered.
Set us up as we show some of your images from your series. But also explain why you wanted
to do this and tell the story, and how hard it was to get the story told.
>>Barbara Davidson: Right. Well, -- you know, I've spent the majority of my career covering
people in conflict, whether it be in Iraq or Afghanistan or Gaza. You know, I've done
a lot of overseas work. And I moved to Los Angeles five years ago.
And I started seeing these, you know, crimes that were happening to people who lived in
the inner cities. And nobody was paying attention to them. Innocent victims of gang violence.
You know, people -- >>Campbell Brown: Its own war zone.
>>Barbara Davidson: No, they're not official war zones. Yet you're seeing the same types
of incidents play out. For these families, they are war zones, because they're walking
through the street to buy a jug of milk, and they're gunned down. They're getting hit with
stray bullets. And I was fascinated by this. I don't know
if it's my Canadian sensibility or what. But I couldn't believe this could play out in
my city and often we weren't even covering these stories.
So I had proposed to my editors that we do a comprehensive look at this issue, how this
plays out for families, and what are the consequences after they've been shot, how does their life
look. And in this particular photo, this is Rose
Smith. She was the inspiration for this whole piece. I met her after she had been shot in
the back. She lives in Nickerson Gardens, which is a very dangerous area in Los Angeles.
And she heard shots. There were several gangs battling and she heard shots. And she ran
to her door because her children were looking out the window, her younger children. And
as soon as she grabbed the door to run inside, and she was yelling at them to get away from
the window, she was shot in the spine. She's never walked. She was three months pregnant
at the time. And the bullet missed her child by a blink of an eye.
This is her child who was in her womb when she was shot. This is Baby Miracle. And she
named her Baby Miracle because she is a miracle. This child shouldn't be alive. She's actually
my youngest victim. And this photo for me is so tragic in many ways, because this child
has never had a childhood, from day one, she's been a victim of gang violence. And here she
is helping her mother into the wheelchair so they can spend their day like a normal
family would. >>Campbell Brown: Heart-breaking.
Show the next images. I think there are two of the same little boy.
>>Barbara Davidson: This is Josue. At the age of four, he was playing outside
his house in Long Beach with his little sister, who was six. You see this play out over and
over and over again. A gang dispute literally at the end of the street and shots rang out,
and Josue got hit in the head. The children tried to run from the gun battle. And, unfortunately,
Josue couldn't run fast enough. He was only four. And his six-year-old sister picked him
up, scooped him up off the sidewalk, and brought him to their front door, laid him on the front
door for his mother, and said, "Josue has been shot."
And, I mean, these are the kinds of situations that are playing out in many inner cities
in the United States. That's the unfortunate thing. The tragedy of this story is, it could
be told in any city in the United States. And we're not paying attention to this.
And for me, the whole reason why I did this story was to create awareness, to remind everybody
that, yes, we are involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza, and everywhere
else around the world. But we have to start looking inward as well and seeing what's happening
with families in inner city -- you know, in communities in inner cities of the United
States. And often these families are in areas, there
are high crimes, obviously, but they're poor. And I believe that just because you're poor
doesn't mean you should have to grow up in an area that's incredibly dangerous.
>>Campbell Brown: There is a second picture that goes with this, too. I just want to pull
it up real -- yeah, this is -- with his brothers and sisters?
>>Barbara Davidson: Yes. This is his family. Little JOSUE is at the end of the bed. They
are impoverished. At the end of the night, the mom sneaks into this bed, too. You can
imagine where all these little bodies end up. There is one bed for the family.
And something else to be noted. This kind of stress, the stress of being victimized
by gang violence, tears apart a family. So at one point, you know, there was a father
in this family. But the stress of this violence eats up an entire family. And now the -- the
family structure is broken. And so no longer does the father live here. I mean, it doesn't
just affect the person who's been shot. It affects an entire community. It's like gang
violence is like cancer. It just spreads and grows and eventually destroys.
>>Campbell Brown: Let me ask all of you this question, because I think it's hard to relate
to -- I think it's hard for a lot of us to relate to you and what you do.
