Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Splitting the Baby

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solomon

This is about how reportage and interviewing connect. And this reference to King Solomon points to one of storytelling’s ancient problems.

I’ve just listened to Malala Yousafzai speak boldly against the Taliban attack on her last October. Their shooting of her may have been in line with their religious and political priorities to keep women subjugated according to their interpretation of Islam. But it backfired severely in a world that is becoming more intolerant of any culture that suppresses any part of its population that could be helping to lift it instead. As I listened to BBC reporters interview three ten year old girls; two in a Pakistani school for girls, and one making mud bricks at a family home though, I thought about the responsibility of journalism.

Journalism says the truth must be visible for all to see and verify, even if that means exposing the people with the most to lose to the people who want most to insure they lose it. Those two girls, identified by their real names, are in danger now, as far as I can tell. The third, making mud bricks, far from a school and other girls, is no threat to religious fundamentalism.

Should the girls in school be afraid for their lives? That’s a lot to ask of ten year olds. But the adults should certainly be. The world has rallied around Malala Yousafzai and has made her into a symbol of the emancipation of girls and women from radical sects and muslim extremists. Take note however, that on Pakistani social media, Ms. Yousafzai is being criticized for being a “Drama Queen” and reflecting unfavorably upon Islam. These things said about an innocent women who took a bullet to her head after she dared to speak out about the right of girls to go to school. So even if these groups don’t dominate Pakistan – the country with the highest percentage of girls not in school – their views certainly seem to.

Does that make Pakistan a pyrrah? It’s a debatable questions, especially if its citizens are looking at Octomom, or Girls Gone Wild videos and asking themselves, “Is this what Western freedom does to women?” But it doesn’t justify murder or torture. It doesn’t mean that they then have the right to rape and kill and mutilate females who refuse the polar opposite mold.  And an equally important question for this post; does that mean Western media should point out girls trying to attain both personal freedom and national pride despite these practitioners of tribalism only to be raped or killed or mutilated into subjugation? The amazing thing about political freedom is the right of choice. As stupid and demeaning as a behavior may be, a free society allows it as long as it isn’t doing harm to yourself or someone else, and as long as it isn’t so revolting that people eventually can’t stand it anymore. But the threshold for revulsion can be high in free societies.

I will forever be torn over journalism’s ironic necessity to tell the story with full attribution and disclosure of someone who, more than anything, needs anonymity to survive. I understand without it, anyone can claim any set of circumstances is true, and thus, manipulate an audience without proper facts. I understand a cause celeb can bring many people out of the shadows and give their own experience voice. And I understand that some people tell their stories while accepting their fate that they may become martyrs for their causes. But in many cases, our need to be exactly sure of who these people are only puts huge fluorescent targets on their backs, with their only comfort being that the fickle West might remember their cause even if it doesn’t remember the life they lost because of it.

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Written by Interviewer

July 13, 2013 at 21:54

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