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article imageJeremy Scahill of The Intercept talks drones, war journalism Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 24, 2015 in Business
Toronto - Jeremy Scahill's work with the intercept and his reporting abroad made for fascinating conversation in a wide-ranging discussion with David Walmsley (Globe & Mail).
Thursday night's Canadian Journalism Foundation talk apparently sold out in 36 hours, and given the credentials of the special guest, it's not surprising. Jeremy Scahill co-founded The Intercept with Pierre Omidyar, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, and before that did reporting in numerous dangerous places, from Afghanistan to Somalia.
He spoke with David Walmsley, editor-in-chief of the Globe & Mail, on a number of topics, from drone strikes to the effectiveness of counterterrorism operations to the wonders of the drug khat.
Coincidentally, yesterday was a big day for drone news, when U.S. President Barack Obama revealed a January drone strike targeting Al Qaeda accidentally killed two hostages, one of whom was American.
Scahill makes no secret of being a tough critic of Obama, and said while it was nice Obama took responsibility for the deaths, there's still very little transparency in who intended targets of these strikes are and what the aftermath is like. Scahill says the only times the public finds out about mishaps is when journalists investigate the circumstances.
He said as a society, we've reached a point where counterterrorism activity is actually encouraging terrorism. Later on in the talk, he went so far as to say the people being recruited around the world to join ISIS — like the "lost boys" of Winnipeg — actually have more in common with the Columbine shooters than Osama bin Laden. Scahill feels these "vulnerable" people aren't born with something in their brains that makes them terrorists — he thinks they're a product of their environment.
Scahill's work with the Intercept has put him in touch with whistleblowers, most famously Edward Snowden, and Scahill spoke of he what sees as unequal treatment of those who leak classified information. While Chelsea Manning is spending decades in jail and Snowden is threatened with prosecution if he ever returns to the U.S., David Petraeus got essentially a slap on the wrist — two years' probation and a $100,000 fine.
"You can tell a lot about the U.S. position on whistleblowers by who is on a book tour and who is in jail," Scahill deadpanned.
He also sees unequal treatment when it comes to reporting on the victims of atrocities. The world was horrified by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, but little is done to humanize the victims of mass killings in places like Iraq or Nigeria.
"I don't give a flying fuck about the Real Housewives of Jersey, but I do care about the real widows of Baghdad," Scahill said. He hopes media will do a better job reporting incidents like these, and giving names to victims. This includes journalists — he described the little coverage of non-white journalists' deaths as a "deafening silence."
On journalism as an industry, Scahill says journalists should be the ones investigating military bureaucracy, not politicians. At the same time, reporting on stories like this is difficult, and Scahill touted the strength of SecureDrop, a service that allows him to safely receive anonymous information from whistleblowers and anyone else with little-known information.
He also expanded on ways to get stories in other countries. He spent time in Mogadishu, Somalia, and learned that khat, a local drug, is often a catalyst for conversation. The country's numerous khat cafes gave him interesting stories, which he would have never gotten had he not ingested the drug.
One of his last few points powerfully brought home his thoughts on what journalists should do: he said if journalists allow themselves to forget the people who let them into their lives, and don't make emotional connections, perhaps they should be in a different industry.
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