TOM PUTNAM: Good afternoon. I’m Tom Putnam, the director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. On behalf of John Shattuck, CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation, and all of my Library and Foundation colleagues, I welcome you to this special forum. Let me begin by expressing appreciation to the underwriters of the Kennedy Library Forum series including lead sponsor Bank of America, Boston Capital, the Boston Foundation, the Lowell Institute, and the Corcoran Jennison Companies, as well as our media sponsors The Boston Globe, WBUR, and NECN. This is the first forum in our fall series which, among others, will feature Alan Alda, Ken Burns, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Margaret Marshall, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Richard and Doris Kearns Goodwin. So please spread the word.
We’re joined this afternoon by two of our nation’s finest journalists. Charlayne HunterGault has worked in every journalistic medium, as a writer for The New Yorker and The New York Times, as a reporter, bureau chief, and news anchor for PBS, CNN, and NPR. She’s twice received broadcast journalism’s highest award, the Peabody, for a NewsHour series “Apartheid’s People” and for her reporting for National Public Radio from Africa where she has lived for over a decade-- reporting that informs her most recent book New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance.
One of the many facets that gives Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s reporting its power is that it is informed by her own experience in a pivotal moment in our country’s history, and one which ties to the story told here at the Kennedy Library. As one of two African American students to desegregate the University of Georgia, Charlayne Hunter-Gault was, in her words, formed in the crucible of the civil rights movement and it is through the prism of that struggle that she views the world. Despite bricks being thrown through her window, riots and tear gas, she persevered.
Soon after her matriculation, Attorney General Robert Kennedy addressed the divided University of Georgia campus. I just presented a copy of his May 6, 1961 speech from our archives to Ms. Hunter-Gault in which Robert Kennedy described the competition between the United States and the Soviets for the hearts and minds of those from the Congo to Cuba. In that worldwide struggle he stated unflinchingly the graduation of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter would without question aid and assist the fight against communism. If Robert Kennedy saw Charlayne Hunter’s success on campus as part of a larger geopolitical struggle, years later writing her memoir In My Place, Ms. Hunter casts the experience not so much as a story of personal courage, but as a larger struggle of a black community in the South and the nurturing she received from her parents and grandparents.
“It is a story,” she writes, “of values. My family’s values and those of the community that shared them. Values that are timeless, transcendent, and inclusive of all people who treasure and celebrate the limitless potential for elevating the human condition.” Those of us who through the years have benefited from her reporting are also touched by the arch of her career from a young girl growing up in Due West, South Carolina, whose favorite comic book strip character was the take charge journalist Brenda Starr, to being one of the first American journalists to be granted an extended interview with Nelson Mandela after his release from Robben Island.
We’re doubly honored this afternoon by the presence of Gwen Ifill, who will moderate today’s conversation. All those who look for a thoughtful and civil discussion about the ongoing political debate in our nation’s capital know to tune in each Friday night to Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. A graduate of Simmons College and a board member of our sister institution Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, Ms. Ifill has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist beginning here in this city with the Boston Herald American where she moved from writing about food, the only beat that was open when she applied, to covering the crisis over busing. She’s also worked at The New York Times, for NBC News, and now serves as a senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week. Ladies and gentleman please join me in welcoming to the Kennedy Library Gwen Ifill and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you. Now here’s what you should take from that introduction. In Charlayne’s early accomplishments she stopped communism, whereas in my early accomplishments I learned how to make a really good macaroni and cheese. Something different. That’s why I want to be Charlayne when I grow up. Hi.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Hi.
IFILL: Our concept here is we’re just going to chat. If you want to listen in that’s fine. There are so many things I want to talk to Charlayne about and we’re going to talk until I can’t possibly ignore you anymore and I get some questions and answers from the audience. When we get to that I’ll give you my rules about what questions and answers actually are. That’s the moderator in me. But we are both looking forward to hearing what your questions are after we’ve talked for a while because, as you can hear, Charlayne’s had the kind of life that just begs questions. And I want to start with one based on--
HUNTER-GAULT: Not a NewsHour question, please.
IFILL: It’s kind of a NewsHour question. No, we’re going to work up to that. Actually, it was on the NewsHour when your book came out. New News from Africa, available at a bookseller near you, paperback soon. When your book came out you did an interview with Jeff Brown, old colleague at the NewsHour, and you said an interesting thing which I came across. You said, “You can have good journalism, more honest and fair journalism, if you acknowledge who and what you are.” Start by telling us about who and what you are.
HUNTER-GAULT: I knew you were going to ask me a tough question to start with.
IFILL: I try.
HUNTER-GAULT: Am I black enough. [laughter] I thought that was going to be the opening question.
IFILL: That was the second one. Now it’s ruined.
HUNTER-GAULT: That’s what happens when a journalist interviews a journalist, right? Because I’m going to interview you too.
IFILL: Oh no.
HUNTER-GAULT: Although, that’s not the mandate. I guess what I meant-- It’s sort of like when I hear people say they believe in being color blind. How can you be color blind? Look at Gwen, look at me, look at all of you, look at the range of colors in this room.
IFILL: It’s just being blind, right?
HUNTER-GAULT: Then you’ll be color blind, you know. I mean, we are who we are. And I guess it was Tennyson who said one equal temper of heroic hearts, but we are also products of our experiences. And I’ve always had problems with the word objective when it relates to journalists because we come out of particular kinds of experiences and backgrounds that feed into how we see the world. And I think we all, those of us who take our world responsibly-- I learned first to do that reading Brenda Starr in the newspaper. But those who take our work responsibly try, I think, our very best to be fair, to be balanced. But we simply cannot be objective because we’re human beings. That’s why we have editors to get those little things that occasionally creep in that might be judgmental or might be subjective. And so I’ve always tried to build on who I am, the experiences that I’ve had.
Even as the subject is news I think I learn a lot about covering news because I saw how people covered me. My favorite reporter was Calvin Trillin, who worked for Time Magazine and covered my entrance into the University of Georgia. And I used to watch Trillin watch me because I thought he was a fabulous journalist. And Trillin wasn’t one of these people who stood off in the corner and just observed. I mean, the night that the kids were rioting outside my dormitory window I get this call in my room and it’s Trillin the reporter asking me how would I like a pastrami sandwich. But in so doing--
IFILL: Did you take him up on it?
HUNTER-GAULT: I certainly did. Although he would have to fly it from New York. There weren’t any pastrami sandwiches in Athens, Georgia.
IFILL: Good point.
HUNTER-GAULT: Pig ears, maybe. But not pastrami sandwiches. And yet, you know, his humanity opened doors for him that other journalists didn’t get. He got things that other journalists didn’t get. And yet he covered the story with fairness and balance. I mean, there wasn’t a whole lot of balance to what was happening on the other side. But even so, you know, he gave them their dues. I guess that’s what it means. I use who I am, my experiences, where I’ve been to help inform me about how to approach the peoples of the world.
IFILL: It’s funny that you use the word balance because, as you know, that word has been skewed by others who report to be in our business.
HUNTER-GAULT: You want to name some?
IFILL: Not really.
HUNTER-GAULT: You want to be real controversial?
IFILL: Let’s see how much trouble I can get myself in. You and I both being kind of NewsHour people, we know that our idea of balance is talking to as many people as possible. If we can squeeze five people on a set we will because we assume there’s another point of view, or several other points of view. I wonder if you see that just in general-- not just in Africa coverage, because we’ll get to that in a minute-- but in general, in the business that we are in, that there is enough pain taken to be as all around truly balanced as we can possibly be.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, I don’t think so. I mean I come back to America not infrequently, maybe three or four times a year. And I’m just appalled at what I see on television. I can’t even-- I’ve been on the Vineyard now since early July. I don’t even turn on the television. Except at 6:00, I watch you guys.
IFILL: Thank you. [laughter]
HUNTER-GAULT: If I’m home. If it wasn’t a beach day.
IFILL: Hey, I’m with you.
