Ann Curry is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist. She is a former NBC News Network anchor and international correspondent and has reported on conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Darfur, Congo, the Central African Republic, Serbia, Lebanon, and Israel; on nuclear tensions from North Korea and Iran and on numerous humanitarian disasters, including the tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Japan, and the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Her awards for journalism include 7 Emmys. She has also been given numerous humanitarian awards, including from Refugees International, Americares, and Save the Children. One award she especially prizes is a Medal of Valor from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for her dedication to reporting about genocide.
She has also reported and executive produced a documentary series about people caught in transformative world events entitled “We’ll Meet Again,” anchored and executive produced a live series about medical care in America entitled “Chasing the Cure,” and is a contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine and will be a Fellow at American University spring semester 2021, where she will be teaching seminars on Journalism, including about credibility, ethics, frontline reporting and interviewing.
Ann’s TedTalk on Restoring Journalism
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Ann : It is true that we are human beings who struggle any one of us to be a 100% objective. But if we don't try to hear each other, if we don't try to pay attention to the nuances of truth, it's never as black and white as we think it is. There's always some other part of it. We don't pay attention to that stuff. We're not seeing the truth.
Erik : It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. And I happened to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to aluminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map, that map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.
Jeff: So for our 100th No Barriers Podcast episode, we are pleased to bring you our conversation with award-winning journalist, Ann Curry. Ann's a former NBC news network anchor and international correspondent, and has reported on conflicts all over the world, in Syria and Afghanistan and Iraq and Somalia and Darfur, Congo, The Central African Republic, Serbia, Lebanon, and Israel, on nuclear tensions from North Korea and Iran, and on numerous humanitarian disasters, including the tsunamis in Southeast Asia and Japan and the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Jeff: Her awards for journalism include seven Emmys and then countless others recognizing her humanitarian work. She's also reported and executive produced a documentary series about people caught in transformative world events entitled, We'll Meet Again. Anchored and executive produced a live series about medical care in America titled, Chasing the Cure. And as a contributing writer for the National Geographic magazine. Ann will be a fellow at American University spring semester 2021. She'll be teaching seminars in journalism, including about credibility, ethics, frontline reporting, and interviewing. It was an absolute pleasure and an honor to spend time with Ann, I think you'll really enjoy this one.
Erik : Well, let's start with the idea that you were gracious enough to join us this morning because of our long history. And I'll get this out of the way, Ann, that you have been an amazing ally to me and to Jeff and to No Barriers over the years, having me on The Today Show promoting all the good things and even going climbing. You may not remember, but Jeff belayed me and you in Times Square when we climbed together. And then we went on after that, or maybe it was before that. And we climbed in this amazing place up in Wyoming called Vedauwoo, this granite crazy towers of rock. And you and I climbed this, climb that was 200 and something feet probably, maybe 300 feet. And it wasn't so easy.
Erik : And I remember how incredibly tough you were. I think you had shorts on. And at the end of the day if I remember correctly, they told me that you had some serious wounds, some dime-sized blood patches on your legs, and you were so tough. You didn't complain at all. And you seemed to love the experience. So you showed your true grit that day.
Ann : I don't know if I get all that credit. I have to say that I was thrilled at the experience because it actually, even though for major climbers like you was a small climbing and a dime-sized wound I'm sure is really nothing for you and all the climbers out there listening who've experienced far worse. For me, it was a great opportunity to go inside, right? To think and pull from down deep and to sort of learn about what I had or didn't have in me. I remember very clearly the climb, it's etched in my memory. You said, "When we go up there, you need to trust me."
Ann : And you weren't sure what I was going to do. But you were so great about explaining how you were going to work and the way you worked and impressing me with your skill as well as your wish, as well as your character, that I didn't have a choice but to trust you. In other words, it wasn't an option not to trust you because you were trustworthy, right.
Erik : Oh, thank you.
Ann : And it wasn't about whether you could see the pieces. It was really about whether you knew what you were doing. And that was very clear from the top. You knew what you were doing and I did not. I the seeing person did not. And so for me, it was a great revelation in my own fear. And I think that's probably true for all people who have to face challenges of any sort.
Erik : Jeff and I have taken all kinds of newbies climbing and some fall apart just because of sort of the pressure and the emotional fear and so forth, and you just persevered right through it. And again, just so people understand not to harp on this too much, but this was not an easy climb. It really super scratchy, rough rock that just tears your hands to pieces and you have to jam your hands and feet in these cracks. And it's just unbelievably painful. And I've had amazing athletes I've taken climbing and they jammed their feet and their hands into those cracks. And they say, "What could you possibly like about this sport?"
Jeff: Yeah, same.
Ann : I loved it.
