Remembering James Foley, A Journalist Who Made His Life In War Zones

American James Foley, who was executed by Islamist militants, had been working for GlobalPost when he disappeared in 2012. GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni speaks about about Foley and his work.

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James Foley went missing on Thanksgiving day in 2012. He hadn't been heard from until militants posted that undated video yesterday. Foley had been abducted once before in 2011. He was captured and held in Libya for some 45 days. When he was released, he spoke widely about his experience in an interview with Milwaukee Public Radio. He said he came away with lessons but still loved the work.


JAMES FOLEY: Yes. I definitely learned, you know, that awful things can happen if you don't take precautions and that risk-taking for the sake of risk-taking is foolish and, you know, you're playing with your life and lives of others. But I'm still excited to go into conflict zones and try to cover them.

CORNISH: Phil Balboni is CEO and founder of the GlobalPost. He helped negotiate Foley's release from Libya.

PHIL BALBONI: When Jim returned to our headquarters, you know, we sat down and we talked about what he wanted to do next. And he wasn't sure. So I said please work for us here, you know, as an editor. But it was only a few months before he was chafing at the bit and wanted to go back to Libya to finish the story. I didn't want him to but he couldn't be stopped.

CORNISH: As his boss, Balboni says, he came to know Foley's determination and his good nature.

BALBONI: Jim was an incredibly warm, kind-hearted, funny, gregarious person who deeply loved what he did - loved his colleagues, the other foreign correspondents he worked with. And was - that love and affection was returned.

CORNISH: When Foley was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, Balboni says it was difficult to keep track of his whereabouts and who was holding him.

BALBONI: It goes back 20 months now. And at the beginning - that, you know, mid-November day when he first learned - we didn't know. We thought it was possibly a criminal gang. We thought it could be the Shabiha, the militia that works with the Assad regime. And it was incredibly difficult to get any reliable information. It wasn't until the early fall of 2013 that we first knew that Jim had been taken by a jihadist group. We weren't sure if it was the Islamic State or ISIS or ISIL. At that time, it could have been one of the others. But we had a first-person testimony - a former jihadist who had returned to Europe and had spent time with Jim and had come to be very good friends with him, who provided the first detailed information of his captivity. And we're virtually certain that it was IS given all we know about the location of where Jim was being held. I think it is almost indisputable that it's the Islamic State.

CORNISH: And according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there are at least 20 journalists, local and international, who are currently missing in Syria. Where should news organizations draw the line in covering a story that becomes dangerous - kind of balancing the need to get out the reporting against the personal safety of the reporters?

BALBONI: After Jim's abduction, we would not let anyone else go back into Syria. I think you have to evaluate each conflict. I mean, we have a reporter in Iraq, as do many other news organizations. There you have to evaluate where they are, what they propose doing, how safe it's going to be. I feel so strongly that Jim had incredible courage. I watched the video of his death and I'm - excuse me - he was brave right to the final minute. And we can't let that go.

CORNISH: Philip Balboni, I'm so sorry for your loss. And I want to thank you for sharing stories about James Foley.

BALBONI: Of course, thank you.

CORNISH: Philip Balboni is CEO and founder of the GlobalPost. He spoke to us about the life and work of James Foley.

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