I did some of it briefly, and then as soon as I had kids, I couldn't imagine going back
into those environments, because I was too sensitive.
>>Barbara Davidson: Yeah. >>Campbell Brown: So I guess each of you comment
on this. Does -- You know, why? Is it -- does it feel
like a cause to you to do this job? Josh.
>>Joshua Partlow: For me, I think I was a little bit a part of the September 11th generation
of journalism. I was living in Manhattan in journalism school at the time. And I can't
remember exactly what we were writing about in school before that, but afterwards, that's
all anyone was writing about. And that -- I think how America prosecuted the war on terror
has been kind of a defining theme in a lot of newspapers for the last decade. So coming
into newspapers at that time, I mean, that was the obvious -- you know, I think that
had a lot of my attention. And we -- I volunteered when I got the opportunity to go to Iraq.
It's an honor. Some of my colleagues at the Washington Post, Dana Priest comes to mind,
who broke a lot of these really important stories about what our government was doing
in our name overseas, and some of the treatment of detainees and the -- you know, the CIA
black sites and these wireless -- warrantless wiretapping, all of those issues that came
out over the past decade. So I think it's -- and Iraq and Afghanistan, I think you're
-- the military and the embassies and the state department and back home in Washington
will say their version of what's happening. It's pretty -- I think it is important to
go out there and test how that looks on ground the and interview, people. Like our previous
speakers, who are -- they have such compelling stories about how they see reality this their
countries so I think adding those stories to the mix is important.
>>Campbell Brown: Alessio? >>Alessio Romenzi: Yes, of course it's extremely
important to tell this story. I am going to be quite selfish to -- answering to this.
But one of the reasons that we're there, because we want to see with our eyes.
>>Campbell Brown: With your own eyes? >>Alessio Romenzi: Yeah, sure, sure, first
of all. >>Campbell Brown: Why? Why do you need to
see it with your own eyes? >>Alessio Romenzi: Curiosity, fascinating
stuff. I cannot answer for all of us, of course.
But many, many people who talk with about this issue, yeah, just because we are curious.
We want to see. We want to touch the situation right there.
>>Campbell Brown: And there's a lot of adrenaline involved, and it can be a little bit addictive.
Is that fair? I know a lot of junkies. Yeah?
>>Alessio Romenzi: Yeah. >>Campbell Brown: Barbara?
>>Barbara Davidson: Well, I definitely think that there is an addictive element to being
in war zones and covering these stories that are incredibly visceral and just so instant
and so incredibly alive in many ways, you know. And it is addicting. And, you know,
I -- at some point, you have to shut it down. At some point, you have to decide, well, maybe
it's time to do something else, because it eats you up as well. You know, I think everybody
can speak to that who's had that kind of experience. >>Campbell Brown: We were talking last night,
and -- Josh, I think, you know, when I said about being too sensitive to do it anymore.
And I can't remember, someone said, "Oh, you build up" -- you know, "you build a thick
skin over time." And you said it was actually the opposite,
you feel like you become increasingly sensitive the more time you spend there.
>>Joshua Partlow: Yeah. I think so. I think it accumulates a little bit, just living with
that -- I mean, it's not -- it's a low level of anxiety, level of danger. But it's constant
over time, and it kind of -- I think it does affect you in ways you don't quite understand
at the time. But, yeah, personally, I hate adrenaline, and I try to avoid it at all costs.
[ Laughter ] >>Campbell Brown: Just comment, too, on how
you -- I mean, I'm just looking, Barbara, why don't you just tell us a little bit about
that picture before I address it specifically. But this is from -- one of yours as well.
