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Journalist Carol Giacomo

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ELAINE MONAGHAN: I'm Elaine Monaghan and welcome to Profiles on WFIU. On Profiles we talk to notable artists, scholars and writers and get to know the stories behind their work.


Our guest today is Carol Giacomo, a former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington. She covered foreign policy for the International Wire Service for more than two decades before joining the New York Times editorial board in August 2007. As a diplomatic correspondent, she traveled over a million miles to more than 100 countries with eight secretaries of state and other senior U.S. officials. Her reporting for the editorial board of The New York Times involves regular independent overseas travel with trips to North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. In 2009, Carol won the Georgetown University Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. She's a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1999, Carol was a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where she researched U.S. economic and foreign policy decision making during the Asian financial crisis. She was a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University in 2013 and is a frequent public speaker at academic institutions, think tanks, and on media shows, including MSNBC. Carol holds a B.A. in English literature from Regis College Western Massachusetts. She began her professional journalism career at the Lowell Sun in Lowell Massachusetts and later worked for the Hartford Courant in the city hall, state capital and Washington bureaus. Carrol, welcome to Profiles.

CAROL GIACOMO: Thanks, Elaine. It's great to be here.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: You've done an awful lot with your life and travels as a journalist and it's quite hard to know where to start, but let's start at the beginning because I think you decided to become a journalist when you were how old?


ELAINE MONAGHAN: So tell us about that.

CAROL GIACOMO: People marvel at it now, especially when I see young people going into their 30s who are still sort of looking for what they want to do with their lives. But it was very organic and I was very lucky. I loved to write. I loved politics even then. And I really thought that journalism was essential to a democracy and I felt that very passionately, and I must have learned history really well in my early years because it was a driving force. There really was nothing else I ever wanted to do. At one point when I was young, my father, whom I adored, sat me down and said, you know, you ought to think about being a teacher or a nurse because, when you have children, it will be much easier to manage family life if you were doing something like that. I sort of sat there for five minutes and then I said, “no.” I never looked back and my parents encouraged me in what I wanted to do, so...

ELAINE MONAGHAN: You did become a mother. You have a child.

CAROL GIACOMO: I do have a child. He's 29, Christopher Marquette, and he's a journalist if you can believe it.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Where does Chris work?

CAROL GIACOMO: He's working in Washington, D.C., for CQ Roll Call and he covers Congress, which...


CAROL GIACOMO: ...Very timely, yes. And he covers ethics in Congress, which is even more timely. It keeps him busy.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Yes. So how did you figure out motherhood and those early years when you were reporting?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, I was deep into my work with Reuters at the time - traveling, like, all the time with the secretary of state. And my husband, who was a photojournalist and who was covering the White House at the time - I mean, we could be on opposite sides of the world on any given day. And so the idea of - oh, my goodness, I'm going to have this child and how do we manage these two careers? - it was pretty terrifying. We were very lucky to find a woman who came into our lives - it was a blessing. She took care of Chris. She was just incredibly loving and very responsible and I could go away and feel like he was safe, and she remained with us 'til he went to college, basically, and she's still part of our family really.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And obviously Chris must have looked back on those years somewhat fondly if he's decided to do the same job as mom.

CAROL GIACOMO: Right. But for a long time it seemed like he was totally not interested in what his parents did and, in fact, was considering pursuing other careers. And then one day suddenly he said, “you know what I really want to do? I want to be a journalist.” And I said, “oh, my God.” And at the time he was teaching and coaching and I said, “this is great, but do not quit your teaching job until you get a journalism job.” And lo and behold, in two weeks he had a job at a small - very small paper in rural Mississippi and he was off. It was quite an experience.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: So seeing how Chris's experience at the small paper and looking back to the start of your journalism career, do you see parallels with your time in Lowell? What was that like?

CAROL GIACOMO: Yes. I started very small at a small paper in Lowell, Massachusetts, and I covered the town of Drake at population 8,000 and I covered the sewer commission and I covered the Board of Education and I covered town hall and all of the stuff that makes a community. And at that time even small papers could have reporters in individual towns. A lot of that has shrunk over the years. It was great. It was a wonderful laboratory for me to learn about journalism, to learn about how communities operate, how town governments operate, how functions of the public sector are integrated. I personally think that's the way to learn journalism because it is connected to the most basic core of our society, which is our towns and our cities. And then I worked my way up to a small city, to a bigger city, and then ultimately to Washington.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And that was for the Hartford Courant originally when you started...

