James Foley (MSJ ’08) will discuss his capture and subsequent detainment in Libya at the McCormick Tribune Center at an event tentatively scheduled for Thursday at 4 p.m.
Speaking to The Daily for the first time Thursday evening, Foley said he “feels so blessed” for all of the support he received in the U.S. while he was in captivity.
Foley arrived back in the U.S. on Saturday after spending more than 45 days in Libyan captivity. He was captured with two other journalists April 5 outside of the city of Brega, where he was covering the rebel side of the Libyan conflict. His colleague, South African journalist Anton Hammerl, was killed during the capture when a gunshot from pro-Gadhafi forces struck him in the abdomen.
Foley said he hopes to stress the importance of international and conflict reporting in his speech.
“Lots more lives could have been lost in the east and Benghazi if reporters were not there to cover the atrocities,” he said. “It shapes international policy. A photograph can change our opinion on a conflict or a country.”
Medill Dean John Lavine said the invitation for Foley to speak was one of the “happiest” the school has had to send.
“We’re so thrilled that he’s back and well,” Lavine said “He’s very enthusiastic about coming to Medill.”
Medill Prof. Ellen Shearer, director of Medill Washington, said Foley has been incredibly busy since his return.
“He’s been on NPR, he’s been – you know, since he’s a journalist – he’s been trying to write,” Schearer said. “He’s been very gracious though about making sure he would make a trip to Medill.”
In addition to the public presentation, Schearer said Foley would be speaking to a Medill global journalism class on June 6. Medill spokeswoman Belinda Clarke said in an email that details were still being ironed out.
Schearer said she hopes the event will prompt student interest.
“I’ve listened to what he’s said on NPR, GlobalPost and elsewhere,” Schearer said. “What I’ve heard is an amazing and scary story. I hope students will turn out.”
Lavine said Medill is heavily involved in promoting the safety of journalists both domestically and abroad. He pointed to a series of guidelines for safety produced by faculty and professors as one of the ways Medill advocates for student journalism safety.
“We’re always refining and adding to the list,” Lavine said. “We’re quite proactive about that.”
He said the work the school does with alums in crisis situations is a “different question entirely.” He said Medill works closely with families to help remedy dangerous situations.
Foley said risk is inherent in the profession, and front lines reporting is pivotal in order to portray a conflict with nuance.
“Danger is a part of the profession, and to get close enough there is an assumed risk,” he said. “It is something we trained for, but mistakes can be made, and mistakes that are made can be fatal.”
Schearer said journalists like Foley, who return from crisis reporting, have to make a very personal decision regarding their return to their careers. She said each journalist is different but noted that Foley has quickly returned to writing following his ordeal.
“A lot of journalists do what they do initially because they think it’s important,” Schearer said. “That doesn’t change. I would not be surprised if he went back overseas.”
Foley agreed with Schearer and said he hopes to return to Libya to cover the conflict when the time is right for him and his family.
“I personally believe it’s a story of a lifetime,” Foley said. “I don’t regret for a minute going to Libya.”
Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misstated the date of Foley’s speech. He will be speaking on Thursday, June 2. The Daily regrets the error.