Erik : You did great. You come from such an interesting background. I understand, and tell me, correct me if I'm wrong, but your dad was American servicemen and your mom was Japanese. And she was, I mean, the article describe her as a war bride and your dad actually was super heroic, like courageous. Kind of in a way defied what the military was recommending back in the World War II days and marry the love of his life, that's wild. Tell us that story because it's like a love story that should be like a movie on the hallmark channel or something. Or maybe it already is.
Ann : No, it isn't actually.
Erik : It isn't, yeah, you need to sell those rights.
Ann : It is a story that became a part of our family legacy because I think you're right. I think it does say a lot about the people I come from. My father was actually from Pueblo, Colorado, a poor boy who faced a lot of adversity, grew up fatherless and desperately poor. He joined the Navy because he didn't want to work at the steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado, which was the only option for him because he really had nowhere else to go. And he joined the Navy and became an occupation soldier soon after World War II. My mother on the other hand was a teenager who had experienced starvation during the war and also had emerged from a bomb shelter at one point to see nothing left as far as she could see, struggled as a result of that, who met my father in Occupied Japan by chance.
Ann : He got on a street car where she had gotten a job as a conductor and she couldn't speak English. He could barely speak Japanese, but he kept riding the street car until finally he worked up the courage to ask her to noodles and she was hungry, right? And so she said, "Yes." But she brought somebody, a friend who he could also have to buy food for. Anyway months later they fell in love these 18 year olds and he wanted to marry her. And they were kids and he went to his commanding officer, which was what you were required to do. And his commanding officer said, "Look, I'm not going to give you permission because," and the way my dad says it, and this is a quote from that conversation from him, he said, "Ann, he told me my eyes were starting to slant. I was turning into a bamboo American and there was no way he was going to let me marry a Japanese woman. In fact, he was going to send me away from Japan. He gave me orders to leave Japan very soon that, and I had to tell your mom."
Ann : And he described how upset she was and how upset he was and how she took him to the train station to say goodbye, how they said goodbye. They were crying. It was awful. He left, the train left. She told me she sat on the train station and cried for hours and couldn't move until finally she picked herself up and went on. My dad ended up on a ship in the Mediterranean. And it took him years, two years before he found somebody who would carry his application papers, his papers to apply to go back to Japan. There was a commanding officer on the ship who took the papers back. They approved him. Two years later he goes back to Japan, checks in, then takes a long train back up to Yamagata, which is this Northern region of rice farming. Really a poor rural area where my mother was from.
Ann : He knocked on the door of my mom's family home and a woman opened the door who turned out to be my grandmother. And this is where the story actually becomes pretty intense because she screams seeing this six foot three green-eyed American in rural Japan, they'd not seen this. And calls for my mother because he was asking for my mother, my mother comes running out. They had this beautiful, oh my God, I'm seeing you again kind of moment, coming back together crying and sobbing. And it was in the middle of this when my father recognized, suddenly he realized that she was very, very small and he stepped away from her. And for the first time realized that she was skeletal. She was obviously sick.
Ann : And that's when he found out for the first time that she'd been given a terminal diagnosis of tuberculosis and that she was going to die. At this point, an American sailor could marry a Japanese woman, but he could not marry a sick one. My dad confessed to me later that he lied to the US Navy. He gave the US Navy my mother's sister's healthy chest x-rays in his application process, they were approved. He married my mother and then convinced the Navy to make her well. She went under the knife in a joint operation. One of the first I'm told by him in which Japanese and American doctors went in and essentially they removed 90% of one of her lungs. That's how sick she was.
Ann : And so for the rest of her life, she would only have one lung and 10% of the other. He rented a house because after the surgery she had to be nursed at home. He nursed her at home, brought down her mother who was against the marriage to help take care of her. And one day the Japanese grandmother who was nursing my mother back to health. After this surgery, she woke up and she saw that the mud had been scrubbed from her boots by my father. She saw that my mother's bedpan had been changed and her hair had been combed and she'd been fed. And all of a sudden my Japanese grandmother burst into tears and ran to my mother. And my mother said, told me the story of how she burst in crying and said, "I cannot believe I did not want you to marry this man. How could any man love a woman this much?"
Ann : And that is how this marriage between two people from two very different worlds began, this loyalty, this insistence on being together at such a young age. My mother would later tell me, "Anna," in her accent which I can tell you why I know it but anyway I think it's a beautiful accent, so I sometimes will talk about her using her accent. "Anna, we were like Romeo, Juliet, Japanese style." And this was the beginning of a family in which they raised five children of whom I'm the oldest.
Erik : Wow, so you're the first. I'm getting goosebumps. That's beautiful.