CAROL GIACOMO: After Lowell I went to the Hartford Courant, and again I started off covering a bigger town, West Hartford, then covered Hartford and then covered the state capital. Ella Grasso was the governor at the time. She was the first woman elected governor - elected in her own right to become governor. The Hartford Courant was locally owned at the time but it was eventually taken over by the L.A. Times, which was a powerhouse when it bought the Courant, and then they brought me to Washington.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: So was that a shock to the system when you came to Washington or had you been anticipating it? What was that like?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well I always thought I'd want to go to Washington and cover the federal government from that angle. I loved every job I had. I was happy in every job I had. I was fully engaged in every job I had. But when the chance came to go to Washington, I jumped at it. And it was a little overwhelming at first because there's a hierarchy in the press and I came from a paper - you know, I knew nobody in Washington and I came from a paper that was important to Connecticut but was small potatoes at the time in Washington. You have to work harder in order to get the stories, to get access. And it was frustrating at times, but I eventually learned.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: You're listening to Profiles at WFIU. My name is Elaine Monaghan and I'm here with Carol Giacomo, an editorial board member from the New York Times. So, Carol, you've done lots of really big international stories that we'll talk about. But back in Lowell, what were the big stories for you then?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, you know, it's funny because even now some of my fondest memories of journalism have to do with the smaller jobs that I had. A couple of things in Lowell - there was a congressional hearing in Washington while I was there and a Massachusetts judge whose name was invoked by a mobster, and the mobster alleged that the judge was involved in dirty business. And so, consequently, all of the Massachusetts press corps was trying to find this judge to talk to him about these allegations. The judge had a house on the Cape and I gather there were a lot of reporters heading down to the Cape to try to find him. And my editor said, find him. I didn't know the guy. I didn't know where to find him. I was like, oh - I wasn't quite sure what to do. So I found out where he lived in Boston and I went to his apartment in Boston and I - it had a doorman and I talked my way into the lobby and I went up to his floor and I knocked on the door and there was no answer. So right across from his apartment was a laundry room, and I went and I hid in the laundry room for - I don't know how long it was. And I kept hoping that this guy would come home and that I'd be able to get my interview. And so finally he did - he came home and he went into the apartment and I waited a few minutes and I knocked on the door and then he comes out with his shorts on and I identify myself as being from the Lowell Sun and say, “this is what's being reported and is this true and what can you tell me about it?” And, of course, he denied it and my interaction with him was very short, but it was enough to do a story. And so the story ran eight columns across the Lowell Sun and, in the moment, it was a coup.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: No, I mean, that is a huge coup.

CAROL GIACOMO: And hiding in the laundry room is a good story.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: I have not heard anyone hiding in a laundry room before to get a story. I love it. So can you paint the picture for us? What was that like, this laundry room? What do you remember about it?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, it had a window looking out into the corridor, which is the key thing.


CAROL GIACOMO: And other than that it was pretty - just functional. I was afraid I was going to get found out and arrested or something like that, but it didn't happen, so...

ELAINE MONAGHAN: So what was the expression on his face when he opened the door and discovered you?

CAROL GIACOMO: He was surprised. He did not expect to see somebody at his door - a reporter at his door. It's interesting because today his son is in Congress. His son represents another state, not Massachusetts. I mean, the judge eventually went to jail and the son is now a congressman, but from another state. And my son ended up interviewing him for something totally different.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Did he tell him the laundry room incident?

CAROL GIACOMO: No, he didn't tell him the story.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Perhaps he'll know now.

CAROL GIACOMO: Also, Lowell was the place where I first met John Kerry. It shows you the arc of history and how people you meet at one point in your lives show up in a big way and another part - he was running for Congress. He was a Vietnam vet, he had come back and become an activist against the war. He was running for Congress for the first time. And so I was in Lowell and he was campaigning in Lowell and I met him and I interviewed him for a story. Then years later, of course, he becomes a senator and he's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, of course, I had a lot of dealings with him when he was doing that. And then he became secretary of state and then I had dealings with him with that and traveled with him and it's interesting.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: So what do you think the lesson from that is? I mean, it seems like an obvious thing to say, but sometimes people have this idea that journalists are kind of cranky and rough around the edges and we don't talk to people, but actually maintaining friendships and sort of being nice is a big part of the job, isn't it?

