[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Clark: Okay. Thanks again for being with us here today. And just say a word so we can test this.
Hunter-Gault: Well, it's good to be getting this on, including—
Clark: In your very busy schedule. We do appreciate it a lot. I just wanted to follow up a little bit on some of the discussion of your period at the New York Times last time, which was pretty complete but there were a couple of kind of hanging questions, for me at least, having interviewed Eileen Shanahan and Betsy Wade, about the lawsuit. I wanted to ask you—
Hunter-Gault: I don't know much about the lawsuit.
Clark: Okay. Well, that's good to know.
Hunter-Gault: Because I was very involved in the black lawsuit.
Hunter-Gault: And the women's lawsuit sort of proceeded and, you know, I signed on to it but I wasn't intimately involved in it. I don't even remember what year it was. What year was it that they—
Clark: They concluded in '78.
Hunter-Gault: Yes, because I was also starting to leave then.
Clark: And the Benilda Rosario suit began in '74.
Well, that's really—honestly, I just want to discuss the suits. So I'd like to hear about your activities with that suit.
Hunter-Gault: I don't remember doing very much.
Clark: Well, I mean with the Benilda Rosario suit.*
Hunter-Gault: I just went for a deposition, and told my story. I mean, there were people at the critical center of that who were involved in the organization and keeping us all abreast of what was happening. So I just was deposed when my time came. I wasn't one of the organizers, you know, so I can't really give you anything that would be illuminating on that.
* Benilda Rosario was the chief named plaintiff in a discrimination suit brought against the New York Times by minority employees in 1974.
Clark: Okay. That's fine. Were you a member of the Black Caucus?
Clark: I'm just interested because we haven't gotten this anywhere, if you have any insights into it, about any link that happened or didn't happen between the Women's Caucus and the Black Caucus. I know the suits were happening at the same time. But you just weren't involved in it.
Hunter-Gault: I can't give you any really good—
Clark: That's all right. That's fine. I just had to ask the question for the record.
In terms of thinking through some other issues that they dealt with, did you feel that your salary, for example, was equitable with some of the other people who were in similar positions that you were?
Hunter-Gault: Well, see, here was the problem: Until the suit, nobody discussed their salaries with anybody else. And so it wasn't until the suit that we realized what kind of pattern there really was. I think that's a pattern that continues. I mean, I don't know, but having discovered the pattern—I don't know that it continues at the Times. But from what I just suspect, it's one that continues. I think that when they can get away with paying less to minorities, when they can get away with paying less to women, they do.
Clark: Do you think that's more true in print than broadcasting?
Hunter-Gault: I don't have any idea.
Clark: Okay. Then going back to something you said in the first session—and I would like to hear you talk a little bit about what it's like to be a single mother. Maybe you talked about it last time in terms of being on the metro desk at the Times and not really feeling that you could apply to the national desk.
Hunter-Gault: I wasn't single. I mean, I didn't want to leave my kids, and I had two kids. It wouldn't have mattered whether I was married or single, my kids were small and I didn't want to leave them.
Clark: So you were actually remarried by the time you came to the Times.
Hunter-Gault: No. But I mean, I was talking about a period of time when—it didn't have anything to do with being single because part of the time I was married. When I had two kids, I had a husband, and when I didn't, I was living with somebody. But that wasn't the element, whether I was married or single. Even married, I wouldn't have left my kids at that age.
Hunter-Gault: And it wasn't a struggle. For me, it was just matter-of-fact. This was the choice. We all have choices. And this was the choice I made. I didn't agonize or I didn't discuss it with anybody. This was the instinct that I felt for myself. So that was how I came to that conclusion, that I did not want to be away from my children for a long period of time. The time that would have been the moment when I could have begun to travel, I was married again, which was the early seventies. And that would have been about the time—well, '72, '73, around in there—I would have done enough metropolitan reporting that I could have—or '74, '75.
My son was born in '72. So I could have, probably at that point, moved on a little bit after that to the national staff. But that was it. And by that time I was not single. But it wasn't my marital status. It was the fact that the kids were young.
Clark: In terms of young women coming along now and making decisions about career and family and that sort of thing, would you say that it's possible to raise young kids and have a demanding career?