HUNTER-GAULT: You know, but it’s really-- I don’t know how you people-- I don’t know how the American people stand for this. It’s condescending. I mean, as you say, we’re NewsHour people and we believe that our news-- We had to produce news that could be used by people. And we respected the intelligence of people. Not that they had to have a lot of degrees from places around here, or anywhere for that matter. But we believed in the innate intelligence of people, and that we didn’t have to tell them what to think.
HUNTER-GAULT: And increasingly now I see on American television young people, younger than us--
IFILL: Well, that’s not very young anymore.
HUNTER-GAULT: Not very young. But, you know, younger than you. But, I mean, they’ll say, “Good job out there, guy. Great, great report.” And this is a kid who’s just out of college, you know. He wouldn’t know a good job from a hole in the wall. But you know, they’re complimenting each other and saying what a good job. Well, let the public tell them that. But moreover the good job that he’s just complimented is a job that has told me what to think and has insulted my intelligence. And I just see more and more of that on the American news and it’s really disturbing to me.
IFILL: It’s interesting that, you know, that when I say we’re NewsHour people that also extends to the fact that people still call me Charlayne. Oh, you’re the other black girl, okay.
HUNTER-GAULT: Are you black enough?
IFILL: Exactly. Well, we’re going to get back to that, trust me.
HUNTER-GAULT: I just love that--
IFILL: So it’s been 50 years since the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School.
And as we approach that anniversary I wonder if you look back now, your time at the University of Georgia, and kind of see it differently through the prism of experiences you’ve had since then?
HUNTER-GAULT: You mean in what way?
IFILL: Just looking back over it over a period of time. Or whether now in your mind, your recollection of the events, of what they meant, of what their importance was, has now settled into a pretty, in your mind, accepted way?
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. That’s what people say when they--
IFILL: Buying time?
HUNTER-GAULT: Don’t know what the answer is. [laughter] That’s a very interesting question. It gives you time to think. No, you know, when I first left the University of Georgia I guess I was 21 years old. And I had gone to the University of Georgia not to become a symbol, not to become, you know, a pioneer. I had gone actually to study journalism. That’s what I had always wanted to do. And yet it was within a context of the civil rights movement. I mean, in fact, ours was the first successful desegregation of higher education in the entire South. Autherine Lucy had been the pioneer but hers didn’t work out for various reasons. James Meredith came after I did. But the ones like Meredith that got the most attention because they were the most egregious were not the first. Ours was really the first. And there was a riot, but people said, “Well, nobody got killed. Nobody got hurt. Charlayne just cried a few hours.” But you know, this was the first successful one. And so we became, Hamilton Holmes and I, the late Hamilton Holmes, symbols of a sort. And I just rejected that. I used to fight against it. I used to make pronouncements, “I’m not a symbol of anything. I just want to be a journalist.” And this and that. And I went through that for a number of years even after I graduated.
And then I got older and the University began to really reach out to bring me back and Hamilton as well. Hamilton came more often. I was off in various places. But they made an effort. And when I saw the impact of our presence on the young black people especially, but also on the young white people, I began to see it in a slightly different way. And so I guess over the years we went back-- I think it was the 40th anniversary of the desegregation. And the governor who had said, no, not one, meaning no, not one black student will ever cross this threshold, came and apologized. And Bud Trillin was there. He had covered it. Vernon Jordan was there. All these people were there. And I couldn’t anymore deny or even not focus on the fact that this was a moment. And the moment wasn’t so much about myself as about the moment of history in which the entire South was galvanized in a way, and the entire country, to support what was right and just about America.
And so I’m just grateful that I had a small part to play in it because it wasn’t really difficult. I had been an only child for eight years and I knew about being alone. I was comfortable being alone. I still am. When my husband plays golf all day I’m just delighted. And he knows it. And he’s grateful. But you know, there were times when I wouldn’t speak a word. I would go to class, four or five classes in a day. I’d go and eat in the cafeteria. I would come back to my room and I would not have uttered a human sound the entire day. No one would have spoken to me. And there was nobody I would have spoken to. But I actually wasn’t uncomfortable with that. I was glad, of course, when I developed more friends and people did speak, and I spoke back, and we had things in common. But it could have been worse as it was for many young people throughout the South during other things. I mean, those who were involved in the direct action protest you saw when the recent presidential candidates went down to Selma to commemorate
the march from Selma to Montgomery. You know, it just recalled for me the horror that so many of those-- And they were young people. John Lewis ain’t young anymore but he was young then.
HUNTER-GAULT: And they faced just horrendous things, as you know. Three of them, Goodwin, Chaney, Schwerner were murdered. Viola Liuzzo was murdered. Emmett Till was murdered. So compared to all of that my own experience of having a few epithets yelled at me and one little riot with tear gas was nothing. And yet it was a part of this whole movement that helped America be what it could be.
IFILL: You know, this is one of these cases where you think you know something about somebody. I’d assumed that you were drawn to journalism because of your experience, not that your interest predated your experience at Georgia. Why? Why did you want to be a journalist?
HUNTER-GAULT: Brenda Starr, I told you. [laughter]
IFILL: Oh, come on. There had to be more.
HUNTER-GAULT: I swear, I promise. No, my grandmother was-- You know, in your wonderful-- Thank you for those introductions of both me and Gwen. They were so eloquent. My grandmother-- These people who enabled me to walk through those mobs at the University of Georgia were just magnificent people. This particular grandmother grew up in the real segregated South and her mother, as I understand the story, was actually raped by the white-- One of the sons, I think, where she worked. And she conceived my grandmother. And she was born, my grandmother, and when she got to the third grade her mother, single parent, was having such a hard time that she took her out of school to help her make ends meet. Third grade. So what would she have been? Nine years old, you know, something like that? And yet my grandmother had such a love of education as many black people did. In my first book, In My Place, I talk about how my grandfather-- My father told me my grandfather used to preach from the pulpit, study words because words will be your salvation, will be your liberation.
And so my grandmother continued to educate herself. And she read three newspapers a day. Atlanta Constitution, The Atlanta Journal, and the black newspaper, The Atlanta Daily World. And in point of fact she loved sports. So that was one of the pages she read. But on the back of the sports page was the comic strips. And I used to sit on her knee and when she dropped the sports page I’d pick it up and read the comics. And I really did get inspired by this red headed, blue eyed, sparkling eyed Brenda Starr who didn’t sit behind a desk, she didn’t have the traditional jobs that I knew about, she ran it, she traveled all over the world. And I thought-- I was a very active kid. I was a tomboy, actually. I climbed trees, I swang through trees, I pretend to be Nioka Queen of the Jungle, you know, all that from the Tarzan movies we used to go see. And so I just early on had a very good knowledge of myself. I knew that I would never be able to sit still. And so Brenda Starr was my first inspiration. And I have to say that after-- How long I been in this business? Brenda Starr could just eat her heart out.
But that was truly my first inspiration. And then when I got to high school I worked on the school newspaper, became the editor. And you know, you got-- It was a way of getting out of class. You could get free hall passes if you were working on a news story. Didn’t have to sit through that whole physics experiment. Just go out and had to get a story in the paper. I managed to get the physics, too. But it was always-- I guess I must have been 11 or 12 years old, even younger probably, reading the paper. But it actually started to take form. And I just never wanted to do anything else. And after all these years I still don’t want to do anything else.
IFILL: Me either. The difference is that when I was growing up we had newspapers in our house and watched the, I’m dating myself now, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and my parents were immigrants. So they felt very--
HUNTER-GAULT: From where?
IFILL: From the West Indies. My father’s from Panama and my mother’s from Barbados.
IFILL: And they felt very much the connection between government and politics and our lives. And that’s because we were growing up in the 1960s in the civil rights movement. And we were seeing playing out on our television sets the direct cause and effect of current events on our lives. I think it’s possible now to look at the evening news and not particularly see what it has to do with you.
HUNTER-GAULT: Especially the way it’s presented.
