GREETINGS ALL: STACY AND I WERE COMMISSIONED TO WRITE AN ARTICLE FOR THE
OBSERVER ABOUT THE FALLOUT WHICH FOLLOWED KURT'S DEATH, WHICH FOR SOME
REASON THEY CHOSE NOT TO PUBLISH. THE COMMISSION WAS FOR A PIECE THAT DID
NOT GUSH AND WHICH KURT MIGHT THEREFORE EVEN HAVE LIKED - I.E TO LET OTHER
VOICES DO THE TALKING, AS HE ALWAYS DID. FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, HERE IS WHAT
WE WISH THE OBS HAD NOT SPIKED, BUT WHICH I GUESS WAS WRITTEN MORE FOR YOU
LOT ANYWAY .. ..
AND THERE IS ALSO THIS, BY CHARLOTTE DELBO, WHICH I EXPECT WE ALL FEEL:
I BEG YOU
LEARN A DANCE STEP
SOMETHING TO JUSTIFY YOUR EXISTENCE
SOMETHING THAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT
TO BE DRESSED IN YOUR OWN SKIN AND BODY HAIR
LEARN TO WALK AND TO LAUGH
BECAUSE IT WOULD BE TOO SENSLESS
FOR SO MANY TO HAVE DIED
WHILE YOU LIVE
DOING NOTHING WITH YOUR LIFE.
STACY SULLIVAN and ED VULLIAMY
There are few, if any, journalists whose work commands the respect - and
whose death impacts the profession - like that of Kurt Schork, shot this
week by young soldier in Sierra Leone with no idea of the magnitude of what
he has done.
Schork was, on the surface of things, an intelligent, modest and moral man
and a seeker of truth who, like all the bravest people, said little and
wrote nothing about his bravery. He was a man whose cool, clear thinking
made him credible and authoritative.
But Schork was much more than that. Like an allegorical figure, he typified
something about journalism and the way it should be done at it best. He
kept his feelings and his morals out of his copy, but because he pursued
facts so relentlessly, his dispatches became the voice of conscience.
Likewise, his death means even more than the loss of a good man: it says
something terrifying about modern warfare and the way in which war in our
time can - and cannot - be covered by reporters whose quest is to bear
witness to it.
Schork's death has had an unexpected and astonishing effect on his friends
and colleagues, leaving the hardest of them wounded and speechless, many
wondering hard about their own past, their own luck, and their own future.
There was a time, in such places as Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf, when
reporters were 'attached' to military units. The tradition carries on - as
in the platoons of scribes who accompanied NATO's divisions into Kosovo
last year, after the fighting was over.
But by then, warfare had changed, and so had war reporting. The carnage in
Bosnia and Rwanda required journalists to pick and navigate their own
perilous way across front lines that were blurred and moved from day to
day, or through the streets of battered Sarajevo.
In those wars, they traveled alone or in small groups, driving 'soft-skin'
cars which were rented from Trieste or Budapest after telling a pack of
lies to Avis about where they were going - and which were invariably
returned with shattered windscreens and riddled with bullets.
Only slowly did such basics as flak jackets and armoured vehicles come into
use, and then only among the few - most especially among the wire services
like Reuters for whom Schork worked. They were the reporters who had an
infrastructure behind them, brave but cautious, the ones who could be
relied on not to get killed.
Kurt Schork arrived in the profession too late for the era of 'accompanied'
war reporting, and anyway it would not have suited him. He had been a
manager with the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and first came
across the havoc guns can wreak during his handling of the vigilante
crisis, when a man named Bernie Goetz opened fire on a team of muggers
riding the subway one night in the 1980s.
Suddenly, after his 40th birthday, Schork decided he wanted to be a war
correspondent. He quit his job and bought a plane ticket to Asia. He
'rolled out of bed one day and into Kurdistan,' says his friend Roy Gutman
of Newsday. 'But despite coming to the profession late, he was the most
experienced of all of us by the time he got to Bosnia. Which makes you
realize: there but for the grace of God. We've all be there, we've all been
Many of Schork's friends are angered as well as saddened by his death.
Gutman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, 'dealt with' his post-Bosnian life by
editing a compendium book called 'Crimes of War'. 'But Kurt had to stay
with it' said Gutman this week, uncharacteristically speechless with sorrow
and rage. 'And there is an element of the moth to the flame in this
tragedy. I last saw Kurt in Kosovo - he was bored and wanted to get to East
'Then he moved to Washington, with his wife. But I never had the balls to
say to Kurt: "hang up those spurs. You've done it all. You have nothing to
prove. You're married now". I think he was considering it. He asked for
introductions on the New York Times, where there was an editing job that
suited him. If only .. .. That's why this hits you so hard in the stomach'.
When Schork arrived in Bosnia, his partner with Reuters was another expert
in bravery and recklessness, Andrej Gustincic - half-Slovene, half-Serb.
They divvied up the duties: Gustincic covered the ethnic cleansing and the
countryside, Schork took the siege of Sarajevo.
One of Gustincic's many awful evenings was that on which he organized the
retrieval of the corpse, by Croatian troops, of a BBC cameraman called Tuna
whose clearly marked 'Press' land rover was hit by a Serbian tank round.
'We had just been up that very same road an hour before,' he recalls, 'It's
horrendous; it could have been us, and that's what happened to Kurt this
In October 1992, Gustincic escaped an ambush almost identical to that in
which Schork was killed this week. He was accompanying a small exploratory
convoy of British troops which breezed up a road towards the Serbian guns
without thinking to ask the Bosnian sentry if the route was safe.