Hunter-Gault: Well, you see, I don't generalize about things like that because I think that every situation is different and every individual is different. And so I wouldn't feel any more comfortable saying to young people, "You can have it all," because I don't know what they're made of. I mean, they may not be made of the same stuff that I'm made of, their dynamics and their environment may not be the same as mine. In my own personal situation, I was able to have, first of all a child. There was a period when I was separated from my first husband [Walter Stovall] and it was just me and this small child. And I've always relied—I mean, maybe it's a part of the way I was brought up. But I was brought up in an environment and in a community where the notion of support and extended families and everything was very much alive and well.
Now, my mother was always there for me, along with my grandmother. But that's a form of extended family because my father was away, and the people in the community and the neighborhood. And again, you make choices. Now, in order to make the life that I had chosen for myself professionally, to make that work, there were things I had to do. Like when I started working at the New Yorker. Of course, I was married then to my first husband. And most of the money I earned went for a babysitter. But I had a baby and I had a job and I wanted a career. And so those were the choices that I made, the priorities for me.
Then when I was alone for a while again, you know, I made sure that I had money to get good quality child care. That was the trade-off. You give up some of your material earnings for the comfort of knowing that you have somebody to take care of your child. And you know, it's just always been for me a matter of balancing. I never felt particularly deprived because I was growing in my job and I was comforted by having my children. So there's no question that probably within that kind of a situation, you make some compromises.
We always laugh at my house about—I mean, I grew up in a household where I had chores to do and every Saturday I had to get—I hated it—I had to get out the vacuum cleaner. I hated all those parts that I had to adjust. And it was my job to clean the house from front to back, not just my room. So I know about how to clean a house and all of that. But I said if I ever got into the position where I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't do it.
And in those early days when so much of my income was going to child care, while I wanted to have a nice, neat house—clean was an absolute essential—neat was negotiable because I would tell the babysitter all the time, the child comes first. And when the child was taken care of and fed and maybe relaxing, clean the house. But if it came down to, if the child was sick and needed constant attention or if there was someplace my child had to go that only the housekeeper could get her there, that was much more important to me than the house being clean.
Now, since they're adults, I'm real cantankerous about the house and I want it clean. But, you know, those are the kind of trade-offs you make. I wanted to have food for them, you know, warm meals coming home from school and stuff like that. Well, I'd rather she spend the time on doing that than dusting or moving around the furniture or vacuuming or whatever.
So I never had any psychic problems. It was mostly all practical problems, you know, juggling the practical parts of it with what I could afford and so forth. And then, you know, weekends—times when I was with my children were great which is one of the reasons I'm glad that I made the choices that I made, to have my children early when I had a lot of energy because I could do all my work and still have energy to do the
kinds of things with children that are important, you know, to read to them, to be with them, to take them places, to go climbing trees with them. I wouldn't trade that for anything because I think that it's sort of like the Bible says, for every time there is a purpose and a purpose for every season or whatever it says.
And I think that there's a certain logic, although I know that today—well, there are older parents today, for whatever reasons they've made those choices. And psychologically they've made those adjustments in their heads. I see a lot of gray heads in the park, having just a great time. But for myself, I'm glad that at the age that I am I can get back to thinking almost exclusively about myself and my career and the things that I want to do.
I never thought about this in the beginning, that okay, I'm going to devote—the one generalization I think I can make in observing young people today who are trying to plan their future, they plan too much. They've taken all the spontaneity and fun and the mystery out of life. That's what life is to me, that's what makes it so wonderful, that there's mystery and there's some things that you just simply cannot plan. You know, teaching you to struggle and make choices and make sacrifices for one thing so you can do something else. I mean, I just think it's the most boring life in the world for you to sit around. My husband and I often get into things because he says you need a plan. We've never had a budget. I mean, I just can't deal with that.
I never sat down when I was young and said, "Okay, I'm going to devote my time now to my kids because there's going to come a time when I'm older that I will be finished with them and can come back to thinking about myself." I never thought about it that way. I did what I had to do when I had to do it. And it just kind of worked out because like now, I'm still healthy, I still have a lot of energy, I still have a good job. And I think I have a little more appreciation about—I guess I might call it wisdom. I'm not yet ready to be a wise, old person. But I have perspectives that add up to knowing more than I would have known twenty-five years ago—or twenty or fifteen.
