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Going nuclear: Pulitzer Center speakers cast light on nuclear weapons and security issues

Elon University, a Campus Consortium partner of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, hosted an April 5 community lecture featuring veteran reporters Rachel Oswald, Reza Sayah and Tom Hundley.

The evening before Congressional Quarterly published her in-depth report on South Korea’s perspectives on nuclear weapons, journalist Rachel Oswald walked an audience of Elon University students and faculty through her coverage as part of an April 5 community lecture. The on-campus event was coordinated through the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Journalists Reza Sayah (from left), Rachel Oswald and Tom Hundley, who are funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, participated in a community lecture in the School of Communications on April 5. The three reporters have extensive experience covering international topics such as nuclear weapons, human rights concerns, the refugee/migrant crisis and the war in Afghanistan.

The CQ foreign policy reporter was joined by fellow journalist Reza Sayah and Pulitzer Center senior editor Tom Hundley for an in-depth discussion of the latest topics relating to nuclear security and nuclear weapons, particularly in Iran and on the Korean peninsula. The lecture focused on Oswald’s recent reporting in South Korea and Sayah’s experiences in Iran and his coverage of the United States’ possible withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

The lecture, held in the McEwen screening room, also included a lively Q&A session with inquiries about the international perception of the U.S., the stability of Iran’s government, the threat of nuclear war from North Korea, and the overall impact of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Far East.

Photos of the lecture are available on the school’s Flickr account.

Following an introduction from Hundley, Oswald opened the lecture with a recap of her interest in the Korean peninsula.

Having covered North Korea “on and off” since 2009, Oswald noted that she has heard “fringe voices” in South Korean news outlets often call for the country to acquire nuclear weapons. While that opinion has “always been part of the political conversation,” she said, North Korea’s progress with nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles has given these concerns more merit.

Oswald outlines her extensive report on South Korea and nuclear weapons, which was recently published by Congressional Quarterly magazine.

“One of the things I like to do as a journalist is I like to take time to report on stories that other people aren’t reporting on,” she said. “Maybe they are under the radar. They aren’t quite front-of-the-burner stories, but they have the potential to be that. I like to see where things will go. What unintended consequences U.S. policies may be having? So that was my interest in going to Seoul – to see what effect Washington’s policies were having on South Korea.”

With that objective in mind, Oswald pitched Hundley her story idea and the Pulitzer Center supported her travel and reporting earlier this year.

During her lecture, she delved into her coverage that concentrated on one main question: Will South Korea get a nuclear weapon? Her conclusion: Likely yes, if two things happen. First, the North Korea crisis needs to get worse. Secondly, South Korea needs to doubt the U.S. military alliance. “This is a sign to really, really watch,” she said.

She then addressed the possibility of South Korea building its own nuclear weapons program, developed on the strength of its advanced atomic energy program. She also discussed the well-orchestrated conservative protests in Seoul, and how they were commandeering the national conversation, and the role that emotions could play in South Korean’s decision making.

While traditionally conservative, South Korea’s recently elected government officials and staff are liberal leaning. There is noticeable friction between the country’s political parties.

“This debate isn’t about military advantage, it’s about feelings,” Oswald said.

Sayah introduces his “PBS NewsHour” report on the United States’ possible withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and how that decision was viewed in the Middle Eastern country.

Following Oswald’s presentation, Sayah summarized his own international reporting experiences and the stark contrast between what he often sees firsthand and the narratives shared by American media outlets. This has been true while he’s reported in Pakistan, Egypt and Iran – especially in terms of the Iranian nuclear program.

Last fall, when U.S. President Donald Trump declared that he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, “PBS NewsHour” dispatched Sayah to Tehran for a news feature segment on the nuclear deal from Iran’s perspective. Before playing the “NewsHour” segment for the audience, he outlined his objectives and his role as a reporter.  

“Being in Iran, being in that region in general, I see it as my duty to provide the U.S. audience Iran’s perspective,” Sayah said. “That’s one thing lacking in U.S. media. We hear Washington’s narrative. We hear the West’s narrative. But in order to solve a problem, we have to understand the other side.”

Sayah explained he tries to ensure that his reporting presents an “accurate picture of what Iran is and not the caricature that it’s been painted for many years in U.S. media.”

Journalism major Paul LeBlanc ’18, who was awarded a Pulitzer Center Student Fellowship this year, reads introductions for the three visiting journalists.

Elon is one of the Pulitzer Center’s more than 30 Campus Consortium partners, an educational initiative that brings Pulitzer Center staff and journalists to Elon’s campus twice a year. With Elon’s membership in the consortium, students have the opportunity to work with the center on developing international reporting projects, which have been featured on the center’s website and can be disseminated through media partners.

This year, journalism major Paul LeBlanc ’18 was awarded a Pulitzer Center Student Fellowship and spent a week in London investigating deradicalization programs in English prisons. He will publish a report on his findings in a few weeks. Before the lecture, LeBlanc provided introductions for the three journalists.

As part of their campus visit, Oswald, Sayah and Hundley also spoke with two communications classes, an honors course, and members of the student-run Elon News Network. Additionally, they appeared on the April 5 telecast of “ELN Morning” to discuss their reporting.

The April 5 lecture was sponsored by the School of Communications, the Department of Political Science & Policy Studies, and the Turnage Family Faculty Innovation and Creativity Fund for the Study of Political Communication.

Tommy Kopetskie,
4/9/2018 4:40 PM