Lawsuit Targets Syrian Regime In Journalist's Killing

Marie Colvin, shown here in London in November 2010, was killed in Homs, Syria, on Feb. 22, 2012, along with photographer Remi Ochlik. She lost her left eye after being hit by shrapnel while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2001.

Marie Colvin, shown here in London in November 2010, was killed in Homs, Syria, on Feb. 22, 2012, along with photographer Remi Ochlik. She lost her left eye after being hit by shrapnel while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2001. WPA Pool/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption WPA Pool/Getty Images

Four years ago, veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin, an American reporter for a British newspaper, was killed in Syria.

Now her family has filed a lawsuit alleging that high-ranking Syrian officials deliberately killed the award-winning reporter.

Colvin, 56, died in shelling after reporting from Homs, a city held by rebels and under attack from government forces. The young French photographer Rémi Ochlik was also killed. The two had been working in a makeshift media center in Baba Amr, the district of Homs under the heaviest shelling. Two other Western journalists were wounded, but survived, as more than 10 rockets destroyed the media center.

The lawsuit alleges Colvin was “assassinated by Syrian government agents as she reported on the suffering of civilians.”

Lawyers say it’s the first U.S. case brought against the Syrian regime over its conduct in the 5-years-running civil war.

“It’s extremely important that we get the full story,” says Scott Gilmore, an attorney with the Center for Justice and Accountability, a U.S.-based human rights group that filed the suit on Saturday in a Washington, D.C. federal district court on behalf of Colvin’s family.

“It’s been a question that has been on everyone’s mind ever since Feb. 22, 2012,” he says. “How did it happen and why did it happen? Who was responsible?”

Colvin was an intrepid war reporter with decades of experience in every major conflict zone in the world. She was known for her personal style and a signature black patch over her left eye, lost in a harrowing grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001.

Smuggled into Syria with photographer Paul Conroy in February 2012, Colvin broadcast live TV reports at the media center for the BBC, CNN, and the British broadcaster Channel 4. Her powerful accounts of besieged civilians, starving women and wounded children undermined government attempts to control the coverage of clashes. Thousands of civilians were trapped in the neighborhood of Baba Amr along with rebel fighters.

Syrian media activists uploaded daily videos of civilian suffering, which the government could dismiss. But a high-profile Western war correspondent raised the profile of the conflict and undermined government claims that Syrian civilians were dying at the hands of an armed insurgency.

In Colvin’s final broadcast for CNN, she challenged the Syrian government’s claims that the army was only shelling insurgents. “It’s a complete and utter lie they’re only going after terrorists,” Colvin told Anderson Cooper. “The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.”

The CJA case alleges that Syrian officials tracked Colvin’s location through a web of informants and electronic surveillance. On the night of her final broadcast, Gilmore says, Syrian intelligence officials intercepted broadcast signals to get Colvin’s coordinates.

“It was a match with the informant. They launched the attack the following morning.”

Gilmore, the lead investigator, has worked on the case for four years, tracking down eyewitnesses to build the case. He says his witness list includes media activists as well as government and military defectors, and “testimonies of observers and participants,” many of whom are now out of Syria.

At the time of Colvin’s death, Syrian authorities insisted they were not aware she had entered the country. Syria’s information minister Adnan Mahmud urged “all foreign journalists who entered Syria illegally to report to the nearest immigration office to legalize their presence.”

A Perfect Storm of Jurisdiction

The CJA lawsuit is the first case seeking to hold the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for war crimes.

“It is a jurisdictional perfect storm,” says Gilmore. In most cases, a sovereign government is immune from prosecution in a U.S. court. But a notable exception is “when a designated state sponsor of terrorism has murdered a U.S. citizen,” according to Gilmore.

The lawsuit was filed under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that permits victims to sue designated state sponsors of terrorism. There are three countries the State Department currently lists: Syria, Sudan and Iran.

Syrian officials have not yet responded to the Colvin case. The Syrian Arab Republic has been named as the defendant in the complaint. If the Syrian government chooses not to respond, then the D.C. federal judge will conduct a default hearing. Gilmore says he wants a public hearing of the evidence he’s amassed.