So it's a good time for me doing what I do to be doing it this way, going out, looking at the world, talking to people about situations that are major issues of the world. And I can handle them because I have the perspective and benefit of all these years and all these experiences that have built up to this. And as I said, thank God I have the energy.
And I don't have the psychic pull if I'm off in Somalia for six weeks or South Africa for two months. Everybody in my household is capable of taking care of themselves. And although we miss our kids when they're away, it's also nice to be back in a household in which there's just the two of us, being able to be spontaneous again. Because as spontaneous as you often have to be with children, their agenda is what dictates it instead of yours.
And that was a balance that I always tried to maintain so that we wouldn't become total captives of our children. I'm a [Benjamin] Spock* person and that's what Spock used to talk about, how these little people coming into your lives are coming into your life, your whole life shouldn't change just because you now have a baby. But it changes, it can't help but change, but you don't have to become a different person. It's still very important for couples to get away without the kids, no matter how much they love the kids. I don't know how many marriages have gone bad because the wife gets too involved in the kid and loses interest in sex and loses interest in paying attention to the husband. You know, men are babies, they need attention, and vice versa. Her needs aren't being met because the man can't appreciate what she's going through.
Well, you know, every now and then you just need to get away, the two of you, and reconnect. And it doesn't mean you don't love your children. But if you are in a position to find somebody caring and loving who can take care of them, you have to get away from kids sometimes and keep them in perspective.
* Benjamin M. Spock (b. 1903), psychiatrist and author of the best-seller Baby and Child Care, 1946.
And I was able to do that. And now I'm just at a point in my life. My kids are home for Christmas and it's really great. But they're almost like little visitors now, and they're going to be gone. You know, you can only have so many adults in a house. And now my house is kind of the way I want it. I still want them to be comfortable, I'm still getting things for my son's room although he's—psychologically I'm sure he's gone.
But you see, I'm always nervous about generalizing because everybody's different. What worked for me may not work for somebody else. And a lot depends on your background and how you were brought up. I wasn't brought up being put on guilt trips. So I'm not a big guilt-trip person.
The other thing is I do all that I can. And I accept that, when I've done the best I can. Now, obviously, every now and then you ask, should I have? You're always constantly wondering, "Well, should I have done this or should I have done that?" But you would do that, anyway. You would do that if you sat home all day as a housewife. Not that housewives sit home all day. I mean, that's the hardest job of all, in a way. If you're into it, it may not be so hard. But when I was on maternity leave, I could never get the bed made up and the front of the house—I just could not get it together. If I got the bedroom clean, I couldn't get the front clean. Or if I got the front clean, I couldn't get the back clean.
This is why I'm a professional because I don't like this. I don't enjoy this at all. I don't enjoy making up beds and I don't enjoy drying dishes. So why should I have to do that if I've worked hard and earned enough to pay somebody else to do it who doesn't mind doing it. I have a man working for me now, my housekeeper—he doesn't mind doing it. He'd work all night if I would let him. Well, that's fine. I'm happy to honor him and pay him to do it and respect what he does. But we had a frank talk at the beginning. I always do this with my housekeeper. This is who I am and this is what I am and this is what I do. And this is how I feel about the house and this is how I feel about your job. Now, we need to agree now so we don't have a problem down the line.
Of course, I learned that over time because if you don't spell out things for people, they kind of go their own way and that may not be the way you want them to go. But if they've gotten used to doing that—well, anyway.
Clark: Are the things that you think you've been able to do, thinking about problems and issues that you're able to do better because you parented?
Hunter-Gault: Well, I'm very single-minded about my work. And yet children have a way of intervening that keeps that in balance. I think that I have probably, now that my children are out of the house, become more of a workaholic. When I came back from Somalia the first time, I had been dehydrated in Somalia, sick, been gone—that's the first time I ever missed Christmas and I really worked hard, you know, eighteen hours a day sometimes.
And I came back and I didn't even take any time off. I just kept working. My producer wanted me to take time off. And then I suddenly realized, this is stupid. We all should be taking time off. And I began to focus on the fact that I'm not happy unless I'm working, either on some project, whether it's a personal or professional project, I can't not work.
