Our Men in Al Sham: An Interview with Seth Frantzman and Jonathan Spyer

An interview with Seth Frantzman and Jonathan Spyer about their experiences reporting from Syria and Iraq.

Over the last few years, Seth Frantzman and Jonathan Spyer have reported on the ground from Syria and Iraq, as well as other places. Spyer’s Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars was published in 2017, while Frantzman’s After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East was published in 2019. I met with them both in Jerusalem to discuss their work. 

How did you get into covering the region in the first place? It’s not like every nice Jewish boy’s dream is to visit Kobani.

JS: Well, there are a number of aspects really. I finished my PhD and I knew that I didn’t want to become an academic. And I’d already been dabbling in journalism as a side gig since the early nineties. So I decided to start taking that more seriously. And then Seth and I were very focused on Israel during the Second Intifada. Afterwards came the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – that was when I decided that I didn’t want to work for the Israeli public service. Not that I’m against the state, but I didn’t want to be in that field. Together this left the field of journalism, and being a foreign correspondent. And I took my first reporting trip to Lebanon in 2007.

The year after the war?

JS: Yes. And then I began to write more about the region for the Jerusalem Post, and then gradually for other publications too. In 2010 I took my first trip to Iraq to interview the PKK leadership, and then from 2010 the region was busted wide open. History returned to the region, fascinating, amazing, astonishing stuff was taking place in country after country, and for me Syria and Lebanon had become my main interest. I had a lot of contacts in the Syrian opposition.

When the Syrian War began in 2011, I immediately began pestering my contacts and friends to say, look I need to get in, can you help me? And then in February 2012, after a lot of messing about that finally bore fruit, I took my first trip into Syria, to the province of Idlib. Since then I’ve been to Syria many times. It’s become in lots of ways my central focus and interest. I hadn’t really thought of being a war correspondent. I wanted to be a Middle East correspondent, but when the Middle East ends up being about war, you become a war correspondent too.

Iraqi Federal Police shoot at ISIS in West Mosul’s Old City, April 2017.

SF: I have a similar sort of trajectory. I came here to do my masters and PhD. I got the MA and I guess I got the PHD around 2010 or so, and I always liked dabbling in journalism because I was writing sometimes as a columnist, and I didn’t know that much about the wider Middle East. I think I was interested in doing Middle East Studies a bit as a graduate student, but I ended up doing a bit more about Ottoman or British Palestine. I didn’t know much about Syria or Iraq, except what I read in the news.

I started teaching at Al-Quds University after I got my PhD. I was lecturing on American foreign policy to Palestinian students and I spent a lot of time covering riots in the Palestinian territories. I was involved in the 2009, 2012 and 2014 wars in Gaza, and then the Arab Spring started. In 2014, after ISIS first came to prominence, the genocide against the Yazidis began. I remember sitting in Beit Hanina in Jerusalem and watching a video of people being beheaded, or machine-gunned in Sinjar, and I decided that it was important to cover that somehow. I first went to Turkey to do some reporting and then the next year I went with a friend named Laura Kelly to Iraq. And the rest is history. Like Jonathan, I kept going back again and again, I got very addicted to it and I wanted to try to cover as many countries as I could. So I went back to Turkey, I went to Jordan, Egypt, I went to the Gulf to do some coverage there, but I never went to Syria or Lebanon. I felt it was too difficult or dangerous. But, certainly Iraq and the Kurdistan region were places I felt very comfortable in, and I felt it was important to be there.

I think as an Israeli or someone who’s Jewish, you face all sorts of struggles in this region. There are some places you can’t say that you’re Jewish, and certainly being Israelis is really difficult. But even if they don’t know you have Israeli citizenship it’s a series of little hurdles.

I wanted to ask about that. It seems incomprehensible to me that you went to Syria, that just seems dumb in a lot of ways.

JS: I agree.

Especially being Israeli. I’m trying to understand: What’s the positive? Does being Israeli give you a particular perspective that other Western journalists don’t have?

JS: I think maybe it does give you a perspective. We come across all these Westerners who are trying to cover the Middle East and often they’re just astonishingly naive, and sometimes miseducated. They have to unlearn a bunch of stuff they learned about the region in Western universities.

