by Sarah Lehr
When Martha Raddatz isn’t flying to Iraq or Afghanistan for her job as ABC News’s chief global affairs correspondent, she will often stop by Gambier to cheer on Lords football. Her son, Jake Genachowski ’15, is a member of the team. Raddatz — who has covered the Pentagon, the State Department and served as a White House correspondent — will deliver Kenyon’s 2015 commencement address on May 16.
Your book The Long Road Home chronicles the personal effects of a surprise 2004 attack on U.S. soldiers in Sadr City, Iraq. Why did you decide to write it?
It started out as a Nightline episode. It’s hard for your age group to remember this but there was a point when there weren’t casualties all the time. In 2003, the war had just started and basically the war seemed to be going pretty well; people were still debating whether there were weapons of mass destruction. Then I heard about this incredible battle and that eight soldiers had died that first night. It was kind of that light going off in your head saying that we have not even realized how heavily our soldiers are involved in this fight. Then I met the soldiers and their stories were just so compelling. The thing that really struck me was that days before, these guys had been home and driving around in their minivans and suddenly they were in Sadr City, Iraq and being shot at.
When reporting on something that’s so emotionally charged, to what extent do you think it’s important to cultivate emotional distance?
I think the best reporters have a soul. You have to remove yourself in the sense that it’s not you who’s suffering. If you’re covering a terrible, sad story, I don’t think you should stand there and cry. You want to tell their emotional story. You don’t want to be the emotional one. But at the same time I’m very touched by these stories, and if I wasn’t I don’t think I’d be a very good reporter. Early on in my career, I was told you should never get involved. I just don’t believe that when it comes to sacrifices people are making for the country.
How do you deal with your own fear when reporting from war zones and how do you communicate the risk level to your family?
I just put it out of my mind, I guess. You just try to find strength. You sort of see it through a journalistic lens and that helps you cope. There’s no question it was hard for my son, Jake. Those were the hardest times for me — when I knew it was hard for him. After my colleague Bob Woodruff was really terribly injured, that drove it home to my family. My kids have met so many members of the military. Jake knows it’s important to cover the stories. He’s been with me visiting the wounded, and that is a very powerful experience. He must have been 14, probably. There was a marine with a really grievous leg injury. It looked like a science project. I knew Jake really didn’t want to look at that, but then the marine helped him look at it and sort of had a sense of humor about it. I think my kids see it in a bigger picture and that hopefully I educate people about sacrifice and about the war.
I imagine that one challenge of reporting for TV would be that you would stand out due to cameras and all of the equipment. How do you make the decision about when to take footage and when to lay low?
That’s when experience comes in. You have to be very, very careful pulling out a camera in situations like that. I’m actually quite grateful that cameras are smaller now. We can, frankly, do some stuff on the iPhone. The truth is that, throughout the years, if I wanted to go into a village or if I wanted to talk to people, the military was great. They would stand back and try to provide whatever level of protection they could.
How would you assess the level of press access under the Obama administration?
I think we barely know anything about the drone program. We don’t really know how those decisions are made and who’s getting killed.
How did you prepare for moderating the 2012 vice presidential debate?
I joked that it was like studying for the SATs and taking them in front of 50 or 60 million people. ABC actually gave me a couple of months. I said, you gotta let me off my regular job to do this. I recall I did only a couple of stories during that time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Martha Raddatz’s book as The Way Home. It is titled The Long Road Home. The Collegian regrets the error.