CAROL GIACOMO: A lot of times we are cranky, but we're people. I mean, if you're a good journalist, you can't just be argumentative and challenging and - to get information and to understand and to hear people - to listen, to get to know what they really think and why they do the things I do, I mean, you have to talk to them like regular people. I mean, one of the lessons from Washington being a journalist - and this applies in the Kerry case too - you know, you meet somebody when they're nothing. I mean, he was candidate. He wasn't elected or anything - or in Washington. When I first went there, I represented a paper that didn't really have a lot of status, and so I had no status. Nobody knew me. You meet people. You meet junior staffers. You meet the people that the big papers maybe won't talk to, and you treat them with respect, you develop relationships with them. And lo and behold, 10 years later they're assistant secretary of state or they're the staff director of a committee, and suddenly somebody that you've been - I mean, in some cases you cultivate the relationship - somebody you get to know and you become friendly with, and suddenly they're in a position of power. And if you have a relationship, particularly a relationship of trust, then your ability to have a symbiotic relationship in a professional way is improved.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Right. So, Carol, I think that's a really great point about how, over time, over the arc of history in your own life, relationships that you build up with sources become professional, but also almost personal relationships. And the same is true, obviously, in your personal life - that you interact with different institutions as a human being, not just as a journalist. And for you, one of those institutions is the Catholic Church and you recently wrote a column about a priest who played an important part in your life. Can you tell us about that?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, it may seem a little inconsistent because I do write about foreign policy and defense policy, and so I did write a column recently about a priest, Father D’Silva at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Washington. And my son went to the grammar school there, my family went to church there, my son was baptized there, all of that. And like any church, it is a center for a community. But in Washington, being a unique community, it is a place where you get a lot of powerful people who go there. I mean, Justice Kavanaugh goes there, Chris Matthews goes there, Jerry Seib for the Wall Street Journal - I mean, there are a lot of big names who are part of the congregation. So a number of years ago, when the pedophilia scandal broke in Boston and nobody really was pushing back against Cardinal Law and the fact that he was protecting - he was kind of denying that there was a problem and protecting priests who had been named - we were at the Children's Mass one day and Father D’Silva, who's just a wonderful man, gets up and completely stuns the congregation by saying - taking on the issue - like, just confronting it right on. And in the sermon he says, “I want to tell you, we will never harm your children. We have never harmed your children. We won't harm your children. This is terrible what's going on.” I think at the time he even - if I recall correctly, he even said that the cardinal should be removed, which was an incredibly bold thing to say because he was just a parish priest. And he talked about it in a politically volatile moment and in a congregation where the - it's mixed. There are, you know, liberal Catholics. There are conservative Catholics. And so I thought it was a pretty risky move. And I was so angry that the church had found itself in that position and that people weren't fighting back. And the authorities weren't taking responsibility - that I started scribbling down notes because I knew immediately I had to write something about this. And when he finished, he got a standing ovation. It was really amazing. I was working for Reuters at the time. I wrote a news story about this, just a little news story. It got pretty wide play. And then other people picked it up. Then, flash forward to this year. And I'm not in D.C. living anymore. But I am obviously still connected to the community. And I hear from a couple of people that Father D’Silva has done it again. And he had spoken up against the president and the kinds of things he was saying about migrants and just hateful language, what he saw was hateful language. And so he gave another sermon that was quite passionate. The bottom line was I can't be silent. If I am going to follow the teachings of Christ, I cannot be silent in this moment. And this is wrong. And he even went so far as to say the president should leave office. And, again, this is an amazing message for this priest to be delivering. And so several people told me about it. I talked to other people to try to - because I wasn't there this time. And I - it was a little harder to kind of recreate what was said. And then…I mean, Father D’Silva didn't really want to speak on the record about it. And - but I talked to people who were there. And I wrote a column about it because I thought it was also an important moment for leaders to be speaking out, leaders of conscience to be speaking out.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: It seems like this was a very powerful series of statements that he made. And I just want to quote a little bit from your column, if I may. So you quoted this priest being quoted by James Zogby.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: Saying, “I am compelled by Jesus Christ to say what I'm going to say. Jesus won't let me off the hook.”

CAROL GIACOMO: Yeah, yeah.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And he also, to your point, according to Mr. Zogby, did in fact urge the president to resign.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: I mean that is a very startling thing I agree with you for a priest to do, especially in Washington D.C.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: I suppose you've gone through sort of a transition a bit like that yourself, going from being a Reuters reporter where you're always outside the story. It's like you're looking through a one-way looking glass in a way. And now you write opinion pieces for The New York Times. In a way, there's a sort of a parallel there. What has that been like for you to have to sort of come out in public as Carol Giacomo instead of invisible Reuters correspondent?