IFILL: Especially the way it’s presented now. But then it was very clear what it had to do with us. My father fancied himself a radical and would wear the occasional dashiki in the pulpit and scare the heck out of his congregation.
HUNTER-GAULT: Are you a radical?
IFILL: Oh my lord.
HUNTER-GAULT: Let’s not go there.
IFILL: That’s another thing. It leaves you scarred, I’m telling you. But then he would go and march in marches. My mother would be scared he’d be deported. I mean, there was a real cause and effect in our lives about what was happening around us. But from that I thought I wanted to write. I liked writing. I liked making stories up. But then I realized that if I didn’t have a deadline I wouldn’t get it done. And so newspapers seemed to supply that little incentive.
HUNTER-GAULT: Extra push.
IFILL: But okay. So we start working in newspaper, in print, you and I. That was all I aspired to do, to be a newspaper reporter. But somehow, somewhere along the lines-- As a matter of fact, I tell the story all the time, and she’s here today, so I can tell it safely and tell her I tell this all the time. That’s Sarah-Ann Shaw here, who was an anchor at WBZ, when I was in college, when it was an NBC affiliate, and I worked my first internship at Simmons College at her program which was then called Mzizi Roots. And I decided, even though I loved Sarah-Ann Shaw, I hated television. I just thought it was shallow and terrible. Now all these years later--
HUNTER-GAULT: Ha ha.
IFILL: Still shallow and terrible. But--
HUNTER-GAULT: With some exceptions.
IFILL: With a few exceptions. But I made the transition because it seemed like a good transition to make. And it was a complicated story. Why did you make the transition from print to television?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well I think we both had this-- I was at The New York Times. You were at The New York Times. You came into television. I came into television. I think that The NewsHour was the closest thing to The New York Times that there was. Now Abe Rosenthal was really upset I left New York Times because his generation--
IFILL: What did he say?
HUNTER-GAULT: Oh, you don’t want to know.
IFILL: Oh, yeah.
HUNTER-GAULT: His generation was married to The Times. I mean they--
IFILL: I’ll tell you what Arthur Sulzberger said if you tell me what Abe said.
HUNTER-GAULT: When you left? Well Abe wouldn’t speak to me. Abe didn’t speak to me is what he said. It was silence. I mean, first of all, it was, “How can you do this? You’re not really serious.” And years later I interviewed him on The NewsHour on some international issue. And afterwards I was outside-- And it seemed as if he had finally come around but this had taken years. And we were standing there and we’d had a few little chats before The NewsHour program. And he was civil and then afterwards he was good on the show. And then afterwards we’re standing around and he said he knew I lived on the West Side and he lived on the West Side. And he said, “Do you have a ride?” And I said, “No.” Now, meanwhile I had processed that he has forgiven me, right. And that this is never going to come up again. So he says, “Do you have a ride?” And I said, “No.” He said, “If you stayed at The New York Times you’d have a car driving you home.
[laughter] I mean he just never forgave me.
IFILL: Arthur said to me when I told him I was leaving The New York Times, to go to NBC actually, he said, “Television?” I don’t watch television.” Which of course now The New York Times has this entire television wing. So I love that. That really makes me feel kind of good.
IFILL: But when you went from print to television what was-- This is the question I get all the time. All the time. And maybe it was going to The NewsHour, but people always ask me what was the biggest change. How did you alter what you did the most?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, before I went to The New York Times I worked for an NBC local affiliate in Washington.
HUNTER-GAULT: But I’ve always had a sort of, in a way-- I mean, I’ve gotten my fingernails dirty, and my hands, and toes, and feet, and hair, and everything else, especially in Africa, but I’ve had a charmed journalistic life in that the news organizations I’ve worked for or have been drawn to, I guess, were those that really were after substance. I mean, I went to WRS-- I worked for The New Yorker for four years. I wrote some fiction. I wrote some Talk of the Town. And yet I felt like I wanted to get in the street. I wanted some hard journal-- I mean, I left The New Yorker. Nobody could believe that.
IFILL: I still can’t believe that really.
HUNTER-GAULT: Right. So I took a fellowship out at Washington University and midway through the fellowship Martin Luther King was assassinated. And there I was studying how to apply social scientific techniques to journalism in the classroom. And I said, wait a minute. Everybody’s rioting in the streets. I can’t stay here in the classroom. And they organized some seminars at the Justice Department. And we went to these seminars that talked about what was wrong with the media. And this was before the Kerner Commission or just after, or maybe during. I forget now. But it was around that time. The Kerner Commission concluded that the cities had exploded in America and partially blamed the media for not paying attention to this simmering rage that was going on in these African American communities where people were just being denied all kinds of rights, actually. And so at this seminar, oh, I talked about what they weren’t doing and what they needed to do and da-da-da-da-da. And this guy came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, you talk a lot.” I said, “Right. I’ve always been told that.” And he said, “Well, how’d you like to put your money where your mouth is?”
And he offered me a position with NBC in Washington. And they were just creating a new format within their news format. You know, it was 24 minutes of news and it’s usually bop-bop-bop-bop, one thing after the other. But he created this special team called News 4 Probe. And we were to do longer pieces for the nightly news that actually went in depth on issues like education and housing and things like that. And there was a three person team. So you still had the little quick hits that talked about, you know, the accident on the corner, and the fire down the street, and the thug who got arrested. But we also went behind the headlines. So that my first job in television was substantive. I eventually ended up anchoring but at the same time that I anchored I always had a substantive piece that I did. So I left that and went to The New York Times where we did a lot of substance and I learned a lot more about the craft.
I used to sit next to-- You are younger than I am so you weren’t there when Manny Pearlmutter was there. But there was a guy named Manny Pearlmutter. And Manny was 60 then and I was in my early 30’s. And he and I used to work on Saturdays and that was the dog’s day to work. You didn’t want to work-- But I had to do that. I was junior. I don’t know why he was working on Saturday. But I would see Manny Pearlmutter go out and cover the most insignificant story in New York City that day. And then he’d come back and he’d sit-- This was the days of the typewriter. He’d sit there at that typewriter and he’d look and he’d look, and he’d think, and he’d look and he’d look at his notes. And he managed always to put together the right-- The subject and the verb that had so much action that they had to put it on the front page. It could be about nothing. But the way Manny Pearlmutter wrote that story-- And I learned from Manny. It was about verbs. You know, using the right verbs. So I learned a lot at The New York Times.
And so when I got this offer I guess I had been there nine or 10 years, well, The NewsHour was auditioning for a third anchor. It was then not The NewsHour, it was The MacNeil-Lehrer Report, which was a half hour. And I just sort of on a lark went over to interview. But The NewsHour was The New York Times on television in a way.
IFILL: It kind of still is.
HUNTER-GAULT: Kind of still is. And, you know, dare to be--
IFILL: And that’s good and bad, you know.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, but you know, Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil always said, we dare to be boring. Which we were on some nights. But we were also exciting. And you know, the feedback that we got from people, the gratitude that we didn’t look down on them, and that we didn’t tell them what to think. And I think that’s still the case.
IFILL: Still do.
HUNTER-GAULT: It’s still the case. It’s one of the few places on television you can find-- And I’m not doing that just because you’re sitting here. I honestly-- Something happened just after I came back this summer from Africa. It was a big story. And I couldn’t wait until 6:00 to see what The NewsHour was going to do with it. Because I knew that there was nowhere else that I could get sort of unfettered voices talking about this. I didn’t want Wolf Blitzer telling me what to think, you know, or that other one who’s very good but he wants you to know that he knows what is right.
