Roy Gutman Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Witness to Genocide: Conversation with Roy Gutman, correspondent, Newsday, winner of the Pulitzer Prize; 4/10 97 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by S. Beth Atkin

Page 8 of 8

Conclusion: Norms and Values

I hear a common link between our discussion of the Cold War and your discussion now, and that is that norms and values matter. That the Helsinki process, surprisingly, represented the institutionalization of human rights in Eastern Europe, and that maybe on the American side we didn't realize that. Now I hear you saying that values and human rights norms mattered, and obviously that was what was driving you, but there was a political indifference both in Washington and in Europe. So there is a common link. I guess one of your concerns now is to see that those norms are understood by recording the story so that this doesn't happen again.

You know, you don't necessarily know what your norms are or your values are. You try them out in different circumstances and you discover them. But anybody in the postwar generation will feel that the Holocaust was supposed to be a one-time event, that it could not happen again, that it should not happen in Europe, that we couldn't Gutman interviews refugees from Zepa; July 1995 in Zenica.let this sort of thing go on, and that if we the reporters don't report it then it could go on. So we all have this obligation. It goes without saying in a way. Crime, massive crimes by states, upset the world environment. Besides the crime itself and the victims, look what it does to world order.

But here we are in a new era where nobody knew what the order was. George Bush talked about the "new world order," but there was no world order. So I guess through the coverage of these crimes I began to think that war crimes is really a very important category of events and that we ought to know more about it. I never used the term in any of my coverage, "war crimes." I didn't use the word "genocide" in my coverage, ever. My editors were real sticklers. We have to have a source for every statement, every judgment. When I came to do the book I put together my articles and I thought about what had I been through here. What does it add up to? And it added up to genocide. So I'm now trying, with the help of colleagues, to look at this question of what is a war crime. Can we as journalists cover it without naming it? Would it help if we knew the definition under international law, so that at least we could guide the public by saying "The Geneva Conventions say that if you destroy a mosque, unless it's being used for attack on a military force, that's a war crime." I didn't know that at the time, and I think we could benefit from that knowledge.

Questioning Vojislav Seselj after a campaign rally in Prijedor, September 1996. The norms are not out there, in the sense that our governments are not telling us what they are, and yet here's a preexisting set of norms, international treaties and conventions. We the press have a need, we the media have a need, to find some norm to refer the public and ourselves to so that we know what we're reporting. Maybe there's something we should be doing.

One final question. How would you advise a would-be journalist starting out to prepare for covering this new world?

Good luck. I think area studies is probably one important way to go. You've got to master European history. There is no other way. You must know where we came from, or how we have our system. It doesn't have to be the Middle Ages, it doesn't have to be the Magna Carta, but at least modern European history through this Helsinki process. Get that down. You'll have a sense of norms, let us say. Then focus on regions. Look for one region that you think will be important in five or ten years, where you can make your mark. Learn the languages and then be prepared. Realize the limits of journalism but go back to your stories again and again. Just keep at it. You know, everybody has these chances. They come to you as a journalist when you least expect it. But you'll be ready then.

Mr. Gutman, thank you very much for being here today and for this fascinating account of your Cold War beat and then the Bosnia beat for which you won the Pulitzer Prize. Thank you very much, and thank YOU very much for joining us for this "Conversation with History."

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