Jeff: You've got connections, Ann. I mean, there needs to be a screenplay. I mean, that is an amazing story of devotion and love. And I still can't even get over the fact that two ... was it two years that passed on the time that he was away from Japan, and somehow located her and went back to her?
Ann : Right. Well, he actually had an address and he was sending while he was gone letters that she couldn't read of course. And he was worried about her, so he'd send some money if he could. But it was not in Japanese money, so it didn't really work. But the point he was trying to reach out to her and she barely had a high school education, so I don't know if she wrote back or in what condition those letters might've been. There was very little communication in those two years, but he just would not give up trying to get back to Japan and to see her.
Ann : And so when he did arrive, my mother told me she had no idea that he was coming. She thought she was going to die. And when she went in for surgery, she thought she was saying goodbye to him possibly again forever. When he told her, "Hang tough, you're going to go in surgery." She thought she could die. And she actually was told she could die. They really went through a lot as young people to stay together in spite of so much, language differences, cultural differences, people sort of trying to stop them, including her mother, including the US Navy. There's a lot that could have gone wrong there, but they stuck it out. They had some kind of resilience. They had some kind of a commitment that allowed them to overcome the hindrances. And I think that's the legacy.
Ann : My mother used to tell me, "Anna, ganbaru," which is a Japanese word, which means to never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up even and especially when there is no chance of winning. Hear me when I say that. She is teaching me and my brothers and sisters from a young age, a very key idea in Japanese culture, ganbaru, G-A-N-B-A-R-U is how it's usually spelled. And it's an idea that means to have toughness. It means to endure the pain, the suffering, to get you to the purpose, the goal that you're trying to achieve. She taught me ganbaru, and ganbaru was what she exhibited in this story. Ganbaru is what my father exhibited. Ganbaru is how she lived her life coming to America and experiencing overt racism many times. Ganbaru is what allowed her to be the mother to five children, with not a lot of income. Ganbaru was the message.
Erik : And she came to the US, and it looks like you guys moved around a lot like in Guam and you were all over the place, it seemed like. And she didn't know the language. And as you said, there's this probably at that time even more like this prejudice against Japanese folks. Lots of barriers there that I imagine they experienced. But as you grew up and wanted to become a broadcaster, were there a lot of barriers for you being Japanese American or even being a woman? Were there some barriers that you remember having to break through? Or was that something that made you stand out?
Ann : I wish I had learned earlier in life, but I have learned late in life that what makes you different is actually what makes you special as you say, stand out, and you should embrace that thing. Because that thing is a part of this that lets you define yourself as being different though we all want to be the same as others. But the thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you actually special. I wish I had known this when I was younger because when I was younger, what I saw was that we were the rare family that was biracial and that I was the rare person, except my brothers and sisters, wherever we went, that were half Asian and half Caucasian.
Ann : And we all experienced a lot of overt racism being called ... I was called a Jap growing up. It happened in third grade, a kid called me Jap and ran around me and actually was singing, "Ann is a Jap, Ann is a Jap." And I remember looking at him and I didn't know what to do. And so I just slapped him in the face and he fell on the ground and all the kids were screaming and yelling and I was mute and there was blood coming out and the teacher came in and it was a big thing. And my classmates told the teacher what had happened. I couldn't speak. And to her credit and to my ... which I think really helped me in my future really in that moment, I think it was a pivotal moment in my life. She did not take me to the principal's office. She told me to go sit down at my desk and she took him to the principal's office, this and probably the nurse.
Ann : And unfortunately nobody at that time would probably have done the thing that we would do today, which is they probably counsel me and counsel him and explain anger and how you don't hit people and all that kind of stuff, and why it's wrong to be racist and all that stuff. Then there was none of that, but she had at least not punished me and that was something. And so for me, I think in fact that this idea of perseverance and overcoming adversity, because of all of these experiences, it makes me think that it is possible to teach our children perseverance and how to overcome adversity. Because if that is true, then perhaps my life could be an example because indeed I did face difficulties in my career many times.
Erik : Well, even before that, so it sounds like, I mean, just to put it bluntly, there were times when you were a kid, I mean, you must have hated the fact that you were different. I mean, I can relate to that totally. I've learned the same lessons that you have in terms of, we all find our way up the rock face in a different way, and that's the beauty of life. But man, I did not have that when I was a kid. I didn't want it to be exactly like everyone else. And I hated the fact that I was different.
Jeff: Ann, I actually heard you talk about this concept of categorization. How we tend to as humans, and I think that kind of dovetails from what we're talking about, how we almost intrinsically or intuitively categorize people, whether we profile them or we put them in a certain box and we do that in order to relate to our own little categorizational box. And clearly I think we see that, we've seen it since the dawn of time and we see it very vibrantly today. What is your take on the subjectivity or the objectivity and how we as humans do that and how we can transcend that if at all with regards to feeling a connection to somebody irregardless of that categorical box.
