Hitchens Goes Global

Covering the Land of the Infidel

By contrast, says Gourevitch, the typical New Yorker dispatch is a "long, detailed, exhaustively descriptive piece" told from the point of view of the natives, which in its very complexity makes events seem clearer. Reporters often parachute in after the crisis, as when Gourevitch visited Rwanda in 1995, the year after some 800,000 Tutsi and Tutsi sympathizers were murdered. Writers typically interview a socioeconomic range of sources and occasionally shine a light on American involvement, as when a U.S. "military-intelligence officer" mocked the UN Genocide Convention and the murder of a million Rwandans, telling Gourevitch, "Who gives a shit?"

Anderson says his approach involves "trying to understand how these political cultures work and presenting them as faithfully as I can to an American public." For example, last year, Anderson proposed a story on Angola. "Here was this major humanitarian disaster in one of Africa's most naturally rich countries," he says, "and yet it was escaping the radar of most of our media. I thought it merited a new look, and David [Remnick] agreed."

What the writer found was a capital city that smelled like shit and millions of people starving to death as a result of civil war. But instead of pushing for peace, the U.S. embassy was quietly backing a president who recently granted U.S. oil companies the predominant share in the Angolan oil market.

Says Anderson, "It's important for us Americans to understand how the rest of the world sees us. We have a tremendous impact, and yet we are a big cultural island, and we tend to replicate our cultural surroundings wherever we go. We think the rest of the world wants to be just like us, but we don't know where our shadow falls. I don't think we're so much guilty of ill will as of innocence, and to some extent our reporting reflects that."


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