If you are Israeli, or if you lived in Israel for a given number of years and really get to know the society well, you have an insight into some of the things that make the region tick: politicized religion, sectarianism, the intractability of conflict, the role of tribes and families and clans. I think it does give you a perspective and an insight and, if you can write in English, it does give you an advantage. Being from the Arab world also does. The late Anthony Shadid, for example, who wrote for the New York Times, obviously. He was an American but he was a Lebanese-American, and undoubtedly his family background gave him an insight. I think for Israeli-Jews, it can be a similar thing.

SF: We forget how close these places are. I can fly back to America and ostensibly that’s home, but Damascus is right there. If you’re on the Golan you can almost see it. Iraq is not that far away. We are conditioned to think that Italy is close and Iraq is far. It’s the other way round. It’s important to understand that Israel is part of this region. There’s lots of people in Israel that came from those areas; Israel is part of this mosaic. It’s also connected to the Mediterranean, but it’s not connected to Denmark. As Jonathan said, some Westerners who come here have colonial baggage and arrogance, and they’re writing about another region so they can mock it. But what happens today in Syria will affect us tomorrow. Iranian entrenchment, Shia militias in Iraq, these things are on our doorstep. The Arab Spring – what happens in Egypt or Tunisia – somehow ends up back here. So it helps if you’re Israeli or you’ve lived here a long time you have that perspective, as opposed to seeing it from Denmark.

JS:Today Syria is arguably the most important ground zero for geopolitics in the world. I was just in eastern Syria last week, and we counted seven different armies from the Islamic State all the way over to the United States Army, operating in that tiny, collapsed, fragmented space. Not just local superpowers like Iran and Syria, but also global superpowers, the United States and Russia and various other players – Turkey, the Syrian rebels, the Kurdish PKK, you name it. Syria in many ways is the point where the main powers meet and clash and there isn’t anywhere else quite like that in the world, where those issues are so starkly confronting.

For me it’s been pretty much the most important professional experience of my life. But, of course, it’s absolutely a dumb and stupid thing to do, and if anyone’s listening out there, you know, don’t do it kids.

Have you ever been outed? 

JS:In real time, I haven’t, in retrospect I have. After I went to regime-controlled Syria in 2017 I took a decision to write about the fake identity I’d created. I could have kept going and developed a second life as a British pro-regime activist, in order to keep going to regime-controlled Syria. Eventually I would have been caught, though. I think it’s a good thing I did once; it was fascinating. And then I wrote about it, and all hell broke loose because the people I’d been with suddenly realized who I’d been, and they got very upset and angry.

Jonathan with two Syrian government ministers: Mohammed Tourkeman (Minister of Information) and Ali Khaidar, Damascus (2017).

Did they email you saying “What the hell?”

JS: The only one who emailed me directly was a Syrian lady who’d been our guide, a regime Ministry of Information employee who wrote this furious letter to me saying: “I always knew who you were. That’s why I didn’t let you go to speak to those people!” I assume it’s because they’d been called in by the mukharabat and they’d been grilled. Other than that, no. But there were some impassioned Facebook discussions on the page of one of the guys who organized the trip. It was in Arabic, which I can read. So I was following those with great enthusiasm. I shared one of their lines on my own Facebook page because it was so much fun. Someone said: “This man has eluded the intelligence services of Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. We have no way of knowing who he truly is!” That was very funny.

Seth J. Frantzman next to a Kurdish Peshmerga during the Nawaran Offensive in October 2016.

SF: In Iraqi Kurdistan people never cared if you were Israeli or Jewish. It’s actually a positive thing. So even if I told people I was a correspondent for the Washington Times or the National Interest, someone with me that knew me would always say that I was Israeli, and other people would reply “Oh that’s great.” I noticed that my trips got picked up in Persian and Arabic media, and then people would find me on Facebook: a picture of me in Dubai dressed in traditional Arab dress, and then a picture of me on the front line with the Kurds. They put them together and conclude that I’m a Mossad operative and it’s all part of a vast conspiracy.

Let’s talk more about the Kurds. Last month the Americans pulled out and Turkey moved into the Kurdish part of Syria. Do Kurds see this as an American betrayal? Do you share that assessment? And what does the future hold?

JS: I was just there last week and I was actually focused on this story. I interviewed Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and asked him precisely these questions. They certainly have a very strong sense of betrayal, but at the same time they’re pragmatic, maybe because they’re accustomed to disaster. So when things don’t turn out well for them, they respond “Okay, this is very bad and unforgivable. Now, how are we going to work with this?”

