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Adam Nossiter: A Brave Reporter

Adam Nossiter (center). Photo by the NY Times
When Princess Di was killed in a car crash in Paris and the paparazzi were gloating and falling over each other to get the most gruesome shot, what kind of journalism was this? Salacious, scandalous, tabloid journalism. And all of those reporters and photo-journalists—to their shame—were liable to a fine and imprisonment under French law which is grounded in the Napoleonic Code. Some refer to it as the “good samaritan law,” whereby anyone witnessing injury or distress is obliged to help. It is different in the United States; our law is based on English Common Law and there is no liability if we do not help, or moral obligation, or “duty to rescue.” Nonetheless, the discussion about rescue, engagement, and bearing testimony, is a constant among journalists. If we see a child starving in the desert and take a photograph for the newspaper we work for, are we obliged to help that child?

I will always remember those journalists on the day Princess Di was killed, I cannot forget them and what they did. She may or may not have survived her injuries; we will never know. But her death became a touchstone for many journalists who were repulsed by the paparazzi that day. I study my own motivations every time I interview and sit down to write. I try not to exploit for my own gain or fame, though temptations abound. I am not perfect. Every reporter gets an adrenalin rush on a big story.

I am thinking about all this today because of a front page story in the NY Times by Adam Nossiter, The West Africa Bureau Chief of the NY Times. He has been covering the Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria for a while now, and has received death threats. He gets in close, takes risks. (Before Nigeria, he covered the Ebola outbreak.) And, yes, this is all very good for his career, and, yes, he will win prizes, but he is a reporter who cares. Perhaps, just perhaps, his courage will help the young girls who have been raped, impregnated and infected with HIV heal from their ordeal. I am sure he will not sleep well at night until he has done all he can to bring attention to this story.  Read More 
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Good Samaritan

It seems a long time since Princess Diana’s and JFK Jr.’s death, but for some reason I was thinking about them both this week when a friend of mine told me a New York Good Samaritan story. You will recall, dear reader, that when the paparazzi arrived at the scene of the accident in Paris, they took pictures of the grisly scene—what a scoop—but did not help. In France, as it happens, there is a Good Samaritan Law, Non-Assistance à Personne en Danger, and if citizens do not stop to help, they can be indicted. I was later asked to reflect on the lack of such a law in the United States by an editor at George magazine for an anthology JFK Jr. was publishing called “250 Ways to Make America Better," which is why this particular Good Samaritan memory chip called up both Princess Di and JFK Jr., both gone too soon in awful ways. But their legacies remain, and for this we must be grateful. In the case of Princess Di: landmines. She sought their elimination from former war-torn regions and went to visit fields and fields of landmines in former war-torn regions. And in the case of JFK Jr., he started a very good magazine and was involved in many political causes. So when my Good Samaritan friend told me her story, I took notice, and decided to write a little something about it while, at the same time, encouraging her to write about it; I always question the ways in which I appropriate other people’s stories in the guise of reporting them. And this is, sometimes, an ethical conundrum.

Nonetheless, I will return to my friend’s story, if only briefly. She was on the West 4th Street A-train platform late last Saturday when she spotted two men, covered in gold jewelry, carrying suitcases and a baby rabbit. My friend loves animals, rescues animals, and donates mightily to animal conservation—elephants, for example—and she was horrified when one of these unsavory looking men took the rabbit and held it over the track threatening to drop it. And, immediately, she had an idea: “I am going to buy this rabbit.” And that is what she did, handing over her last $40. There is more to the story—there always is—but I will let her tell it.  Read More 
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