Reporting Under the Reign of a Dictatorship Foreign journalists can sometimes find themselves at odds with dictatorial regimes. Correspondents describe what it's like to report in countries controlled by dictators, and recount some of the hard ethical decisions they have been forced to make to protect themselves, their staff and their sources.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business. Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, Cuba, Sudan, a few of the countries where foreign journalists can find themselves at odd with strident and sometimes suspicious dictatorships. Getting in can be difficult and staying in can sometimes involve hard ethical choices.

Aggressive reporting can land a journalist and his local staff in jail. Collecting people's thoughts where civil liberties are nonexistent can expose them to retaliation, sometimes tapes, notes and sources have to be hidden from government minders and electronic eavesdroppers. Today we'll talk with reporters about what it's like to get the story under the reigns of a dictatorship. Later in the hour, we'll remember Hamilton Jordan, the man who helped elect Jimmy Carter president of the United States and served as his chief of staff in the White House. But first, dispatches from dictatorships.

If you have questions about what it's like to report from a dictatorial regime, or about the ethical choices reporters and editors are sometimes forced to make, our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us, talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And we begin with NPR's Tom Gjelton who's reported from Cuba under Fidel Castro, and now under Raul Castro, and he joins us here at the Newseum. Tom, thanks very much for coming in.

TOM GJELTON: Great to be here Neal.

CONAN: And first of all, when you're reporting from a place like Cuba, obviously there's tremendous interest in Cuba in the United States, but is it easy to get a visa to go in as a journalist?

GJELTON: No, it's not easy. It's not easy, the Cuban government is very selective about whom they accredit as journalists and they pay very close attention to what you have reported in the past in deciding whether to give you a visa to go in. And if they don't like the stance that you have taken, if they don't, for that matter, like the stance that your news organization has taken, they won't give you a visa. For example, the Miami Herald cannot openly send reporters to Cuba with a journalist visa because the Miami Herald is seen by the Cuban government as an unfriendly news organization and I know of many other examples when the Cuban government has essentially punished a news organization for its reporting.

So that, you know, that, it's actually, Neal, it's a very effective way to control coverage, because you don't want to go in, particularly as a broadcast journalist, you don't want to go into a place without a visa, without a journalist visa. It's not, it doesn't work to go in as a tourist and sort of masquerade as a journalist, although that's kind of a desperate measure that you sometimes are forced to. You want that visa, and knowing that they are going to be watching what you report, watching what you say, the way you say it, that's, you know what? It has a constraining effect on you, there's just no denying it.

CONAN: When you're there with a visa, does the government send you everywhere with a minder, as they used to do in a lot of places, some in the Middle East and the old Soviet bloc.

GJELTON: No. No, no, no. It's actually, and in this respect the first time I went to Cuba was in 1980. I didn't go as a journalist at that time. It was a very different place there. Now, no, it's entirely plausible. I keep my own contacts there. I could, if I want, I could rent a car. I can drive around the island.

Now, if you go to interview somebody semi official, they're going to want to have it cleared beforehand with the government, so the first thing that I always do when I do to Cuba, is I go to the, what's called the Center for International Press, and I say, here are the stories that I want to do, here are the people that I want to talk to, can you help set up those interviews? But if I want to talk to people on the street, if I want to just go talk to people that I know separately, independently, there's no one who's going to stop me from doing that.

CONAN: On you last trip to Cuba, you got a story about...

GJELTON: A blogger.

CONAN: A blogger there, and also about a meeting between, a telephonic meeting between the president of the United States and some protesters, some dissidents in Cuba. I assume you didn't go to the office In Havana and tell them you were doing that story.

GJELTON: No, I didn't, but you know what? They, the Cubans are actually very sophisticated. I mean, they don't, you know, what I said before, that they monitor what you say, they don't expect you to come down and just say, you know, Cuban healthcare is the best in the world and Cuban education is great and you know. They don't expect you to ignore the dissidents. They understand.