“The regime wanted to wage a war without witness against the democratic opposition. To do that, they needed to neutralize the media,” he says. He intends to prove the case in court.

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The Days After: A Nation Reacts To The Week's Violence

Worshipers participate in a "United To Heal Prayer Vigil" at Cathedral Guadalupe in Dallas on Friday, in honor of the police officers who were slain on Thursday.

Worshipers participate in a “United To Heal Prayer Vigil” at Cathedral Guadalupe in Dallas on Friday, in honor of the police officers who were slain on Thursday. Gerald Herbert/AP hide caption

toggle caption Gerald Herbert/AP

People across the country joined protests and held vigils late this week, following two highly publicized police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. As those incidents dominated headlines and social media, a sniper targeted law enforcement at a peaceful protest in Dallas, killing five police officers and shocking the nation.

On Saturday, President Obama rejected the notion that these latest tragedies portended the country’s return to an era of racial brutality.

“You’re not seeing riots and you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully,” he said from Warsaw, Poland, where he was attending a NATO summit. “You’ve seen almost uniformly peaceful protests and you’ve seen, uniformly, police handling those protests with professionalism.”

Here are scenes of protest, prayer and activism from around the country.

Dallas

Since Thursday’s shooting left five police officers dead, several blocks of downtown Dallas have been blockaded, with public access to a large part of the area denied. But at many of the street corners with police cars and caution tape keeping people out, area residents have gathered to sit, think, talk, reflect, cry and pray.

A woman speaks with an officer at a vigil outside Dallas police headquarters in Dallas on Friday.

A woman speaks with an officer at a vigil outside Dallas police headquarters in Dallas on Friday. Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to be feeling, or what I’m supposed to be thinking,” said music teacher Nora Woolpert, she sat in the grass across the street from one of the blockades. “All I know is that I can’t find a reason to leave, but there is no reason to stay. I don’t know what I’m looking at. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be talking to, or how I’m supposed to process it.”

(Top) A parishioner places a prayer to a crucifix before entering a vigil at Cathedral Guadalupe on Friday, in honor of the Dallas police officers who were slain Thursday. (Left) Dallas police officers comfort each other on Friday near police cars decorated as a public memorial at police headquarters. (Right) Buildings in downtown Dallas are lit with blue to support the police.

(Top) A parishioner places a prayer to a crucifix before entering a vigil at Cathedral Guadalupe on Friday, in honor of the Dallas police officers who were slain Thursday. (Left) Dallas police officers comfort each other on Friday near police cars decorated as a public memorial at police headquarters. (Right) Buildings in downtown Dallas are lit with blue to support the police. Gerald Herbert/AP (2); Eric Gay/AP hide caption

toggle caption Gerald Herbert/AP (2); Eric Gay/AP

That sentiment has been present all throughout the city: a need to do something, comfort someone, be comforted, paired with a realization that answers for the hard questions this week raised aren’t yet knowable for many.

Whether it was outside Dallas Police Department headquarters, where thousands had covered two squad cars with notes, flowers, balloons and candles or all over the city as a multiracial group of Dallas police officers comforted civilians, many in the the city came together in mourning.

People attend a vigil outside Dallas police headquarters on Thursday.

People attend a vigil outside Dallas police headquarters on Thursday. Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It was a direct contradiction to some of the harsh rhetoric to be found online — and often in our nation’s politics — over the last few days and months. When a black woman began to shed tears near a squad car, an older white man came to her and wiped them from her cheeks with her hands.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and countless other leaders have said that the city needs to enter a time of healing, unite and start having some difficult conversations about race. It remains to be seen whether all three of those challenges will be accepted, but the “unite” part seems to be off to a positive start in the city.

Baton Rouge, La.

(Left) Protesters face off with Baton Rouge police in riot gear across the street from the police department on Friday in Baton Rouge, La. (Right) Pastor Johnny Young blesses Kaleigh Yates, a first cousin of Alton Sterling, outside the convenience store where he was shot and killed.

