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Reflections of Terry Anderson: Associated Press Correspondent Discusses the Impact of His Nearly Seven Years as a Hostage in Beirut

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reflections of Terry Anderson: Associated Press Correspondent Discusses the Impact of His Nearly Seven Years as a Hostage in Beirut

Article excerpt

Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson spent his nearly seven years as a hostage doing a lot of soul-searching about his role as a journalist.

He said one of the things he was beginning to realize before he was kidnapped and thought about even more during his captivity is that journalists can become too hardened when covering certain events.

Sometimes for the sake of a good story journalists forget the implications that story will have on real people.

"Some of the things that journalism had done to me I didn't like," he said, explaining that included "the way it made me act sometimes. I think I was coming to realize that before I was kidnapped, but I certainly had a lot more time to think about it, the way I looked at things and the way I felt things. Not to say I was cynical or uncaring -- I don't think I was -- but you look at things in a different way as a journalist. Sometimes that's not the right way to look at it."

Anderson cited one example.

In 1983, about two years before he kidnapped, he had covered the story of another hostage taken in Damscus. He received some information from a reliable source about an attempt to negotiate the hostage out and about his being alive and in good health.

"For the sake of a good story," Anderson said, he wrote it.

"It didn't have any effect on the negotiations to get him out but it might have. I could have passed the pertinent information to his family privately. I didn't need to run a story. I let my journalistic aggression overwhelm my good sense.

"I thought a lot of that and talked about it with my fellow hostages while we were in prison, and came to the conclusion I shouldn't have done it," he said.

"I think it's very, very important that we be careful in these situations. I think it's very, very important that we keep absolutely in mind that there's a real person on the other end of that story who is vulnerable; that we are not some kind of detached observers reporting into a void," Anderson noted.

"Terrorists read the newspaper, too, and what you put in that paper can directly affect the person who's being held prisoner or hostage or whatever. We have to remember that, and we have to weigh all the time, is it worth it?

"We have to be journalists, too. That's our function, but we just have to be careful. We're part of the process. They're using us, the politicians are using us, the governments are using us.

"Do we just simply allow ourselves to be used by anybody in any fashion they want to use us? Or do we exercise some kind of judgment about this? I'm not saying we don't now, I just think we have to keep it in the forefront of our mind."

Anderson was the AP's chief Middle East correspondent when he as kidnapped March 16, 1985. He was released in December 1991 and for the first time publicly discussed his ordeal with AP president and CEO Louis D. Boccardi during the wire service's annual meeting May 4 in New York City.

Anderson then began to settle into the first round of interviews he has granted since his release -- he had spent the past few months in the Caribbean with his fiancee and daughter -- which included a meeting with E&P at AP headquarters in New York.

"One of the things I came to realize and thought a lot about over those years is sometimes we, and sometimes our bosses, forget what being a journalist costs the journalist as a person," Anderson said.

"It's a difficult line to tread, between feeling too much and not feeling enough. If you don't feel at all, you're not a good journalist; you're not a good person, either. If you feel too much, you burn out, and we all know people who that's happened to, in both ways.

"We have this gloss too often of cynicism, or we talk cynical anyway. That is OK if it fools people outside, but it's not OK if it fools ourselves. Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes it hurts for a long time and we have to remember that. …

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