They're sophisticated, they understand that I work for a U.S. news organization, I'm going to be asking critical questions, I'm going to be talking to - I'm going to be talking to dissidents. That, the fact that I would go talk to a dissident is not by itself enough to disqualify me from getting a visa, and they're not going to say that you have to just give glowing reports. You know, they're a little bit more sophisticated than that.

CONAN: Joining us now is NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's with us from her base in Dakar in Senegal, and it's nice to have you back on the program.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Good to be with you again.

CONAN: And you've covered some of the regimes of the so-called strong men, or the big men of Africa, most recently, in a very tense situation in the election in Zimbabwe, you got in, as we heard a clip of tape, officially. You were accredited, which was very unusual.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. As you know, most foreign correspondents were not allowed into Zimbabwe. Now, every time I've gone in, and I've been covering Zimbabwe on and off for what? Maybe about 12 or so years, I've always gone in officially. And what I do, and I get pretty pushy and I think sometimes you have to be, is I say to them, well, if you are stopping foreign correspondents from coming in, how can we report the government's side?

You almost encourage people to come in clandestinely, as you put it, and I'm not prepared to do that. I come here and I want to talk to the government, I want to talk to the people and I want to talk to the opposition, and the only way I can do it is by paying this time, 1,500 dollars, for formal official accreditation. But it's true that I was one of the few foreign correspondents who were in Zimbabwe in, quote, "legally," this time around.

CONAN: Let's take the other side of that coin. If you do get officially accredited, of course you want to preserve that access, do you sometimes have to make compromises to do that?

QUIST-ARCTON: Can we say I'm on the compromise? Probably not. One is always vigilant, one is always careful, but what I do try and do, of course with NPR and any other news organization I've worked for, is to push the other side and also say, you know, if I can't, for example, now in Zimbabwe, the phone lines were absolutely impossible. The phone lines were horrible, mobile phones and landlines, occasionally you could get people.

So I was pushing NPR and saying, look, I can't get through to so and so, please call up and you interview them so that in all, the coverage globally looks balanced. Even though people, I may be saying what people don't like, at least I'm allowing them to speak, or at least NPR, as a news organization is allowing the different sides to speak. But it's very difficult if you're not allowed in officially.

CONAN: And, let me ask you also, it's not just Zimbabwe that you've reported on, you were there when the late Mobutu Sese Seko fell from power, what the county is now called Congo was then Zaire. Tell us what that was like.

QUIST-ARCTON: That was quite something. It's funny, the first time I was allowed into Zaire as was, was back in 1991, I worked for the BBC at the time, and we had - I was based in Ivory Coast and the new prime minister of Zaire, because during this foreign correspondents were finding it very hard to get visas to go in, so we put him on the spot.

I remember being with Mobutu's colleague Nick Kotch (ph), and we said to him that we're having trouble getting into your country, and we made him pledge on tape that he would allow us in, so that's how I started. Fast forward what, about seven years later, and this impeccable Mobutu who had been there for 30 plus years, was on his way out.

He had had multiple civil wars and now the rebels led by Laurent Kabila were arriving in the capital. Somehow we seemed to have access to Mobutu, because unlike Robert Mugabe, he seemed to encourage journalists to take him on. He seemed to like to spar with journalists.

At the moment we're finding that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe doesn't seem to want to talk to journalists. Mobutu was different. He seemed to always like to show off to journalists. To show that he was a cultivated man, although he was also considered a dictator. And he was really very dramatic in the way he spoke and the way right at the end we still had access to him, even though he was about to flee the country with his tail between his legs.

But just before, you know interregnum, when you don't know quite what's happening, whether the old regime is going to survive or whether it's going to be the new regime. We were all absolutely frightened in the hospital, because we, or in the hotel, rather, because we were being told that as old regime was leaving, those considered the enemy of the regime, those who were considered traitors including foreign correspondents were being targeted in the death note.

