Dexter Filkins: Covering War Distorts Everything

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guest host Sarah Jessica Parker talked to journalist Dexter Filkins about covering war and his experiences covering war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. He joined The New Yorker in January of 2011; before that he was with the New York Times since 2000.

Dexter Filkins arrived in Northern Afghanistan in October 2001. “In a situation like that, you’re constantly improvising. And it helps if you have, as I did at the time, a bag of cash…But the truth is, you can’t really prepare. And I didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

Filkins says that covering major events like the invasion of Afghanistan and the collapse of the Taliban can be a rush for a reporter: “You’re breathing pure oxygen.” He says that it’s not the violence that hooks war correspondents. “What you do get kind of really into is the largeness. How many times in your life do you get to really feel the continental plates shifting underneath your feet?”

Filkins described the tension for both soldiers and reporters in a warzone: ”Most of the time nothing’s happening, you’re just standing around. And everything’s strange.” He continues, “You’re in this really strange place and you’re kind of waiting for the guns to go off. And that does something to your psyche…The world’s never the same after that.”

Sarah Jessica Parker asked Filkins about the toll his job has taken on his personal life: “When you’re in one of these places, it’s not normal in any way. And it’s kind of destructive to you and to your relationships and to your friendships. Because it’s such an extreme experience.” He adds: “It’s not a life that’s really sustainable over a long period of time.”

“What’s most jarring is when you come back and nobody cares.” Returning from reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, “What was most unsettling to me was just how disconnected the country was – and the country is – from both of these wars.”

Dexter Filkins is the author of The Forever War, about the battle against Islamic fundamentalism and about the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Dexter Filkins

Comments [15]

Mark M from NYC

As a fan of Dexter Filkins' work, I admit my initial thought was, "Really? Sarah Jessica Parker?" But I thought she was actually very good, and asked direct, "real people" questions, and then got out of the way and let him answer.

Apr. 18 2014 02:18 PM

Good job Sarah Jessica! I'm proud of you.

Apr. 16 2014 08:29 PM

When a journalist uses terms like "bad guys" you know he is, at the very least psychologically compromised. The embedded process has led to a voluntary lack of critical thinking by many of today's journalists. Lopate at least has addressed this issue. The guest host simply massaged this journalists ego for the duration of the interview and encouraged the ridiculously romanticized idea that Hollywood has about wars. Even Filkins, for all his ego had to reorient her, although he otherwise wallowed in the adulation. His self-centred arrogance in judging the US public for their lack of engagement was loathsome; as though the massive cuts in programs for the increasing numbers living in poverty, including vets, aren't a direct result of that war which they are truly feeling now in their millions. Since his NYT blew the trumpet so loudly for Iraq and along with other corporate media ignored the millions who protested, what would he expect? Perhaps he would enjoy bloodshed on US streets to show a little more conviction, because tell me what else are we supposed to do in the era of the Kochs and Adelson?? Why doesn't he question the fact that if people didn't sign on to pointless wars with duplicitous motives, then there would be no cannon fodder to sustain them. But that would be heartless wouldn't it, or unpatriotic perhaps?? And then he'd lose the thrill of those embedded nights abroad with his buddies. That's about as deep as his commitment it seemed to me. The fact that he apparently did not question the Israeli eagerness to provide "evidence" about Qassem Suleimani, also shows how mentally embedded he is with one particular narrative of Middle Eastern events, which would make me very skeptical of his writing so thank the airhead giving the interview for this insight into a particularly obnoxious interviewee.

Apr. 16 2014 04:48 PM
Susan Cauldwell

I was a bit disappointed but I'm guessing the job is harder than we all think it is. SJP got better as the show went on. Hoping she is over her jitters today.

Apr. 16 2014 07:29 AM
Jane from Brooklyn

Worst. Guest host. Ever.

Bring back Andy...

Apr. 16 2014 01:58 AM
ann in nyc

Really surprised and truly impressed with SJP's interview with Dexter Filkins. I'm not quite sure why I found myself so engrossed, but in fact, I really appreciated her questions and then, his heartfelt-seeming responses. So, it is her or him? Don't know.

Apr. 16 2014 12:51 AM
Skip from NJ

I listened to the LL Show in entirety today, as I do every day.
My comment: Please hurry back, Leonard. Wrap that vacation up.

Apr. 15 2014 07:16 PM
Address from NYC

every comment has focused on the host's celebrity and NOT one comment on the BOOK in question! What a sorry state that WNYC radio listeners are as obsessed with fame as those who read tabloids.

The interview deals with difficult subject matter, the least you could do is address the BOOK.

Apr. 15 2014 06:13 PM

Something I liked about that interview.

Apr. 15 2014 05:35 PM
Carlos from Queens

I think someone needs to recheck the meaning of "warm, modest, humble." As for "quiet" how exactly is that a good thing in RADIO??

Anyway she was obviously reading from a script. This was hardly a conversation. I'm not hating on her because she's a celebrity. Obviously there are some people who cross over well like Alec Baldwin, but SJP is not one of them.

there must be legions of voice talent in NY who can also ask intelligent thoughtful questions out there, but somehow their phone never rang. This is part of a tendency of (a) celebs injecting themselves in areas that they previously didn't care for and (b) starry eyed non-profit managers looking for a way to attract more listeners. As if a SJP fan is gonna stick around when Lopate gets back.

Apr. 15 2014 04:47 PM
tom LI

Come on really? If SJP was not SJP, a celebrity, and a NY darling - no one would put her on the air. I don't mind a fresh voice, a new POV other than stogy old Lopate, or any other regular host, but wow! If this is how SJP carries on a normal conversation - 5 minutes turns into 20!

I did truly enjoy SJP's Q's re; what D. Filkins would like to see talked about, etc - those were a refreshing change, a nice insight into the man, and his compatriots. It was just the belabored, breathy, stumbling manner in which it took place that was the problem. And then there were those little sounds she made that sounded like, "Oh golly Gee!" punctuating Mr. Filkins remarks like she was a school girl gushing over a pop-idol.

Not an absolutely bad choice for a guest-host, know, she was better than A. Sedaris. (now she drives me bat-guano crazy! refuse to listen when she hosts, period.)

Apr. 15 2014 04:37 PM
J from Eugene, OR

HEY SJP...nice job stepping out of your comfort zone! You're doing a terrific job, don't listen to the haters! Keep it up!

Apr. 15 2014 01:01 PM

Censoring childish remarks by WNYC makes me want to increase my sustaining membership by the $10 a month they'll lose from others who want high quality conversation on the air, but can't manage it in the comments section.

Apr. 15 2014 12:57 PM

One more time, if i see any more posts of mine censored say goodbye to a $10 a month sustaining member. Next time get a smart celebrity like Henry Rollins.

Apr. 15 2014 12:49 PM

I'm appreciating SJP's warm, quiet, modest and humble demeanor. Great interview.

Apr. 15 2014 12:34 PM

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