When The Journalist Becomes the Story

When the house is fire, you jump in with a bucket of water, as Kurt Pitzer did with Mahdi Obeidi.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: When does a journalist go from objective bystander to active participant?

Pitzer:    In fact, journalists are not supposed to become part of the story or get involved and, but there, it happens all the time when you’re in a dramatic fast changing situation, and you have a choice between taking some notes about a burning house with people in it or jumping in with a bucket of water.  You’re gonna jump in with a bucket of water, if you have a heart in you.  [Laughs] And, so it’s impossible to stay completely removed and just sit back and jot notes even if that’s our job.  And in Iraq, I became completely… I had to put down my pen. I met a guy who needed to get his family out of the country.  And for weeks, I was trying to help him, at great risk to himself and partly to me.  And I’ve gone way beyond the [pail] of what a journalist should be doing, but you just have to be willing to do that sometimes.

Question: Who was it?

Pitzer:    Well, this particular nuclear scientist who had, his name was Mahdi Obeidi, and he had run the centrifuge program for Saddam Hussein, and he had the last remaining bits of the program buried in his garden and wanted to turn them in to the Americans and receive safe passage out of Iraq for him and his family.  And while that was being negotiated, and I was helping him do that, partly just by having a satellite phone and being with him everyday, we had to be in hiding because if it had become known that he was cooperating with the Americans, he would have been targeted and probably killed.  So there was no way I could write his story.  And it’s one of those situations that you kind of don’t want as a journalist, it’s to become the story, and I was actually sitting on this wonderful, important story.  It was a piece of news.  This was the guy who knew what had happened to the nuclear program, while the American and international inspectors were roaming around Iraq, looking for evidence of that program.  And there, we knew.  I knew, and I was talking to the guy who knew that there was no program and I couldn’t print the story.  And sometimes, you just have to put your journalist hat down and take up your human hat.


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