IFILL: Actually we still have those conversations sometimes the morning after a story has aired. Jim will say, “You know, you wouldn’t see it anywhere else.” Now sometimes that’s not always a good thing. But most of the time it is a good thing because we really do operate on the presumption that you have a brain in your head or you wouldn’t be watching. But if you want someone to tell you what to think there are so many places to go. We’re just not that place. And there will always, to me, be a place that exists in the television universe for The NewsHour because there will always be people who just want the information, not C-SPAN style, undiluted, but someone who will say, “Okay, here’s what’s important today. We’re going to now present it to you and get it out of the way.” I just think there’s a huge value in that.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, I mean, I’m more-- When I come to America now I’m more of a consumer of news, especially when I’m on the Vineyard for the summer. And I have a different way of looking at it. And sometimes halfway through the news hour and I hear the next thing, I’ll go, “Okay, I don’t want to hear about that.” But most of the time I want to hear about it. And as a consumer of news who considers herself to be reasonably intelligent, I really do want to hear those different voices.
IFILL: Well, let me ask you something. As a consumer of news, when you come back to this country, do you see any news about Africa?
HUNTER-GAULT: Very little. Unless it’s negative. The four D’s-- What I call in my book the four D’s: death, disease, disaster, and despair. And it’s such a tragedy. I am supposed to be on vacation but I’m writing and I’m reading The New York Times. The New York Times is work, you know. You have to sit there, especially on Sundays. It’s great, because I don’t like reading it on the Internet, which is what I have to do in South Africa. But you know, I open the paper-- Five days out of seven there’s almost no news about Africa. And the two days that there might be, it’s either a small paragraph or it’s about something terrible. Now I’ve always said that we do have death, disease, disaster, and despair in Africa, an overabundance of it. And we need to know about that because we need to keep the international community engaged. But if we only report those things, the international community is going to get bored and say, “Why should I expend my effort, my resources, my hard earned cash, my taxpayers’ money if it’s never going to make a difference?” And so they go on somewhere else.
I’ve told this story before. But it was one of the ones that just got seared in my brain. As I was finishing the book, I was over on the Vineyard that spring and I picked up The Times. And you know when you and I first started, The Times, it was truly the Grey Lady, right. I mean there were no color pictures. It was the Grey Lady. And I am still fascinated when I see color in The New York Times. You all have gotten used to it by now. So I looked and there was on the front page this stunning red-- And I couldn’t figure out what it was so I got it close to me. And it turns out it was an African woman wearing a buba and it was red and it was beautiful. But then I looked at this expression on her face and it was one of the most agonized expressions I had ever seen. And then I looked more closely and she was carrying her dead child. And behind her was her husband who just looked like he didn’t know where on this earth he any longer belonged. And the headline was about the famine in Niger. Which was, what, now about three years ago. And the terrible toll that it was taking and this picture kind of said it all. But then the subheading to that picture was how the international community was ignoring it. And I said to myself, I know the reason why. It’s because people are fatigued and they think that this is never going to end. That they’re pouring money down a rat hole and it’s not going to make any difference.
And that was part of the impetus for me to continue with this book. It was a really great jolt for me. Because I said, you know, I’ve got death, disease, disaster, and despair in here. I’ve got AIDS in here like you wouldn’t believe. But I also have some of the stories of triumph and victory and organization and the indomitable human spirit of Africans who are really-- I mean there is a second wind of chance. You might want to talk about this later, I don’t know. I’ve segued into that.
IFILL: No, but go ahead.
HUNTER-GAULT: I mean, there is a second wind of change blowing across the African continent.
IFILL: That actually is where I wanted to go because you’ve said this and you’ve written this, and it is hard for us to see, because we do hear about the autocrats, and we do hear about the disease, and we do hear about the denial, which I guess could be a fifth D when it comes to AIDS. And we wonder whether that change is real. Whether it’s something that you are hopefully putting on, or because you see the incremental change so much more clearly close up that it’s harder for us to see.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, as I have said before, you have to go there to know there, and I’m there all the time. And I love being there because it’s like living in a grand experiment. I mean, South Africa is one of the last great experiments in “can we all get along?” You know, the difference between South Africa and the civil rights South that we were all a part of, is that South Africa has a black majority government. And so the question-- It hasn’t been answered yet. But the question, to me, is how much of a difference is that going to make to have a black majority in charge of a democracy? So that’s an experiment that makes it exciting as a journalist to be there. But the entire continent is an experiment. It’s a laboratory.
Since 1999-- I mean, all you read about in The New York Times or The Boston Globe, or whatever you read, is about war. Well, in 1998-1999 there was something like 14 wars waging on the African continent. Today there are fewer than three. Two thirds of the African countries have moved into the democratic column. And while those democracies are fragile-- I mean, what’s today’s date? The fourth. In four days Sierra Leone-- What do we know about Sierra Leone? We know that little kids, infants, women, grandmothers, whole families had limbs chopped off, crawling around now. I saw a wonderful piece by a friend of mine the other day, well, a while ago, and these guys were playing soccer on a beach in their prosthesis because their legs had been chopped off by the guerillas in the Sierra Leone conflict. Well, that war is over. And they had an election a few weeks ago. And in four days there’s a runoff. And while there’s been some friction and some anxiety about it, that thing is going to happen.
Just like the Congo which was at war for 40 years and involved Susan Rice who was Assistant Secretary of State for Africa during the Clinton administration made people worried that this was going to ignite World War III on the African Continent because so many of the surrounding countries were involved in this conflict. Well the Democratic Republic of Congo had an election this year. And peace is fragile. They’re still fighting in the East. But they’ve got the institutions now in place. They’ve got international community in there helping them to get their institutions grounded, the democratic institutions grounded.
And then there are new principals that are increasingly non-autocratic leaders. And some of the autocrats, former autocrats, middle range autocrats, transitioning autocrats-- There are really only two or three autocrats really left. I mean, maybe four or five. But we can talk about them.
IFILL: I was going to ask you about Zimbabwe.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, I knew you were preparing for that. I’ll be happy to talk about that. But they have something called NEPAD, which I think is an unfortunate title because it’s too easy to call it “kneepad,” which is just the opposite of what’s intended. Because it’s a new partnership for African development. And within this framework African leaders are saying that we’ve got to get our fiscal houses in order, we’ve got to get our economies, we’ve got to get our human rights records straight, we’ve got to empower women. They’ve signed onto this. And they’ve got something called peer review where for the first time-- You know, the whole post colonial period borders were sacrosanct which is why you had so many autocrats like Mobutu Sese Seko and others who were just abusing their people and doing terrible things. But no other African leader would criticize because the borders were sacrosanct. Well, now you have panels of eminent persons like Graca Machel and others who go into a country and actually do a checklist of those things to see how well those countries are doing.
Now, now not as many as there are in Sub-Saharan Africa have signed. 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not all of them have signed up. But it’s a voluntary program. But increasingly they are. And the reason they struck this deal, not just to get their houses in order, but so that they could offer something to the West in exchange for support from the West. Because the West was getting tired of corruption and autocratic rule and so forth. So now they’re saying we’re going to do good. And in exchange for doing good, we’d like you to do good for us. And that is changing because civil society is involved in that. And they are trying to hold their leaders accountable. Now this isn’t to say that everything is perfect. Far from it. But these are new rules of the road. The first rules like this since the end of colonialism. And I think they hold out the promise of great things for the continent, provided we can keep the international community engaged. And I don’t think we can keep the international community engaged unless we show them that there are some lights at the end of this tunnel. That there are some lights along the way that Africans themselves are lighting. And so that’s why it’s important for us to have good information. As The NewsHour has always said, news that we can use.
Now you didn’t ask me this, so I’ll ask myself. Why should we care about Africa? You want to ask me that?
IFILL: Charlayne, why-- [laughter] Go ahead.
HUNTER-GAULT: Listen, this is a fabulous question, Gwen, I’m glad you asked.