(Left) Protesters face off with Baton Rouge police in riot gear across the street from the police department on Friday in Baton Rouge, La. (Right) Pastor Johnny Young blesses Kaleigh Yates, a first cousin of Alton Sterling, outside the convenience store where he was shot and killed. Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

In this city where a struggle with police left 37-year-old Alton Sterling dead this week, leaders gathered before a crowd on Friday afternoon, extolling Baton Rouge’s civil rights history and urging citizens to use nonviolent civil disobedience to respond to the recent tragedies.

But things boiled over during protests outside the Baton Rouge police headquarters on Friday night. Frozen water bottles were thrown at law enforcement officers, demonstrators tried to block a highway and at least 3 people were arrested for inciting a riot, according to nola.com.

More protests were scheduled for Saturday.

Minnesota

Minnesota Public Radio via YouTube
(Left) A memorial at the intersection where Philando Castile was shot on Thursday in Falcon Heights, Minn. (Right) Activists and community members protest the killing of Philando Castile on Thursday in St. Paul, Minn.

(Left) A memorial at the intersection where Philando Castile was shot on Thursday in Falcon Heights, Minn. (Right) Activists and community members protest the killing of Philando Castile on Thursday in St. Paul, Minn. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In the three days since the death of 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor Philando Castile during a traffic stop, demonstrators have remained calm while camped outside of the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minn.

Gov. Mark Dayton has met with the protestors several times and said he will not order that they be removed.

Around The Country

Marchers numbering nearly 1,000 took to the streets in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., to protest against the recent fatal shootings of black men by police. Freeway ramps were closed and pepper spray and tear gas were used.

Marchers numbering nearly 1,000 took to the streets in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., to protest against the recent fatal shootings of black men by police. Freeway ramps were closed and pepper spray and tear gas were used. Ross D. Franklin/AP hide caption

toggle caption Ross D. Franklin/AP

About 1,000 people marched in Phoenix on Friday night, and the protest remained calm until demonstrators tried to move onto the interstate, according to The Associated Press. Police closed freeway ramps and used pepper spray and tear gas to deter protesters. A few people threw rocks at police officers hitting their helmets and protective gear, leading to three arrests.

A peaceful march in Los Angeles, led by rappers Snoop Dogg and The Game, ended at the police headquarters, where they met with Mayor Eric Garcetti and police chief. They urged the city’s leaders to push for better relations between authorities and minority communities.

(Clockwise from top left) Protestors in front of the White House on Friday; Rapper Snoop Dogg is greeted by police officer Beatrice Girmala on Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. during a peaceful demonstration; Hundreds held a rally and march along Market Street in San Francisco, Calif; Madia Alluding (left) and her granddaughter Danielette Johnson hold candles at city hall in Portland, Maine.

(Clockwise from top left) Protestors in front of the White House on Friday; Rapper Snoop Dogg is greeted by police officer Beatrice Girmala on Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. during a peaceful demonstration; Hundreds held a rally and march along Market Street in San Francisco, Calif; Madia Alluding (left) and her granddaughter Danielette Johnson hold candles at city hall in Portland, Maine. Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images; Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images; Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images; Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images; Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images; Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

In San Francisco, an estimated 2,000 protesters marched from downtown to City Hall, calling for peaceful protest in the face of violence. In Washington, D.C., hundreds gathered in front of the White House, chanting “black lives matter.”

(Top) People take part in a protest in Grand Central Station on Friday. (Left) A woman holds a sign during a protest in New York City on Friday. (Right) A protester shouts slogans as people march across the Williamsburg bridge in New York City. Demonstrators chanted “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice no peace.” Kena Betancur/Getty Images (2); Andres Kudacki/AP hide caption

toggle caption Kena Betancur/Getty Images (2); Andres Kudacki/AP

(Left) A protestor shouts slogans as they march from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York City on Friday. (Right) Protesters march and shout slogans as bystanders express their support in New York City on Friday. About 300 people took to the streets of New York City to protest the recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.

(Left) A protestor shouts slogans as they march from Manhattan to Brooklyn in New York City on Friday. (Right) Protesters march and shout slogans as bystanders express their support in New York City on Friday. About 300 people took to the streets of New York City to protest the recent police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. Andres Kudacki/AP hide caption

toggle caption Andres Kudacki/AP

People also took to the streets in New York City, starting with speeches in Union Square and then breaking into groups to march across the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn and through Grand Central Terminal, according to The Associated Press.

