An Afghan police commander charged with protecting a convoy of election workers walked up to a car carrying two of my friends and opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle today. He fired only into the rear door, where Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon were sitting, avoiding the male Afghan driver and an assistant. The police officer then surrendered. Read the Associated Press story here.
I first “met” Kathy in 1997 when I was a duty editor on the AP’s international desk in New York, where she would send her copy for editing before transmittal to the world. She always treated the wanna-be foreign correspondents working the midnight-to-eight shift with respect and a sense of humor. I then worked with her in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 and during the Battle of Tora Bora. You can find her recent work here. She also wrote this piece for the New Yorker.
There are dozens of posts across the Internet honoring these two amazing journalists, written by those who knew them far better than I did, and some produced by people who’ve never met them. I will simply tell you that in a field where war reporters are stereotyped as heartless, adrenaline junkies, Anja and Kathy were anything but that. No one loved life and people more than Anja, and no foreigner understood or loved Afghanistan and Pakistan more than Kathy. They did this work because they wanted the world to care as much as they did, and both would have given anything to see an end to the violence.
I want my friends and family to know and appreciate the work of these two journalists, but selfishly, I am writing this post to vent my anger and sadness as Anja’s death and the terror inflicted on Kathy.
They are not the first friends I’ve lost to combat and dangerous reporting assignments, and sadly they will not be the last. But when I lose a friend like this, I am reminded of their boldness and their courage. Losing people with such qualities makes me all the more intolerant of cowardice and deceit.
I need to release my anger against those who try to silence those of us who bear witness, whether it’s through violence or ad hominem attacks.
I need to release my anger toward those who think they honor any religion by killing defenseless, trusting people who mean no one any harm.
In 2007, I walked away from my career as a war correspondent because I couldn’t take any more death and destruction. There are hundreds of journalists like Anja and Kathy who have the inner strength to keep telling the stories of those who suffer unimaginable tragedy and loss while still maintaining their love of humanity and their sense of wonder.
The best way to remember Anja and Kathy is to look at their photos and read their stories. The best way to honor them is to let them teach you something about the world and the people who populate it. And you will be a better person for it.