Mile-High Violence: Judith Matloff on Mountain Conflict

March 20, 2017

People living at mountainous high altitudes account for only 10 percent of the world’s population, spread out over roughly 25 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet they also are responsible for a huge portion of the world’s most violent and persistent conflicts. The reason for this correlation between altitude and violence isn’t entirely understood, but there are several factors contributing to the affect the geography of mountain living undoubtedly plays in conflict. Journalist and foreign correspondent Judith Matloff has spent her career covering conflict across the world. She has been a leading pioneer in safety training for journalist abroad and now teaches conflict reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Matloff first noticed this geographical trend of violence when her 10-year-old son asked her to point out all the places she’s covered conflict on a globe. The boy quickly pointed out a curious pattern; that they all took place in mountainous regions. Since then, Matloff has thoroughly investigated the trend of violence in high altitude areas, which has led to the publication of her book No Friends But the Mountains: Dispatches from the World’s Violent Highlands. In this eye opening discussion with Josh Zepps, Matloff explains the various reasons why these relatively small and isolated areas see so much trouble, and shares her thoughts on the growing dangers to journalists around the world.

This is Point of Inquiry, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, which works to advance the causes of reason, science and secularism. I’m Josh Zepps coming into the final stretch as host of this show, Lindsay and I are leaving with heavy hearts. 

So do continue to follow us on Twitter. I’m at Josh Zepps and subscribe to our podcast. We the People live to search for Weeda People, all one word in your podcast app. This week, a special treat at a time when it’s perhaps more dangerous to be a journalist than in many years. Our guest is the veteran foreign correspondent, Judith Matloff. She teaches conflict reporting at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She’s written about troubled regions in countless major publications. She’s pioneered safety training for journalists around the world. Her new book, Her Third, is No Friends But The Mountains Dispatches from the World’s Violent Highlands. Judith, thanks for being on point of inquiry. Oh, thank you. This is one of those books where after I’d started reading it, it in its premise immediately became so obvious to me that I wondered why someone hadn’t written this book before. But when I first heard the premise, I scratch my head a bit and had never really thought about this. Where did this what is the idea of behind the book and where did it come from? 

Well, the idea behind it is that people who live in mountains make up just a tiny percentage of the world’s population, about 10 percent, and they live on about a quarter of the world’s surface. Yet statistically, they account for some of the most persistent conflicts in the world. And also, in terms of numbers, a huge proportion of conflicts start and remain and persist in mountains. And the way I came across this was so random, the way life and ideas often are. I was playing a game of risk with my young son and my husband. They’re very avid risk players. I’m not. And for people who don’t know, risk is a board game about world domination. And so we’re playing this game. And, you know, for anybody who plays risk knows, it goes on for hours and hours and hours. And I think in like an hour five, everybody needed a break. And my young son, who thought he was 10 at the time, looked up to me and said, Mom, can you show me on a globe where you’ve covered conflict? And so I brought a globe over. Very grateful for the break in the game. And he ran his hand over all the places that I marked. And he said, Do you realize he’s rolling mountains? So it took a 10 year old from a ninety thousand word book. And then I really began to think about it. And indeed, it was true when I began to plot all the nearly all the ethnic separatist movements since World War Two have been in mountain areas. You think about Chechnya, you think about the Kurds, you think about the Basques. And, you know, then I began to think about the the drug cartels and they operate out of the mountains of Mexico and Colombia. And then I began to think about other types of conflicts. For instance, blood feuds and blood feuds persist largely in mountainous regions, including Albania and Montenegro. So then I began to think, this is really interesting. And I made the mistake of having dinner with my agent, my literary agent. And I was telling her about it was largely an anecdote about how clever my 10 year old son was. He said, well, you know, I think you need to write a book about this. And I did. It took me eight years to research because I had this stuff, these trips in between my teaching at Columbia University. So I would go somewhere for three weeks and then somewhere else for two weeks. So it took quite a while to actually get the research done. And the book came out yesterday. 

So now we’re done with it. And congratulations on it. I mean, what one of the I guess when you first hear this, when I when I once I kind of once the penny dropped for me and I thought, all right, yeah, that does make sense that there is this consistency among the world’s mountainous regions. Then the next question was a chicken or egg one. Is it via these places violent? Because that’s where violence tends to go big as mountains provide cover and an exclusion for people who want to do things in an unconventional or potentially nefarious way. Or is it the reverse that the mountains breed the types of people who behave in those ways? Did you have a belief on either side of that coin before going in? 

