Yahoo! News correspondent
Kevin Sites spent a year
reporting solo from the world’s war zones - nearly every one of them. His new book, In the Hot Zone,
tells the story of that year. Bob spoke with Kevin
before he left.
Now they catch up.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] BOB GARFIELD: Two years ago, we interviewed reporter and Yahoo! news correspondent Kevin Sites, who was set to embark on a year of reporting from war zones around the world, alone, as cameraman, soundman, photographer and correspondent.
Well, he's back, and he's written a book called In the Hot Zone: One Man. One Year. Twenty Wars. The theory, before he left, anyway, was that on his own he'd be less intimidating, more mobile and better able to gain more access to hard-to-reach people and stories. So, Kevin Sites, did that happen? KEVIN SITES: I think it did happen, especially in places like South Sudan, where I'm walking around with two cameras over my shoulder and a backpack full of peripherals. You know, I look like an astronaut. You know, it really is unusual for people to see me walking around, and you hear the words "khawaja", you know, rich white guy.
And so, I'm not exactly [LAUGHS], you know, mixing in with the local population, but at the same time I'm able to start a conversation and hopefully create a little bit of a rapport where people want to tell me their stories.
I think the other aspect of this, Bob, was that a lot of people feel that their stories just weren't getting told, so they're happy that someone was there to actually listen to them. BOB GARFIELD: Give me an example. KEVIN SITES: Well, I think initially rape as a weapon of war within the Congo was something that just wasn't getting much attention. It has recently, with take-out stories in The New York Times. But at the time that I was there, I was talking to women in Eastern Bukavu, and their stories were just horrific.
And for these women to actually tell me their stories was a difficult process, but in doing so I think that they felt there was power within their words, and people might start to understand what they were going through and hopefully pay attention to the conflict.
Now, I don't know if that's happened specifically with the Congo. I know that it's happened with Darfur. That was place that wasn't getting a lot of attention, and then people like Nick Kristof started going and focusing on that. And now, you know, potentially there'll be 26,000 peacekeepers in that region. BOB GARFIELD: But did you not have a fixer so that you could understand the local language and just what was going on in your immediate environs? KEVIN SITES: Always, in every place that I went to, and I only speak English. And it was incredibly important, because if I didn't get a true and clear translation or if my questions weren't translated in the way that I was asking them, I'm going to get a different kind of story.
And I go back to that situation in the Congo where I was interviewing the rape victims. My fixer was a man, and I felt that in some ways that might be disconcerting to these women that experienced, you know, violence at the hands of men. Yet my fixer was so sensitive in the way that he asked these questions, so almost reverent in his approach to dealing with them, that we were able to get very powerful interviews that way.
And fixers have saved my life in the past. You know, when I was captured by the Fedayeen in Iraq, you know, it was a fixer that saved my life. We're infants without them. We're children, you know, walking around in a world that we know nothing about. BOB GARFIELD: Do you have any reason to believe that the reporting you did had the kind of impact that Nick Kristof has had with his Darfur coverage? I mean, do you have any idea of what your audience has been? KEVIN SITES: We know that we were getting, at our peak, about two million viewers every week. And, you know, at times, when we reported a story that really had resonance, like Gulsoma, the child bride in Afghanistan, we had as many as seven to nine million. And it was interesting, because it was a multimedia project using video, photography, still photography and text dispatches, but the story that we did on Gulsoma was simply done with text and still photography because my video camera had been stolen at that point.
In terms of the overall impact, I don't think it was as great as I would have liked it to be. But the interesting aspect for my journey was that it was a Web project and it's morphed itself into both a book and a documentary. It doesn't displace mainstream media. It amplifies it and, in fact, becomes mainstream media in some ways. BOB GARFIELD: Well, you were in many places that in any given time are hell on earth, and yet scarcely can force their way into even the back pages of most daily newspapers. KEVIN SITES: Right. BOB GARFIELD: What about you? What was the most surprising story that you encountered in any of these venues? KEVIN SITES: I think cumulatively there was a truth that emerged for me. I feel I got past the propaganda of war and the misinterpretation that we have of it. We define war as combat, and we give a disproportionate amount of our coverage to that, but the defining feature is collateral damage. It's about the destruction of civil life. Yet, we don't cover the collateral damage the same way because it's difficult to cover. It's not as dramatic, and there's a tendency to turn it off as poverty porn or misery porn.
And on many occasions, I found myself doing the same thing, dehumanizing people: yes, those people have it so bad, you know, it's horrible for them -- rather than, oh, you know, there but for the grace of God go I. BOB GARFIELD: Well, Kevin, welcome back from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chechnya, Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Occupied Territories, Kashmir, Lebanon, Burma, Nepal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uganda and Vietnam. It was nice to talk to you again. KEVIN SITES: Thanks, Bob. It's good to be home. BOB GARFIELD: Kevin Sites is a correspondent for Yahoo News. His new book is titled In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars. It's published by Harper Perennial.