IFILL: Easiest work I’ve done all week.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, you know the thing is most of us have been engaged in Africa, I mean us as citizens, through our humanitarian instincts. It’s terrible to see starving children and emaciated women and people who don’t have enough of anything. And so our instincts have always been humanitarian. But there’s a national interest now that goes beyond this. It is about your energy needs. Africa supplies more energy to this country than the Middle East. And with the conflicts and turmoil in the Middle East, Americans need Africa. It’s not a humanitarian issue. It’s an energy issue. The oil, the mineral wealth. In fact, there’s no reason that anybody in Africa should be poor. There’s so many resources, but they’re resources that we need. The AIDS issue is a trans-border thing. If it doesn’t stop at the border at Africa it travels in airplanes. TB travels in airplanes. The malicious kind of TB that they have in Africa travels. Moreover, if we are going to be able to utilize these riches of Africa we need the people in Africa to be healthy enough to help us use them.
And there are other issues beyond-- One of the most important ones by the way, because the 9/11 anniversary is coming up, is security. Now most of the people who have been involved so far in these horrible cases of terrorism are middle if not upper class people.
But recently those involved in London were Africans. Now they may have been middle class too. I don’t know. But I know that the breeding ground for terrorism is in Africa. It’s in poor communities where people don’t see any hope. They need to provide for their families. And sooner or later the foot soldiers of these intellectuals who are creating these horrible scenarios and actualities are going to be drawn from places like Africa. You know there’s already been a terrorist attack in Kenya. You know what happened in Somalia when the Islamists took over the government and the Ethiopians went in and cleaned that out. Well, this is another reason. National security. So there are all kinds of national security reasons why we should care about Africa beyond our own traditional American caring because we tend to care about people. And we really do. So all of those reasons are reasons that we need to be engaged in the continent.
IFILL: Excellent answer, Charlayne.
HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you for asking that question.
IFILL: I’m so proud of myself for having done it. I actually have one more question for you, and then I want for those of you who have questions that you want to ask, direct, to Charlayne-- Or me, but mostly Charlayne. There are two microphones here. Please start lining up. We’re going to talk for a few more minutes and then I’ll turn to your questions and I know they’ll be fabulous.
…(inaudible) reported and covered the notion that the face of poverty is so often female. It’s as true in Africa as anywhere else but it’s true here as well. What is the responsibility… Because it’s really for some reason incredibly difficult for journalists. What is our responsibility to get our arms around that? You just said why we should care about Africa. Why should we care about poverty? And particularly the female face of poverty?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, we just did a fabulous program on the Vineyard. You think we’re all over there going to the beach. Well, we do some serious work over there too.
IFILL: I wasn’t in the Vineyard, I want it to be said. And I’m a little hurt about it.
HUNTER-GAULT: We had a panel of all women, all AIDS experts, and our panel was called The New Face of AIDS: Our Mothers, Our Sisters, Our Daughters, Our Grandmothers. Because I’ve been in places in Africa where the grandmothers are infected with HIV for a variety of reasons. And we covered just a range of reasons for this because it is complex. But I think the importance of focusing on women-- Oh, and by the way, we had three women who were experts on the international scene of HIV and AIDS, and one American. And she told us, the American, who was with a project called Sister Love out of Atlanta, that, first of all, the fastest growing population of HIV infected people are women between the ages of something like 15 and 25 or 30 all over the world. In America the highest number of AIDS infected women is in the South. And the correlation between that and the developing world is economic. It’s not screwing around. Let’s just be blunt about it. It’s not promiscuous. It’s economic. It’s people having to do what they do to survive. And she told some amazing stories about that.
Now, in so far as Africa is concerned, you know, they say if you educate a man you educate an individual. If you educate a woman you educate a nation. And I am convinced-- And I’m trying to raise money. If you all want to leave 100 dollars at the door each that will be enough for me to do my research. Now, I’m convinced that if we can empower the women of Africa we can end poverty in our lifetime. Because I have seen it happen in the remotest villages of Africa. I was in Tanzania last year in a village where the route to this village had been washed away by the rain and I don’t know what else. I was sea sick by the time I got back to this village. But when I got there, there was a vibrant community of women who were participating in …(inaudible) adaptation of Mohammad Unis’s microfinancing. They had come together with their funds and several of them told me their stories of how only three years before that their children couldn’t go to school because they couldn’t pay the fees. If they could pay the fees they couldn’t buy the clothes for them to wear to go to school. And they couldn’t feed them so they could be healthy and learn.
Well, this one particular woman had a little stand, big stand now. She sold dried fish, vegetables, and some fruits. And she was now the equivalent of that village’s millionaire. There was another one who was divorced and she had two little kids. And she started baking and selling bread. But then through this project she was able to borrow money and expand and expand. Long story short, she just bought a blender. She’s got a little café where she serves lunches to people in the neighborhood. But you see the problem is that they’re flourishing within the space that they inhabit, but they could be doing even more if this road that made me sea sick on the way there was fixed. They could get to the markets in Nairobi and sell internationally some of these things.
And that’s again where the international community comes in. Because here these people are working as hard as they can at their own level. But until the infrastructure, that is in most cases destroyed by war, until that’s sorted out they’re not going to be able to begin to build upon what they’re doing in these little communities. And they cannot do these huge infrastructure projects without international help.
And I’m glad you asked the question about China. Let me tell you about China. [laughter] This is what is going to jolt America into understanding her national interests vis-à-vis Africa. Because China gets it. China is in there. China is everywhere I’ve been. I’ve been in Sudan. I’ve been in Kenya. I’ve been in Nigeria. I’ve been all over the continent and everywhere I go there are Chinese. And in Ethiopia, the last place I expected to see a group of Chinese was in this funky Ethiopian night club. And we’re all in there just doing it, having a great time, you know. And I look over there and these little Chinese are sitting there looking like this. But they are in there. And they are having a good time. Now they haven’t started dancing yet with the Ethiopians and shaking their, you know, all that. But they are there. They are everywhere on the continent.
IFILL: Their presence in Sudan is actually creating some pre-Olympic concerns here.
HUNTER-GAULT: Oh, absolutely, because I mean, you know, the things that I talked about a few moments ago connected with NEPAD, these conditions of human rights, and empowerment of women, and good governance, and good fiscal management are all in jeopardy now because the Chinese don’t have those conditionalities. I was in Shanghai a few months ago and I listened to the Chinese Finance Minister defend not putting conditions on their loans to the Africans. And then I went from there a few days later to
Berlin where the Europeans were up in arms because they say, you know, “Here are these African countries that are finally starting to get their fiscal houses in order. And now they’re getting these condition free loans. They’re going to put them back in the same position they were in before.”
Now of course the African answer to that, thank you for asking, was, “Well, the West hasn’t kept its promises so we have to go with those who are keeping their promises.” So it’s a very difficult-- But this is the moment when everybody in this room needs to be informed about what is happening because this is your future and your children’s future. If you start running out of gas and oil and all these things who are you going to have to blame? You know. You know.
IFILL: I have the answer to that question. But that would ruin everything. And we have so many questions from the audience. Which are probably better than the ones I asked, once again. I’d like to go to them. We set aside a little extra time for you because I know they’re going to be terrific. Why don’t you start. State who you are.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi ladies. I’m Kelly Chun. And I did go there to know there. I spent about a year and a half working and living in Nigeria, working for the Nigerian Television Authority. But I wanted to thank you for your energy and your insights, and ask you what African journalists are doing to tell their own stories both on the continent and internationally to be informed? Are there websites that we can turn to? You know we’re going to read you and listen to you and watch you, but in addition to your efforts where else might we turn to, you know, informed and accurate information on what’s going on on the continent? And also, can you talk a little bit about the Elders?
HUNTER-GAULT: You mean myself?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: No. [laughter]
HUNTER-GAULT: I know what you mean. Okay, thank you. That’s a great question because this-- You know the African leaders now are talking about an African Renaissance. They’ve been talking about this now for a few years. And in my book I quote one of the African journalists who says that, from Namibia, if there’s going to be an African Renaissance we’re going to be a part of it. And they are redefining their own role, especially those who are so active during the liberation period before the end of colonialism. They have now moved and they are now holding their own-- The governments that they helped bring to power, and rightly so, by exposing the atrocities often, and the inequities and all the bad things associated with colonialism. But now they’re holding these black majority governments accountable. That one I just quoted, Gwen Lister, is now hated by the Namibian government because she’s holding them as accountable as she held the previous regime.