So there were all these foreign correspondents in two hotels in Kinshasa, the capital, waiting to see whether we were going to be attacked by the military, or the Mobutu supporters or the Mobutu loyalists. So that was quite a difficult time. But Mobutu himself was not easy to speak to, but we did have access to him. That's not always the case. But witnessing the fall of dictators, the fall of strong men have been pretty fascinating over the past 15 years, with access and without access.

CONAN: And Tom Gjelton, I think, getting back to the situation in Cuba, that's one thing that a lot of people have been thinking about over the past few years as first Fidel Castro grew older and became ill and finally turned the reins over to his brother who is no spring chicken either.

GJELTON: Yeah, Raul is 75 years old so he's, 76 years old, so he's five years younger than Fidel. So far we have seen very little sign of change in Cuba but there is a sense of uncertainty and confusion and tension in Cuba right now. You know, one of the things about - so many Cubans live very close to the edge. And even though many Cubans want change and really dramatic change, they also are a little bit afraid of change, because change can be frightening. And when you have so much to, when you have so little, the prospect of losing what little you have can really be terrifying. So Cubans, I think, are real ambivalent right now, and there is, I say, as much tension on the island now as I've seen in a long time.

CONAN: When you go there and speak to dissidents, do you consciously worry about exposing them to retaliation?

GJELTON: It's interesting, Neal, because I've found that Cubans have both - are sometimes naive in speaking to me, and speak too freely to me for their own good. And I also have found Cubans that are paranoid in speaking to me and take - are much more nervous about speaking to me than they really have any right to be. So I have, sometimes find myself in the position of second-guessing their own judgments. I mean, there have been times when Cubans have said things to me, into my microphone, with their name that I have deliberately not used because I just sense that if that were broadcast that they would be in trouble.

And I apparently have a better sense of that, or think I have a better sense of that than they do. On the other hand, there have been people, there have been times when Cubans have said things to me, and said you can't say that you can't allow me to say that and I'm thinking, you no reason why you can't say that. That's not going to get you in any trouble. So.

CONAN: We're talking about one of the toughest reporting assignments you can get - reporting from a repressive regime. When we come back, we'll continue talking with NPR's Tom Gjelton and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton and Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, will join us. If you'd like to get in on the conversation give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the Knight Studio, inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. We're talking about reporting from dictatorships this hour. Zimbabwe and Myanmar are two recent examples of news breaking in a country that's difficult to get into, much less report from. Our guests are NPR Correspondents Tom Gjelton and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

If you have questions about what it's like to report from a dictatorial regime or about ethical choices reporters and editors are forced to make, give us a call 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation. Joining us now is Ethan Bronner, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times. He's with us from NPR's Jerusalem bureau, and very good of you to be with us.

Mr. ETHAN BRONNER (Jerusalem Bureau Chief, New York Times): My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: And I know you've been on both sides of this as a reporter and as an editor. What's harder - going into some situation where you know it's a little bit dicey, or sending someone into a situation you fear might be a little dicey?

Mr. BRONNER: That's a great question. Actually I've found as an editor sending people into difficult situations is harder because it's hard to assess the, you know, the trouble they're facing. And you really don't want to take it on yourself. You always give them the choice in talking about it. So, but as a reporter, you know the difficulty I have is not so different from what your other guests have been saying.

The - in particularly in the 1990s when I was a Middle East correspondent covering the whole region, I had to apply, in terms of visas to Syria, to Iran, to Iraq, to Sudan, to Saudi Arabia, there were always difficult questions on the applications. Some of them asked your religion, some of them asked whether you ever visited occupied Palestine, by that, they mean Israel. And anybody covering the Middle East for a regional paper, as I was at the time, who hadn't visited Israel would be a fool. On the other hand, to say that you hadn't would be a lie. And so it was, you faced difficult choices just in an effort to get in.

CONAN: Did you have one of those passports, dual passports, one for the rest of the world and one for as it used to be said, for Dixie?