Ann : I think it's a lack of knowledge, Jeff. What we don't understand is what the newest revelations in science are just beginning to really teach us. And what we're learning from people who are understanding the origins of human beings is that we all come from the same biological Adam and Eve, every single one of us.
Jeff: 99%, right?
Ann : Right. And while there are vast differences between peoples and cultures, there are far more similarities between peoples and cultures and that we all have the capacity to do terrible things. We all have the capacity to do wonderful things. Even people who do terrible things, even criminal things that we can't imagine ourselves ever doing or even thinking about, we can on some level understand that person because that person is a human being. And so this is the thing I think I've come to conclude.
Ann : I've interviewed people who are accused of genocide and I've looked in their eyes and asked them questions. And what I see is often a dream that they tell themselves about what justifies their actions. I've looked in the eyes of people who are humanitarians, who've given so much more of themselves that any one of us might think we could give ourselves, but yet we look into their eyes and we see their actions, we can actually see ourselves possibly doing that as well. What I'm saying is because of the kinds of stories in disasters, humanitarian disasters, in war zones, in beauty among artists, among philosophers and even politicians who I say even only because sometimes it's difficult for them to always tell us the truth. But even in them, you can find these moments where you recognize when you see the truth, that the truth is that we are connected.
Ann : The truth is that we are more connected than we are separate and that our need to categorize which was an evolved trait and to some degree a learned trait, ultimately for survival limits us in recognizing that we are actually all in one family. And in that one family, we are each other's brothers and sisters. Categorization, I think it's a really good question, Jeff, is a part of us, but this also is a part of us. We just don't know it yet.
Erik : And Ann you've been to all these amazing places, as you were saying, interviewing people, covering humanitarian disasters and environmental disasters. I mean, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, in Kenya looking at Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab. How about the fear and the risk? You know what I mean? How do you do that? How do you handle that? Because I mean, or do you just block it out or you just persevere like your mom said? How do you handle that?
Ann : For me, this is the process. Is the project worth it? Is the risk worth it, right? This is what you guys think when you're climbing a mountain or any one of us. Is the plan, the process, the goal worth it? Okay, it's worth it. We've decided it's worth it. And how do we do it in the safest way? It's like you, Erik, figuring out your pieces, getting the time to learn how to match the right piece for the right size in the crack, right. How to figure that out. It's about figuring that bit by bit, having the skills to do that and making sure that the team you assemble that everybody has skills that will contribute.
Ann : One of the things I used to do is think about, okay, so what if we go into a situation and we're in a dangerous place and my cameraman or the producer don't want to keep going and the rest of us do, and we can leave that person in a safe place. What do we do? How do we proceed? Well, I'm not going to make the cameraman go and risk more. I'm not going to let the producer feel like he or she's going to take that risk. That's when I picked up a camera and learned how to be a camera person as well. And that's how I encourage the producer to think about being the reporter. And in other words, we would create the system. And my plan when I led the team into these kinds of circumstances, was that everybody's instincts matter, that there isn't a hierarchy in terms of the danger. The danger part, we are all in this together and we're looking after each other. That's what we're doing.
Ann : And so the goal, the number one goal of every one of these reporting projects was to get everybody out safely, that was the number one goal. The second goal was to bring out a good story. If it conflicted with the first goal, we wouldn't do the second goal, or we wouldn't do it as well. But the first goal, which I'm proud to say that I've participated in keeping my team safe. And I'm sure that's how you guys are thinking when you're climbing a mountain.
Erik : Sure.
Ann : You've got to think that way.
Erik : The similarities are like eerily connected. Yeah.
Ann : And you also don't want to waste time. Especially when you're climbing a mountain, you're thinking, okay, we got to get in and get out before the storm. In our case, if you're going to Syria, which was especially dangerous, because we didn't know where the frontline was, it kept moving. There were aerial bombs being dropped, some were dropped near us. When we were in Somalia, we were shot at, we didn't know where they were, this was when we were uncovering the Al Qaeda linked bomb factory. Anyway, you've got to get in, get it done and get out. You don't want to sit around and waste your time. That's the same kind of thing when you're climbing a mountain.
Erik : Well, we fail 50% of the time in the mountains. So were there times where you aborted the mission? You're like, "This is just way too much. We got to get out of here."
Ann : That happened in Somalia. And that happened in Syria. And that also happened in Lebanon to some degree when we were driving from Beirut South, Israel was bombing parts of Lebanon, at that time it was at war. They were attacking rebel groups. And we'd heard about an area that had been hit with cluster bombs. And we were going down in that direction, so we had to drive cars that were far apart from each other to protect ourselves. But the biggest moment I would say, and this is a tough one, but a really powerful story.