But they are so disgusted with us that they are saying we want to tell our own stories. We want to own our own stories. And there are efforts being made out of Nairobi to start an all Africa channel. The South African Broadcasting Company is starting an all African channel. Al-Jazeera is giving people a run for their money because they are going where none of the western based media are going and doing stories that the western based media are not doing. They may have their own biases given their funding sources. I don’t know. I don’t see it. Maybe you see it, Callie [Crossley, in the audience]. I don’t think it’s on in the states, yet, is it? It’s on the Internet. But people tell me that Al-Jazeera’s doing a really good job.
So the African journalist is saying we want to tell our own story. The problem is twofold. One is resources and one is training. Many of the African journalists are doing stellar work. And I know that when I was with CNN and even now I have friends at CNN who tell me we had an African journalist of the year award and when we first started the submissions you thought, “Oh, God, how am I going to pick a winner out of this?” But each year they’ve gotten consistently better and better. They’re holding their governments accountable, they’re exposing greed and corruption. They believe in those principles of NEPAD and they’re adhering to them. And the ones in Zimbabwe are amazing because Mugabe has shut down most of the independent voices in that country. And yet there are journalists who can’t practice their craft anymore legitimately, but they still marry to this profession. So they go out, they cover stories even at the risk of being arrested because they don’t have credentials. And they sneak into the Internet cafes at night and download their material off of their computers. And it’s just an amazing thing to watch and they need support. AllAfrica.com still is one of the best sources for news around Africa. You can get that on the Internet. And you know, Google it. Google it and you’ll come up with African sources. They’re all over the place. And I think they’re just getting stronger and stronger.
The second part is the training. I’m working on a really huge program supported by the BBC Trust to do some of the most comprehensive training that’s happened. Because the African journalists tell us that, “We want Africa to be a part of the global economy but we don’t have economics. So we want this kind of training.” So that’s what I would suggest. Go to AllAfrica.com which utilizes sources all over the continent and that will lead you to other sources.
Oh, the Elders. I’m not sure about that. I mean, I guess it’s okay.
IFILL: Explain what you’re talking about.
HUNTER-GAULT: The Elders is a group that was just funded by Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. And this is a group of distinguished older people like Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela who’s going to be represented by his wife because he’s not that mobile anymore. His brain is still there but he just has a hard time getting around. Graca Machel will take his place and several others, Kofi Annan. And they are supposed to--
IFILL: Is Desmond Tutu a part of it too?
HUNTER-GAULT: I’m not sure if Desmond’s in it. He should be if he’s not. At any rate these are older politicians with great integrity and moral authority. And they’ve been funded by Branson to go in and talk to some of these recalcitrant authoritarians or even where there’s disputes that don’t necessarily involve that but something else that maybe an Elder-- Because in Africa the culture is to be deferential to the Elders. So you know, we’ll see. I don’t know. Because none of them are talking to Mugabe and he’s not moving. When they move Mugabe I’ll say good for the Elders or good for whoever did it. But so far nobody has--
IFILL: He’s busy shutting down newspapers.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah. And his country.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amazing. Thank you so much. I want to ask you about--
IFILL: Can you tell us who you are?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, my name’s Bo Stubblefield-Tave, and I haven’t been there yet but my parents taught in Liberia. My sister was actually born in Monrovia, so of course I want to ask you about Liberia, the first African nation to be led by a woman head of state, democratically elected. I want to hear what you’re seeing there. But also, I have a number of friends who have been to South Africa, including my sister, and part of what’s really challenging is what we hear here tends to be just about Johannesburg and just about Cape Town when we hear anything. I’d just like to hear a little bit more about what you see happening across that amazing country. It’s like hearing only about New York and San Francisco and nothing else about the U.S. Or just a little flavor of those two places.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Liberia has a lot of challenges. And I think that Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is up to the challenges as far as she can take it. But she needs the support of the international community which has promised to do it, but my understanding is that they’re not coming through with the promises as fast as they need to, or if at all. I’m hosting an event in Washington in early October where she’s to be the keynote speaker. And so I’ll be very interested to hear what she has to say. I know that there are people working in there especially on HIV and AIDS, there are people working on the economy. But here’s another one of those countries that was raped down to the bare bones, if I could mix that metaphor. And she has a real challenge. But I’ve written about her in the early days of her administration. And she has a different kind of vision. And she has a vision that also includes women. She has women in top positions in her country. She has women joining the military.
IFILL: When you say different, do you mean different from what we would think of in the United States? Or different from what?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I mean, you know, there’s nothing wrong with being in charge of health and human services. But that’s a traditional women’s thing. She’s got women who are the attorneys general and finance and I forget all of the different ones, but they’re not the traditional so-called women’s portfolios. And so she has intellectual depth and she has the educational background. And she has the vision. But she cannot do it alone just like Liberia cannot do it alone. It really needs the international community not just to make promises, which they’ve done, but to keep the promises. And that’s the big challenge.
And South Africa-- Well, you know, Johannesburg is the hub. Cape Town is the place, destination, for tourists. And Durban, of course, is a lovely city where the waters, you know, people go for the beaches and in the eastern cape. But you know, when I first went to South Africa in 1985 to do “Apartheid’s People” for The NewsHour I used to get very upset with the Afrikaans because their rational for not giving the black South Africans the vote was that they’re not quite ready because South Africa is first world and third world. Well, they did have a modern economy and then they had all these black Africans who were undereducated and living, you know, in shacks. And that really offended me. But now in a different context, I don’t describe it as first world/third world. We don’t use those terms anymore. But it is a developed world in a sense and it is a developing world in a sense. So that you can go around and find just some of the most abject poverty around, but you can also find again people who have hope and amazing patience.
Now I’ve been reading in the papers in the last little while that there has been some outburst in some of the communities because people don’t think the services are being delivered fast enough. And that’s a big challenge because you have this whole cohort of young people who are jobless and don’t have any hope. The education system is still not producing as it should for the black majority. And so that’s in a way-- I know it’s a cliché but it’s a bit of a ticking time bomb. But the country is incredibly beautiful. It’s vast, it’s varied, it’s got mountains, it’s got streams, and fields, and valleys, and beaches, and it’s a wonderful place to live as well as to visit.
But having said that, let me quickly hasten to say-- Because I think audiences like this need to hear this. Everybody wants to go to South Africa. And part of it is because of our historic connection. I think Americans identify it with the anti-apartheid struggle because of our identification with the racism in America. And that is how it was cast for the most part. And we had a lot. We Americans had a lot to do with bringing apartheid to an end.
But every American wants to go to South Africa. Every movie star wants to go to South Africa. Every musician wants to go to South Africa. And with the exception of Madonna nobody wants to go anywhere else on the continent. South Africa has many, many needs. But it is the most equipped country on the continent to meet its needs. It doesn’t even want development aid. It said that. You know, it has argued for assistance, but for other countries. It wants trade, not aid.
But there are other countries that South Africa has argued need aid. And I think that when you start to think about what can I do-- And I encourage all of you to think in that way because you have so much to offer the current, as it has to offer you. You need to think about some of these other countries. I want some of these stars like Matt Damon-- I told Matt Damon when he came to South Africa, “Look, why don’t you go back to
Hollywood and do what you do best which is to write a really good screenplay with an African hero for a change, a black man.” You know, maybe doing something that Tarzan might have done. Or you know, some of these people--
IFILL: Set it in Angola.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, and all that. Do that. But also there’s AIDS in other countries that are less able than South Africa to confront that. Many of the countries on the continent have met the Millennium Development Goals of bringing girls up to the equivalent in elementary school with boys. But they can’t get them to high school because the elementary school part is free. That’s what war has freed up, money to give them a free elementary school education. But they drop out in the seventh grade if high school begins in the eighth, because they have to pay fees. So these girls who have gotten now a wonderful start and leg up, put their legs down because they know they can’t afford to go.