Mr. BRONNER: Yes, that's exactly what I did. Dixie was called that, it got that name in Beirut because it was south of Lebanon. And when people wanted to mention Israel they felt they couldn't even say the name Israel in messages to one another, and so on. So yes, I did have two such passports.

So in that sense, I was, quote, unquote, "clean" going in, and I would maintain an address, as well, in Cairo, in those years. But it was very difficult. You'd go into a country and first of all, you'd wait months to get in and then you'd finally get in and you'd, you know, you'd be lucky to get an interview with the deputy agriculture minister after ten days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRONNER: And then, what you wrote, would determine whether you got back in again.

CONAN: And also, you did want to get back in again, so you were always constantly making choices about what you put in the story and what you leave out of the story.

Mr. BRONNER: That's very true. I mean, and this is something that our reporters when I was the deputy foreign editor in the last four years at the New York Times faced as well. And the problem of course is that we have a kind of sacred trust with our readers, which is that we're going to tell them what we know and what we've learned and what's important from the place we've visited. And so we do. But then you worry about if you don't get in, then you can't report anything.

And so, you know, we did face choices, and, as Tom said to you earlier, you know, it does have an effect on you. You do have to make some decisions about what you're going to write, when, and whether you're going to risk it all to get back in or not. And sometimes, I mean broadly, if the story's important, you just do it, because that's what we do. But in small issues you might decide not to tell a particular anecdote at that moment in the hope that it won't stop you from getting in.

CONAN: Let's get a few questions. Ofeibea, I'm sorry.

QUIST-ARCTON: I said, here, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And also what Tom was saying about people being so desperate to tell their stories that they're prepared to give their name, they're prepared to say everything and then you have to filter through the information and think, well, you know, it's great, that makes my story, but what about when I leave? What is going to happen to this person? It's funny, Tom said that the people in Cuba are sort of ambivalent about change.

Now I've found mostly in Africa, they want these guys out. And then you say to them, but what if what comes afterwards is worse? It's OK, push this one out, and we'll deal with the one that comes in. And sometimes that one is worse. But people still want, you know, I think they're so desperate to speak, to express themselves, to vent, that they're prepared to tell you everything and then you say, well, NPR needs your name, is it going to be OK? And they say, yes, yes, yes.

And then when you go back to your hotel room or whatever and you listen to the tape, you think, well actually, you know, I can't use all of this because this person's going to get in trouble. And you know, who do you speak to? You've got to watch out for your taxi driver, you've got to watch out for that (inaudible).You can fly out of the country once you've got the visa to get in, you can leave. But of course, they're there, and they will have to take the flack once you've gone.

CONAN: Ofeibea was saying NPR needs the name. Well, we have a policy here that is very strict, and we broadcast pieces of tape with people's names attached to it and it's a very complicated, high-level decision when names are changed for protection purposes. And it's a rare moment when that happens at National Public Radio News. Let's get a question from here at the Newseum.

CASSIE (Audience member): Hi, I'm Cassie from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, and my question is when extremely terrible circumstances happen to foreign correspondents, like Daniel Pearl, for instance, do you ever question your role as a journalist? Or do you sort of devote your findings then, to the past journalists who have put themselves in that kind of line?

CONAN: Danny Pearl, of course, of the Wall Street Journal, murdered in Karachi by al-Qaeda. I don't know, Tom, you want to tackle that?

GJELTON: Well, Cassie, it's interesting that you raise that question here at the Newseum, because right outside here there is a memorial to all the journalists who have been killed in the performance of their duties. And it's unfortunately a long list of people on that list. Now, you know, journalism is a hazardous profession.

I'm not going to say it's as hazardous as fighting fires or being a policeman or certainly as being a soldier or someone else in a war zone. I mean, there are many professions that have hazards and for us to do our job thoroughly and honestly and rigorously, yeah, there are dangers to it. But that's just part of the profession. That's a risk that you accept.