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'This Is Not How We Want Our Communities To Operate,' Obama Says After Deadly Week

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a press conference during the second day of the NATO Summit at the Polish National Stadium in Warsaw on Saturday.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a press conference during the second day of the NATO Summit at the Polish National Stadium in Warsaw on Saturday. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

After a deadly week in the U.S., President Obama told reporters that “that there’s unity in recognizing this is not how we want our communities to operate.” Two deadly police shooting of black men captured headlines, followed by an attack at a protest in Dallas that killed five policemen.

“This is not who we want to be as Americans,” he said. And that recognition, Obama added, “serves as the basis for us being able to move forward in a constructive and positive way.” He argued that the U.S. is, in reality, “not as divided as some have suggested,” saying people of all races and backgrounds are outraged by attacks on police and about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Describing Dallas shooting suspect Micah Xavier Johnson as a “demented individual,” Obama said he “is no more representative of African Americans than the shooter in Charleston was representative of white Americans, or the shooter in Orlando or San Bernardino were representative of Muslim Americans. They don’t speak for us.”

He wouldn’t speculate on the motives of the shooter, but said: “I think the danger … is that we somehow suggest that an act of a troubled individual speaks to some larger political statement across the country. It doesn’t.”

Obama said the number of guns on the street is making the job of police officers more difficult and dangerous. “Part of what’s creating tensions between communities and police is that police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere,” he said. If you care the safety of our police officers, then you can’t set aside gun issue and pretend that that’s irrelevant.”

As we reported, the girlfriend of police shooting victim Philando Castile said he had a licensed firearm in the vehicle when police pulled them over for a broken taillight. She said the officer shot Castile in the arm multiple times when he reached to get his driver’s license and registration.

In his comments to reporters, Obama indicated that he thought Castile’s gun contributed to that shooting: “In Minneapolis, we don’t know yet what happened but we do know there was a gun in the car that apparently was licensed. But it caused, in some fashion, those tragic events.”

Obama is in Poland to participate in a NATO summit, his last before the end of his presidential term. He is set to travel to Dallas later in the week.

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'A Government-Sponsored Disaster': Florida Asks For Federal Help With Toxic Algae

The blue-green algae is called cyanobacteria. It can release toxins that affect the liver and nervous system.

The blue-green algae is called cyanobacteria. It can release toxins that affect the liver and nervous system. Greg Allen/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Greg Allen/NPR

About a hundred miles north of Miami on the Atlantic Coast, the town of Stuart is a picturesque waterfront community — with homes, restaurants and parks overlooking the St. Lucie Estuary. But in many areas now, when you approach the water, the first thing you notice is the smell.

“There’s no way to describe it,” says John Skinner, a boat salesman in Stuart.

But he still tries. “I would say hundreds of dead animals that have been baking in the sun for weeks.”

The cause of the foul smell is a massive algae bloom that has affected beaches and fishing in communities along the St. Lucie River. The blue-green algae is especially worrisome because it can be toxic and harmful to people and animals that come into contact with it.

In Stuart, Skinner says a thick layer of the blue-green algae began accumulating on the water in the marina last month. It’s now a couple of inches thick in some areas — a greenish muck that coats the docks and the boats. He says the muck is hurting his sales.

“I have people that have bought boats and don’t want to put it in the water,” Skinner says. “And people who don’t want to buy a boat because it’s disgusting in there. They don’t want to put it in. It stains the boats, it smells horrible and it’s toxic.”

“It stains the boats, it smells horrible and it’s toxic,” says the boat salesman John Skinner. Greg Allen/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Greg Allen/NPR

It’s called blue-green algae, but it’s actually a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. It typically thrives in freshwater. Under certain conditions, the bacteria can release a wide variety of toxins that affect the liver and nervous system.

And blue-green algae occurs naturally. But Mike Conner of the environmental advocacy group Bullsugar.org says there’s little natural about this case. “This is a man-made — this is a government-sponsored disaster,” he says.