So I think that having kids, when they were younger and had more demands, was good because it took my mind off of my work. I don't think it's healthy even though that's my inclination because I think you burn your mind out, you burn out your creativity. And you need to step back from things, even if it's only for a week from time to time, especially if you work in an intense business like this. Every business, I guess, is intense. But it's really intense if you work in the media where thirty seconds to air doesn't mean thirty-two. It means thirty. And the moment when that light goes on the camera, you have to speak. I think that's a pressure that not a lot of people can do. And so it's stressful.
So you have to step back from it. And I think kids help you to do that. They help you to see values in a different way. You focus on your kids and some of these issues that you're looking at, I think you see compassion a lot because you can think of it in more than just a statistical way. Children give you humanity, feed your sense of humanity. Well, again I won't generalize because there are people who abuse children and don't care about children and so children do nothing for them. But for me, I think that my children have kept my center soft.
Clark: Moving back to where we were last time when you were talking about leaving the Times and then you're at "[The] MacNeil/Lehrer [Report]." Can you talk about that how that happened?
Hunter-Gault: Well, it was a little wacky because Abe Rosenthal was a very—you know, he was devoted to the Times because of the experience that he had had. He and Arthur Gelb both grew up in the Times when the Times was very good to them. Abe especially ruled with the philosophy that the Times was good to you if you're good to the Times and vice versa. And so he didn't brook any breaking ranks for the people that he regarded as his stars, or not even stars, necessarily, but visible people at the paper whom he felt the Times was doing a lot for. Most of those people were doing a lot for the Times, too, but there was this mindset that the Times could make or break you, and if the Times makes you, you make every effort to stay there forever. It was looked upon as a lifetime commitment.
So when I began to talk with "MacNeil/Lehrer," this was supposed to be a temporary position, that I would come over whenever they weren't here and fill in for them. It was probably a flawed model in the first place because of the way this works, it just would be hard to just come over and suddenly start to sit in for somebody a day or two or three, and then go back to doing what you're doing. So much of being able to do this job involves being in the flow of stuff.
Clark: And so when you first came here you were really doing other things.
Hunter-Gault: No, I was supposed to be. But then Abe put his foot down and said I couldn't do any of it. And I saw it as the way for me to move to that next step of professional growth and development, to expand beyond the metropolitan desk and metropolitan stories into some of the broader national and international stories. And still my kids were young so I wasn't yet ready to start a whole lot of traveling. And so Abe said no.
So I told them. And they had already sent out the press releases and everything. Well, you could have pulled those back or said, you know, whatever. But I wanted to make the move. And they made the decision to invite me over full-time. Now, the problem with that was that they hadn't thought it through and neither had I. And it's the problem I still have today although I do a lot more today than I did in those times when they [Robert MacNeil and James Lehrer] weren't away. It was difficult to figure out what to do with me when they were both here.
Clark: So you were like a swing anchor or something?
Hunter-Gault: Yes. And we didn't have the resources and the capabilities, staff capabilities, even then that we have now. Fortunately, it was good in one sense in that I had an opportunity to study the issues and begin to get up to speed on a lot of the broader issues that I had never been that familiar with because I hadn't covered them any more than any other reader.
Clark: Such as?
Hunter-Gault: Well, anything.
Clark: What was your general—you were just to fill in for them on any kind of—
Hunter-Gault: Yes. That's always been the way this program works. Nobody's a specialist. I mean, you develop areas that you may be more interested in than others. But this is the supreme generalist position here. You are involved in everything. And every now and then, I might go out and do some little story on something. I don't mean little in the sense that it wasn't important. But we just didn't have the resources to go and do a lot of field reports. So I had a lot of down time. That was still then the half-hour.
Then when the program expanded to the hour ["The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour"], there were more opportunities for me to do things in the down time. It's a mix, it's a balance that I've never been quite happy with because as I gain more and more sophistication and interest in issues—and the program and everything else—the outlet for that just was never equivalent to my own capacity as I saw it, you know, because there's just so much you can get down. If I designed it, I'm sure I could get it there. But I don't design it. So that's been a big frustration, not being able to. But then the flip side of that is that I've been able to do a lot more than we would have ever thought when I first came here.
Clark: When you first came here, you were just kind of a general reporter. And then in '83, was that when you were made national correspondent?
Hunter-Gault: These titles don't mean anything.
Clark: How did they say what they wanted you to do?