>>Barbara Davidson: This is a portrait of Tori in the middle. Her friend, Melody Ross,
was a 16-year-old teenager whose parents were from Cambodia, and they fled the killing fields
of Cambodia to come to the United States to give a better life to their children in the
land of opportunity. And they decided to let her out this one time to go to the football
game to enjoy the homecoming game. Again, rival gangs were battling out, and Melody
was shot in the head by a stray bullet and killed. And her friend Tori was right beside
her. And here the friends and family are watching as they lower her body into the -- as they
lower the coffin into the ground. >>Campbell Brown: What's your goal? I mean,
what are you -- each of you, what do you want your images to do? Wake people up? What do
you want them -- >>Barbara Davidson: I -- for this particular
project, I worked on this for three years, which is a lifetime for a newspaper. And the
fact that they gave me the opportunity to do that is incredible.
And I truly wanted to create awareness with this piece. I was driven to educate people
and to let them know this is going on and to force people to look at this and to see
it's happening in our communities. And it was really all about awareness for
me. I mean, as journalists, we have a lot of power. And we can use that power in different
ways. And with this particular project, I wanted to use that power for good, to give
a voice to the voiceless and to allow people to hear these stories, because they're important
and they need to be told. So that's kind of my goal as a photo journalist. I do primarily
social documentary work, and it's a calling for me. I wanted to be a photographer before
I ever took a picture. And it never left me, that desire and that passion to tell stories.
So that's kind of what I do. >>Campbell Brown: Alessio?
>>Alessio Romenzi: I just want to show the reality, what is going on, what is going on,
just give to the people as many inputs as possible, and they will take the decision,
they will take -- they will decide by themselves. But without any specific purpose, only the
reality. >>Campbell Brown: We've shown some challenging
and difficult things in all of these images. So just for our final question, I want to
kind of end on an uplifting note. Josh, you're not a photographer, but you do
have an image to share that is one I think -- let's see if we can put it up -- you actually
took with your iPhone. >>Joshua Partlow: I would have taken it with
my Android if I had it available. >>Campbell Brown: Tell the story behind this.
>>Joshua Partlow: Yes, I just wanted to bring this. I thought, hopefully, this would be
a little interesting anecdote. I live in Kabul, which is relatively cosmopolitan
for Afghanistan, a little bit more liberal. There are restaurants, and bars, even a couple,
and there's a golf course, although it has no grass.
[ Laughter ] >>Joshua Partlow: But in -- this is the Kandahar
Airport. I would go there periodically. It's a little bit more intense version of Afghanistan.
To an outsider, it seems a bit more distilled. It's more conservative. It's where the Taliban
emerged, where they came from, where they still consider their important political territory.
You see fewer women on the streets. The ones you do see are typically more often in the
full burqa. It's just a -- it's a place of -- you know, it's a center of the heroin trafficking
business. There's a lot of smuggling that goes through there. So I was coming down to
see the situation down there. And this man in the middle was on the plane. And when he
got off, there was this complete mob scene, local press, huge crowd. It was like the Beatles
had arrived. And I didn't know who he was. That was kind of a problem. So I thought -- you
know, what was going through my mind was he's either a drug Lord that I wasn't aware of
or a power broker of some sort or some political kingpin, and I needed to figure out who this
was. So I was kind of back pedaling, so it's all blurry.
It turns out he's a poet. And he's -- the next night, I think he had a poetry reading
that attracted 3- or 4,000 people. And that was just one of those moments for
me where I thought, there's layers going on here that I don't understand and that, you
know, it's easy to fall into these perceptions about what these people are like in this place
that you're unfamiliar with. And, you know, to think that in a place where, I guess, when
you think of Afghanistan, you think of maybe illiteracy or backwardness or violence, and
this poet could convene thousands of people, you know, in a time when it's not very safe
to go across, you know -- a lot of people to be traipsing across town, and there are
political assassinations all the time. So that was one of the moments where it was interesting
to me, one of the nice things about, I think, the discovery process of being a foreign correspondent,
is you get to challenge your assumptions constantly. And I think a lot of the issues we've seen
over the decade have been these lack of communication or misinformation and miscommunication between
Americans and Afghans and what it is they want and who is the enemy. And more information
and more people trying to understand the differences between these two places can only be a benefit.
>>Campbell Brown: Well, thank you, all, for trying to show those layers to all of us.
We really appreciate it. Thank you. [ Applause. ]
>>Campbell Brown: Thank you.