CONAN: Yet, let me turn again to you, Ethan Bronner and put your editor hat on again. These are risks that you evaluate every single time you send a reporter in and I know, well Ofeibea was talking about reporting from Zimbabwe. The New York Times correspondent there did not go in with accreditation and had a terrible time.

Mr. BRONNER: Yes, it's true. I mean, the thing to remember is that on the desk we always relied on the views and the sentiment of the correspondent. So it wasn't ever, we never said to someone, go in and run a risk that you feel is inappropriate. It was always the correspondent intended to be in fact a job that the editors say, well is that really a good idea? Is that really something that, a risk worth taking, because you know, when you're in the field you really want to get the story?

And I mean, what I would say to the questioner about Danny Pearl is that, you know, so many of us, when he was killed, thought back to very similar experiences that we'd had. How many of us had been sitting on stone floors, talking to some fanatic about something or other, and you know, living exactly the life he'd lived but, in fact, did not happen to us what happened to him.

It unquestionably gave pause to a whole fraternity of foreign correspondents who knew Danny Pearl and who worked in this region. But on the other hand, the most amazing thing about what we do is that it, it's not dangerous until it is, and if you're someone who's constantly worried about danger this isn't the job for you. So generally, you go in and do it.

CONAN: Ofeibea?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yeah, absolutely. You know, people do say to me, well don't you get frightened? And I say, well, sometimes I don't have time to get frightened because I just need to get the story. But if I find that I am shivering too much I have to stop it. You know, I can't do this job if I'm in constant fear. There's no point. You know, you're thinking about yourself all of the time and you know, you can't work properly. But it's true you've got to be vigilant. And it's a tough call, you know. My editor, Didi Schanche, the African editor, is always saying to me, do you feel safe doing that?

And it's true that I guess I've thought about it, subconsciously, to make sure that I'm not putting myself in great danger, or anyone else in great danger. But you know, with respect to our colleagues who've left their lives on the job, you can't really tell, can you? And the day that you decide that a story was, actually probably, you know, one that you could do with without thinking or feeling, without even imagining that there's going to be fear is the one way you lose your life. But you can't spend all your life thinking about that. Otherwise, as Ethan said, you can't do the job, no way.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question. Here's an email that we have from Paul. I've been wondering recently about the practice of sending reporters into repressive regimes without the appropriate visa. BBC recently had an unnamed reporter working in Myanmar - and I should just say parenthetically, so did National Public Radio - at first blush it seems easy to claim this reporting is morally important and that it is therefore justifiable to break the host country's law. On the other hand, is there a limit to that moral benefit? Are there times when reporters need to respect a country's refusal to allow access? And Tom, what do you think?

GJELTON: I would just briefly say I don't really think it's a moral issue, I think it's a practical issue. I don't think we really - I don't see any reason why NPR or any other news organization should defer to another government's judgment about whether we are legitimate reporters, legitimate journalists or not.

I don't, you know - but on the other hand I think, as both Ethan and Ofeibea have said, you know, it certainly raises practical difficulties if you try to go, get in and operate secretly. It just, it is something you just - there are more reasons not to do it for practical considerations than for moral ones, I'd say.

CONAN: But Ethan, sometimes it's the only way to get the story.

Mr. BRONNER: That's absolutely right. I mean we, when Fidel Castro was sick for such a long time, we had, you know, a huge contingency plan for ways to get in if permission wasn't granted. And the same with regard to the situation in Zimbabwe. And of course in Myanmar and so on.

So we do see it. I mean it's a funny word, moral, which we, you know, sort of pull back from. But, I mean, in some broad sense I would say to Tom it is a moral question in the sense we think of the flow of information about what's happening in repressive places as being - essential to the lives that we want to lead.

GJELTON: I was going to - my point was...

QUIST-ARCTON: We say this story, don't we, but often it's not the story, it's somebody's story, or people's stories. And if there's a regime that is oppressing its people, a repressive regime that's not allowing journalism because it's hiding the truth, and it's hiding the people's story, or the people's plight, well damn it, that is absolutely our duty to go in.