Hunter-Gault: They never have. [Laughter]
Clark: Okay. How did you get done what you wanted to do?
Hunter-Gault: I just follow my instincts.
Clark: Do you develop your own story ideas?
Hunter-Gault: Most of them. But there are things that come up in the general discussions. I think I'm responsible for maybe eighty-five percent—maybe even ninety percent of the things I do. They come out of my head, maybe even ninety-five [percent]. But there are other things that I do if somebody else comes up with an idea. There are things that by time that people say, "Well, that's a Charlayne piece," or "That's something Charlayne could do really well." South Africa, the Middle East, Madrid, peace talks, you know, stuff like that, are usually things I say, "This is something I'm interested in." [Tape interruption.]
Hunter-Gault: I was getting ready to say that the real positive side of the job is that I can't imagine many other places anywhere—it's a small operation—where you could just walk in and have the kind of access that I have and also the choices.
Clark: Access, you mean to sources?
Hunter-Gault: To people who make decisions.
Clark: Oh, I see.
Hunter-Gault: We complain sometimes because it takes a couple of days or maybe a few hours. But most of the time I can get a pretty quick answer to anything I want to do. And most of the time anything I want to do—I mean, I have good editorial judgment about stories. After all this time, I should have. And so I don't go in and propose something stupid. So most of the time, it's the question of resources. Do we have the resources?
Can we afford it? Like the minute the snap came on the AP wire that South African elections were agreed to for the 27th of April, I walked right out of here into the boss's office and said—not "Can I go?" There's an assumption that I'll go. But here it is and let's start putting together a team. The big question for us is are we going to have the resources. Now I know we're going to have the resources but we just found this out. And here it is, you know, three months, four months before the thing. That's rare in any journalism to have that kind of freedom and flexibility and support.
Clark: Just to make it a little more transparent for people who don't know anything about broadcast, when you say "the boss," are you talking about producers?
Hunter-Gault: I was talking about the executive producer. Well, they could know about broadcast and still not know. This is a unique little program. There's Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer who are the two editors, primary decision makers. Then there's Les Crystal who's the executive producer and he kind of is the glue that holds it all together. Robin and Jim have the ultimate authority. And they work in concert with the team just beneath their level, the executive producer who's Les Crystal and then three managing producers all of whose jobs it is to implement the decisions and put together the program, so that you don't have a constant stream of people running in and out to Robin and Jim who, after all, have to prepare the program and all like that. Most of this stuff is filtered through Les and then he filters it to the appropriate other producers.
But I deal with Les and Robin and Jim. I usually—I mean, I could go to Robin and Jim. But Les is such a good facilitator that it's faster even because he can sometimes give me a tentative thing. But he usually works with dispatch in getting a response to questions I put on the table.
Clark: Let's talk about some of your specific stories and try to get into a little bit of what makes a story a Charlayne story. I've looked at some of the pieces from the apartheid series in South Africa, the Madrid conference and Grenada, in addition to some of your programs on "Rights and Wrongs." And I want from those things to ask you a few questions about the way in which you put together a format, for one thing, like in the apartheid series having interviews with ordinary people and not necessarily government officials. And from that we get more of a first-hand view of what the real conflicts are at a base level? Are those the kind of decisions you make?
Clark: And could you talk a little bit about why you—
Hunter-Gault: Well, I usually get into a situation before I decide. I mean, sometimes I go away from here with some ideas. In spite of the fact that we deal on the nightly program primarily with official types, almost establishment types, certainly mainstream types, for the most part, I think there's a commitment to trying to talk to the people. And I think we discussed that before I left but nobody said, "Now, go do it this way."
So when I got there, I just sort of hit the ground to see what I could see, see where my eyes and ears take me, and try during the course of that—I mean, I've gotten better and better at it, to be able to get there and size up the situation and begin to say okay, well, now this may be something we can do. I think the critical ingredient here is not having too much of a predisposition of what the story is and how you're going to do it. I know people like to plan and I'm all in favor of planning. But any good editor who's ever been in the field—and fortunately, Robin has been in the field a lot as a correspondent. And he knows that—I mean, he almost always defers to the correspondent on the ground—if I call back and say X is the case and I think we should be doing this.
