War journalists criticize media, advise students

Monday, October 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:05 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Columbians heard a first-hand perspective of the war in Iraq on Sunday from two seasoned journalists.

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for The New York Times, and Octavia Nasr, head of Arab affairs for CNN, spoke on campus to a group of journalism students and faculty. The pair also spoke before a showing of “Control Room,” a movie about Al-Jazeera’s war coverage, at the Missouri Theatre.

Nasr, who is from Lebanon, directed some of her first comments at the students in the room.

“Where I come from, I grew up in a country that was at war, where everything was censored, to the point that you had to exercise self-censorship,” she said. Nasr also spoke of why she came to the United States.

“I chose to be in this country for the freedom that it affords people,” she said. “To see this country go through what Lebanon went through in ’70s and ’80s is very sad to me,” she said.

Nasr urged the students to exercise their right to vote, speak and practice their religion to keep freedom.

“You hold the change in your hands,” Nasr said.

She also told the students to criticize journalism that isn’t being done correctly.

Hedges has been a war correspondent in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Iraq, among other places. He served on a team of journalists that won a Pulitzer Prize for war coverage for The New York Times.

His experiences as a correspondent have made him believe that journalism has serious work to do to mend its errors.

“The press has to be much more self-critical of American society. There were clear untruths that were being said, but we’ve gotten into this terribly frightening situation where fact is interchangeable with opinions,” he said. Hedges further commented on how he thinks the press has dodged its duties.

“One can have an opinion about a fact. I think that the press has completely evaded its responsibility by allowing people to present opinions as fact and not challenging them,” Hedges said.

Student Meredith MacKenzie said Hedges has the right perspective to be a critic of war — he’s neither a victim nor a soldier.

“I also think he’s a realist. Just because all these horrible things happened doesn’t mean it’s going to stop,” MacKenzie said.

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