Ann : In Lebanon during covering that war, we went down to a part of the city that it was being really hammered. And I covered 9/11, so I can say this, it looked like 9/11 down there. I mean, buildings that were pretty significant were down on the ground. Dust was everywhere. It was just a terrible place to be in. And we were led down there along with a lot of other reporters to kind of take a look at the damage. So we're down there kind of documenting what had happened the night before, when a woman shows up who is clearly not healthy. And so all the reporters flocked to her, I followed them over to her. She was having a hard time breathing.
Ann : And in her language, it was interpreted to us that she had gone back before the last night's bombing, the night before the bombing raid to get her heart medication and was trapped by the bombing. And so spent the entire night in her home while they was bombing happening around her and was now trying to flee. After she made the statement, the walkie-talkies rung out that another plane from Israel was coming. And so all the reporters and everybody ran and I started to run too. And I looked back and there was that woman, overweight, unable to move fast, left alone. And I had a decision to make, I had a cameraman, a producer, and also a security guy. And I said, "Guys, go, I'm going to help her out." And they said, "No, no, no." And they kept yelling at me, "Come, come, come." And I said, "I can't." And it was hard.
Ann : I helped her out essentially with her on my arm by myself because I couldn't leave her because she was in a situation where we had just interviewed her. We gotten something from her and now we're all in danger and we're going to just leave her. It took a long time. She needed to stop and take breaks. The security guy insisted on staying with me. He kept getting data, "Okay, let's go this way. Let's avoid the bridge because that's what they're going to attack." Anyway, it took a long time. It took probably 30, 40 minutes to get out of there, I mean, at least. And she's sweating, I think she's going to have a heart attack on the way because of the stress is so intense.
Ann : Finally, we get out of the danger zone. I get her into a car. We paid the guy, said, "Look, take her to where she's staying." She thanked me, she left. I go find my team and they proceed to yell at the top of their lungs at me because you know what I did, I not only put my life in danger, I put in danger the life of the security guy, because it was his job to protect me. There you have a no win situation, that is a no win situation. And they were right. But I was also right. Why? Because I got around safely.
Erik : Yeah, that's mission impossible, isn't it?
Ann : It is mission impossible. And I remember coming out just feeling horrible because I'd let down my team, the security guy forgave me, thank God. But it would have been a lot easier on him had I left, right.
Erik : Yeah. But how do you handle that piece too? Because that's like, so leaving this woman behind that you just interviewed knowing that there's a chance she could die or so many people that you're leaving behind and then covering genocide and earthquakes and the tsunami in Asia and Japan. I'm telling you, I feel like I'm pretty tough. I've climbed a lot of mountains. I teach all these no barriers principles to thousands of people. And I still get sick in my stomach when I think about, I don't know, some of the struggles in the world that I've seen, you know what I mean? And maybe that just means I'm a softie, but does that give you some PTSD as you go forward in life? Or does it make you more hopeful or how do you handle that? Because we have a lot of folks in our community who struggled with the past, with the weight and the trauma of the past, and are looking for ideas of how to go forward.
Ann : Absolutely. I have suffered PTSD because of the projects that I have taken on. I have not been clinically diagnosed with it, but I know I've had it because I've had recurring behaviors that indicate that I'm upset or afraid about the very same thing over and over again. It's affected my life, it's affected my sleep and it takes time to get over things. But nevertheless, I have allowed myself to continue to do those kinds of take on those kinds of PTSD causing projects, because ultimately the purpose is bigger, right? I have this purpose, give voice to the voiceless. Connect people by letting people see who the others are. Let us hear them and let us see who we think we are. That's kind of what I do. I tell stories like this.
Ann : Some of the things I saw in Haiti after the earthquake there, how people were hurt, how difficult it was to get any care to people even months after the earthquake, in some parts of Haiti, they did not get medical care. And so, I mean, when you see that kind of level of human suffering, it's really hard. Every time I came back from a story like that, and there were so many, almost always I would say, "Okay Ann you're going to feel bummed out for a couple of weeks." And for the first couple of days, if I could, oftentimes I couldn't, I had to run back and be anchoring the news or something. But even if I couldn't immediately, I would find time to stay in bed in my pajamas, cry a little bit, recognize how I was feeling, understand that this was a part of the suffering that I endured for the purpose of achieving a bigger goal and this bigger goal was worth it.
Ann : And that I am only experiencing what I'm experiencing because I saw the suffering really of others who deserve to be seen and heard. And so I'm not even suffering as they were suffering. So that this perspective, having purpose for your suffering is really the key to overcoming suffering. There's a book by Viktor Frankl. And if people who are listening have not read it, you should, it's called Man's Search for Meaning. And I think the first part of the book is really the most interesting part because Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who was also someone who was studying psychology. And so he was one I think, he's really sort of documented in a way that I think is really credible, the value of having a sense of purpose for your suffering. I found this book later and it augmented and reinforced some of the ideas I found just through experiencing some of this.