The Americans haven’t totally left. They have no real strategy, but as long as they’re there, the Kurds in Syria will be happy to work with them, because the alternative is not working with them. So even if they’re furious about what’s happened, they’re going to carry on working with the Americans.

As for the future, it’s fascinating. Contrary to the impression we had, that the regime is rolling in and it’s all over, on the ground remarkably little has changed. The Kurdish internal security forces are still responsible for security in all the urban areas. Right now a journalist can go through the Kurdish-controlled border crossing with Iraq at Faysh Khabur down to Qamishli on the Turkish border without ever coming across a regime roadblock or even seeing a regime soldier. That’s because the regime is decrepit. I spent some time with the regime forces on the border in a place called Tell Tamer, and they are in lousy shape. I personally witnessed a regime medical officer petitioning an American medical NGO for medical equipment: “I don’t have any aspirin for my boys,” it was like that, you know. People tell me that they’ve seen regime soldiers asking SDF guys for food. The regime has won the war because of Russia and Iran, not because of any strength of its own. And that has implications for them taking control of the whole area.

Everything’s moving much slower and in a more complex way than the initial headlines after the American pullout indicated. The Turks meanwhile are still pushing forward, so there’s fighting in Ayn Issa, halfway between the Turkish border and the regional capital of Raqqa – they’re trying to block the M4 Highway, so they can bisect the Kurdish entity.

So this isn’t the end of the war in Syria?

JS: No, no, it’s not the end of the war in Syria. It’s like in the Bible, you have like Joseph begat, Nimrod begat. Each war begets a new war. You had the regime vs. rebel war, which gave birth to the ISIS vs. coalition war, which now has given birth to a Turkish vs. Kurdish war. And there’s a whole bunch of other ones as well, Israel vs. Iran, regime vs. Turks, Americans vs Russians. I think it’s a crucial point. Syria remains a confused, mixed-up, geostrategic space in which all kinds of forces are engaged. Maybe five years from now, it will have burned itself out and it will be Assad again, with his flag over the whole country, but that is not the case right now.

SF: The issue of the betrayal is interesting. American foreign policy is bizarre. You have the State Department conducting one foreign policy, and the Pentagon conducting another one, and then the CIA and the White House two more. During the war, the CIA was involved in training the rebels, and that program ended in 2017 after a billion dollars were spent. The Pentagon made all sorts of promises. But the Pentagon wasn’t consulted about Trump’s withdrawal, nor were some of the State Department people.

This balkanized way of making foreign policy is really bad for the region. Russia and Iran make foreign policy systematically: diplomacy and arms are combined. It’s not like the army supports one actor and the Russian Foreign Ministry another. The Americans have two groups fighting each other, so the Americans who like Turkey are pleased to watch the group the Pentagon supported be defeated. That’s insane – it’s like you have people in the establishment cheering on different people like it’s a wrestling match while people die! The Iranians don’t get Hezbollah to fight another Shiite militia. No, they make sure they work all together, they don’t purposely work against themselves. But the Americans do, at least in Syria: they sometimes work against their own interests, and that’s really weird. And I think it leaves all sides that work with America feeling betrayed. It means that Israel is suspicious of the Americans because Bolton told the Israelis that we’re not leaving until the Iranians leave. That was bullshit, apparently. And then of course the Turks think that the Americans betrayed them by working with the PKK, and the SDF thinks the Americans betrayed them by allowing the Turks to invade The Americans trained a hundred thousand members of the SDF and then allowed the Turks to kill 400 of them. Why would you do that? Why would you train people and then let another ally kill them?

I don’t think that’s ever happened before in history. It’s one thing to betray people the way that Americans have betrayed other groups in the world, like Americans betrayed the people in South Vietnam. But I don’t think the Americans collaborated with another country to attack them. Every day, America’s brand in the region is being deeply eroded, and that’s not good for Israel or other allies.

I want to talk about the protests going on in Iraq right now. The reports suggest that the Iranians have gone too far and the Iraqis aren’t going to put up with it anymore. Do you think that’s true? Are the Iranians on their way out?