In Ed Fielding’s view, this is a natural disaster, but one that also involves politics. “We watched the algae come down the locks into the St. Lucie,” he says.

Fielding is a member of the Martin County Commission, which includes Stuart and surrounding communities. The bloom of blue-green algae first showed up months ago in Lake Okeechobee, which occupies part of the county. It’s the country’s second-largest freshwater lake and a catch basin for central and South Florida.

Fearful that the algae bloom could spread, Fielding says the commission asked the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that controls the lake, not to release lake water east into the St. Lucie River. Citing public safety, the Corps decided to release the water anyway.

“We are one of the exit valves, the safety valves for when the lake builds up to high levels,” Fielding explains. “It was an enormously unusual wet year. The lake can build up six times faster that we’re able to release.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency and make federal emergency funds available to deal with the algae bloom.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency and make federal emergency funds available to deal with the algae bloom. Greg Allen/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Greg Allen/NPR

The Corps is keeping the water level low in Lake Okeechobee to prevent a possible breach of the 80-year-old earthen dike that surrounds the lake — a breach that could be catastrophic and lead to flooding in nearby communities.

Because of the massive algae bloom, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency and make federal emergency funds available.

Commissioner Fielding believes a declaration would also enable the president to do something local and state officials can’t do — stop the release of lake water into the St. Lucie River. The Corps, which controls it, is under federal authority.

Environmental groups say the long-term solution is to restore the region’s natural flow — and send water from Lake Okeechobee south through lands farmed by some of the nation’s largest sugar producers.

Florida signed a deal to buy some of those sugar lands eight years ago, but Gov. Scott has not followed through. In 2014, voters approved an amendment that set aside money to acquire the land.

“The state is not taking the leadership and saying the citizens have spoke,” says Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, an environmental education and research center in Stuart. He thinks Gov. Scott needs to do more.

“We need to uphold their interests and do the right thing — and that is, buy the land and send the water south.”

While officials, environmentalists, and business interests point fingers over who’s to blame, they all agree that with warm weather and continued releases of water from Lake Okeechobee, the bloom of toxic algae in the St. Lucie Estuary is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

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The Code Switch Podcast, Episode 8: No Words

People gather in a prayer vigil following the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night.

People gather in a prayer vigil following the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. Spencer Platt/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It’s hard to figure out what to say after the horrific violence of recent days, but Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby are our guides as they walk us through this week’s extra episode.

Listen to this episode — and subscribe! —here.

And share your comments with us on Twitter at @NPRCodeSwitch or via email at codeswitch@npr.org

The week began with the deaths — captured on videos that went viral — of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Ridge, Minn., at the hands of police officers. And it raged on when — at a previously peaceful Dallas protest organized in response to those two deaths — a gunman opened fire on police officers patrolling the march, killing five officers.

We heard the conflicting emotions sparked by these events from many of our followers, and we spoke to Joe Jones, a Dallas resident trying to make sense of the tragedy that unfolded less than a mile from his apartment.

This episode, we spoke with:

  • Joe Jones, Dallas resident
  • Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard

“I think we’re at the start of a conversation that’s bigger than any individual moment and I think back to things like Charleston, and moments where our country has suffered a tragedy an we’re able to feel that pain,” Jones said. “But when that starts to subside, and we go back to thinking our own opinions on whatever issue, I’m worried it’ll spiral back to where we started.”

Shereen talks with Khalil Gibran Muhammad. He’s a historian at Harvard who has written extensively about race, crime and policing and is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness. Muhammad offers his perspective about the historic tensions between African-Americans and police, and why the deaths of Castile and Sterling were so painful. “You should be able to be poor. You should be able to be doing something illegally that is non-violent, and live to have a day in court,” Muhammad told Shereen. “That should be able to happen in this country. That’s the end of it.”

We’re not done with this story — there’s so much ground for us to cover. We’ll be back in the coming weeks with more pieces, including ones that show the experience of police officers as they themselves navigate tragedies like these.

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A Mexican Teacher's Strike Turns Deadly

A Mexican teacher from Nuevo Leon state speaks in solidarity with striking colleagues from Oaxaca state on June 22 in Monterrey.