Erik : Is this something like the world's losing a little bit, because now we talk about integration like fulfillment and happiness and purpose, and it all fits together. But what I'm kind of hearing you saying is that there is a personal cost to doing big things, and you have to figure out how to endure that for that higher purpose. But you're not denying that there is a personal sacrifice or a personal cause. You're not doing the easiest thing for your own personal mind and body.
Ann : What a boring life that would be, to only do what's comfortable. I mean, I get it and I don't really judge it for you if that's what you decided that you just want nice clothes and a cozy bed and a warm shower and good food and that's life for you. I think for me my father when I was growing up, I'd say, "Hey dad, what do you think I should do in life? What do you think should be my goal?" I'm trying to figure out what job I should have. He'd say, "Ann," and I'm 12 years old when he says this for the first time, "Ann, whatever you do, whatever you decide, do something in your life that is of some service to someone else, because only then will you know on your last day, as you breathe your last breath, that it mattered that you were here."
Ann : Now I'm 12 years old and that is heavy when you're 12. And he said it every time we had a conversation about this. He would say, "Do something that is of some service to someone else." And I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. I was watching the civil rights movement on television, the women's liberation movement, Watergate, the Vietnam war was affecting kids in my school who were going off to war. I was younger than them, but my gosh, they got a piece of paper and suddenly they were going to go fight a war in Vietnam. I mean, all of this was happening and I recognized that information was power. And so I decided that I wanted to be a reporter because I thought it was a way of being of some service to others, to try to respond to people's need for information.
Ann : And think about it, information is not just something that is nice to have. Information is what we need if we're going to be a functioning democracy. Information is something actually can help us live a healthier life. And sometimes it can save our life and protect our loved ones. And so I wanted to be that. I wanted to be like an EMT, but only with information, so that's how I wanted to be of service. And so my dad, I said, "Dad, I've decided now. I'm going to be a reporter." And I remember him looking at me and he made a joke, he goes, "Well, I actually only said that because I thought I wanted to tell you that I wanted you to go into the store." And I said, "Oh, really?" He goes, "No, I'm just kidding." So anyway, that was just a joke.
Erik : Although captain Curry does have a ring to it, that's pretty cool.
Ann : Well, kid Curry maybe is more like it when you talk about me. Anyway, but that was the goal. I think that for me having a life of purpose that serves others in some way, and I think it's always about striving, it's not every ... you don't always achieve what you want, what your purpose is. You don't always achieve your purpose, but you're trying to get to something. You take on something that's really hard and you're not sure you're going to reach the top of Mount Everest. You're not sure that the story you're going into Somalia to get is going to resonate with anybody.
Ann : You don't know if going to Congo to do a story about the rape of so many and the war that's killed so many people and the rape of women that's a forgotten war. You don't know if that's even going to resonate, or if your bosses are going to be upset with you, or God forbid if somebody on your team gets hurt, but you go, right. You make that effort in that thoughtful way. And you strive to reach as you did the top of Mount Everest, as the two of you did. It's the practice. It's the effort. It's almost more than reaching the top that's important.
Erik : That's awesome. You're going to make me cry.
Ann : Oh, you've made me cry before, so it just deserves. Jeff, did you have a question?
Jeff: I've got a million questions now. I'm a physician assistant and trauma physician assistant, and I've done a lot of disaster medicine in Haiti and Nepal after the earthquakes. And then most notably in Iraq, I was in Mosul embedded with the Iraqi special operations forces in 2017 as they were liberating center city Mosul and I was there. We came under fire, ISIS found out we were there. They were dropping RPGs on us, came really close, were shooting at us. It was a big deal. I came home. I was a little bit strewed up for a while. I had to cry. I had to let it out. I had to process this whole thing.
Jeff: But then I finally put it to bed in a similar way that you said Ann, was by realizing that my discomfort paled in comparison to what I saw those Iraqi citizens going through, those citizens of Mosul and what they were going through. And that anything I was feeling should be real and acknowledged and honored. But I need to realize that I was there to help in a bigger capacity. I'll leave it there with you. I'd love to hear your commentary on that.
Ann : I think that finding this idea of the reason why you went, being clear about it before you go, when somebody comes to you and asks you to take on a challenge that will likely traumatize you, may even give you PTSD, will mean that you might fear for your life or the lives around you. Then having a clear sense of mission is really important. When people are thinking about, for example, I don't think you could do what you did or I could do the kind of work I did thinking, "Oh, this is good for my career." Okay, that's not it. You can't really do it because for I think any purpose than something higher and bigger than you.