No. No, I didn’t. 

But what I came out convinced was that it’s really two fold. It’s the geographic isolation facilitates and midwife’s violence. It’s a sanctuary. That’s where revolutionaries and bandits and poppy growers can hide. But also, the remoteness and the marginalization, politically and economically creates a very defensive, resentful attitude towards means the mainstream. So usually the poorest people in the world, oftentimes the poorest people in the world live in mountains. Oftentimes they’re indigenous people because mountains are so hard to live in that usually most people will migrate down to more hospitable places to live. But if you’re if you remaining in these places, it’s because you’re deeply rooted to them or because you want to seek sanctuary and refuge from the mainstream. And, you know, these are the last places that gets that get roads to the last places they get plumbing. They’re the last places, get that, get schools and clinics. So this cycle of resentment and poverty continues. And then it’s a mainstream government from the flatlands comes or a corporation comes and they want to exploit the natural resources, be it uranium or gold or water. Obviously, you’re going to have a conflict. 

Well, I mean, I was just gonna say it. 

What is fascinating is to think about the ways in which our own geography shapes our own personalities and and the cultures that we live in. Right of law. As an Australian, I’ve always thought that Aussies just have it so easy that we can sort of be excused. 

Our mild mediocrity in many, many fields, with the exception of the odds, we’re pretty good at the arts and sports and things. But, you know, we don’t have one to produce a huge number of Nobel laureates because I think we’re too we’re too pampered in a way that isn’t there. You know, there is nothing that makes us hungry. I wonder whether or not you in the in the writing of this book, have I have thought that there’s a kind of a self selection in mountains that breeds foolhardiness and other characteristics that can be that can be great in terms of helping people to endure, but bad in in all of the ways that your book outlines. 

Yeah, I guess I don’t see as much self selection, but accidental. I think people end up in mountains except for people are actually running from authority and seeking refuge. It’s like cartels are bandits or, you know, smugglers, whatever. But I think, you know, people end up there. They become very attached to the land. And it’s an attachment to the land that perhaps, you know, we don’t see as much in cities and more urbanized areas where their towns. But I after working on this thing for eight years and going to, you know, nearly a dozen places literally all over the globe, I covered 72000 miles over my travels for this book. I really came out with an immense appreciation and admiration for people who can survive in these conditions, who need to be incredibly resilient. You need to be able to improvise. You need to just get on with life and be extremely, almost fatalistic. And these are character traits that certainly, you know, are extremely and admire rebel. And I don’t think they’re always appreciated by people and in in mainstream centers of power. 

And what’s interesting is that they sort of feel an affinity for each shava. I mean, just a roll off of you. You you note that the separatist struggles, for example, you mentioned that that almost every Saratov struggle by an ethnic minority since the Second World War has taken place at high altitude. You list Kashmir, Chechnya, Kosovo, Arjay Basque, the Kurds, other violent conflicts like Yemen, Nepal, Colombia, Afghanistan. 

And then you make the point that there’s actually an association, the World Mountain People Association, where, you know, where Web Mountain people come together and feel affinities across vastly different languages and cultures and so on, but feel that there is something uniquely unique about them in their mountainous. 

Well, when I met these folks in 2011, that’s when I really became convinced that I had a book. You know, until then, I wondered, oh, am I a geographical determinist? And that’s not quite in vogue anymore. It was, you know, the 10th century, but certainly not now. You know, am I being condescending? Am I being patronizing? And then I heard about this group while doing my research and I went and I interviewed the leaders of the group and some members. And I was just astounded because they yeah, they feel an immense affinity. 

And if you go to a meeting, the group represents mountain people from 70 different countries that we’re talking about, countries as diverse as Bolivia and Morocco. And I mean, you name it. You know, Sherpas from from Nepal and they get together. And it almost looks like a Benetton ad from the 1990s. You know, all these people in ethnic dress and they rotate the meetings. Everybody gets to visit each other’s mountains. And it’s an extraordinary group. They they feel this intense need to get together and and meet and discuss their problems. And listening to them talk, you realize that there really is a commonality. There’s a thread that runs across the Earth in terms of the issues that they face. And they will be the first ones to tell you, yes, there is a mountain personality, there is a mountain psyche, there is a certain type of person. 

