Nachtwey and Tapper: Responsibility of Journalists

On March 1, 2013 by Grad Forum

War brings with it an array of terrible costs – loss of life, mental and emotional scars, environmental damage, citizen casualties, and on and on. It’s a cost that James Nachtwey, ’70 and Jake Tapper, ’91 are all too familiar with. The Dartmouth graduates led a panel discussion for an audience of graduate students on February 19th, sharing their own experiences with the costs of war and their efforts to keep those costs on the front page.

Nachtwey, an award-winning combat photographer, and Tapper, a CNN anchor and the network’s chief Washington correspondent, offered those in attendance a rare and powerful glimpse into the reality of modern warfare at ground level. The panel, moderated by Captain Stoney Portis, MALS  ’13, covered a range of topics and issues­­­ – all of them greatly affecting and alarmingly necessary.

While it is the nature of modern media to have an ever-changing focus, Nachtwey’s work takes the viewer into experiences and events that demand a longer pause. The 1994 Rwandan genocide, Nachtwey said, left him “traumatized – it’s still hard for me to believe it happened.”

Taking inspiration for war photography from the pictures that surrounded the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, Nachtwey has covered wars and conflicts the world over since 1981. His pictures bear wordless witness to the innate and indiscriminant cruelty of war, and these are not things that Nachtwey wishes soon forgotten. “These are people who have been rendered invisible,” he said. “You’re going to take their message to the outside world.”

Tapper came into contact with war, from a reporting standpoint, far more recently. Having covered the war in Iraq from the front lawn of the White House as ABC’s Senior White House Correspondent, Tapper came to believe that “we don’t tell enough stories of war.” He’s also quick to point out that the public excuses its own role far too easily, reminding students that viewers have a big say in what material sees the light of a newsroom camera and a television monitor.

His most recent book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, documents the eight American service members killed at Combat Outpost Keating in 2009. Captain Portis was the last commander of COP Keating, and helped Tapper bring the story to life. In discussing his research, Tapper said he was continually reminded just how “the [American] public at large has borne no cost” in this war, and just how important it is “to recognize the incredible amount of pain and sacrifice that this very small percentage of people has undergone for us.”

Reflecting upon the panel, Lisa Jackson, a master’s student at The Dartmouth Institute, noted that “Dartmouth/Hanover is a very insular community, especially when it comes to understanding what has and is currently still happening militarily-speaking in Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas.  We are still a country at war, but you would hardly know it. The great majority of us do not know what sacrifice is. However, hearing classmates like Stoney Portis speak about their firsthand experiences, and bringing visitors like Mr. Tapper and Mr. Nachtwey to campus to shed light on the complexities and atrocities of war is nothing short of powerful!   Speakers like this should be encouraged to come to campus more often; their stories need to be heard.”

by Laurie Laker

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