The truth hurts
This article is from 2007.
Kate Adie talks to Allan Radcliffe about her career in the frontline of news journalism and her refusal to let sentiment undermine the pursuit of facts
For a relatively inexperienced journalist, being asked to interview Kate Adie is akin to inviting a novice boxer to do a few rounds with WBO Heavyweight Champion Sultan Ibragimov. A trailblazer for women in a profession that is rivalled only by politics for the disdain with which it is regarded by the wider public, throughout her career Adie was chief news reporter for the BBC, and one of the few journalists to command widespread admiration, even affection. In the run-up to the first Gulf War, a newspaper cartoon famously depicted soldiers arguing that they couldn't go forth into battle, as Adie was yet to arrive.
She first came to public attention reporting from the London Iranian Embassy siege of 1980. One of the first journalists on the scene as the SAS stormed the embassy, the BBC interrupted coverage of the World Snooker Championships to broadcast Adie, sheltering behind a car door, reporting live and unscripted. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Adie was regularly seen reporting from some of the era’s most iconic events such as the American bombing of Tripoli and the Tiananmen Square protests. But it is for her crisp, composed reporting from some of the world’s most volatile conflicts, from the Gulf to Rwanda, that she is best known.
Her high-profile occupation was not without its perils, however. She sustained a gunshot wound in Libya and carries shrapnel in her foot. ‘I've been incredibly lucky,’ she laughs. So how did she reconcile journalistic objectivity with some of the other pressures she faced, her personal safety, for instance, and perceived loyalty to a particular side? ‘Oh, that’s a huge subject,’ she says. ‘There’s a complex argument attached to reporters being associated with an army, as I was at the time of the first Gulf War, that’s to do with things like loyalty and patriotism. It's a fine line, but you simply have to keep reminding yourself that you are there to report facts. And you have to stay unemotional about what you see.’
When pressed as to whether or not she thinks news reporting is too emotional nowadays, she will be drawn no further than, ‘It depends on the network.’ This refusal to further pontificate is consistent with her approach to a 40-year career. Indeed, ‘just stick to the facts’ is the mantra that opens Adie's 2002 autobiography, The Kindness of Strangers, and the philosophy that has stuck with her since her early days reporting for local radio, firing in her a certain inquisitiveness, particularly about marginalised people.
Since withdrawing from frontline reporting in 2003, Adie has worked as a freelance journalist and embarked on a highly successful career as a writer, publishing From Corsets to Camouflage, an entertaining history of women and war, as well as Nobody’s Child, which deals with adoption and questions of identity (she is adopted herself).
Having been restricted to three-minute bulletins for so many years, does she welcome the broader canvas of a book? ‘I don’t think of it as liberating, particularly, I think of it as a different discipline. I love doing the research for my books; that’s the journalistic part of the process. I love the fact that I can go and talk to interesting people and ask questions and learn something from them.’
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