What they will not say. And this is something I also feel I don’t feel mountain people are inherently violent. I just think that the geography facilitates enduring persisting wars because it’s very, very difficult to militarily gain control of a mountain outpost, let’s say. So I think that’s one. 

And then secondly, I think you’re going to have inevitable clashes when the mainstream culture tries to impose its will on people who are living in very, very remote ways. And I’ve been living that way for hundreds, if not thousands of years. 

Yeah. I mean, lest people think that this is just about people in the mountains, I mean, part of the point of your your book is that what goes on in the mountains doesn’t stay in the mountains. You know, this isn’t Vegas. The drugs and the terrorism and the instability that that the mountain people produce ends up cascading onto us all. You only need to look at Afghanistan and the the ability of jihadists to resist the Russian military for four decades after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And then you can draw a squiggly line from that all the way to 9/11 to see that the mountains don’t stay in the mountains. What does one do about that? 

Well, you don’t just blow up the mountains. 

I mean, that’s that’s just not what you would do. You know what? This was the thing. You know, I love doing research on projects and in ideas book like this because you never really know where you’re going. And then you fall into these random but seen seem like random situations and you begin to look at things in a way you hadn’t before. So when I was meeting with the mountain people, in particular, their leader, who was a man named John. Saul, he’s a parliamentarian from the pyramid, from the Pyrenees, from a family of sheepherder’s. And he was having a lot of issues with the Parisian government over bears because I know I’m getting off on a sidetrack. But I’ll get back to where we’re heading with this, though. John Le Sol in the area where he lives, the Parisian government, this is under Sarkozy was it wanted to import Slovenian bears to repopulate what was then an extinct population of wild bears living in this big sprawling park in the Pyrenees. And the local shepherds, led by John Le Sol and his family were very, very angry because the bears were mauling their flocks because their flocks would go up to these high land pastures in the summer. 

So they were I mean, you can’t quite say this is like the the the Chechen fight for separatism or what the Kurds are doing. 

You know, the PKK in Turkey desired Mediterranean Asian off of that. Right. But they you know, they were putting glass shards in the honey jars and they were dumping the newer attan holds. 

And they were pretty upset, too. So I went I visited with him and his family and I was talking with him about how how do you resolve an issue like this? And he said, well, if we had control over our local affairs, if the Basques had control over their local affairs, which they really do at the moment, and that has resolved what was a very, very violent separatist movement. If the Kurds had more say over their affairs in the mountains in Turkey, if X, Y and Z group had more local control, then people wouldn’t fight. They wouldn’t put glass in honey jars and they wouldn’t take up arms and they wouldn’t ambush Russian troops, etc.. And I said, well, where in the world has that happen? And he said, look at Switzerland. So then I began to look at two in Switzerland. You know, we think of the cities as the epitome of an armed neutrality. But but yet the thing about Switzerland is about one hundred and eighty years ago, the country was torn apart by civil war. They had three or four different language groups. They had different ethnic groups. Every valley was separated from every other valley because basically the whole country is covered by mountains and a few centuries prior. Their main export, we’re not cuckoo clocks or chocolates. They were mercenaries. And it was because there were these self-defense units in these very, very small valleys. And the fighting forces of Switzerland were renowned across Europe. And its impact, we still have the Swiss Guards in the Vatican. So to get back to Switzerland, the way they resolved everything in the late eighteen hundreds. Is they decided that they weren’t going to impose one national identity on the entire country. So therefore, the German speakers could speak German, the Italians could speak Italian, the Romans could speak their language, the French could speak their language. And every Canton would have of which there 62 very small communities which have an immense amount of power over its own affairs. They could decide their own taxation if they wanted to change the national constitution, if they could get enough signatures. They could ask for a referendum. So it’s probably the purest form of direct democracy in the entire world in a modern world government system. And it works. And so John Le Song put me on to thinking about Switzerland. And I think, you know, it’s very, very hard for a government, any government, central government to cede control to minority group. It’s always hard. I mean, we’ll see this everywhere. But if you’re dealing with mountain communities, I think to a certain extent that might be the best solution because they’re basically living by themselves, by their own ways anyway. And you just cannot impose your will. It’s just not going to work. 