The continent is vast. It’s huge, 48 countries, 800 million people. And there’s something out there for all of us to get engaged in doing, whether it’s…
My husband retired from the bank he started, JP Morgan, in South Africa back in 1997. He retired in December and he’s been working so hard. And people say to him, “I thought you had retired. He said, “No, I haven’t retired. I’m transitioning.” He started our own wine label. He’s now representing other South African wines because they’re so fabulous.
But especially those of you who are transitioning, who have retired from really good education systems, who have retired from banks, who have retired from hospitals-- You know one of the reasons that even in South Africa where we don’t have enough people or antiretroviral that could save your lives, is that we don’t have enough medical personnel to administer the regimen. We need people to do that. But other countries-- Malawi, Lesotho, which is three million people and half of them infected with AIDS. That’s the future of that country held in this kind of vice.
Art. It’s critical. It’s not some, you know, frivolous thing. I narrated a film this year about how a woman started an art project and she’s elevated a community. She’s elevated a whole section of the country with this thing. So there are all kinds of things that you can do if you’re transitioning. But if you’re not yet at that point where you’re getting Social Security or Medicare, on your breaks you can go down. If you come in right to Africa, that is if you come in as a partner as opposed to an American who knows everything-- which some do, unfortunately-- but if you come in saying, “I’m coming in to partner with you,” they welcome you with open arms.
IFILL: I’m sorry. I’m still caught up in the image of Charlayne basically cursing out Matt Damon.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, it wasn’t that.
IFILL: Yeah, yeah, sure it wasn’t.
HUNTER-GAULT: I love Matt Damon.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Question. Thanks to both of you for your comments and your insight. My question is given the terrible status of most news, particularly television news, do you see any possibility that there may be any change? Because I keep seeing-- Even though there’s the Internet, a lot of people still get their news from television, from Fox, from ABC, from CBS, etcetera.
HUNTER-GAULT: Did she say Fox?
IFILL: She did.
HUNTER-GAULT: It’s unfortunate.
IFILL: A lot of people do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s unfortunate but true. Clear Channel owns most of the stations, radio stations. So do you see any way that we can turn it around so that people start getting information that they need? And this connects with news about Africa. All the majors took their bureaus out of Africa.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And they’re not there anymore. If there’s an improvement in news, television news, here, do you think that would not only educate more people here, but also would help people understand more about what’s happening in Africa?
HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you for the question and thank you for your marvelous work all these years. And come back and see me in Africa. You were there a long time ago. And a lot has changed. First of all I think competition will help. Gwen was telling me that the BBC is about to start a nightly-- Is it nightly news?
IFILL: A nightly news broadcast.
HUNTER-GAULT: Nightly news broadcast. If Al-Jazeera ever gets in here that’ll be more competition. So competition is one thing. But the other thing-- And you know, people always want to blame the media and there’s enough of that blame to go around. But I also blame the American people for not… Remember that movie “Network” where the guy stood in the window and said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” I haven’t seen that. I haven’t seen Americans rise up and say, “I’m mad as hell because I’m not being informed and I feel stupid! And I don’t want to feel stupid because I’m not stupid.” Who has done that? Your local people. You can call them up. Your church organizations can call up. Your sororities, fraternities, women’s clubs--
Anybody reading New England White? It’s the most amazing book. It’s this thick and I read a little bit every night. And it’s so funny because it talks about all these clubs and it makes fun of them in a way. But there’s power in a critical mass. And people need to know. Callie, don’t they respond when people call up, when people write, when people organize and say we don’t like this, we want to see something better? You know, this kind of audience was the kind of audience I had all last year when the book first came out. Which said to me people are not coming out just to see me. They’re coming out because they’re interested in Africa. And I found that to be the case. But I would ask a simple question. How many in here have heard of NEPAD? How many of you have heard of peer review? Well people have heard of peer review but in the context of their companies, but not in the context of Africa.
And so again, what intelligent people with some kind of connections need to be making is the one that says, “Look, my gas bill this month was X because of the dearth of gas coming from the Middle East, or the conflicts, or whatever. I don’t want my gas bill to be that. I want to know, what is the future of energy? Where are we going to be able to get it more cheaply? How am I going to…” You know, that sort of thing. It affects your own bottom line. But you have to have that information. Now you can go to Google. You can go to the Internet. But you see, where I stop accepting the criticism of the media is when the public isn’t energized enough. I don’t want to say is too lazy. That’s too negative. I want to be positive. When the public isn’t energized and motivated enough to say I’m not getting what I think I need-- Because what will happen is that something awful will happen and we won’t know why. We should have known. We might not have known that 9/11 was coming. But we should have known something. We should not still be-- So many Americans are still accepting that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Even though now that’s been outed. But people still believe that. And so far the destruction I’ve heard among the candidates is vapid.
IFILL: Well it’s just August. Or September.
HUNTER-GAULT: August, okay. But you know, the other flip side of it is--
IFILL: It may stay vapid, but you know.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, but everybody says it’s too long a season. Well, I don’t know. If the Vineyard is any example I’ve been very excited about it. Because it’s got people for the first time that I’ve seen in I don’t know how many years having arguments and fights about issues and about people.
HUNTER-GAULT: And making people think. You know. And somebody said to me in Africa just before I left South Africa-- I was on a TV program-- and they said, “Well, aren’t you disappointed in America? I mean, here’s America exporting what it says is the greatest values, the values that the whole world should emulate. And you may not even be able to-- You’ve got a woman president in Liberia and you’ve got women leaders in Germany and here and there. And here’s America still debating…” I said, “Listen. I do not as a journalist often get on a soap box. But let me just say for all of your viewers, I have never been prouder of America. It may be funky, it may be difficult. But here you’ve got a woman, a black, a Mormon, an Italian, you know”--
HUNTER-GAULT: A Latino who’s got--
IFILL: A 72-year-old.
HUNTER-GAULT: I said, “This, I think is what America-- They may not win. And it may be racism or sexism or whoever knows what that gets in the way of that. But these candidates who are running actually think they can win. That’s why they’re out there spending all this money.
IFILL: Well, there’s also some delusion involved in some of their cases.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, that says something wonderful about America.
IFILL: No, it does. Hopefully this is very--
HUNTER-GAULT: And I think this long period of discussion may be actually-- It may be too long. But I don’t think there’s been anything since 9/11 that has helped jolt America out of the post traumatic stress that it’s been in.
IFILL: I agree.
HUNTER-GAULT: And I think this might be it. I don’t know. I’m just happy to see Americans energized.
IFILL: And engaged.
HUNTER-GAULT: There’s no dinner party on the Vineyard this summer that didn’t begin, middle, and end, and coffee afterwards with this campaign.
IFILL: Can I just say-- And I was not on the Vineyard. I just want to say that one more time. Somebody didn’t invite me but that’s okay. We have three more people. We’re going to get to all of your questions and then we’ll be done.
HUNTER-GAULT: And I’m going to answer the next three quickly.
IFILL: Right. Quick questions. Quick answers.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Nancy Corman(?) and I have a question about press coverage. I was the beneficiary of a very young reporter named Gwen Ifill doing a features story about women business owners in 197--
IFILL: I remember that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And it made an enormous difference to the women in
Massachusetts because men read the newspaper and they called us and bought stuff from us. So what are you doing to cover these entrepreneurial women in Africa?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I’m glad you asked that question. In the September issue of Africa Report, which is a Paris-based magazine, but I think it’s either on the Internet or you can get it at international newsstands, I have an opinion piece about the women who are doing wonderful things on the continent and the magazine itself has several pages devoted to women who are doing entrepreneurial work. So there is that. That’s what I did.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Push the others to do it.
IFILL: Let me just say that I owe everything, all my sensitivities in the world, to women in business, to my mother and Simmons College. It’s true. It’s true. You get a little sensitivity when you’re around women who are women who are accomplished. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good evening. My name’s Francis Awushifardru(?) and I’m
from Nigeria. I have two questions for you sister.
