Being a war correspondent sounds like a wildly romantic, adventurous life. Any day may be your last, so each moment is precious and lived to the fullest. However, living life on the edge, unarmed, in the constant line of fire and in the constant midst of human terror, misery, and craziness is a precarious existence.
At the 2010 Seattle Film Festival screening of the Afghanistan War doc, “Restrepo,” its two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, told the audience their purpose was not to take a stand for or against the war. However, they said that their documentary has ended up as a kind of Rorschach Test for how people feel about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
Those who supported the war would come up and shake their hands for making such a patriotic movie, showcasing the soldiers as brave heroes. Those who were against the Afghanistan incursion would approach and congratulate them on creating the finest anti-war documentary every made.
This is the gift Hetherington and Junger gave to us. They created a documentary that simply showed what was happening. There was no overt editorializing.
The danger of a biased news source is that we run the risk of losing touch with the facts altogether. Without the facts our opinions risk being controlled. Once controlled we aren’t so far away from George Orwell’s vision of a manipulated automaton society that has lost its sense of responsibility.
The first service of a fine news publication is to inform. That’s all. Let the viewers do the interpreting.
Great reporters try their best to eliminate their own prejudice. Great reporters respect their audience enough to provide as much raw information as possible so that the audience can come up with their own perspective and conclusion.
So it is with regret that I read the report on April 20 that Tim Hetherington, partner with Junger in making “Restrepo,” was killed in Misrata, Libya, in the line of fire.
In the last four months before his death, Hetherington published two shorts. The first is a haunting experimental called “Sleeping Soldiers.” One obvious interpretation of the title and the sleeping images might be related to the rest the mind must take from the constant confusion, red alert, and de-humanization of being both the hunted and the hunter in a war zone.
But additionally, perhaps this sleeping mind is not only escaping at night, but sublimated during the day as well — allowing an alter-ego to function in the bizarre hell of hostile and friendly fire, indistinguishable enemy and world in chaos. The brain is turned off in sleep and turned off in war.
Then again, perhaps Hetherington’s work will always last as journalism that allows the viewer to know his own mind. In this sense, Hetherington’s work has embodied the ideal of the journalist, whose job it is to report what we are free to interpret.
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