That’s interesting. I mean, these questions of separatism and identity, I think are particularly pertinent at the moment, especially in a you know, last year we saw Britain crash out of the European Union. I think we’re seeing a rise. You know, we saw the Scottish referendum vote narrowly fail. There does seem to be a rise in in nationalism, sometimes arising in nativism. And there’s a concern by people who favor an internationalist globalist order that we’re all going to fragment and the EU’s going to fall apart. And we will be back to the European status quo over millennia, which is people hacking each other’s limbs off more than they have been in the past 70 years. Do you see how that’s. Well, reconcilable with easy. 

I see. I see. That is very different because I think Durland extreme nationalism and nativism is different from identity politics of a minority group. So in other words, if we were to take this model, let’s say, of giving the Basques more autonomy, which they have gotten in Spain, and that really diluted what was then a very, very militant violent movement or let’s say we gave the Kurds in Turkey. Far more autonomy like they have in Kurdistan, in Iraq, let’s say the equivalent might be Native Americans within within the United States really giving them control over their own lands, which as we know from the recent Pipeline Francaise. They do not have control of their own lands. So it’s more it’s not closing off the borders to outsiders. It’s more validating and accepting the differences of a diverse population within. 

And in a way, maybe the maybe that’s actually a way of heading off the fracturing. Maybe if you try to force everyone to be too homogenous, then you crack, then you crack the whole thing and the and the way to allow everyone to get along and live and let live is to allow a little bit of give in the system so that each local community can do what it wants without feeling like it’s being trampled on. And perhaps that’s part of the lesson of Brexit as well, that there was there was a a sense that there wasn’t enough autonomy in the United Kingdom or that the or that Brussels was overreaching and and so on. Do you see any parallels here in the United States? I mean, one of the interesting things I think is that the book that I paused reading in order to read yours was Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which is also about hill people in the United States, in Appalachia and about the. Yes. It’s a it’s a brilliant and moving insight into the white working poor in in Appalachia. Do you see parallels there? 

Well, when he describes the hillbilly mentality and it’s a term that he owns, it’s not a substitute. Yeah, right. But he owns it so we can use it in this discussion. He he describes the defensiveness, the propensity towards feuds, what not. 

It’s exactly like hearing, John, the small talk. The way he describes the mentality and behavior patterns is exactly what the mountain people, the World Mountain People Association would describe. I think it’s a little bit more complicated, though, with hillbilly L.G., because not everybody in that community lives up in the hills. I mean, you sure we’re talking about hillbillies, but quite a few people live in Flatland and more urbanized areas. But what’s also significant is a lot of the people who settled in that region originally were from Scottish areas and imported. One would think a certain mindset with them when they moved to the states and took root in that area. But but you know what he’s talking about with a sense of marginalization economically, politically, culturally. That’s something you hear a lot from John Lewis on the People in the World Mountain Association. Just the sense of, you know, you’re not only physically cut off from the rest of the country, you’re you’re cut off psychologically, economically, politically. You you’re so far from the seats of power that you really you have the government the national government doesn’t allow you control over your own land and resources. 

Yeah. And culturally, I get the impression that the parallels that I see are also an intense, almost religious devotion to your own community, to your own tribe. 

Yeah. And, you know, if if it’s really hard to get to your village, you’re going to be more insular, aren’t you? And you’re gonna rely on each other more. I mean, it becomes a survival thing. I mean, that was something I kept hearing over and over and over again that, you know, everywhere you go across the world in mount areas, what’s very, very common are communal grazing areas, because there’s so little arable land and land where the livestock in Rome and actually find stuff to eat. Now, could you imagine communal? 

I don’t know, backyards. And in a city it wouldn’t happen. But in mountains, people rely on each other and they have to band together. So there’s a unity of community. 

Of course, they can be infighting within the community, but there’s a unity there and a sense of solidarity that you wouldn’t find in a more dispersed community where people can just survive in more individual way in one way. 