Ann : When you suffer for a reason, and that reason is to help others, and I'm thinking this might be true for you, Jeff. It's something that in the end, you don't regret even though it's painful as you go through the processing of all that stuff, after all those months of questioning and really PTSD, you can come away really feeling proud of yourself. And I hope you do feel that. And this is the same way of thinking that you two have had to find and so many of your listeners have had to find, to endure, being willing to go to war to endure the struggle of having to be in war, to endure disabilities or having to climb mountains or all the things that people have put themselves through to achieve. This is the same kind of thing, except for the ... all of this I think is related to this journey, the greatest journey, the journey within.
Erik : If we just rip that chunk out of the podcast, that'll be well worth it, because I know people will take that advice Ann so that's awesome. Well, all right, so we've covered suffering and all of these emotional topics. There's some joy though too, right? God, when I was reading your bio hanging out in Shackleton's hut and Antarctica and interviewing Edmund Hillary and the Dalai Lama, what's the bliss? Where did you pinch yourself and go, "I can't believe I do this for a living."
Ann : I mean, constant. I mean, finding Shackleton's was really crazy because I wasn't sure what to expect. We were in Antarctica as part of a television extravaganza that was sort of alive extravaganza, where people were sent to four corners of the world to sort of talk about them. My focus was really, as it has been for a long time, is to put climate change reporting into a lot of this reporting because I wanted to document what was happening in Antarctica and that was my motivation. And we got lots of documentation and we reported on that stuff.
Ann : We flew to Erebus. Erebus I think is name of the volcano. We flew all around in helicopters. And I even made it to the South pole, which was a moment. But in one moment I was told that there was a Shackleton's hut somewhere down there. And I said, "Well, let's go." And we went and there was nobody standing there waiting to take your ticket, nobody charging you to go in. There was nobody guarding it. When I went you just walked in and suddenly you were looking at the cupboards where there were cans of food that were still there. You're looking at this massive stove that somehow they drag there that help keep them alive as they were waiting out the weather.
Ann : You saw the boots that were still there that were roughly made out of hide and the cots and the dust, or was it dust? It was kind of, could have been ice. I mean, it was just this film that was on everything. But that was amazing and I couldn't believe it. I mean, I just couldn't believe it, it was just this crazy moment and I absolutely have had a lot of fun as well. And I think that that's been a great plus of being a journalist is that life is everything, and a journalist job is to report on everything, especially if it relates to human beings. And so you do get access to the beauties and the joys, as well as the darkness, which is all a part of it. So yeah, lots of pinch me moments you can't believe.
Ann : But even in covering the nuclear toxin, Iran and the struggle to not go to war with Iran, which was one of the points in which I went to Iran. Interviewing Ahmadinejad or Rouhani or some of the other leaders and doing specials about these places that America didn't know much about. Just to be in Isfahan, which is one of the seats of ancient Persia. And to taste this delicious food and to see the beauty of the birds and the flowers and to hear the music and to start to get a feeling for what it might have been for Rumi in the Persian empire. I mean, those are pinch moments too.
Erik : Gosh, you've been to everywhere. That's amazing. Such a rich life. We've been to every continent too, so yeah, it's just so lucky to see the world. But so shifting tax a little bit, on your TED Talk you were talking about trust, talking about truth in journalism. Jeff and I were talking earlier, because we're really fascinated by this idea of objective journalism. It seems like the trend now is to be a personality to have this outlandish, flamboyant opinions. And I'll just be super blunt, you get a ton of sheep to just follow you. And almost think you're like a cult leader, to be able to expound on things. And so it seems like Walter Cronkite's are dead in journalism today, is that a trend or am I making that up?
Ann : Well, you're not wrong that it's a trend, but you are not right when you say that there may not be real journalists who are doing good things, good straight reporting. There was a change in journalism that went from, the president said X, Y, and Z today, that was it. Then in the 60s it was, this is what happened today. And as you mentioned, Walter Cronkite, that's the way it was. But then Walter would and specific moments when telling you the facts weren't enough to tell you the truth. Okay, that's an interesting concept.
Ann : When you knew the facts about what was happening every day about the Vietnam war, but nobody was putting it together that this drip, drip, drip meant that we were not winning the war. Even though the government was saying we were winning the war, that's when Walter Cronkite came out and said, "We're not winning the war. And we have to really ask ourselves what we're doing." But that was marked as analysis, as commentary. And that's what's changed now. Now what's going on is that there is another major change. It's not the advent of television. It's the advent of the internet. And the internet has allowed for ... and many internet creators have pushed for it, allowing people who don't know how to be journalists be journalists, okay.
