Sunday, August 17, 2008

Putting their lives in danger to get the story is what literally catapulted Kimberly Dozier’s body and career into the limelight. While reporting a story in Baghdad about American soldiers working with Iraqi security forces, Dozier and her team and envoy were victims of a car bombing.

Having the opportunity to sit in on an interview between Dozier and my colleague Bill Thompson, I heard her tale first hand.

After reading her book however, I realized just how similar we are. She describes herself as a “workaholic news nerd.” Speaking of her two man team killed in the blast, “They’ve watched me climb my way from radio to affiliate to network TV. No matter what I think I am, to them I’m the former wannabe who is still trying too hard.”

She describes her dangerous work as “hard, dangerous, and often monotonous, the same sad story over and over. Even my own family thinks I’m nuts for spending so much time covering the war. I was first assigned to Iraq because no one else wanted it.”

Her book is an incredibly personal insight into the recovery period that many of our troops are undergoing. Once I started, I couldn't put it down, finishing the book in a few days. What I told Kimberly the second time I met her, was that it was so impressive that although she became the story, she continuously related it to the soldiers who haven't found the words yet to describe their recovery.

She told me many therapists are buying her book for their military patients. Their reactions more often then not are relief that someone else experienced it too.

While undergoing her recovery, doctors were pessimistic. “We don’t know if you’ll ever use that leg properly again.” But through pure defiance and gumption, she, “dubbed him, ‘sad sack’ and in that moment I hated him. His dire prediction made me angry and scared. It would be weeks – actually months- before I’d have any idea whether he was right or whether I could prove him wrong.” Sound like anyone else we know?

In true journalism fashion, “throughout my whole reporting career, I’ve despised the Pollyannas who try to spin me with an overly optimistic line. But just this once I could have used a man wearing those obnoxiously hued rose-colored glasses.”

She describes her co-worker, the way I describe my roommate linds and myself: “We were two independent ass hell women who took orders from on one and were getting more stubborn as we grew older.

I value truth above all else, and to find someone who is not afraid to tell you it the best quality a person can have. “Chris’s lens was a harsh, unforgiving mirror. ‘Your stand-ups are crap.’ I’d never felt uglier in my life. And seldom before or since have had I looked better on camera. He told me all the things that previous producers and managers were too polite to say. But Chris had to work with me every day and he doesn’t suffer fools. And he doesn’t, ‘like his name going on crap.’ So I was used to hearing harsh truths from a man who thinks Hugh Lauries House character is modeled after him…. When Chris left a day or so later, he left me with some things to think about. ‘ You have no business being here,’ he said. ‘Look, this is your second chance. This is the start of your second life. Don’t fuck it up.’”

Other great quotes revealing the true dedication and strong will of Kimberly:

“A few of my CBS colleagues had witnessed my two-decade-long struggle to secure a network TV job in the Middle East. I didn’t intend to let the bombing jettison all that hard work. And as I recovered in New Zealand, I could only reflect on how learning to walk normally again was just about as hard as getting this job had been in the first place.”

“Look around,” said veteran Post correspondent Thomas Lippman. “See these writers? They’re only a decade or so older than you, and they’re not going anywhere.” And the stack of resumes to fill their spots came from writers at the best newspapers in the country.”

“He told me I had to do something to distinguish myself. ‘Go back to school or go overseas,’ Lippman said. I wonder if he even remembers the conversation. I find it indelible because it changed my life. I decided to do everything he recommended: go back to school, get a degree in Islamic affairs, and then go overseas to become a foreign correspondent.”

“Professor David Newsom was once ambassador to Libya, Indonesia, and the Philippines and later served as undersecretary of state for President Jimmy Carter. He’d also been a top journalist, so he knew both sides. He told me, ‘you’d hate diplomacy. You could never keep your mouth shut.’”

“ ‘You want to use this grant to become a foreign correspondent, don’t you? That’s half truth and half beauty right?’ the woman who left the message said. ‘So we’re being true to the spirit of the grant.’ That’s how I ended up in Cairo Egypt with $10,000, two suitcases, no job, and not knowing a single word of Arabic.”

They also knew I needed a lot of improvement to become a top reporter, which I of course, didn’t realize. But as Lippman had predicted, I was a warm body in a place that’s tough to find able help, so I was snatched up.”

After a week or so in Baghdad, Paxson asked me when I wanted to leave, expecting me to say that most correspondents said: After a month.” Four weeks was the standard rotation. I said, “why leave.”

So I guess I’ve come full circle. From all that, I’ve learned a couple things which apply to business. First of all you don’t do this job for the ‘thank you.’ You do it because you think you’re doing the right thing. If you don’t take the risks of telling the unpopular stories or taking the hard route, you are letting the critics win, and you will let people down, which means you just have to get comfortable with risk – to your career and, in extreme cases, to your life.

I’ve realized that because my job is to hold up a mirror to show us our failings, as well as our triumphs, that my message will never be popular. But if I let the critics be my internal compass and keep quiet, I am failing the American people and that voice in my head and heart, which tells me to do what’s right. And last, on a personal note, surviving the psychological slog of reporting in Baghdad is great training for recovering from a car bomb.

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