As I was reading the book, I thought that people who don’t live in mountains, who live in homogenized cosmopolitan cities these days might be kind of trying to rediscover a sense of community virtually that that part of what we’ve seen. You know, when the when the Internet was invented, I guess the big promise was we’re all going to be on the same page and we’re not going to have petty feuds anymore because we’re going to have so much information that we can get information from anywhere and everyone will be enlightened. And clearly, that has not happened. In some ways, it’s allowed us to form virtual communities of our own virtual tribes that allow us to silow ourselves into into discrete entities and have different facts and and different opinions. 

Did you did you think about that as you were traveling around through the mountains, that we might be sort of building a virtual set of mountaintops that we’re hunkering into? Or is that a stretch? 

No, it’s not a stretch. It hadn’t occurred to me. But now I’m going to think about it. Maybe I should write another book. 

Thank you. Thank you, John Shook. You’re welcome. All right. 

Let’s get back to specifics then. One of the one of the most interesting examples that you look at case studies is Albania, where I hadn’t realized that 10000 men have have died in vendettas over the past couple of decades because of honor codes in Albania. Can you explain that to us? 

Yeah, well, there’s something called the commune, which is basically some codes that people live by. 

And it was written down five hundred years ago, but it probably predated that aurally well before that. And it’s the it’s if you read the North Sagas, for instance, you’ll read about very, very similar forms of justice there, community justice, where honor is one way to police social and social interactions, and it’s a way to mediate disputes. 

And the can noone, as an active force of policing or justice, basically died out in most of Albania. But it remained entrenched in the north, in the generic Alps, which is the poorest and the most remote area of the country people there. 

You know, I was there during the rainy season and it took like nine hours to drive along the goat path on a cliff with no car rental, where we could have plunged 300, 500 feet into a river below. You know, it took us like nine hours to drive what would have been ordinarily probably a, you know, two or three hour drive on a sunny day on a proper road. You know, these are really, really remote areas where a helicopter has to come in and fish somebody out if they get sick because in the winter, because they’re just so cut off. And so just as physically they’re cut off from the rest of the country with these go paths, which basically surface roads. Culturally, they remain cut off. And it’s it’s a really disturbing conflict between the modern the modern legal system and the ancient one, the archaic one. They they cannot they they coexist, but they’re not compatible. For instance, if you’re caught in one of these blood feuds and these can go on for generations and generation, it’s a it’s a cycle of reprisals. Somebody causes offense to somebody else. So he has to be killed. And then the other family has to be killed. And they just it goes back and forth between two clans. 

And in the old days, the way they would resolve it was with something called a base, which is a truth, which is somebody in the community would mediate. 

There’d be a public meeting, there’d be a public disavowal of the violence and it would be resolved. The problem is you can’t do that now because if you have a public meeting and you discuss the fact that you’ve been murdering each other, the police will get involved and you’ll be hauled off to jail. So the bases aren’t happening with the regularity and the frequency that they used to. So these blood feuds are actually not being resolved because modern law has intruded. 

That’s fascinating. 

Yeah, and it’s really tragic. And what happens is I spend time in particular with one family, and it’s just tragic because there’s a third there. He now he’s older because of a few years ago. He was a 13 year old kid. 

And I keep thinking about my son who was about to have a bar mitzvah, you know, coming of age 13 year old boy. Right. And this boy’s coming of age will likely be either being stuck in the house and not be able to leave because your house is your only sanctuary. But once you can’t be murdered in your own house. But once he step out into the street, the other family can wait for you and shoot you. So he’s either, you know, when he comes of age, he’s either going to be handed a gun or he might have to be secluded in his own house. And there are hundreds and hundreds of kids in northern Albania who don’t go to school. The state actually provides home schooling because these kids are basically imprisoned in their living rooms. 

And it’s just, you know, how do you resolve it? And, you know, and that was something that I struggled with. 

So if I have my model of, you know, my nice, neat little political model of let’s give more autonomy to mountain communities so they can rule themselves, maybe the solution here would be to create some kind of blanket amnesty, to just accept that this is the rule of the mountains. 

This has been going on for 100 years, just like a blanket base for everybody to stop it instead of, oh, we catch you doing this, you’re going to be hauled up, hauled into jail for homicide. 

It’s tricky, isn’t it? Because the alternative would be just to police. It better to begin with so that people are protected and don’t get shot when they leave their house once they start setting. 

