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CNN's Clarissa Ward Reflects On Her Career In Her New Memoir


Journalist Clarissa Ward has reported from Iraq, Gaza, Russia, China, the list goes on. But it is perhaps her work documenting the tragedy and terror in Syria for which she is best known.


CLARISSA WARD: It's bombardment like that that has left Aleppo a virtual ghost town.


WARD: We just arrived here at the hospital, where they're bringing the dead and the wounded from those three strikes in Ariha which hit a park and a fruit market. We don't know the exact...


WARD: The battle against ISIS is still raging.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In her new memoir, "On All Fronts: The Education Of A Journalist," she tells the story of her privileged upbringing, bouncing around countries and schools, her rise in TV journalism to become CNN's chief international correspondent and why she keeps pushing to report from the world's most dangerous places. Clarissa Ward, welcome.

WARD: Thank you so much for having me. It's so great to be on with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to start by saying congratulations on the birth of your second child, who was born this summer, right?

WARD: Yes, exactly - two months ago.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What a time. We should say here that we worked in many of the same places professionally. We know each other.

WARD: For many years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For many years - indeed, for many years. You know, reading this book, I was really struck by how your early life prepared you for this road. But you decided that you wanted to report on the world. Your career really started at Fox. They gave you your first chance in Iraq during the conflict. What drove you to go to a place where most sane people - let's face it - would want to get away from?

WARD: For me, it was all about 9/11. And I was a senior studying comparative literature at Yale. I was into acting and making movies and publishing magazines. And suddenly, like a sledgehammer, I was hit by 9/11. And I became completely addicted to the news. It suddenly dawned on me that I felt I had a calling - that I wanted to contribute to this broader effort to try to act as some kind of a translator, almost, between different worlds. Of course, you know, I was 22 years old, so there was a lot of hubris at play, and I really had very little idea of what that would actually entail. But that is what really moved me to become a journalist.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you then covered Moscow for ABC News. And you have this incredible, I must say, story about meeting Seif al-Islam...

WARD: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Gaddafi's son, at a dinner in Moscow. Indulge me telling that story briefly. There's a reason for that.

WARD: Yes. So I was invited to this very small, intimate dinner. And when I got there, I was told that the guest of honor would be Gaddafi's son. So he arrived late, literally did not acknowledge my presence. Not that I really expected him to show excessive interest, but there is part of me that gets irritated in those situations when a man at the table is really only talking to the other men at the table. At the end of the meal, it was determined that we would all go to this nightclub. And as we got into the car, I had to sit in the middle seat in the back. And he suddenly just turned to me and tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. And I said to him, oh, my gosh - you know how you try to laugh it off? I said, no, no, no, don't do that. And he kept doing it. He kept doing it. I kept pushing him off. And then finally I turned to him in Arabic and I just said (speaking Arabic), which means stop it, you son of a whore in Arabic. And for me, it was just this moment of - I wasn't disturbed by it so much as I was just flabbergasted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You write about that experience, (reading) I felt the familiar burn of indignation. Misogyny provoked a feeling of impotent rage in me. Anger at being so easily overlooked or dismissed because of my gender. Push back too hard and you were labeled aggressive or chippy or the B word, which I can't say on air. Don't push back and you are condoning it. I guess some might be surprised that even a high-profile TV correspondent would experience something like that.

WARD: Well, haven't you experienced it, Lulu? I mean...


WARD: ...It is pervasive. And I can't tell you how many times I'll be feeling that, I know my trade. I know my craft. I know this story. I feel confident. It's this very subtle condescension. And it is enraging because you're like, wait. But I'm the one who's actually been to Aleppo, guys. Like, you're sitting in an armchair in Washington, D.C., where it's really easy to opine about Aleppo. But then you always have that other voice in your head that says, try to be humorous or gracious about how you insert yourself into the conversation while making it clear that you're an authority on this subject.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, the clip we heard in the introduction was some of your extraordinary reporting for which you have justly earned many, many awards, including a Peabody. I want to talk about Syria. You kept on going back under incredibly dangerous circumstances while friends, like Marie Colvin, died and others, like journalist Austin Tice, have been kidnapped. What is it about that conflict?

WARD: Syria is definitely the first conflict that I covered where I became deeply personally involved. And it's a blessing because, damn, your work is good because your heart is in it. But it's a curse because you get into the trap of finding it difficult to separate once you go back to your normal life and feeling that you need to be somehow altering the course of events, which is, I think, a dangerous trap that journalists can fall into where you're sort of almost dipping a toe in the activism world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is covering conflict about covering the people? Because in the book, something that was very striking is you talk about the people you met in Syria. And then, as the book goes on, more of the people you came to know died, killed, disappeared, fled.

WARD: I realized at a certain point that it is a real danger for journalists to go into any conflict or any story with the mindset of, I can make a difference. I can make the world a better place. Of course, it's important to have good intentions. But when you set the bar that high for yourself, it becomes a little bit soul-destroying when you realize that there are huge, powerful forces at work in the world, and you are limited in changing the course of history. And that's OK because your job is to bear witness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to end where we began, which is with your kids. As we know, men don't get asked how they work and have children at the same time, but you did make this a part of your book. And I am curious how motherhood changed you. It definitely changed me. I mean, you went to Yemen while you were pregnant.

WARD: Yes. And I have to be very honest with you. If I could go back again, would I still do the Yemen trip? I've thought about it a lot, and I think I would not. Now I understand it differently - that the real risk was that if there had been some kind of a complication with the pregnancy, I simply wouldn't have been able to get to a proper medical facility.


WARD: But I would say the main way that my work has been affected by the birth of now my two boys - there's this intense emotional connection that I cannot turn off now. It was always upsetting to see a child in pain in any kind of a conflict arena. Now I find it borderline unbearable. I will weep. I hope there is more compassion in my reporting. And, as crazy as it might sound, I would also like to see more mothers covering war because believe it or not, and as ridiculous as it may sound, I think things might look a little different if there were. And - I don't know, I'd be curious as to whether you agree with me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I do. I'm just not sure I'm going to be one of them.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'll leave that to you. Clarissa Ward, CNN chief international correspondent and the author of her memoir "On All Fronts." Thank you very much.

WARD: Thank you so much, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLITZ & SUPPE'S "THE DAYBREAK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.