January 26, 2021

People Column

SCHOLARS

Eilís O’Neil, winner of the 2015 Harper’s Magazine Scholarship in memory of I.F. Stone, filed a story on Dec. 16 for KUOW public radio in Washington state about the impact of COVID-19 on an Indigenous community in the north-central part of the state. She reported on a town on the Colville Reservation that had kept the pandemic at bay through isolation and extra precautions but had an outbreak in December after a group of about 10 people visited a packed restaurant in a nearby town that seeded an outbreak on the reservation. O’Neil has been a reporter for KUOW since 2016.

Christopher Harress, the Emanuel R. Freedman Scholarship winner in 2013, wrote about the mental burden of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for Reckon, a news site dedicated to issues facing the American South. Harress, now based in Alabama, battled the disease for two weeks starting in June last year. Though his physical symptoms were comparatively mild, his brush with the virus triggered bouts of anxiety and mental health struggles, he wrote, saying that “at my lowest points, I trembled as obsessive thoughts whirled around my head. The feelings of dread were seemingly inescapable.” Harress wrote that he learned recovery and letting go of negative thoughts takes “time and conscious effort.”

UPDATES

OPC member James Blue has taken a new post as senior vice president and head of The Smithsonian Channel. Blue had previously served as producer for PBS Newshour. The niche cable network is backed by ViacomCBS and the Smithsonian Institution. Blue replaces Tom Hayden, who founded the platform in 2006 but departed in April amid restructuring at ViacomCBS. He will also oversee content for MTV Entertainment Group, which encompasses MTV, VH1, Paramount Network and Comedy Central, among others. In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Blue said “I look forward to leveraging my expertise and experience to help shape and implement MTV Entertainment’s strategic vision for Smithsonian and other news, factual and non-fiction content across, and even beyond, the Group’s platforms.”

OPC Past President David Andelman had a review of his new book featured in the Washington Post’s book section on Jan. 3. David Bosco, an associate professor at Indiana University’s school of international studies, said A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen explores “the phenomenon of red lines, track their past and present use, and distill some understanding of when they work and when they fail.” He called the book a “competent and thorough primer on conflict or potential conflict zones around the globe from North Korea to Iran to the eastern provinces of Congo.” Andelman wrote for CNN Opinion this week about Wednesday’s events from an international perspective on Jan. 7, commenting on reactions from Boris Johnson, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, Heiko Maas, and others, writing that “sentiments of support and friendship seem thin gruel to bridge the huge gulf that seemed to be opening between the United States and so many of its allies and friends abroad and that, as difficult as the last four years have been for many, seems only to have broadened suddenly in the recent days.” RSVP to join Andelman and Deb Amos tonight, Jan. 8, for an OPC discussion about the book.

In the same book section printed on Jan. 3, OPC member Andrew Nagorski reviewed Mussolini’s War by John Gooch, a British historian whose specializes in the Italian military. He wrote that many histories of fascism and World War II treat Mussolini’s role in the war as an afterthought, but called Gooch’s book “a painstakingly detailed, long-overdue chronicle of the attempts by the smaller Axis power to play an outsize — and unrealistically ambitious — role in the global conflict.” Nagorski most recently authored a book about World War II titled 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War.

OPC Past President Bill Holstein, who served from 1994 to 1996, got an update during an email exchange over the holidays with OPC Past President Dick Stolley, who served from 2004 to 2006. Stolley, who is known for his coverage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and for creating People magazine, has sold his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has moved to Evanston, Illinois, where two of his four adult daughters live. “[Northwestern University] is where I went to college, so it’s familiar to me,” Stolley wrote. “I am pleased to know that the OPC is hanging in there.”

OPC member Alexandra Petri made a special guest appearance on the year-end episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest on Dec. 24 as the hosts tackled what they billed as “listeners’ most perplexing conundrums.” Comments from The Washington Post columnist begin about 23 minutes into the episode. She answers ethical conundrums about imperiled baby squirrels and asks the hosts conundrums like “would you rather read War and Peace and never be able to tell anyone, or read Atlas Shrugged and be forced to tell everyone?” Petri’s column is described as a “lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.” Her most recent piece is titled “We love you. You’re very special. Go home.” – a reference to a quote from Trump’s video response to violence on Jan. 6.

OPC member and Flora Lewis Award winner Trudy Rubin wrote an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 6 calling for Trump’s removal for sedition. “The president incited this unprecedented attack,” Rubin wrote. “Asking him politely to stop it is like asking an arsonist to put out a massive forest fire he deliberately set, match by match.” Rubin won the OPC’s 2018 award for best commentary for a series of articles titled “Stress test for Democracies: Populism, Autocrats, China and Trump.”