Ann : You have people who never studied journalism or have no idea what the rules and the history of journalism are doing journalism. And then you have the television part especially competing with that. And so they're hiring people who also are not journalists. And so a lot of what you see especially in the cables are people who've never studied journalism, don't know anything about journalism who are what I would call, not even commentators, I would call them opinionators. That's actually a word from way a long time ago, I think the 1800s, the word opinionators. Basically people who are paid to give their opinions. Opinionators don't have to back up their opinions with data and verifiable information. They can just say what they want. And that's where we're in danger. That's not journalism. Opinionators are not journalism, they're not commentators, but they're in positions doing journalism. And that's what's problematic today. And that is what's going to have to change for journalism to survive.
Jeff: I'm just going to say that, I think that the toxic nature of where we sit right now culturally, almost exclusively rides on that cult of personality, opinionator newsfeed, entertainment driven idiocrasy kind of thing that we live in right now that it seems to me like that's it, that's where it all sits and resides. But my question is, as a journalist, Ann, is how do we fix that? Because it's so monetary driven. It's so commercially driven it, that doesn't seem like that's going to go away. How do you fix that?
Ann : Right. I think that the media has a responsibility to be reasonable and thoughtful. And I think that what you talked about Jeff is right on, which is that the way the structure of how media is funded and its emphasis on that because of this transition to the internet there's a lot of fear and worry. And that in this changing landscape that some media organizations are not going to thrive and some are going to die as they have, newspapers have all across especially in the middle of America, small town newspapers have died. That in this insecure financially insecure period, a lot of decisions remain that are the wrong ones. And they're being made for clicks and circulations and ratings.
Ann : And those kinds of stories are not the ones that will be reasonable and thoughtful. But journalism needs reasonableness and thoughtfulness to find the truth. And so to find the truth and to tell the truth it doesn't mean that you have to tell both sides, but you definitely have to hear both sides. Sometimes truth does not have two sides. Sometimes it's very clear based on all the verifiable information that there isn't another side. But unless you have verifiable facts, verifiable information, that there is only one side, you have to tell two sides or three sides, and you have to listen to all sides. This idea of objectivity, which is a difficult word because it is true that we are human beings who struggle, any one of us to be a 100% objective.
Ann : But if we don't try to hear each other, if we don't try to pay attention to the nuances of truth, the truth always has nuances. It's never as black and white as we think it is. There's always some other part of it. We don't pay attention to that stuff. We're not seeing the truth. And so my advice to your question is that if you hear information that is poorly sourced, and in my view, that is if there's off the record information that doesn't have at least three resources from people who would actually know, and if there's on the record information, is it from somebody who would actually know whether this is true or false. That if it doesn't pass that muster, that bar, then you should be skeptical. If people are highly motivated. And I think this is the key thing. When people are highly motivated to get you to believe what they are saying, you should be skeptical.
Ann : You do not want to listen to people a 100% and follow them if their motivation is to convince you to do something. You want to listen to the facts that are given to you without that kind of passion. People need to understand that information is used to manipulate and you don't want to be the victim of propaganda because you're unwilling to listen to another side. And I think it's when we are able to pay attention, not just to the voice that sounds just like us and tells us exactly what we want to hear, but tells us the truth. It's not about hearing another side, what is the truth? And you just are not going to hear the truth if you only hear what you want to hear. And that would be my message to anyone listening.
Erik : Great advice and wonderful. Well, Ann, we could keep you all day. But I know you got a busy schedule and man we are so psyched to be able to get an hour of your life and perspective and all the important things that we talked about today. And in terms of my pinching moments that'll be climbing the seven summits and interviewing Ann Curry.
Ann : Oh, come on. [crosstalk 00:54:54].
Erik : Serious, it's so great.
Ann : [crosstalk 00:54:56] between those two, I'm sure. But no, I have to say, I enjoyed this conversation because it really was a conversation of, I think lucky us and lucky listeners who have done something with their lives to actually want to think about overcoming barriers. In other words, this idea of overcoming barriers, which connects we three and everyone who's listening is really about reaching something and having to be able to be in the mindset that there is something that you want to reach, but you've got to overcome and be willing to learn about how to do that. I mean, I think that's part of the win.
Ann : Again, as Erik says, is I think the effort, whether or not you achieve your purpose, whether or not you, as you talked about Jeff, ultimately accomplished the service that you want to accomplish for someone. Just the fact that you're motivated to do so, that you've tried, that you've practiced, you've made the effort. That is reason to be proud of yourselves. And I think I'm proud of both of you. And I send my encouragement to everyone listening.
Erik : Thanks. Well, wonderful, Ann. Thank you. And for everyone, no barriers, keep reaching, right?
Ann : Exactly.
Jeff: Yeah. Thanks Ann. See you next time.
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