CAROL GIACOMO: It is a very different way to approach journalism. And my entire decades, my entire previous career as a reporter was very much keeping your own views locked in a box and just pursuing the story wherever it led. And I mean look every journalist brings his or her own experience to the table. And we all have different perspectives. So it's not like you're a robot and see everything the same. Gathering facts, reflecting the - what you find in a story is one thing. Actually mouthing off about your opinion is quite a different story. By the time I got to the New York Times editorial board…let me pause here and just make this point because I think people don't really understand it. I mean, there really is at the Times and I think at a lot of other papers, a very strong division between the reporting staff and the editorial staff. I mean, we are paid to voice our opinions. Reporters are paid to report and not voice their opinions. And separate editors, the two editors do not report to each other. They report directly to the publisher. We are on different floors. We don't tell each other what we're doing. So there is a difference. We try to keep reporting piece separate from the opinion piece. So when I got to the editorial board, there is always a transition I think even though I had spent so many years covering these issues, national security issues. And so I had a deep knowledge about them. And I often had views about things. It's another thing to actually sit down and be able to say what you think. And so there's always a little learning curve there, big learning curve. And as you get freer and freer to actually put your opinions out there. So most of what I do is anonymous editorials which reflect the institutional voice of the paper. And they have no name on them. But occasionally, as with that piece about Father D'Silva, we do put our name on it. And that's even a little riskier in a way.


CAROL GIACOMO: Because your name is on it so people are going to come after you. But it's liberating in a way. It's - yeah, it's liberating.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Did people come after you after your piece about Father D’Silva?

CAROL GIACOMO: Oh, yeah. Even the stuff where my name is not on the piece - I mean, there are communities - people in the national security community know I write most of the pieces, and I do get a lot of pushback sometimes. I mean, there's an entire group of people out there who were not happy with the position we took about the Iran nuclear deal. We were very supportive of the Iran deal. I would argue we had a very consistent position from the beginning. We identified Iran as a threat. We said something needs to be done about their nuclear capacity, which was increasing. We supported sanctions. We supported negotiations. We supported the deal, but there were people who did not support the deal. And so I've gotten pilloried a lot on Twitter in particular. And occasionally when people do that I will - if they seem like they're thoughtful and not just throwing spitballs, I will occasionally, like, write back or I will say, “I really don't think you've read the pieces.” And then I will send links to the pieces - then I don't usually hear from those people again. That's part of the debate in a free society. People can disagree and they can say what they want and that's the way it is.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: You're listening to Profiles at WFIU. My name is Elaine Monaghan and I'm here with Carol Giacomo, who is an editorial board member at the New York Times who writes about foreign policy and defense policy and travels all around the world. Carol, the New York Times did something very interesting recently and, of course, we know you can't tell us who the author was because you don't know, but I have to ask you about this piece that was published in September of 2018 with the headline, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration." This was a very rare moment for the New York Times, to publish a piece by a critic - an inside critic. Can you tell us a bit about how that decision was made and what you think about it?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, you're right. I do not know who wrote this piece. And again, for clarification - so in the opinion department, on the one side, there's the editorial board, which writes the editorials. That's me. On the other side, there's the op ed division, and the editors there commission and edit and promote pieces – op-eds, what we call op-eds, meaning opposite the editorial page by people outside the paper. And there's a cacophony of voices there and it's meant to be that way. So the way I understand it, one of the editors - the op ed editor - the head guy had - was a contact who got in touch with him and said, you know, there's this piece - there's this person who wants to write this piece, he or she - you know, I don't know whether it's a man or woman - needs to be anonymous because they're inside the Trump administration and if they put their name on it then they're exposed. And you're right, we are very careful about identifying people who write things for the paper. There have been a couple pieces in the recent past where they did it anonymously. I think there was a Syrian refugee who wrote a piece - it was that kind of thing. But this one was unusual because, here it is, somebody inside the administration who is saying there is a cadre of people in the administration who realizes there are things going on that trouble us and we're working to make sure everything's OK. This was I would say about a year ago.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Yeah, it was September 2018.

