Getting the News Out of Yemen

In the November/December issue of the Washington Monthly, Kelly McEvers has a review of Laura Kasinof’s new book: Don’t Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen. McEvers was stationed in Saudi Arabia when the Arab Spring broke out, and Kasinof was a 25 year old stringer for the New York Times stationed in Yemen.

The review looks back at the early, hopeful days of the Arab Spring and traces developments in Yemen as that hope dissipated, briefly revived, and ended in chaos. It also focuses on the diligence and bravery of a small handful or reporters, including Kasinof, who tried to get the news out of Yemen to the wider world.

…in some places, namely Yemen, the ruling elite did everything in its power to keep the storytellers out. Correspondents like myself were turned away at the airport or even kicked out of the country with no notice. This left the job of telling Yemen’s story to Yemeni activists and citizen journalists, and to the few intrepid Western freelancers who spoke the language, lived like locals, and managed to stay in the country.

Here was a country that was considered to be a U.S. ally, a place where the United States launched drone strikes against a menacing al-Qaeda affiliate and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to combat terrorism—and the only information we could get was from a few men and women in their twenties who in most cases had never been foreign correspondents. Still, they not only pulled it off, but they brought us the story in a way I would argue we—overworked, overcommitted correspondents at major news outlets—would not have been able to do.

If it’s not obvious, I’ll just say it: I’m biased. I befriended some of these reporters while I was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 2009, and got to know more of them later, in 2011 and 2012, the few times I did manage to get into Yemen and file reports for National Public Radio. They were collegial, professional, ambitious, dogged, and, most important, fluent in a place that was not always easy to understand. They did a good job, and it was fun to watch them do it.

One standout was Laura Kasinof, who, like so many of these young reporters, came to Yemen to study Arabic and try her hand at freelance journalism.

You can read the whole review here.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.