NEW YORK — In the hand-carved oak pews of The First Presbyterian Church in lower Manhattan, we stood shoulder-to-shoulder Tuesday to honor Tim Hetherington.
He was killed on April 20 in Libya doing what he loved, which was reporting the truth about war.
Coming together to honor him was a band of brothers and sisters bound by a shared experience of reporting on the frontlines of conflict. He was truly a prince of the tribe.
But there was something else that was being memorialized in those pews and that was the profound sense of camaraderie born out of the last 10 years of foreign reporting.
In the post 9/11 era, a generation of foreign correspondents from around the world have shared experiences and made sacrifices to bring home the stories that matter in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond. With great courage and commitment, they’ve carried out heroic and insightful work. They’ve been scared together. They’ve seen the ironies and tried to laugh at the absurdities of war. And they’ve shared sorrow for the many who’ve been lost or wounded. Through it all, they’ve developed enduring friendships.
We at GlobalPost have experienced the intensity of this camaraderie firsthand, and benefitted from the strength it provides when things go bad. Dozens of colleagues who were in those church pews — and others who were there in spirit — pulled together to help us bring home our correspondent James Foley from Libya. We’ll never forget it.
For 45 days, Foley was detained along with Clare Gillis, who was writing for The Atlantic and USA Today, and Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer. They all witnessed their colleague, Anton Hammerl, a South African photogapher, being shot during the initial capture.
Our man Foley was released last week and we have documented the story thoroughly and he’s made appearances this week on the PBS NewsHour, CBS News and NPR. But we haven’t yet had a chance to share our appreciation and to let this journalistic community know just how grateful we are.
GlobalPost’s CEO and co-founder Philip Balboni said the spirit and the force of this camaraderie was evident from the first hours of the capture and throughout the ordeal as he and Middle East editor Pete Gelling and the whole GlobalPost team became consumed with the task of securing their release.
“My first phone call that April morning was to Susan Chira of the New York Times who had gone through this same ordeal just weeks before,” said Balboni, referring to four New York Times reporters and photographers who were captured in Libya last month and later released.
Balboni added, “Susan and all of her colleagues at the Times, along with so many others in the journalism community, rallied to our side and provided invaluable support and information. Without them, we simply could not have succeeded and I am forever grateful for all they did.”
Times’ colleagues C.J. Chivers and David D. Kirkpatrick, both busy reporting on the ground in Libya, took the time to share with us any information they could get their hands on. They also provided solid advice on how to navigate the best way forward to securing their release.
More colleagues from ABC News, the BBC, Reuters and Al Jazeera and so many others offered a hand. There was a solid sense of collegiality with USA Today and The Atlantic as we all worked together toward getting them out of Libya.
On the home front, New York Times correspondent David Rohde, who was captured by the Taliban for seven months before escaping, understood firsthand what the Foley family was going through and he reached out to them and provided good counsel. Times’ photographer Tyler Hicks, who was among the four detained and released in Libya, checked on the Foley family repeatedly and reassured them.
Sebastian Junger, the author and journalist who with Hetherington directed the Oscar-nominated documentary film “Restrepo,” also reached out to the Foleys and offered help in a very tangible way.
In a moving eulogy to Hetherington at the memorial service, Junger said, “Tim dedicated his life, risked his life, documenting the effects of war … And now we, all of us, are experiencing the effects of war … We’re part of the club.”
After the service in the church courtyard, Junger, who is also an editor-at-large for GlobalPost, said, “I’m just glad Foley’s home. There were a lot of people doing whatever they could.”
One of those people was Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director of Human Rights Watch. He and Hetherington were close friends and the service was hard for Bouckaert. It showed on his face, but afterwards his face filled with life when we talked about Foley and he was making plans to see him as soon as possible.
Bouckaert is a human rights worker, a profound teller of truth and therefore a colleague. He reflected on the camaraderie that comes out of working in the field together, saying, “When you’re out there, there is just a tremendous brotherhood. You share intense experiences and all the competition between news organizations and agencies all disappears. And it’s really just the people who do the work sharing resources and looking out for each other. It’s a tremendous sense of family.”
On the train between Boston and New York for the memorial service, Foley and I rode together and it gave us a chance to talk through the tremendous debt of gratitude he holds for all those who did so much to help secure his release.
“All of this meant so much to me and it meant so much to my family,” said Foley.
He added, “It’s one thing for someone to do that from your own news organization, but when there is a much larger community out there from different news organizations and really all over the world that is doing that for you, it really means a lot.”
“I don’t know how I am going to thank them all,” said Foley. “But I’ll find a way.”
Charles M. Sennott is the executive editor and co-founder of GlobalPost.