BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jennifer Griffin of FOX News, how long have you lived in Israel?
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL, JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Six-and-a-half years.
LAMB: Why did you go there in the first place?
GRIFFIN: I was assigned there. We were in Moscow at the time and my husband was working for the AP and he’d been working for them about 20 years. And FOX wanted me to go to Jerusalem so we moved there. We didn’t have children at the time.
LAMB: How long have you worked for FOX news?
GRIFFIN: I’ve worked for FOX since the beginning, about six months after they started. So that’s about nine years now and nine-and-a-half years because they’re about to celebrate their 10th anniversary. I started in Moscow. I was working for a production company there. NPR wouldn’t hire me. I had been working in the Middle East for them and I didn’t speak Russian and so I was looking around town for something to do and there was a production house that had the first contract with FOX and that’s how I started.
LAMB: What would you say to someone who asked you about Israel who had never been there? What are the things that you see that we don’t see on television?
GRIFFIN: I think you don’t see how normal it is and I think that’s what’s so surprising. People always ask me how do you raise children there. And I have a three and a five-year-old and they were born there. They were born during the Intifada. I was wearing flack jackets instead of maternity wear at the beginning of the Palestinian uprising. And I can separate my life as a correspondent who is covering at times dangers things and still be at home, sleep in my bed at night and my kids can have a very normal existence there.
LAMB: How do you do that?
GRIFFIN: Well I have certain rules and parameters. They are at an age that I don’t take them to restaurants. We don’t go to coffee shops. We don’t I don’t take them grocery shopping. When they come to America they think the greatest thing is to go to a grocery store. We don’t go to a lot of crowded places. They go to parks where nothing has happened, thank goodness. They go to kids friends’ houses. The schools are generally safe.
Though there was this extraordinary moment when we first got there when the Intifada had just begun and I had just given birth to my first daughter, Ann Elise (ph), and I was covering a suicide bomber had blown up outside the French school and his head literally blew into the courtyard as the kids were coming to school. And these were young kids. And it was one of the first really shocking suicide bombings that I had covered.
And the kids just went about their business. They threw trash on the head and went inside. The teachers sort of normalized things, got them into classes. The parents, many of them journalists and diplomats who have sent their kids to the school, started driving the carpool with armored in armored vehicles. And it was the first time I realized that how quickly it was amazing how quickly Israel, Israelis, and then also the ex-pats living there just get on with things. Terrorism never got in the way of anyone’s life.
It’s amazing after a suicide bombing how quickly they clean it up. It’s almost appalling how it’s part of the society there. And fortunately we’re in a quieter period now but it was very traumatic going through those bombings were in our neighborhood at times but they weren’t in places that my kids would have been.
So it’s this juxtaposition of how small Israel is and how at one point I took a helicopter ride recently up to the north and we flew up along the Green Line and at its narrowest point along the spine of the country it’s just 10 miles wide. So I don’t think most Americans know that.
LAMB: Your husband excuse me your husband is Greg Myrie (ph)
GRIFFIN: That’s right.
for the New York Times. What kind of reporting does he do?
GRIFFIN: He works for the New York Times and he covers Jerusalem, as I do for FOX. We’ve been overseas now for I’ve been overseas 15 years, I went straight after college. And I actually took a year off from college. I went to Harvard and I took a year off and went to South Africa. It was the end of apartheid period. We didn’t know it was the end of apartheid but apartheid was sort of waning and F.W. de Klerk had just come to power.
And the first story that I covered well I met my husband, first of all, in Soweto. I met him at the first legal ANC rally, African National Congress rally, back in 1989. They had just let Walter Sisulu out from jail. It was a precursor to them letting Nelson Mandela out. And my first real news story was Nelson Mandela’s release. I sent the story back to the Harvard Crimson and it made the front page.
And Greg was a journalist for the AP at the time, he was about nine years older so he had already I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist at that point but he did and he was there. And so I kept going back to South Africa the last two years of college. I went and there was a lot of violence in the township in those days and I covered it for my senior thesis and went back to live with them after I graduated.
And about a week after that he took off to Somalia without me for to cover the beginning of the famine. It was long before Black Hawk down, long before the U.S. Marines went in. It was the beginning of the famine, it was horrible. There were only it the it was a major news story at the moment and I was still just getting started. I didn’t have any strings arranged. I took all my graduation checks and cashed them out and bought a ticket to Nairobi. And I told this story this weekend at the commencement address that I gave to high school students and they got a kick out of it.