JS: I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily on their way out, but it does indicate a vulnerability which has always been inherent in their empire building in the region. They have no socioeconomic model of any kind; they couldn’t really care less about that. Qassem Soleimani (commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force) can give you guns to avenge your humiliation at the hands of the Zionist and the imperialists, right? And that’s his selling point too. But he has no idea how to create an economy in a country full of young people who are desperate for a future, who are desperate for housing, who are desperate for jobs. The Revolutionary Guards Corps simply has no interest whatsoever in any of that. In this respect, the American policy of maximum pressure is bearing fruit: there’s a correlation between the absence of money in the Iranian coffers, and the discontent on the streets of those places. You put together that absent economic model with real pressure from the Americans, and it’s not surprising that you get discontent and fury.

And Lebanon, Iraq, and now Iran itself are all showing this in remarkably similar ways. Whether it’s the WhatsApp tax in Lebanon or the removal of fuel subsidies in Iran, there’s a furious reaction. Will it lead to profound change? My view, as a student of insurgency and political violence, is that at this stage it won’t, because to have a revolution you need a revolutionary party. It doesn’t have to be a formal political party but you need a group of people who want to make a revolution and want to steer it this way or that, and that currently does not exist in any of those countries. But does it make life difficult for the Iranians? Does it keep them occupied? Does it make them have to think carefully about where and how to spend the increasingly limited funds that are available to them? Yes it does and I think that is very significant.

SF: Iran was able to get into these countries – Lebanon for example –not only by claiming to be the resistance, but also by working with the poor and downtrodden Shias. If I were a Shiite in Lebanon I would have supported Hezbollah as well. Fast forward to today, though, now Iran works with the older, fatter leadership. People are resisting this kind of ossified resistance.

And in Iraq it’s fascinating that people aren’t attacking the symbols of the Iraqi state, but the symbols of the Iranian state, like the Iranian Consulate in Karbala. They attack the Shiite militia headquarters, and those Shia militias are a huge problem. They’re taking over Iraq in the same way that the IRGC took over Iran, they’re seeping in.

JS: Almost from day one of the riots in Baghdad, the militia have been used as death squads. I read a quote from the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (Shia militia) leader, who has this ludicrous explanation that the Israelis and Americans are the ones killing demonstrators. Iraqis aren’t stupid – they know what’s behind it. I think the anger at the militias is very pointed because they’re the main spearhead of the repression that’s taking place, with around 400 people dead.

SF: No one thought the militias would end up this way. In 2014 people joined because ISIS was 10 kilometers from Baghdad. Now, only a few years later, this corrupt institution is being ordered by Iran to use snipers and imported grenade canisters to murder people. I don’t think people will forget that, even if they’re defeated. They’ll remember it 20 years from now and they’ll tell their children about it. No one will forget.

What is Israel doing in these places? Is it even possible to know?

JS: I think we can know, certainly in Syria and also in Iraq and Lebanon. Israel has more or less complete intelligence coverage of Syria and Lebanon; dozens of people in military intelligence work on the Syria and Lebanon desk. Israel knows everything that moves. In Iraq less so, but there’s been greater attention there over the last couple of years, so now they have a pretty good take on Iraq as well. My sense is that Israeli goals are very limited, and have no internal political relevance of any kind to those countries. Israel is just worried about the Iranian project in each country, and it wants to downgrade and, eventually, destroy or reverse that project. But Israel, as far as I’m aware, isn’t cultivating actors within the political sphere.

Like the South Lebanese Army (SLA)?

JS: Precisely because of the experience in South Lebanon, the very thought gives Israel the chills. There was the very limited, extremely transactional to the nth degree relationship with certain small Syrian rebel groups in Quneitra Province, but that didn’t last long at all. Unlike the SDF and the Pentagon, there were no illusions on either side. The rebel groups knew that when they left, Israel would forget about them the next day, and Israel knew that if those guys ever rolled into Damascus, the first thing they would do would be to demand the return of the Golan Heights. What do you think Seth?

SF: I’m thinking about Iraq. The Iraqi government accuses Israel of airstrikes in Iraq. That’s fine but the Iraqis like to spread conspiracies about Israel. They accused the Kurdish region of being close to Israel, and during the referendum they called it a “second Israel in the region.” But I don’t think the Kurds have any interest in an open relationship with Israel. It’s true that during the referendum some people flew Israeli flags, because Israel was an enemy of Saddam, and an enemy of the groups the Kurds were enemies with. And people remember Israel’s relationship with the Kurds in the sixties and seventies – that was a clandestine relationship. But I don’t think that’s done anymore.

