His alternate identity may not be Superman, but noted author and staff writer for The New Yorker Philip Gourevitch is all about writing the wrongs.
Gourevitch described his experiences reporting on the Rwanda genocide crisis of 1994 to a near-capacity Linsly-Chittenden Hall room 102 at a lecture hosted by Branford College and the Goldman family Tuesday. He also discussed the purpose of covering international affairs, even when the issues are not central to government policy.
Gourevitch said a foreign correspondent should keep in mind that his audience is in the United States even though he is in a foreign country.
“‘What does this mean for us?’ is always a question being asked by American readers,” Gourevitch said.
Gourevitch cautioned that journalists must be wary of covering only events the government emphasizes for its own ends. Some events may not immediately seem relevant to the country’s foreign relations but may still merit coverage, he said.
Discussing the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere of press cooperation with the Bush administration, Gourevitch said the press is doing the public a disservice by falling in with the administration’s agenda. Gourevitch mentioned how the Bush administration’s lack of attention to Afghanistan and Liberia has been reflected in the relative media silence regarding those areas.
“The Bush administration is trying to make problems go away by ignoring them, and it [the administration's attempt] only works because the press is playing ball,” Gourevitch said.
Gourevitch stressed the necessity of objectivity instead of neutrality. He suggested that reporters covering humanitarian issues that have stagnated politically should not permit their writing to become stale as well. Gourevitch warned against researching an subject to the point of bias, which might result in a set of preconceived notions that will filter the information he receives.
The discussion expanded from the Rwanda genocide to the lessons the U.S. government learned from the incident. Gourevitch said he perceived a disturbing discrepancy between emboldened American “rhetoric” and the nature of the actual response to such issues.
Gourevitch has published a book entitled “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,” detailing his experience as a foreign correspondent covering the killings of over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus within the space of 100 days.
Eric Shansby ’07 said he found Gorevitch’s observation of the Bush administration’s unequal treatment of foreign events interesting.
“It really struck me how the [Bush] administration promoted selective coverage and is leaving events in Afganistan and Liberia by the wayside,” Shansby said.
Shansby is a cartoonist for the Yale Daily News.
Aditi Sen ’05, who read Gourevitch’s book and had him sign her copy, said Gourevitch had made the same points in the book that he made in his speech.
“Writing about the wrongs hopes to bring up issues that the public may not notice,” Sen said, referring to a phrase Gourevitch used to describe media coverage of atrocities.