They I basically showed up in Nairobi, and I was probably 22 at the time so looking rather young. And I went to an airport. And the only way into Mogadishu in those days was on an aide flight, UNICEF or Red Cross or you could pay the drug runners the kot (ph) runners. The kot (ph) was the drug they chewed. It’s kind of like an extreme caffeine. But all the gunman across the city chewed it and nothing got in the way of the kot (ph) flights. Only there was no food getting into Mogadishu but the kot (ph) flights went on time.
So I was getting ready to pay my way in kot (ph) because the UNICEF flights required that you be an accredited journalist and I wasn’t accredited. I didn’t even work for anyone. And then some nice UNICEF worker felt sorry for me and didn’t want me paying drug runners to get in there.
And so I surprised Greg. He didn’t know I was coming. And I called in those days there weren’t that many sat phone, so just UNICEF had one sat phone, you know. There wasn’t email and all that then. And I called the Sydney Morning Herald and that was my first string. And after that I was a journalist.
LAMB: Well go back to your graduation speech
where did you speak?
GRIFFIN: I spoke at the high school I went to I started what was then St. Agnes. It was a girls’ school back in 1980 and that was fifth grade. And I graduated in 1987. And my sister, who is 19 years younger than me, she’s the last Griffin to graduate from what is now St. Stephens and St. Agnes in Alexandria.
So I addressed their class and it was amazing. It was amazing for our family but it was also really so much harder than figuring than writing a script or even being live in some place like, you know, live anywhere that I’ve been in the world this format of a commencement address, now not to be clichι, and how to be funny to the kids and tell them something. So I just got really personal and I told them sort of how I backed into journalism.
LAMB: How did you?
GRIFFIN: Well, there was that moment in Somalia, you know, meeting Greg in South Africa and tagging along with journalists in Africa as a way to travel was the beginning. Somalia started me off with the strings. And then again, the AP kept assigning Greg places. We moved to Pakistan, we covered Afghanistan and Pakistan. Every place we moved I picked up different strings.
So I started off in print and did newspaper work. I worked for the Sowetan in South Africa, which was the largest black paper at the time when there was still apartheid. Then in Pakistan I started doing radio for Voice of America. None of the VOA correspondents could go up to Afghanistan so I would go up to Afghanistan and I would get information.
And in those days it was after the Soviets had pulled out and there was a civil war. The mujahideen were fighting each other. Bin Laden had not arrived yet but he arrived the year after we left. We were there from ’94 to ’96. They caught Ramzi Yousef, the first World Trader Center bomber next to our house in a little shopping mall where I used to buy French bread. And I remember the it was a little nothing guest house that the FBI and others caught him in. They caught him because his face was on the back of a matchbook. It was one of the smarter programs they had offering several million dollars for him and it was on matches and everyone smokes there. So it was a great way to publicize it.
And then we went into the video rental store, which was right across from the guest house where he was caught, and we said did you ever hear of this guy. And the guy checked his records, he said yes, he did rent some movies here. And I said well what was his last movie that he rented? And it was something called ”Fugitives Among Us.” And Greg and I couldn’t believe our ears. It was one of the and the Pakistani didn’t even realize how ironic it was.
LAMB: Refresh us on who Ramzi Yousef was.
GRIFFIN: Ramzi Yousef was the first World Trade Center bomber, so back in ’93 I think it was when the World Trade Center was first hit and it didn’t fall, obviously. He was the mastermind of that and he had escaped to Pakistan originally I believe and well he was traveling around. Actually they traced him actually from Manila back to Pakistan but he was hiding out in Pakistan.
LAMB: Where is he now?
GRIFFIN: Oh, he’s in a lock up somewhere here in the States. It would be interesting actually to follow up and interview him. But yes, he’s here. He’s been here.
LAMB: Go back to your comment about your sister being 19 years younger.
LAMB: How many Griffins were there or are there?
GRIFFIN: Well quite a few. I was the eldest child and my parents met in college and so I was born back then. And then I have a brother who John, who is three years younger than me and he’s a banker in New York. And then there were between me and my next sister, Kaitlan (ph), were 14 years. So she was born when I when we were playing hockey and lacrosse in high school she would come to our games and I would have her on one hip as I was listening to the coach and getting instructions. And so there was that.