Gustincic, of course, understood the warning the man was shrieking, and
raced to catch up with the British convoy to warn them.
Too late; the fusillade came thick and fast. Gustincic, in a red Citroen
car - the boot loaded with petrol - was obliged, along with the better
armoured military vehicles, to run a gauntlet of ten minutes' terrifying
fire. After that, he recalled this week: 'I hung up my spurs. Too
heartbroken and too scared'. He asked Reuters to move him to New York.
Schork, however, 'felt the moral obligation to stay. That's what we mean
when we say he was a moral man. But - there's no point in denying that
there was something in all this he needed to do'.
'Kurt Schork is the man who, during a quiet period in Sarajevo headed off to Grozny,' recalls the other Doyen of the Sarajevo press corps - Roger Cohen, author of the Bosnian Odyssey 'Hearts Grown Brutal' and now senior Europe Correspondent for the New York Times.
'But this term "war junkie" has a pejorative tone,' says Cohen. 'Kurt liked covering wars, because he felt that feelings were laid bare in war. But he did so because he felt that these conflicts needed and had to be covered. These were a new kind of war, and Kurt insisted they were important; the fact that more people had died in conflict in the world since 1989 than between 1945 and 1989.
'To Kurt, this was a critical issue. Kurt's work wasn't an addiction to war, it was an intellectual commitment, it was an unusual idealism - and if that involved taking risks, so be it'.
Kurt Schork's copy - and the fact that it will be written no more - is also a symbol of something beyond itself, it was a way of writing. There was something old fashioned about Schork's work - something of the old school, the James Cameron school - that was a welcome relief in days of rococo journalism and inflated egos. The first person singular - 'I'- appears nowhere in his output. Just as those who have had the good fortune to be
photographed by Cartier Bresson always say they forgot he was in the room, Kurt Schork was invisible to those who read his facts on the wire.
But on the ground, he was a presence everyone noticed. In Sarajevo, United Nations officials frequently wound up denouncing their own organisation at press briefings because they could not stand up to Schork's line of questioning. UN spokesmen often spoke of being relieved when Schork left the city for a few days to cover a story outside the capital. Other journalists routinely checked their stories with Schork's to make sure they had it right. And people around the world often relied on his stories to tell them what was happening in their own backyards.
'He was the quintessential wire journalist,' says Cohen. 'The first account of the news from the person who has to see things for himself, on which we all depend. But he was more than that: he was a perfect wire journalist to the point that he re-invented wire journalism. Because he had this remarkable intellect, he could grapple with the issues and understand them. He had a probing mind and didn't like wasting time. He had a keen sense of what was right and what was wrong when confronted by the Serbian barbarism. That was always very clear in his copy, but it was never splurged. It was there in the clarity of his intellect and the clarity of the facts. That was what people most admired and envied in his work'.
In his factual asceticism, Schork was like Gutman, who writes about war with a sparseness that is almost puritanical. Both men kept their credibility by keeping a low profile. Gutman of course refuses the comparison, insisting that 'in days of baroque journalism and self-assertion, and of film-driven journalism, Kurt was the man who keeps the story going by establishing the facts, the essential and irrefutable facts - and with those bare facts, he registered so much more anger than all the angry people'.
Schork's death will remove some of the best war correspondents from the field, in a way that the death of no other reporter could do.
Unlike photographers or cameramen whose lust for testimony often overrides their good sense and who feature most on the casualty lists, Schork took calculated risks. He was calm and sensible, the journalist you most wanted to be with if you came under fire.
Among Schork's opposite numbers behind the lens is the similarly seasoned Ron Haviv, a Newsweek photographer whom Schork met on his first self-assignment in 1991, in Kurdistan, and who shared Schork's trail across Bosnia, Chechnya and Africa.
Haviv usually has the sharp glint of a rodent in his brown eyes, but this week they lost focus, staring into mid distance. He was due to go to Sierra Leone last week, but was unable because he fell ill. He said that if the Sierra Leonese army was offering press access on a convoy to newly-won territory, he would almost certainly have gone along with Schork and Associated Press cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, the other veteran journalist killed in the ambush.
'You could die in Bosnia, you could die in Kosovo, you could die in the
Gulf,' he says, slightly dazed, 'It could be you or one of your friends.
Kurt's death is a reminder of how dangerous this job is, even for people
who know what they are doing. There's only a small group of us who cover
war, and if you lose two members of such a close-knit family, of course it
makes you think about what you do'.
Joel Brand was one of those whom Schork took under his wing in Sarajevo,
for whom Schork's way of working was something of a model. Brand, then a
freelance correspondent for the London Times and Newsweek, now lives in Los
Angeles, and upon hearing of his mentor's death, went for a long, solitary
'It's a very small community that covers war,' he said next day, 'and those
who do it only do so with the protection of the brotherhood, whether
they're men or women. Kurt was big brother and if Kurt gets killed, what
does that mean for everybody else? When the best gets killed what are the
rest of us supposed to think? Kurt wouldn't condone this kind of thinking,
but I wonder if I could go out again now'.
The business of journalism is a cruel fool sometimes, and Andrej Gustincic
- Schork's twin and equal at Reuters in the early days of Bosnia - has not
enjoyed much glory after he made his decision to live; he's in New York
writing a novel and looking for a decent job. 'But I don't want to go back
into a war zone,' he says, 'I don't want to die on some fucking road in