HUNTER-GAULT: Hey, Nigerians always have more questions than--
IFILL: Okay, somebody had to do it. We’ll decide how many to answer. How’s that?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: First question is, according to the biography, you graduated from Georgia University in 1962. Women did gain admission in the college before you because the year you graduated is-- It seems to me that women have been admitted before you. You graduated in 1962.
HUNTER-GAULT: No, I graduated in 1963. And I was the first black woman admitted to the University of Georgia. There was a black woman who came after I did who was in graduate school. And she graduated ahead of me. But I was the first undergraduate along with Hamilton Holmes to graduate. But we were the first to be admitted in 1961. And we graduated in 1963.
IFILL: But there had been other women?
HUNTER-GAULT: There were white women. But there weren’t any black women.
IFILL: Right, okay.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: What year was the school established, though?
HUNTER-GAULT: Oh, this was the 1700s. We were the first black students in the school’s 170 year history.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Then my second question is based on the condition of the economics of the South Africa democratic system. I would like to know the …(inaudible) in South Africa on the …(inaudible) and apartheid and the Africans. How the economic situation on employment--
IFILL: What the unemployment rate is among different groups?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh yes, exactly.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, obviously, the black majority’s unemployment rate is the highest. I mean, officially it’s in the 30s, but I suspect it’s probably in the 50s. And the country has been trying to come to grips with that. They’ve instituted a public works program which is a temporary thing. It isn’t going to solve the systemic problem because you’ve got to have education for that. You can create a whole lot of jobs but you’ve got to have people who are educated enough to take those jobs. So that’s one of the big challenges although you have far more African students now in colleges and universities in the country than in the past. There’s also a program called Black Economic Empowerment. In South Africa affirmative action is not a dirty word, it’s government policy.
So companies, business, are encouraged, it’s a voluntary thing, it’s not mandatory, but they’re encouraged to take on black partners in their businesses. And that project has been very successful for a limited few who are now millionaires and multimillionaires. And so the next challenge of BEE is, and the government acknowledges this, to see that that filters down to the middle and small and medium enterprise businesses and people who have not-- You see, when they first started this Black Economic Empowerment thing, as they’ve explained it to me, they went with people who were known-- Including some who are now being talked about as potential presidential successors in the next election. But they said that they had to go with people who were known entities in order to convince the whites to do this. They weren’t just going to give 50% of their business to anybody.
So a lot of those who got in on the first initial deals were-- sorry for that redundancy-- were top people within the African National Congress. And there’s been criticism of that. But that was the rationale for that. If you were going to set up a system like this you needed to do it with people that the whites, in other words, felt comfortable with. And now they felt comfortable with them, and maybe they’ll feel comfortable with some more of them. And it’s happening. It’s happening at all of the sectors. It’s happening in mining, it’s happening in wine, it’s happening in everything. Again, though the big question is, is it happening fast enough to contain people who are getting frustrated because they have not yet seen-- And that’s going to be true all over the continent by the way. People have to see a democracy dividend. We’ve told people that democracy is the way that they should embrace because it brings empowerment, it brings opportunity, it brings etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But it’s got to work. It’s got to generate something for the people who stood in line and voted for this candidate who said he’s a democrat. It’s got to work. And there again is where Americans might want to be involved. I mean, this is our system.
And we promoted it. And we say it’s the best.
IFILL: Well, you know, we’ve had kind of a mixed outcome of being involved with spreading democracy lately.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, that’s true, too. But that wasn’t democracy we were spreading. Let’s call a--
IFILL: We have time for a final question, sir, in the yellow shirt.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Norman Goodwin. And this may sound tongue-in-cheek but I’m serious about the question. As a white woman in Africa, the projects that you’ve been trying to accomplish, have you ever run into prejudice as a white woman?
HUNTER-GAULT: Who’s the white woman? Actually, I know what you mean by that. I was in Nigeria. Where’s this Nigerian brother? And this Nigerian brother that I was with, he was what we call a fixer. You get somebody to help you find people to find people that you don’t know. And after two or three days he got kind of comfortable and asked me if he could ask a question. And I said sure. And he said-- And that’s when I had my hair in braids, real long braids. And he said, “Do other white people like yourself braid your hair?”
IFILL: I’ll have you know--
HUNTER-GAULT: I said, I’m not black enough. But, I mean, you know, in some communities because of my light skin they might think that, but not usually.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: The point that I was trying to find out was whether it was a barrier in some sections because having been in Africa a couple of times and seeing a Masai walk very majestically with his wife carrying a bundle of wood over her head, that they may not see television to know who you are and assume that you’re a white woman who’s come here to do what?
IFILL: Does that ever happen to you? I mean, other than this guy making this comment. Do people look at you and say, “Well, you can’t be black because you don’t look like me.”
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, as I said a while ago, you have to come in right. You have to come in in a way… Again, going back to where we started. I think that given my own history I had a leg up on coming in right because I had to judge those who had judged and reported on me. And so I’d like to think that even in some of the difficult circumstances-- I remember one in which I was in a remote village in the Limpopo province in South Africa and this chief-- I needed to interview him for something. I can’t remember now what it was. Oh, something about ecology. And they had done a lot-- Anyway, I don’t want to go into the story, but he was holding me up for money. And as journalists you know we don’t pay for our stories. And people don’t always understand that in Africa because they’ve often been paid by journalists who didn’t come in right. I mean I could understand sometimes you have a humanitarian instinct and you interview some poor person. But if I’ve done that, I don’t give them money. I go out and buy food and send it back. And I’ve done that.
So this particular chief wanted me to pay him for the interview. And we had to go-- I mean, in Africa often you have to have a lot of patience because there’s rituals. So we had to go in and sit down in front of the chief in his little hut and talk about this thing. And there was one woman who was just a real pain. She was a white woman. And she was going to be the intermediary between me and the chief. And I finally said to her, “You know, this isn’t about you. So let me and the chief work this out.” So he’s continuing-- And I try to explain about the standards and how, you know, in my journalism you don’t pay for stories because there’s this and that. And if you do pay for a story then it makes what you’ve reported suspect because people think they’ve paid you to say it. The chief wasn’t budging.
And so finally-- And everybody is sitting on the floor because this is what you do with the chief. I said, this ain’t my chief. I’m sitting in the chair. Finally, I said to the chief-- Because it was like going around in circles. And finally I just got tired of it. And I said, “Well, you know, chief”-- I can’t stand up now because I’ve got a sore knee. But I stood up straight like this and I said, “You know, it’s been a real pleasure meeting you. But we have a plane in an hour and 45 minutes and it’s going to take us an hour to get-- And I wish we could have done this. But we’re not going to see eye to eye on this thing. I am not going to pay you. You are going to insist on being paid. So let’s just part friends now.” Everybody in the room went, [shocked noise] “She didn’t say that to the chief!” And the chief blinked his eyes and he said, “Hold on a minute.” And he sat there and thought about it for a few minutes. He said, “Could we speak?” He took everybody out of the room. He said, “Now what is it that you want to know?”
IFILL: Just like that. Sometimes just applying a good old Southern directness works.
HUNTER-GAULT: You have to be Southern, girl. But you know, again, as I said, you have to come in right. You have to understand the culture. You have to be willing to be patient. And you don’t have to pretend you’re something you’re not. I don’t try to be a man out there. I don’t try to out-macho the guys. I try to be, you know, the Southern magnolia that I am. [laughter]
IFILL: I think being who you are is plenty for all of us. Thank you, Tom Putnam. Thank you, JFK Library, and thank you all for coming out to see us. Thank you, Charlayne.
HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Gwen. I have some little cards if any of you would like to--
IFILL: If you want to know more about the book we’ll have some cards outside the door.
HUNTER-GAULT: I have a few little cards outside if you’d like to get just a little something about the book. And I have six books. Only six.