And I remember a very specific example. When I was doing that apartheid series, I was in Lusaka, Zambia, and we got word that the first-ever delegation of white businessmen were going to come to Lusaka to meet with the African National Congress [ANC]. And that was a really serious big deal. I had been around
there for a few days waiting to do this interview with one of the ANC people in exile [Thabo Mbeki] whose father [Govan Mbeki]—the reason I chose him was his father was in prison with [Nelson] Mandela* at the time. And I wanted to show that continuity, you know, that the children of those who were in prison were still struggling—what had happened to some of the children. And this one had been trying to keep the movement—working with Oliver Tambo and others to keep the movement alive.
So I found out about this. And I called the office and I said, "If ever there was a time for an interconnection, this is it. We need to try to get one of the businessmen, an ANC person on, to say what happened," because this was a major breakthrough. You know, there was discussion back here. And again, with all of our resource problems, the question was should we spend the kind of money—and also coming out of a place like Lusaka is not always easy. And how big of a story was this? Was it really justified?
Well, they didn't know what was happening, because there wasn't a lot of news about it. And Robin said, I'm told, that he always deferred to the people in the field because they know what's going on. And so they set it up and it worked. It was a very good story. We've been on the point of that story every major development since I was there in '85. We always looked for ways to keep the story alive, even during the state of emergency when they had these draconian press restrictions that drove most of the media away from the story. We found ways to keep it alive. This was one of those challenges to me, you know, how do we do this? I probably made them a little sick of me. But I'm willing to risk that. I'm feeling the same way right now about Haiti. I mean, we need some light on what is going on, it's so mysterious and crazy.
At any rate, if someone like Nadine Gordimer or Helen Suzman would come to town—Nadine Gordimer being the South African writer who later won the Nobel Prize, or Helen Suzman who was for a long time the only woman in the South African parliament and a liberal—I would interview them. Or when Mbogeni Ngema and Duma Ndlovu put on "Sarafina," I interviewed them. Just every opportunity to keep the story alive.
Another part of that is—you asked what makes a Charlayne story. My take on things is to always try to illuminate through using the people who are involved. I think there are all kinds of ways that a story can be handled, even if it's one in which violence is a factor in the equation, it may even be a large factor in the equation. But pretty soon violence is the kind of thing that people become inured to very quickly. So I try to find ways of keeping a story—even if violence is in the foreground, I try to look at it a different way.
Or like Somalia, where what ignited people's interest was the starvation and the pictures of the people who were dying from starvation or suffering in ways that might otherwise have been unimaginable. But you know, once you see that and once that captures your attention, what else is there, because if that's all you see—like even with South Africa, that's just all you saw when I went there in '85. Most of the stories on the nightly news were of the violent confrontations between the South African security forces and black township residents. Well, we're pretty familiar with that. What else is there? Why is this happening? It's digging deeper into the soil of stories and getting that soil under your fingernails.
Clark: How much time, say in the South Africa piece, did you spend just doing advance field work? Do you get to know the person before you interview them on camera?
Hunter-Gault: Well, you don't have a whole lot of time. I mean, we have some time but you have to make decisions pretty quickly if you're going to use your time economically. So we would go and we'd talk to people. You know, one of the things you learn over time is to develop a pretty good sense of what's going to
* Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa May 2, 1994. Under apartheid rule, Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years.
work and what isn't. And I was just beginning to do that then. And I was working with a very experienced producer who had worked once with Robin.
That [story] was widely recognized as a major kind of point of departure. And the coverage of that story* got awards and things. I think I've learned how to do it even better as time has gone on.
Clark: Can you give me an example of the piece you're particularly proud of in that way?
Hunter-Gault: Well, I think the Somalia pieces were—people still talk about those. What's always a test for me is when I can meet people months after a piece is off the airwaves and nobody's talking about it any more. And people say, "Oh, I remember." And you see, the thing about reporting through the eyes of people, I think that's what makes them long-lasting. I don't know how many people come up to me and actually use the names of people I've interviewed, who are people they never knew, or they'll come up to me and they'll say, "That Irish nurse. Oh, I was so moved by that. The Irish nurse."
Or they'll say, "Oh, you know the one, the woman"—there was one in a village called Bula Baraka. I met this woman the first time I went there. Her husband had been killed by the Somali government people forces. She told me the story and it was very moving. At the end of the trip, which we made the end of the piece, the village elder—we'd gone with the convoy to take food, the first time food was going to be taken to this village. And the convoy arrived with all these bags of grains and things.