CAROL GIACOMO: OK, so it was exactly a year ago. And at the moment it was quite extraordinary that this person wanted to do this, and I think there were a lot of people who were hoping that they would hear something positive from inside the administration - that there were people who were trying to make sure that the violation of norms and whatever - there were people working against that. So the editors did - and it was very closely-held. This was not something that everybody knew about. There is - to my knowledge, only a few people know the identity of the writer even today. They worked with the person, first of all, to vet the person, second, to make sure it was being written by the person that they were told it was being written by - I'm pretty sure they dealt with that person directly - and edit it in the usual way that the New York Times will edit pieces, which is pretty critically and rigorously. And it created a huge stir at the time because it was - you know, there had been news stories up 'til then suggesting that there were people inside the administration who were trying to kind of rein in any excesses, and the editors felt that this was important because it was an actual person saying, this is what I believe, this is what we're doing, and putting it in his or her own words. But it created a huge firestorm. I mean, there were people who were happy to see it and happy to hear it, a lot of people who just felt it was wrong that Times allowed somebody to write anonymously. And my own feeling is, if you feel that way, write the piece, put your name on it and resign. But (laughter) that's not what happened and nobody talks about it much anymore.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: You're listening to Profiles at WFIU. My name is Elaine Monaghan and I'm here with Carol Giacomo, who is here as the Poynter Chair of Indiana University's Bloomington campus, visiting from the New York Times, where she's a member of the editorial board. I think we have to hear some of your war stories. We can't let you come through the Profiles chat and not tell us some exciting things that happened to you, and some of them were quite dramatic I know and some of them have been quite funny. But one story I think we have to ask you about arises from the period that began with 9/11, which wades into the Iraq war rather quickly.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: So tell us a bit about the period - what was happening with you then?

CAROL GIACOMO: You mean 9/11 itself or the aftermath?

ELAINE MONAGHAN: 9/11 itself.

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, I mean, 9/11 was just - like for everybody, you'll never forget where you were. I mean, if you were awake at all and alert, you'll never forget it. And I was living in Washington at the time. I was home - was just about to take my son to school and see this thing on the television, and initially thought it was an accident. And then when the second plane hit, I realized this was no accident. And I was supposed to go to a press conference at the Chinese Embassy that morning, I mean, like, about 8:30. So it seemed pretty quickly that something alarming was happening. So I dropped my son at school, which I felt pretty safe at. He went to a school - a boy’s school and it was in a secluded part of the city and it was - if he had to stay all night, the monks would keep him there. And then I thought, well, I'll go to my press conference anyway at the Chinese embassy. And I go down Connecticut Avenue and whoever was in the city is trying to go the other way. So I'm going very much against traffic. And it was impossible. It took a long time to get there. When I got to the Chinese embassy, I think the guy thought I was nuts and - because what is she doing showing up here? So I skip that and then tried to get to my office downtown, which was impossible because traffic was impossible. And I finally had to abandon my car and walk to the office and spent the next basically 24 hours in the office covering this story. And we did the news stories and then we did more and then, at the end of that, I had to do a news analysis sort of looking at the foreign policy implications of this. And I'll never forget, I - it was the Bush administration, and I was regularly in touch not just with administration officials but Republican conservatives who influenced the Bush administration. And I called up one of them - I said, “I want to talk to you. What's going on and what you think about it?” And he said, “things will never be the same.” And I thought, that's a pretty declaratory statement. How can you possibly say - how can you know that? And it was chilling at the time and, in a way, he was right because things have never been the same since then and it's been a long time since 9/11. We went pretty quickly into Afghanistan, but it was clear early on to me that the Bush people really wanted to go into Iraq. And, I mean, all of this - we all know this now, but at the time I have to say I really had a very clear sense of it because there was this debate going on - it wasn't really a debate, it was an argument. And every time you'd see Frank Gaffney or Wolfowitz or Jim Woolsey - I mean, there's a whole cadre of them. Whenever they spoke publicly, they always made the link with Saddam Hussein. And even though our focus as a country was on what happened in New York, what happened in Pennsylvania and on going into Afghanistan, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go into Iraq, and I felt that people didn't really get it and didn't realize that this was much bigger than what we were looking at. And then, you know, we did go into Iraq and made a mess of it. And, I mean, I wasn't a war correspondent. I was a diplomatic correspondent and I wasn't really expecting to go into a war zone. But I was at the Pentagon one day and Wolfowitz was complaining to a group of reporters that we weren't getting it right, we weren't saying - reporting the good things that were happening in Iraq after Saddam was overthrown. So I said, “OK, I'll go to Iraq with you and look and see what's going on.” And so a small group of us went with him to Iraq for a few days and were looking at things being done - police being trained, how they're trying to reconstitute the government and the security forces and everything, and it looked like it was going OK. And then the morning of the last day we were staying at the Al Rasheed Hotel - and just in case anyone doesn't understand how the logistics work, most of the time senior officials - top officials will take a small group of reporters with them on the plane, you travel with the principal, you go where they go, you're in the motorcade with them and you cover whatever they're to do. So we were staying at the Al Rasheed hotel on the seventh floor with Wolfowitz - most of us were on the seventh floor and then there were a few of us on the floor below. So we were supposed to meet Wolfowitz and some Iraqi officials at 7:00 a.m. in the morning, and it's probably 6:30 and I'm in a room with two other women, and suddenly there's a noise outside and I assumed it was a car backfiring. And then there was a slightly larger noise and I thought it was a truck backfiring. And then there was another noise and I assumed it was soldiers discharging their weapons in a sandpit outside the hotel because they couldn't come into the hotel without discharging their weapons. And then there was like - all hell broke loose. And I started to run for the window to look and see what was going on, and one of the women in my room was a sergeant - a female sergeant who grabbed me and pulled me to the floor and told me what a jerk I was - that you never go near a glass when there's an explosion. And she called her colonel and he said, “we have to evacuate.” So we go into the hallway, it's filling with smoke, we're going downstairs, nobody knows what's happening, we don't know if there are people who are bad guys who are going to rush the lobby. We have no idea what's going on. And it turns out that some of the Saddam loyalists had gotten wind of the fact that Wolfowitz was staying at the hotel and rocketed the hotel with more than a dozen rockets. And the floor below me - one room over, the floor below me, the - a lieutenant colonel was killed and 16 other people were injured. Changed the story, to say the least. I mean, Wolfowitz wanted us to go and see what was positive about what was happening. It looked like that was the way it was. And yet, very quickly, the whole thing turned dark because, clearly, the bad guys were still around and still had force. And the hotel - I mean, this is the thing. So we're in Baghdad in the Al Rasheed Hotel, which is basically commandeered by the Americans, surrounded by huge security perimeter. And yet these guys were able to penetrate it anyway. So it wasn't a good day.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: No. And just for our listeners, I'll mention that Paul Wolfowitz at the time was referred to often as the architect of the Iraq war. He was seen as a major advocate of it...