And it's true that people say, well you're breaking the country's law and so on. But why are we breaking the country's law? Not for the heck of it. We are breaking the country's law because the people's story needs to be told. And it's not just for the journalist's vanity, it's because people's story need to be told. Sometimes journalists' stories lead to action, important action being taken, either by the United Nations or by aid organizations or whatever. So those stories must be told.

GJELTON: I agree with both Ethan and Ofeibea. When I said that it's not a moral issue, I meant the issue of whether to abide by a government's edict is - it's not immoral to ignore what the government says. I think on the other hand it is a - it may in fact, in some broad sense be a moral imperative to do whatever you have to do to get the story. I just don't think the ethical issue has to do with the government's permission.

CONAN: Here's an email we got from Jim. And he writes, who decided which countries to define as repressive regimes for the purpose of this program? I note you're not talking to anyone about reporting in China. In some ways I found more freedom in Cuba than in China from my travels.

Well, I was the one who wrote the list of repressive countries we had at the top of the program, and we did want to get the chance to talk to reporters and to talk to the people here on the phone and in the audience. We couldn't include everybody. The fact is, we will.

When our team gets back from China and reporting on the earthquake there in Sichuan Province, we will have them on this program from here at the Newseum, we hope, in a couple of weeks. So we will be talking about reporting from China. And I think the subject may come up in the context of the Olympic Games as well. Indeed, we have. So Jim, all I can ask you to do is stay tuned. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's see if we can go to Lee. Lee is with us from Middletown in New York.

LEE (Caller): Yes, hello, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

LEE: Oh, good. My question is also kind of mirroring off your last email. I know that the public security ministry of China has issued a list for reporters about what they can report about and what they can't report about for the Olympics in August. And like some of the people who are not on the list, like the human rights lawyers and like these Falun Gong practitioners. But I'm also, like, there was a previous statement before about how it's your mission, in a way, to try to find these people and tell their stories.

And I know that in the case of some of these people in China like the Falun Gong, they're happy to risk their lives, or at least have in the past, to get their stories out. And so I'd really like to hear from your panel about what your plan is for the Olympics. When you have a list, when you have something in your face like that. But you have a big international event, what can you try to do? And I can take my answer off the air, thanks.

CONAN: Well, I'm not sure we're going to be able to satisfy - I'm not sure any of our panelists have much experience on reporting in China. Ethan, though, I do note that there have been a number of situations, I was in one in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf during the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker period.

Earnest Will, it was called, the military operation where we were permitted to be based in Bahrain and report on U.S. military activities, we just couldn't say where we were. All of those reports said in the Gulf. In other words they were happy for us to report on things that happen in Saudi Arabia or Iran or at sea, we just couldn't report on anything in Bahrain. And I don't think that's all that unusual for some places in the Middle East or maybe even some places in Africa too, Ofeibea, if you know about that.

QUIST-ARCTON: Yeah, it is interesting, isn't it? But I say that if you let me in, officially, I am - unless it's going to put people's lives in danger. I kind of, I balk at being told what I can and cannot report. You know, if say, China and the earthquake. If going somewhere is going to put people's lives in danger, because the soil is weak or whatever, then we won't do it.

If I think people's lives are going to be - but for any other reason, unless there's a real security issue and people's lives are at risk, I tend not to follow those orders. I mean it means you might get kicked out. But unless there's a real security issue or, you know, people's lives are at risk, for me that's the main thing. If anyone's life is at risk then I'm not going to get in the way. But otherwise, really is there any real reason why you should stop me reporting? I don't think so.

CONAN: Ethan?

Mr. BRONNER: Neal, you know there was, just before the Iraq war there was a famous set of incidents when the CNN had been the only American network that stayed in Iraq under Saddam. And when Saddam was overthrown then the then head of news for CNN, Eason Jordan wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said, you know, now there are things that I can tell you that we really couldn't tell you before, including some of the more awful things that the sons of Saddam had done or threatened.