JS: The Iranians do it.
SF: True. Groups in the region want America and Israel to do things like that. But nobody wants to do secret air drops and weird things like that. Western countries, including Israel, aren’t interested in it. And Israel has a very narrow goal. The airstrikes reflect this. It’s not Bush’s shock and awe, it’s a pinprick and awe.

Let’s turn to writing. When reading both of your books, I thought of Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, and the role of the knowledgeable war reporter who speaks the language and becomes a part of the story themselves. Do you relate to Orwell as a writer, and his tradition of reporting?

SF: I don’t know about Orwell. Originally, I wanted to write about ISIS’s crimes. After seeing all the mass graves in Sinjar and interviewing the survivors, it felt like I’d appeared in Europe in 1945 with the Allies and had the chance to interview people who had survived Buchenwald or Theresienstadt. I thought it was important to document. I took inspiration from Tony Judt, even though he was anti-Israel. In Postwar, he said the war ends but wars don’t end. Other things begin. I’ve witnessed crimes that are similar to what the Nazis did, albeit on a smaller scale. ISIS was defeated, I witnessed that in Mosul, and now there’s going to be a new conflict over the spoils.

I wanted to combine history, chronology, and vignettes of my own experience. It had to be colorful. And I wanted to talk about the Gulf because it’s the opposite of what ISIS has been doing. ISIS was blowing up places like Palmyra, destroying history, while in the Gulf they’re building cities that will be like Palmyra in 2,000 years. People will look back at that stupid Burj Khalifa and think: “What the hell is that?” I was pleased with that juxtaposition.

I went to West Africa, which is a whole other flank of ISIS. I wanted to cover Jordan and Egypt because I felt it was important to show how the state system has been eroded in the Middle East and how it’s returned in a major way. In Egypt, it’s North Korean style, “We’ll police you everywhere because we don’t want ISIS or chaos.” And I wanted to have a part at the end that looked towards the future.

JS: For me, those writers in the thirties and forties, like Orwell and Arthur Koestler, helped create the genre of war reporting where the writer is present at certain points. Homage to Catalonia fits into that category and Koestler’s Promise and Fulfillment, about Israel is 1948/49, is similar. I like those kind of books, and they were definitely a model for what I was trying to do. It’s a way of combining the insights of a reporter on the ground and the insights of a policy analyst. Each strengthens the other. Someone who knows the region they’re covering will be a better reporter than someone who’s just parachuted in. There’s an educational and professional value in combining the two.

Were you ever in a situation where you crossed the line between observer and participant?

JS: I think I did in the summer of 2014, during the ISIS onslaught which triggered the coalition response in August. I was there at the time. I didn’t pick up a weapon or anything like that. But my writing was self-consciously trying to tell people that the YPG was a good organization playing a tremendously important role and was worthy of support. I wasn’t writing propaganda, I was just writing what I was seeing, but it wasn’t the sort of military analysis that I do for Jane’s Intelligence Review – I was invested in those people. I think I mentioned that in the book, but I tried to qualify it with hindsight – it doesn’t mean that the PKK is a perfect organization or that it’s not right to criticize it, but at that place and at that time – and I still think this today – they played a tremendously moral role, literally saving the lives of tens of thousands of people, at a very high cost to themselves, often with primitive weaponry. I think that’s worthy of being acknowledged.

SF: I know we’re supposed to be nonpartisan observers, but I think that you’re always a participant and I would prefer to be honest about it. Of course, there were groups I thought it was more important to cover, like the guys fighting ISIS. Meeting Yazidis, I felt a commonality with the Jewish experience. I cover other places like Turkey or Egypt, which are more complicated, and there I’m more of an observer, because while I don’t love the Egyptian regime, I don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood either. I was at Turkey while it was transitioning to Erdogan’s totalitarian state, and I wouldn’t go back now, but I tried to give a fair shake to the Turks I met. I tried to explain why Turkey was making these decisions. I didn’t just say it was an evil regime, I tried to understand why their society was changing.