Yeah, but there’s also like the community, I would say there’s no police precinct because it’s so remote. 

Yeah, Michael. Police there. 

Yeah. I mean, you know, with so many violent situations and conflicts, there’s no one easy pat answer. But I think by putting on blinders and saying, you know, by the government putting on blinders and saying, well, now we’re in the 21st century. So this has to stop isn’t really constructive because these customs run so deep that there has to be some form of co-option of the system or amnesty or something to either put a brake on it or at least accept that it exists and that the modern legal and policing system, the law enforcement system, is not going to resolve it alone. 

Yeah, it’s almost a conflict between pragmatism and idealism at some point, isn’t it? You can you can have whatever lofty liberal ideals you want. But at the end of the day, if people are getting shot, you have to you have to meet them wherever they wherever it is that they are. Let’s just talk about about journalism and the state of journalism and its risks in the world at the moment. I was thinking a few weeks ago how little I know about what’s going on in Syria right now. Largely, I assume, as a result of the fact that there were no journalists there. So, I mean, last time I read anything that was visceral and true and on the ground in Syria was, I guess, when Aleppo fell. 

What are your thoughts about the if you if you take a snapshot of the world at the moment, the state of journalism. 

In 24 hours on this. Well, my thoughts keep drifting to the to the United States, where we’ll have lots and lots. Let’s bring it back. It will start abroad. 


Look, it’s always been dangerous for journalists. It always has been. But I do think that we face different dangers now than when I started about 3000 years ago when I first got my career in this in the late 70s, early 80s, which is that we have more non-state actors. For instance, ISIS, al-Qaeda, you know, they didn’t exist back, you know, back then or there weren’t as many of them. 

I mean, of course, there were non-state actor actors, but there’s been a proliferation of them. And the other thing is that a lot of these non-state actors can control their own narrative and with social media can put out their own information so they don’t rely on journalists the way rebel groups or militias or paramilitary groups did maybe 30, 40 years ago because they needed us to broadcast their messages. Mean, I remember the Angolan rebels and the Mozambican rebels back in the 80s and the 90s. They needed the Western media. They needed the Portuguese media. They needed the Angolan and the Mozambique media to get out their messages. 

Well, now you look at ISIS, they’ve got YouTube. They don’t need us. And so that makes us more vulnerable because we don’t serve a purpose for them except to embarrass them. And then I also think there’s a whole new level of danger that comes with the digitalization of technology and information. On the one hand, it makes our job much, much easier because we can file right on the spot. We can file 24 hours a day. Satellite phones are tiny. I remember the first satellite phone I used in the early 90s, been as big as a coffee table for lunch. It really limited my my movements. I mean, now you just, you know, looks like a little laptop you just put in your backpack. So this enables us to get out much more easily, move around, be more mobile. We also have access to more people, to more sources, to more sources of information through Facebook and social media. But at the same time, it’s easier to watch us. And I think, you know, with the latest WikiLeaks information dump showed about the CIA, is that the digital safeguards that we think we have are only as good as today or tomorrow. But there’s always going to be somebody trying to figure out how to bust into these encryption systems and figure out how to surveil, surveil you. And there’s if it’s not the U.S. government, it could be a Romanian or a Russian hacker. And, you know, with digital surveillance can come physical surveillance. And there’ve been so many cases of people being detained or being monitored through their cyber communications. And then they were, you know, as the first step. 

They were they were under surveillance digitally. It’s in the cyber world. And then physically, you know, came afterwards. So that’s that’s a big problem that I see now. And I think it’s going to get worse as our overdependence on mobile communications and whatnot increases. 

So that’s the bad news. That’s not too good. But then the good news is, you know, for a long time and I think it will continue to be, you know, for a long time, a large part of the information we were getting out of Syria was from citizen journalists. And so we we have other people obtaining information who are not associated with a big media organization. And I think that’s, you know, that that has its drawbacks. At the same time. But it means that information can get out. You don’t have to have a New York Times correspondent based in Aleppo. It can just be people living there, sending out photographs and and telling us what it’s like. So, you know, that is that is a promising sign. 

