BOB GARFIELD: Matthew McAllester is a reporter for Newsday, one of several journalists imprisoned and then released by Iraqi authorities during the war just a few weeks ago. In the winter of 1999, he was reporting from war-riven Kosovo and, like CNN, he had cause to consider the danger his reporting would pose to the people who helped him. In his book Beyond the Mountains of the Damned, McCallester writes of lives lost in the service of his reporting and he weighs the costs. He spoke to us last year.
MATTHEW McALLESTER: We had hired two Albanian guides who, when we returned three days later, had not come back, and for them that was an easy walk; it was like a two hour stroll through the woods. It was very tough for us, because we were not fit and healthy Albanian men. And they just didn't make it back, and for weeks, you know, I was extremely worried and wanted to know what had happened to them. And what had happened to them as I found out at the end of the war was that they had in fact been caught by Serbian soldiers. They were captured and held for a week, and one of them was very, very badly beaten; so much so that his torso was blackened with the bruising.
BOB GARFIELD:Beaten because they were cooperating with the Western press? Beaten because they were Albanians in the wrong place at the wrong time? I mean how much responsibility did you believe personally that you bore on this?
MATTHEW McALLESTER: They were beaten because they were cooperating with the Western press, and-- they wouldn't have been beaten otherwise. I mean they may have. I mean they, they, they may have been killed just because they are Albanians. But in this case I happen to know that they did during interrogation explain who we were and so the Serbs apparently went looking for us. So yeah, I think there was a degree of responsibility and, and you're right. As you said in the beginning, it makes me a little uneasy to this day.
BOB GARFIELD: How do you deal with it?
MATTHEW McALLESTER:I deal with it the same way that I would deal with it in terms of my-- I think my own--entry into a dangerous situation, and that is, is the story worth it? Was the story worth it? I felt that really as a journalist it was my responsibility to tell this story which seemed to me a very clear moral tale in, in many respects. And in order to do that, the stakes had to be upped a little bit, and during that trip I did witness Serbian paramilitaries burning houses, and we took photographs of this. I don't think that had been seen before in the, in the Western press. And so, you know, something that on a Sunday morning the, the reader five or six weeks into the war would say "Oh!" You know, "So it is true! And this is what happens, and this is what it looks like." You know, "We should pay attention to this instead of just tuning out." One could argue that that's not justification for getting someone else into the kind of trouble that these two men got into, but--well--
BOB GARFIELD:Is there some magic rule for determining what to write, what not to write and how do you determine the threshold of: it is now time to put innocent lives at risk for the sake of the story?
MATTHEW McALLESTER: There's no magic rule. The job is to go there and tell a story and to explain to the world what's going on. It's not to endanger people's lives. If you come across information as a reporter - you're always sort of ferreting things out - and you come across information that, if published, is going to endanger someone's life, but at the same time enhances the reporting, it - you just have to make it up and make that decision, and-- But I, I can't tell you what the rule is and what the threshold is, because you have to weigh every situation up when it comes.
BOB GARFIELD: Very well. Matthew McAllester, thank you very much.
MATTHEW McALLESTER: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Matthew McAllester is a Middle East correspondent for Newsday and author of Beyond the Mountains of the Damned. [MUSIC]