A Mexican teacher from Nuevo Leon state speaks in solidarity with striking colleagues from Oaxaca state on June 22 in Monterrey. JULIO CESAR AGUILAR FUENTES/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption JULIO CESAR AGUILAR FUENTES/AFP/Getty Images

The teacher’s union has blocked roads to protest mandatory testing and demand more funding. Meanwhile, the security forces have killed activists.

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'I Write About Awful People,' Says Gay Talese

The Voyeur's Motel

Journalist Gay Talese has never shied away from controversial topics. He took on the mafia in Honor Thy Father and dove deep into America’s sex life in Thy Neighbor’s Wife. But even Talese paused when he first heard about the Manor House Motel in Aurora Colo., back in 1980. Innkeeper Gerald Foos had outfitted his motel with a special platform which allowed him to spy on his guests — and he invited Talese to take a peek as well. Talese, a man of seemigly insatiable curiosity, did just that. But Foos demanded anonymity, so Talese decided not to write about the experience. Until now.

His new book The Voyeur’s Motel is based on Foos’ journals, and Talese is already on the defensive about it. Last week, after the Washington Post unearthed some discrepancies in Foos’s story, Talese disavowed the book — then quickly changed his mind and now says the Post was wrong, and he stands by his story. He tells NPR’s Lynn Neary that he was very upset when the Post initially confronted him, because “for 60-some years, I’d been a reporter who took pride in getting the facts right, and I was now told I got the facts wrong.”


Interview Highights

On whether he thinks Foos made up his account of witnessing a murder

Talese: No I don’t. … He admitted that he saw this woman being strangled. And Foos is a former football player, hefty guy, big guy, muscle. He didn’t do anything to help her, he stayed in a cowardly way up in the attic. I thought, “This is the worst thing I can write about this guy … No one who ever reads this book is going to ever, ever have any sympathy for him because he’s showing himself a coward.”

Lynn Neary: But you didn’t report it either.

Talese: That’s true. That’s true. And I am vulnerable to whatever you or anyone else wants to say. I didn’t do it. How do I justify this to you or to anybody? Well, as a reporter, I protect sources. I once dealt with the mafia for six, seven years. I protect sources. I was dealing with killers and I wasn’t calling the cops. My whole life, though — not to justify it, but let me tell you — has always been, I’m less a person than a reporter. I keep secrets. I respect when people tell me it’s off the record, it’s off the record. And I was off the record for 32 years with this voyeur, Gerald Foos. I kept my word to the voyeur, who was a despicable guy. But I’ve dealt with despicable people, including killers and the mafia before. I’ve been through this. That’s no excuse, but that’s the way I am.

On how the book turn its readers into voyeurs themselves

You feel like a voyeur, but I tell you, I was a voyeur before I met Gerald Foos. Reporters are voyeurs. I also felt as a boy so curious about people — I was born in a very strict Catholic background. My Catholicism is not today what it was in the postwar 1940s. [It was] filled with guilt and censorship, because the church — my church, my boyhood church — fostered censorship. You shouldn’t read this, you can’t read that dirty book, you can’t think this … that’s my world. It’s not a good world, but it’s what formed me as a curious person. And maybe also some appreciation for a negative light because we all aspired to be living in a heavenly light when I was a boy, an altar boy. And so the devil kind of attracted me because it was part of nature that was being censored or I was being advised to stay away. And I didn’t stay away because I’m a little bit drawn to what is forbidden. That’s not a good defense, but that’s me.

On whether, having dealt with Foos, he developed a dark view of humanity

That’s true, but … that’s been true of me long before I met the voyeur. Thy Neighbor’s Wife, I was worse off than I am now. I was a reporter of the darkness of our democracy and I was vilified, OK? I’m not the first. … But this is the voice of free America. First Amendment. You can write about awful people and I write about awful people on many occasions. I want to report the dark side, because, I mean, I just choose the wrong people — to most people’s opinion, but to me they’re the right people. So I have a problem: It’s communicating to a polite audience and justifying what it is that I want to write and how I go about it. And I do get close to my people. I mean it’s true, I get close, but that’s all I can tell you.

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