And the elder—I got the elder to tell me the story of how his village came to be in such a destitute strait. And it was very moving because he took me and showed me the graves where all these people who had either died through the starvation or died from the Siad Barre forces killing them, all these mounds of earth with hundreds of bodies, into the thousands. And in the end he was so pleased that I had taken the time to listen, he asked me if I would make the formal presentation of the food, which was such a humbling experience because I had nothing to do with bringing the food.
It's interesting because here's Africa which you think of as a very chauvinistic place and he asked me to make a presentation to the son of the elder, the oldest man in the—he said is the oldest man in Africa. I don't know how he knows that. And then he also chose a woman. And what brought you to tears was the woman he chose was the one I had interviewed earlier whose husband had died, been killed.
So when I went back—this is another thing that I do as often as I can on stories. I go back, after the crowds have gone. First, when I'm there, I don't run with the crowds because I'm not usually covering breaking news. And secondly, I try to go back. So I went back to Somalia and went back to this village. And I was in the middle of talking to somebody because they had set up new stalls to sell things.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Hunter-Gault: And they would tell me about all this stuff, how things had improved since the Marines had come, the Joint Forces. And all of a sudden I felt someone tapping me on the shoulder and I turned around and there she was, after all those months. Another thing that I do in situations like that—because I feel very strongly that you don't exploit people in their misery. And I think it's tantamount to exploitation when you're there with a camera, and you know how it is when you're interviewing somebody and you say, "Oh, could you just say that one more time?" or "Could we just get that"—I don't do that. You get what you get. And if you didn't get it, that's just tough, because in those situations, people are already in a bad enough situation.
*The award-winning series, produced in 1985, was called "Apartheid's People."
So I had a little conversation with the cameraman in the beginning, because I would look around and he'd be off somewhere filming something he thought was interesting, which was. But I said, "I'm telling this story and I don't know what I'm going to see. And I don't want to have to stop somebody who's in the middle of telling me some tear-jerking, sad tale and say, 'Could you just go back a few paragraphs?' So just stay with me. And this guy's really good [Eugene McVeigh]. He's from Northern Ireland. And he began to see how I worked in this. It's not how people usually work. It's not as pristine and produced. It's cinema verité. But I wanted, in this situation I thought what is different about what we can do than what everybody else here is doing? We can actually put our viewers in our pockets and take them with us. I wanted them to feel as I was feeling it when I was feeling it, not having to recreate it. You know, "I want you to come with me to Somalia."
So when she turned around, Gene was rolling and we were both in tears, she and I. And she was pregnant, apparently before he died. And so she began to tell me what happened, things had gotten a little better, though not a lot, and dah-dee-dah-dah-dah. But today people say, "Oh, I remember the woman, both times."
Hunter-Gault: It's the power of people in their own circumstance, portrayed in a way that they are and not in a way that we preconceived that they are. And so the reaction that I have, that tells me that we're communicating. If somebody could come up and say, "I remember the woman with the white thing on her head," or "I remember the Irish nurse that you were with."
And I'm getting the same thing with the Gaza Strip piece because I dealt with individuals and got them to tell their stories. And I don't—it's different from—I mean, I'm getting heavy-duty criticism from a Jewish group in Boston. They've launched a whole campaign against the work that I did in the West Bank in Gaza because they see it as being biased and stuff. But it wasn't. A lot of the things that they criticized, people were allowed to say things that on the record aren't that way or maybe not true. But it's their perception and that's what's important when you're trying to help people understand a very complex situation.
Clark: I've noticed that even when you have to interview the really high people, like your piece on [Yitzhak] Shamir and [Hanan] Ashwari.
Hunter-Gault: Oh, in Madrid?
Clark: Yes. And on both of these occasions you started near the first five minutes, with a question about what was in their mind and heart, like approaching them through the feeling. And with Ashwari it worked really well. She opened right up. And with Shamir, he kept denying that he had any feeling, which is another way of seeing his cynicism.
Hunter-Gault: Yes. And I got a lot of criticism—well, some, from some predictable corners, saying that I was much more gentle with Ashwari. But it was how she responded. I try to get out the humanity in people, if I can.
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