ELAINE MONAGHAN: ...And was Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time I think, right? So that was a dramatic moment to say the least. But there were also humorous moments I gather in some of your travels.

CAROL GIACOMO: There was. So several years later - I've been back to Iraq and Afghanistan several times. This one particular time I went with Mike Mullen, who was then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This was a slightly different trip. We were going because he was doing what he often does - was going to see the principals and the countries where the wars are being fought. He's going to see the troops, he's going to see the commanders. It was also partly a USO tour. So we had a big plane and there were entertainers on the plane. One of them was Robin Williams, another one was Lance Armstrong. And so this sort of set up a couple of humorous anecdotes. We get to Baghdad one night late. We're staying at one of the palaces of Saddam's sons - one of the sons. So it's late, everybody's tired. I'm shown to a room, four bunk beds, three other women and me all in this room. We're sort of in a alcove in the building. There's one room over here. That's the room we're in with the four bunk beds - very basic bunk beds. Then there's a door to another room. I don't know what's behind that door, all right? Then, right nearby, there's another door - that's the bathroom. The bathroom with the gold fixtures and the bathroom that's as big as a bedroom and space to dance in and just the basic functions still - bathtub, shower, toilet, sink. So in the morning I get up and go to the bathroom, take a shower, whatever. I barely get in the room and somebody's, like, banging on the door. And I'm like, I just got in the bathroom, what'd you - OK. So I said, hang on, I'll be right there. So I finished doing what I'm doing and I open the door and there's Robin Williams. He had the room next to ours - big room, palatial room, big bed, fit for a king. And he says to me, “you know, this always happens. I've got, like, three women at home and I can never get in the bathroom.” He was very funny and he was - I mean, he was a joy to travel with. He was kind to everyone and was so attentive to the soldiers. And it was really so painful when he died.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Yeah. So he was kind to everyone. Do you remember any other little moments other than when he tried to bust into the bathroom?

CAROL GIACOMO: No. No. That was my moment, OK? I mean, he was very nice. But then there was Lance Armstrong, who was another story altogether. He was a little bit more standoffish. And so we're in Afghanistan and we're at Bagram airbase, as I recall. And we're staying in - not in a palace, but in BOQs - Bachelor Officers Quarters. So everybody in the room and it's a long sort of linear building and there's windows on the outside, a corridor and then the rooms there. So there's a bathroom - like, group bathrooms down the hallway, one for women, one for men. And everybody - well, I don't know if everybody, but most people had taken a shower after we got there, and so we then go to dinner. And most people wore their clothes, took their toiletries and their towels, went to the shower, took a shower, put their clothes on, and then emerged fully clothed. Lance Armstrong - so a bunch of us are standing in the corridor on the way to the bathroom, talking, getting ready for dinner. Lance Armstrong comes out of his room in a towel. I mean, it's like, OK, I - this is - you - he knew there are women in this group.