After a bidding war among more than 15 media companies in December, Blumhouse Productions acquired screen rights to a New York Times piece by OPC award winner Azam Ahmed. The 2019 Spiers Benjamin Award winner wrote an article on Dec. 13 titled “She Stalked Her Daughter’s Killers Across Mexico, One by One,” which follows the story of Miriam Rodriguez, a mother whose 20-year-old daughter was kidnapped in 2014 and never returned despite numerous ransoms given to captors. Variety magazine reported that Ahmed will produce the project alongside Caitlin Roper, the Times’ executive producer for scripted projects, and Blumhouse’s Jason Blum. Ahmed, the paper’s bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, won the Spiers Benjamin Award for his deeply reported series on the drug-fueled homicide crisis gripping Latin America. The OPC hosted a discussion with Ahmed about his work on Dec. 17, which is recapped with video clips here.

OPC member Kristen Chick filed an extensive investigation piece for the Columbia Journalism Review in December about how Magnum Photos has turned a blind eye to the alleged sexual abuse of one of its members, photographer David Alan Harvey. She reported accounts from 11 women who described inappropriate behavior from Harvey over a span of 13 years, “ranging from suggestive comments to unwanted sexual advances to masturbating without their consent on video calls.” Chick wrote that his behavior was reported to Magnum as early as 2009, but the agency sat on the information for more than a decade. Magnum suspended Harvey in August last year after allegations surfaced publicly, and in October announced he would be suspended for one year, referencing a single “historical allegation” that it did not describe.

OPC member David Friend is one of the editors of Vanity Fair’s new book, Women on Women, published by Penguin Books in October 2020. The book distills Unlike 35 years of classic Vanity Fair profiles, essays and columns by women about women. The book includes profiles from Gail Sheehy on Hillary Clinton, Ingrid Sischy on Nicole Kidman, Jacqueline Woodson on Lena Waithe and Leslie Bennetts on Michelle Obama, among many others. Friend co-edited the book along with Radhika Jones.

OPC member Donna Bryson, who is based in Denver, got a shout out in a year-end review in the Colorado Sun for her piece about challenges and insights covering people who are experiencing homelessness. In a piece titled “Crazy,” she talks about interviewing people who decide not to sleep in shelters that feel like a “jail, a barracks or a warehouse,” preferring risks on the street over those found in shelters or temporary housing. “It’s crazy, or at least unconstructive, to focus on the stereotypes that can make it seem that homelessness cannot be solved,” Bryson wrote. She is a housing and hunger reporter at Denverite, and author of nonfiction books It’s a Black-White Thing and Home of the Brave.

2016 OPC Bob Considine Award winner Emily Rauhala has been named as the Brussels bureau chief for The Washington Post. Rauhala will take the post this coming summer. An announcement on Dec. 23, cosigned by OPC Second Vice President Douglas Jehl, who serves as foreign editor for the Post, said the six-year Post veteran is a tenacious reporter who “can do just about anything,” adding that she “writes with voice and empathy.” Rauhala shared her OPC award with Simon Denyer and Elizabeth Dwoskin for the Post team’s coverage of China’s campaign to censor and control cyberspace.

PEOPLE REMEMBERED

Neil Sheehan, Vietnam War correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who obtained the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times, died on Jan. 7 at his home in Washington, DC at the age of 84. Sheehan was 25 when he started covering the Vietnam War in 1962, remaining there until 1966 for United Press International and the Times. His book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer in 1989. Sheehan never spoke publicly during his lifetime about how he had obtained the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst, but he agreed in 2015 to tell his story to the Times on the condition that it be published only after his death. That story was published on Jan. 7 and is available to read here.

OPC MEMBERS COVERING COVID-19

OPC Governor Vivienne Walt on Jan. 4 wrote about shortcomings in France’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and how flaws in health and political systems could “prolong the pandemic, cause thousands of unnecessary deaths, and threaten the reelection chances of President Emmanuel Macron in just over a year.” She contrasted Britain’s count at the time of 944,000 people who received vaccinations with that of France, where 515 people had gotten their first of two doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. “That figure is not missing any digits,” she added. Walt also wrote that a higher proportion of French citizens, 4 in 10, are highly reluctant to be vaccinated compared to most other Western countries. She outlined several regulatory and bureaucratic barriers in the nation’s health system.

OPC member Michelle FlorCruz wrote a piece for the December issue of Asia Society Magazine about survivor’s remorse and mental health aftermath of her battle with COVID-19 on March 24. She recounted barely making it on foot to a clinic in New York where doctors found severe pneumonia in her lungs and sent her via ambulance to a hospital in full pandemic crisis mode. FlorCruz remained for a harrowing three days and was nearly placed on a ventilator. During quarantine and the weeks after her release, she suffered panic attacks in which she would “sob uncontrollably for 20 minutes, the kind of crying that makes you struggle to catch your breath,” feeling “like a live wire,” isolated from family and friends and suffering insomnia. “I felt immense survivor’s guilt. That somehow my small and inconsequential life was spared instead of that belonging to a front line doctor, or the father of three young children that I would read about in the news,” FlorCruz wrote. “I hated myself for getting sick and for inflicting this on other people. She wrote that she continues to grapple with intrusive thoughts and memories but has learned to cope with post-traumatic stress with help from mental health professionals and “candid conversations with my family.” FlorCruz serves as social media and digital content manager at the Asia Society in New York.