Extract published on July 2, 2012.
Since making his journalistic debut breaking into Piers Morgan s office, BBC foreign correspondent Nick Bryant has rattled Donald Rumsfeld, had tea with President Karzai, slept through 9/11, and gotten a free lunch out of the Tamil Tigers. Now casting a sideways glance at his own profession, Nick reveals the day-to-day realities of Correspondentland its glamour, its quirks, and its sometimes unsavoury practices.
Discover how to evade a shoot-to-kill curfew, the media s rulebook for natural disasters, and when fireproof underwear is an absolute essential. Part memoir, part travelogue, part exposé, this is an unmissable insight into the world of modern reporting, and an intimate portrait of the countries Nick has come to know.
The laundry list at the Kabul Intercontinental spoke of the sudden change that had overtaken my life: shirts, $1, trousers, $3 and commando suits, $15. In the lobby down below, chipboard hoardings covered a row of shattered windows, destroyed the week before when Taliban insurgents launched a rocket attack that showered glass on new arrivals checking in at reception and knocked diners in the restaurant off their chairs. Prostrate at my feet was our translator, a Kandahari man with rotting teeth, two wives, extravagantly applied black eyeliner and a vaguely flirtatious stare, who was kneeling towards Mecca in readiness for sundown prayers. Just over the way was a huge white marquee, a gift from Germany where it had previously been used to host Rhineland beer festivals. Now it played host to tribal leaders gathering for a loya jirga, a grand council convened to carve up power now that the Taliban had fled the capital.
Kabul felt different. Momentous. Thrilling. After spending much of the previous five years perched on a rooftop high above the White House, providing a galloping commentary on the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, I had made it back to that kingdom of the journalistic mind called Correspondentland. That place of boundless adventure, breathless reportage and ill-fitting flak jackets; of khaki waistcoats with a ridiculous surfeit of pockets and occasional moments of extreme personal recklessness, which we preferred to call bravery. In Washington, my colleagues in the West Wing press pack were a clean-cut bunch with near perfect teeth, hurricane-proof hair and the kind of smiles that did not quite say, “Have a Nice Day” but were buoyant nonetheless. In Kabul, the conflict-frazzled journalists looked like extras from the set of an Indiana Jones remake after months of on-location filming. That simple difference in clothing spoke of the frontier I had crossed: I had gone from being a suits correspondent to rejoining the fraternity of boots.
My career as a journalist had always been a study in contrasts. I went from studying for a PhD in American politics to being a tabloid reporter in London, where the editor was so profligate with a certain swearword that his morning conference was known as the Vagina Monologue. They sat me opposite the paper’s industrial correspondent, a castaway from Fleet Street who smoked so many cigarettes than he produced almost as many emissions as the few surviving industries left for him to cover.
Then it was off to the BBC, where my first assignment as a fully-fledged reporter was to attempt to break into Piers Morgan’s office. Success on that front meant that when, two days later, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv, I was packed off to cover it. To this day, I think it is the second most consequential story I have covered, if only because Rabin stood a better chance than any other of bringing peace to the Middle East.
On becoming a Washington correspondent, my first job was to cover the pornographic details of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, where, amidst the flow of other bodily secretions, the White House press corps smelt blood. Things got even stranger after the 2000 election, when the Florida recount got underway. For weeks, the fate of the nation appeared to be in the hands of boggled-eyed voting officials armed with magnifying glasses, who peered at ballot papers, as if they were rare stamps, in search of those pesky hanging chads.
The frivolity of those times changed with manic suddenness when America came under attack on 9/11. A nation usually so unafraid of the future became scared and vengeful. Nor were journalists immune from the prevailing mood of ultra-patriotism. From covering the Washington end of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11, I ended up reporting from the frontline of its “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When it came to making the shift from Afghanistan to Australia, the first entry in the news diary was the Sydney comeback concert for The Princess of Pop – a case of Kabul one minute, Kylie the next. That same week, Israel had bombarded Gaza, Nancy Pelosi was about to become America’s first ever female House Speaker, Aung San Suu Kyi had been allowed to leave her house for the first time in six months. While all this was unfolding, the central question facing the BBC’s new Australia correspondent was whether the diminutive Kylie would collapse under the weight of her feather tiara.
But I’m not complaining. Variety is the spice of a correspondent’s life, and, on that front and many others, I have been inordinately lucky. I have gone from Ground Zero to Guantanamo; from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin to the death of Princess Diana; from Northern Ireland’s “Good Friday” to Victoria’s “Black Saturday”; from the mangled syntax of George W. Bush to the poetry of the young Barack Obama; from the road to the White House to the chaos of the Indian electoral trail; from a tabloid to the BBC; from riots to revolutions; from boots to suits, and back again. This book is the inside story of those times. My own Confessions from Correspondentland.
“Joyous and wise. A lovely read.”
“Nick Bryant is everything a foreign correspondent should be: fair minded, humane, witty and warm – his reporting shines with humanity and fun.”
Justin Webb, presenter for Radio 4’s The Today Programme
“I hope when I finally grow up as a reporter, I have learned to report and write like Nick Bryant. He uses words like a musician uses notes, and was my inspiration when I was first trying to break into foreign correspondent reporting.”
Alex Crawford OBE, Special Correspondent for Sky News
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