CAROL GIACOMO: He didn't care. He did not care. So here he is, skimpy little towel, Lance Armstrong naked the rest, and trots to the bathroom and - to take a shower. It was a moment.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Oh, yes, a memorable one.

CAROL GIACOMO: A memorable one, right.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And an interesting contrast with Robin Williams.

CAROL GIACOMO: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: OK. I think that story speaks for itself.

CAROL GIACOMO: I mean, there are a lot of little things. When I was in North Korea a year ago - no, it was two years ago now. It's a pretty bleak place. I'd never been there before and it was very interesting - the whole experience at the time, when the intensity of the war of words between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un was almost at its peak. So tensions were very, very high and we were treated pretty respectfully while we were there, which is a little - I mean, look, we were the guests. You know, we were allowed to go there because the government allowed us to go there, and so nothing was going to happen to us. But still I kind of thought there might be more open hostility. There wasn't.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And you were traveling as a writer for The New York Times.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: And who else was with you on that trip?

CAROL GIACOMO: Nick Kristof was with me and two videographers.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: Right. All from the New York Times.

CAROL GIACOMO: All from the New York Times, right. So we were there for five days. And at the end we took our host - there was a North Korean official who was our official host, and we took him out to dinner. And we were leaving the restaurant and talking about coming back and I said, you know, “I hope we're able to come back sometime and see more of the country” - because they restrict what you can do a lot - I mean, entirely. You can't go anywhere without their permission and a minder to go with you. So I said, “I hope we can come back.” And I - just kind of as a joke I said, “and next time we'll go dancing.” This guy literally takes me in his arms and starts to dance down the street of Pyongyang. And it was like this out of body experience. What is happening? You know? I mean, he was lovely and he was very polite and everything, but I didn't expect that spontaneity from him or anybody in North Korea. It was one of those moments where you - it's so disconcerting that you say, there are human beings here, despite the fact that the propaganda and the control is so intense. That was - it was just a moment.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: That is quite a picture. Do you remember, were there people on the street to see you doing this dance?

CAROL GIACOMO: Well, Nick was there. Nick and the two...

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And the videographers.

CAROL GIACOMO: ...And the two videographers were there, and I think that's it. Now, if there were other people around, I wasn't aware of it.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: I'm guessing that there was a segregation between your traveling group, or not so much?

CAROL GIACOMO: No. I mean, the restaurant was in Pyongyang. It wasn't as if we were really secluded. But it was nighttime and there weren't a lot of people on the street.


ELAINE MONAGHAN: You're listening to Profiles at WFIU. My name is Elaine Monaghan and I'm here with Carol Giacomo, who is an editorial board member for The New York Times who writes about foreign policy, defense policy and other things. Welcome back. So Carol, we're in a very interesting time for journalists generally and particularly I think at the New York Times given the tensions that we're seeing that have developed over time, but particularly recently in a presidency where the president has termed journalists enemies of the people. So I'm interested to know what that's been like for you, as an individual.

CAROL GIACOMO: It's just not me, it's everybody. I mean, it's unlike any other time I've ever experienced as a journalist. I mean, you used to - I mean, part of the atmosphere that you face as a journalist is everybody's not going to like you. The tension between authority and journalists is built into the equation. That's the relationship really between the two institutions. And there's a reason for that. I mean, we're supposed to try to inform the public and ferret the facts out and hold the powerful to account. I'm used to having adversarial relationships with people I cover. But this is so extreme. I mean, it's hard to talk about. It really started out with the whole idea of fake news and just delegitimizing - pushing back against stories that the president didn't like. And now it's come to the point where he is trying to delegitimize a free press in its entirety. And the phrase "enemies of the people" has real resonance in history. I mean, enemies of the people are guilty of treason. There are - you know, there are instances where people who were branded enemies of the people were - have been shot and killed. And so it's very dangerous language and it has a chilling effect. I think it hasn't stopped people from doing their job, but it is damaging. As I often say, I mean, we can't have a democracy without a free press. This isn't a new concept to me. This is why the Founding Fathers put it in the first amendment. They knew. They were very brilliant in their concept of government and they knew that somebody had to be watching what government does. And, I mean, if Americans value their democracy, they need to defend the free press. We all have a responsibility. It's just not journalists doing their job every day, it's not just journalists making sure that they get their facts right and that they pursue the legitimate stories and not just frivolous stories. Every single one of us Americans who cares about democracy needs to be supporting a free press and pushing back against this assault.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: And the fact journalists feel so strongly about this - and another unusual step at the New York Times recently was when the publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, published what had originally been a speech at Brown University recently with the headline, "The Growing Threat To Journalism Around the World" talking about these very issues, Carol, that you've come to Bloomington - to our campus at Indiana University to talk about yourself as the Poynter Chair. Thank you. I think that the public as well as our journalism students here are just so grateful to have an opportunity to hear from someone who's essentially in the front line. I mean, it's a strange notion to talk about a front line in this time, but it feels like that's a real thing.