And he said that the reason was that the staff of CNN would be at risk if he had done so. And you may or may not recall, but there was a lot of a hue and cry by people who said that they - that this was a form of a lie for CNN to stay in Iraq, if it wasn't going to tell the full truth. And I think that it is a more delicate and more complex situation. I think that in many ways we all benefited from having some coverage from Iraq, from CNN, even if it wasn't the full truth all the time. And so I think that's the, you know, that's sort of the delicate point here.

CONAN: We're going to take a couple of more calls on ethics of reporting from dictatorships. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're wrapping up our conversation on the ethics of reporting from dictatorships. Our guests, Tom Gjelton, NPR correspondent, who's with us here at the Newseum, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR foreign correspondent, with us from her base in Dakar, Senegal, and Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times. And there's a question from here at the Newseum.

MIKE (Audience member): Mike Weaver from Gap in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And I was curious if your guests could respond to the question of how much the aggressive American foreign policy of regime change has impacted specifically the ability of American journalists to report on news from around the world.

CONAN: Ethan Bronner, I would think that would first go to the Middle East and to you.

Mr. BRONNER: That's an interesting question. I mean, the implication, of course, is that somehow we are seen as representatives of the United States and that people are angry toward us. And I think that there is truth to this. I would say that, having reported throughout the '90s in the Middle East, I can tell you that just after the fall of the Soviet Union there was a kind of great welcoming moment for Americans, and it disappeared pretty quickly.

And certainly since the Gulf war, the Iraq war, there has been a fair amount of hostility directed at Americans. And I think that it's not entirely new, because we saw it in Beirut in the 1980s, but journalists were seen as fair game in Iraq for a period of time, as you know. We, the New York Times, fortunately no American journalists were killed, but we lost two Iraqi journalists who were killed. And we - also several of our reporters were kidnapped for brief periods of time, accused of some form of espionage. So it has not made our job any easier, that is true, but that's really not the essential critique of the policy, is it?

CONAN: Tom Gjelton, a lot of the story in Cuba is American foreign policy.

GJELTON: That's true, Neal. But there is a deep and historical affection between Cuba and the United States, in spite of Fidel Castro's very adversarial relationship with the United States. And the truth is that Fidel - that the United States is by far the most important country for Cuba and Cubans, the Cuban government and the Cuban people care very much about their image in the United States. And I have to say that I've always been treated very professionally, on a personal level, by the Cuban people. And very carefully, I would say, by Cuban authorities. I can't say I've ever experienced the kind of treatment that Ethan is alluding to in the Middle East.

CONAN: And let me ask you, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, is this an issue in West and Southern Africa?

QUIST-ARCTON: I'll tell you there is definitely some advantages in being a Ghanaian and having a Ghana passport, and being an African woman. Because even though I work for a Western, American news organization, you know, it's a little easier to blend. Because a U.S.-born, the U.S. secretary of state is calling places like Zimbabwe rouge nation, and the President Mugabe is also engaging in a war of words against Britain and the U.S., it can be a little touchy. Yes, it depends, but in some places it's an advantage to work for an American news organization, because America is a popular nation for some African nations. So there are advantages and disadvantages.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: And we'd like to thank all of our guests today, especially Tom Gjelton, who we know is on deadline. Tom Gjelton will be heard later today on All Things Considered. I think Raul Castro made a speech today.

GJELTON: No, no, President Bush made a speech about Raul Castro.

CONAN: Ah, OK, one of those two things.

GJELTON: Listen in and you'll get the whole details.

CONAN: All right. That will be later today on All Things Considered. NPR's Tom Gjelton with us here at the Newseum. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thank you very much for taking time out of your evening to be with us there in Dakar, Senegal.

Ms. QUIST-ARCTON: Pleasure.

CONAN: And Ethan Bronner with us from NPR's Jerusalem bureau. He's the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. BRONNER: It was also a pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, we'll talk about the political genius of Hamilton Jordan. Stay with us.

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