I mean, that’s useful in some operatives. That’s useful in terms of content. The democratization of of of news media is not very useful in terms of context, because I don’t know why they’re sending what they’re sending. I don’t know who the victims are. I don’t know who is responsible for whatever it is that happened. So, yeah, it’s as you say. Oh yeah. Let alone the like. Yeah. I don’t quite know where I get it unless there is a context filter, a.k.a. a journalist who can explain. But let’s, let’s pivot to domestically because. Well take that take take that where you want to take it Judith. 

Well, you know, it’s really interesting because normally the safety training that I do with journalists, it will be like Nigerian’s in the Bulgarian territory. I’ve been working for over the course of several years with journalists in Mexico where the narco violence. It’s just gotten out of control. You know, I’ve worked with journalists all over Africa in repressive regimes. 

Suddenly, I think it started maybe mid last year. 

Suddenly I started getting requests from people domestically. 

You know, we really think we need safety training. We’re getting trolled incessantly. I’m getting a lot of death threats and getting rape threats. You know, we’re getting harassed at Trump rally. So suddenly I was getting all these requests to do safety training in my own country, which was which was a novelty. And it’s only increased with time. And I think, you know, I mean, this has been written about ad nauseum. 

But I obviously to have the president of the United States declare the media, the mainstream media’s public enemy’s is is not very conducive towards journalists doing their work. 

If you know. Well, it was put back in. And it makes it hard for us. 

But but at the same time, I think it there is some remarkably remote, robust reporting going on. I mean, The Washington Post, this is this is one of their moments of glory since since Watergate. I mean, the reporting has been amazing. The New York Times has really put out fantastic stuff. Politico has put out good stuff, you know, but it’s a hard time to be a journalist. But it’s it’s I think it’s more important than ever before right now because this government has to be held to account. 

I mean, it’s a hard time to be a journalist. But more than that, what depresses me is not that it’s difficult to be a journalist because although it’s tragic that people are feeling themselves threatened in the United States, I think that is something that journalists are robust enough to stand up to. 

My concern is more about what this administration and its supporters are doing to the idea of journalism, the idea of facts and truth and credibility, that the fake news phenomenon has somehow sort of blindsided me about how many people now just believe that all information is equally corrupt, everything is biased, or everyone has. It’s sort of like we’ve all suddenly become First-Year journalism students. 

Way you realize for the first time that there’s no such thing as objective truth, which is true. You know everything. Every journalist has to choose what it is that they’re going to report and what is it they’re going to cover. I remember learning this in first year university, but then you quickly learn that you can still strive towards a a a response to towards honoring the responsibility to articulate something that is important to other people and truthful to other people. And that that is different even if you are in doing that. That that pursuit is different from just spewing out bullshit like the fake news does. And I’m worried that that difference is being is being lost on people who just become too cynical. I don’t know if you share that that worry or if you saw. 

I share it and I’m alarmed by it. And it seems to be getting worse by the day. The whole credibility of the news, of the purpose of a robust questioning press, the whole credibility of the institution of the Fourth Estate is is just been eroded terrifically. 

And I think it’s really on a downward spiral. I mean, the public faith in media was pretty low, according to public opinion polls conducted by Pew and others. But I think now it’s it’s just become absolutely toxic and it’s very, very worrying because this is the first thing that goes in in this authoritarian state, doesn’t it? It’s you know, that’s the first thing that gets attacked. The media, the people were who are questioning authority. 

That’s the first thing that gets that get that becomes under assault. 

And you know where this is going to lead us? I don’t know. But the fact that people can take seriously the same news, that they will accept what Bright Bart says, whether or not its source is scary to me and the stuff that’s being disseminated on social media. Again, you know, this is one of the pitfalls of, you know, of non contextual journalism. Something goes out on social media. People believe it. 

Mm. Well, people can get an insight into actual true stories that are actually genuinely fascinating in your book, No Friends But The Mountains Dispatches from the World’s Violent Highlands Listeners. You can you can support Center for Inquiry by going to Center for Inquiry Dot Net. The website of this podcast is Point of Inquiry to All. You can follow us on Twitter at point of inquiry. You can follow me at Josh Zepps. Judith Matloff. Thanks so much for being on the show. 

Thank you, it was an immense pleasure point of inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry. Become a member and support the advancement of science and reason by going to center for inquiry. Dot org slash membership. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.