CAROL GIACOMO: It is. Usually you expect the - your own government - maybe they don't like what you write, but they defend your right to do the job - to do your job, and that's not what's happening at the White House. You mentioned A.G. Sulzberger, who's now the publisher - he's been publisher for almost two years now. He has really been a wonderful and articulate champion for pushing back against what's happening. I mean, he went - earlier this year he went and he had a private meeting with the president to try to say, “please, please, don't do this. We journalists have a - I mean, we're a central part of this society an integral part of our constitutional framework.” And that meeting had very little effect or had no beneficial effect. A.G. went, he saw the president a second time. He has spoken out before and now this big speech at Brown, where he goes so far as to reveal an anecdote which I think really should illustrate to Americans how far we've come away from the norm, and that was Declan Walsh, who was our Cairo bureau chief. I was the one who got a call from a State Department official who said to me, “Declan is in danger. The Egyptian authorities are planning to arrest him and you need to get him out of there.” And the thing was that, normally, in a case like that, the paper would call the American government - call the American embassy and say, “can you make sure that Declan gets out of there safely?” And the concern of this State Department official was that the administration was going to do nothing and they were going to just let the Egyptians arrest him. I mean, that's alarming on several levels - one, because Egyptian prisons are awful and people are tortured there and sometimes don't come out alive. And two, this government has for more than 200 years defended journalists and defended a free press. And the idea that our government was specifically going to stand back and not do anything to help this guy was just - it's hard to know what to say about it. So Declan is Irish by citizenship, and so the paper went to the Irish government and the Irish government sent a diplomat, picked him up, took him to the airport, waited until he got on the plane and made sure that he was safely out of the country. But the idea that the Americans abandoned that role is - it's just alarming.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: In fact, Mr. Sulzberger in his speech - to come back to this phrase the enemy of the people and the historical connections that you just drew - he noted that that is a phrase that was used to justify executions during the French Revolution and the Third Reich, and it was used by Lenin and Stalin to justify the systematic murder of Soviet dissidents. And I think sometimes it's hard to wrap our heads around these things because so much is happening. So quickly. So I think it's really important that you're drawing attention to this, so thank you.

CAROL GIACOMO: Words matter.



ELAINE MONAGHAN: I've been speaking today with New York Times editorial board member Carol Giacomo. Carol, thank you so much for being with us.

CAROL GIACOMO: Thanks, Elaine. It was great.

ELAINE MONAGHAN: This is Elaine Monaghan for Profiles.

MARK CHILLA: Copies of this and other programs can be obtained by calling 812-855-1357. Information about Profiles, including archives of past shows, can be found at our website:


Profiles is a production of WFIU and comes from the studios of Indiana University. The producer is Aaron Cain. The studio engineer and radio audio director is Michael Paskash. The executive producer is John Bailey. Please join us next week for another edition of Profiles.


Carol Giacomo

Carol Giacomo (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Carol Giacomo is a former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington who covered foreign policy for the international wire service for more than two decades before joining the New York Times editorial board in August 2007.

She has traveled over one million miles to more than 100 countries with eight secretaries of state and various other senior U.S. officials. Her reporting for the editorial board involves regular independent overseas travel, including recent trips to North Korea, Iran and Myanmar.

In 2009, Giacomo won the Georgetown University Weintal Prize for diplomatic reporting. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1999-2000, she was a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, researching U.S. economic and foreign policy decision-making during the Asian financial crisis. She was a Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University in 2013 and is a frequent public speaker at academic institutions, think tanks and on media programs.

Born and raised in Connecticut, she holds a B.A. in English Literature from Regis College, Weston, Mass. She began her professional journalism career at the Lowell Sun in Lowell, Mass., and later worked for the Hartford Courant in the city hall, state capitol and Washington bureaus.

Carol Giacomo was named the second Indiana University Poynter Chair in March of 2019, and came to the IU: Bloomington campus to host workshops, meet with students and faculty, and deliver a public lecture.

She spoke with Elaine Monaghan of the Media School.

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