And I went to Eastern Europe to cover the refugee crisis in 2015 – there’s a bit of it in the book. I wanted to cross the borders with the refugees. In that case, I don’t think you’re ever just an observer. You’re actually with these people. I wanted to walk with them illegally across the border. I wanted to understand what they were experiencing. I wanted to sleep on the railroad tracks with them – not in a romantic way, not to prove myself. I just felt like it would help me understand. I also gave a ride to some women who were walking in the cold, and I gave all my socks to a group of Afghans before I left. Does that mean I think there should be open immigration to the EU? Not exactly. I think the EU should regulate immigration. And I saw for myself how people could get through illegally and how ISIS attackers came through the same borders. So I’m a critic of unrestricted immigration, but I’m certainly sympathetic towards these people and I’m glad that I met them and saw what’s going on. I think you’re always participating, especially if you’re sharing a tent with people who could die, of course you’re with them. You can’t pretend that you’re also with the other guys. I’m not.

JS: Two points about this. You just described how you saw things which gave your work as an analyst an insight you couldn’t have got in any other way. I think that’s important. Secondly, I think there’s a way of doing the kind of close observation that you’re talking about while definitely not becoming a participant, in other words, remaining radically opposed to the people you’re hanging out with. I’ve done this myself – I’ve spent time with the Syrian regime, ISIS people, and the Shia militias. I spent time with them in order to understand the reasons why they got to where they got to. I was genuinely interacting in the way that human interacts, and I couldn’t avoid that. But I was definitely not a participant in their project and I actually strongly opposed it – if anything, I was a participant against their project.

SF: Where do you draw the line? Obviously we’re not picking up rifles, that’s beyond what you should be doing if you’re a journalist, but we have an emotional connection and where you choose to stand matters. Of course you can stand with people who you actually deeply oppose, but I think there’s a myth of the neutral observer. I think that sometimes you just have to choose sides in terms of what you write about. You have to decide where you stand on the spectrum of analysis and opinion.

I’m thinking about these experiences you had with the Yazidis. How did you cope with that afterward?

SF: I’ve had two reflections. First, the more trauma or PTSD or whatever its is, or that adrenaline kick, that fix you experience, the more you want it. When you are back in civilian life and you hear sounds that remind you of explosions, it freaks you out, but then you wish you were back there. Some people don’t ever want to talk about it. My great-grandfather fought in the First World War, but I don’t think he ever talked about it. If you do it too much you can only really talk to other people who’ve done things like that – soldiers or correspondents or aid workers. It’s like you’ve joined a weird little fraternity. You’re not supposed to like it, but you do.

My wife had two kids while this was going on, and I realized that I couldn’t do anymore the things I did years ago. I would never do them again. There was a point when I chose not to do certain things because I felt it was a risk to her and the kids and it wouldn’t be nice for them to grow up without a father. So there’s that.

JS:Yeah, I agree. I just think it’s addictive. I like it for all kinds of reasons. It gives a kind of vividness to life, you have the sort of intensity of experience which is quite hard to find elsewhere. So in that sense it’s not surprising that people wish to experience it again. In terms of trauma, I don’t know. Today it’s certainly common, with regard to soldiers who’ve experienced combat, to say that they’re probably traumatized. I’m no expert, but some accounts say that military psychologists say only a small minority of soldiers are actually diagnosed with PTSD. That applies to guys like us as well, and there are many people we know who continue to do this stuff and have successful family lives – they’re just regular people. Not everyone is hugely affected by it, and everyone’s affected differently.

You’re writing about something that’s so important, with people’s lives at stake and the future of the region, all those things. Do you think that your work has an impact?

JS: I read somewhere that intelligence organizations grade information into three grades: A, B and C. Most of the time you’re dealing with Grade C, occasionally you’re dealing with Grade B, and once in twice in your career you’re dealing with Grade A. That’s how I view my own writing. The vast majority is Grade C – it goes out into the world and hopefully informs whoever reads it before it’s forgotten. There’s an ephemeral nature to journalism. Hopefully the books are a bit different, you don’t want the book to be ephemeral. But a news article deserves to be ephemeral.

It’s very rare that you’re dealing with a story that nobody else knows about. I’ve felt that a couple of times, and it was fantastic. When you do, you hope that it has an impact, at least on the policy discussion. Maybe the policy outcome is different, but at least on the discussion. It justifies what you’ve been doing.

SF: Yeah, it’s a struggle. Sometimes it has an impact. Going to these places, you hopefully learn to connect the dots and eventually come to the point where you see the whole picture. Not everyone wants to take things as far as they can go.

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