And then my freshman year of college my mother called me and she said she said she told me she was pregnant. And I was quiet for a minute and I said, ”Well better you than me.” So
LAMB: And what do your parents do?
GRIFFIN: My father was a lawyer. He died three years ago from lymphoma. And my mother has a theater in Alexandria. She started a theater called Metro Stage and they win a number of Helen Hayes Awards every year.
LAMB: So how, you know, how did you get from start first of all, Alexandria, Virginia
GRIFFIN: That’s right.
GRIFFIN: That’s right, to Harvard. Well that was simple. That was the easiest thing I’ve done. That was just applying to colleges just like everyone else
LAMB: But I mean were you a good student in school?
GRIFFIN: I guess I was. I was also student leader. And I was head of the student council and I was involved in a lot of things. I played varsity sports.
LAMB: Do you play both hockey and lacrosse?
GRIFFIN: I did and soccer, yes. So I did play and we had good teams at St. Agnes. It’s a small school but we have good teams and we were national lacrosse champions actually.
So I you know, I was very involved. St. Agnes was a wonderful school. It was a great school. There aren’t that many all-girl schools left and I’m a real fan of all-girl schools. And gave us tremendous gave me tremendous leadership opportunities and travel opportunities. My grandparents were the first one who ones to take me overseas. They took me to Paris, I think was my first trip, when I was 12. Then I went to London with them.
And those weren’t so South Africa came it was interesting because I had a wonderful time at Harvard. The first two years I comped the Crimson, which is their newspaper the first freshman year and that was a grueling process. It’s really like trying out for your first job at the New York Times. I think it’s harder probably because they really put you it’s almost a hazing ritual.
And but I joined the Crimson and spent a lot of long nights there. And then at the end of my sophomore year I realized it was all going rather quickly and I looked down at the newspaper and it was during exams and I saw an interview with a Newman Fellow, Joe Polo (ph), who was the editor of the Sowetan. And I was talking to my mom and I said, ”Well maybe I’ll go to South Africa next year.”
And it was literally that simple of a thought that then kind of took on some momentum. I then contacted all the different fellows at the school who were South African and asked them how I could do it. And one worked for the Weekly Mail, which is a interesting newspaper at the time, a very anti-apartheid but run, you know, more it wasn’t the Sowetan was the largest black paper but the Weekly Mail was doing some excellent investigative reporting.
I talked to them and I talked to a professor who was teaching down at the University of the Western Cape, which was a real hotbed for ANC radicalism and it was known as a colored university of the time and that was its designation under apartheid. But it was very political.
And I went down and I spent half the year in Johannesburg working for the Sowetan and then half the year teaching kids political science at the University of Western Cape students. And I focused mostly on plagiarism. They didn’t understand plagiarism and so I did a lot of teaching about that.
LAMB: What’s the draw through? What is
GRIFFIN: What is the draw?
drawing you to South Africa and Soweto?
GRIFFIN: Well, you know what happened, one of the first stories I did for the Crimson was on the role of black fraternities on campus. So I think coming from Virginia I didn’t have we didn’t have I didn’t grow up in the most integrated environment. And so I was quite fascinated with racial issues when I got off to Harvard.
And one of the first issues on campus that I delved into and did a really interesting expose, it was a longer format piece for as part of my comp was on black fraternities and whether they were a good thing to separate out was it good to have that option or whether it was creating tensions on campus and I looked at MIT and I looked at Harvard.
And so I started getting interested in racial issues up there and so apartheid was the hottest issue, South Africa was the furthest place I could think of to go, and it was just it was just a curiosity. And it was a simple curiosity and I truly don’t know more than that how I ended up there. I cried all the way there on the plane. I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.
My freshman-year roommate had her parents had lived in Malawi so she had put me in touch with a family to live with there. So I was going to live with a family for a little while but they thought I was just going to stay for a few weeks, ended up staying with them for nine months.
In the middle they got me involved with they were an interesting family because they were involved with a lot of race relations issues down there. And went down to Bloemfontein, which was in the heart of the country, and literally introduced high school students who hadn’t met each other from across the color divide in these camps that I ran on the weekends.
So it was just adventure, pure and simple.
LAMB: You know, you’ve been away from this country for how many years now?
GRIFFIN: Well, I’ve lived over there I think 15 14, 14.
LAMB: And I’m sure you when you come back you hear this but I wanted to ask you this, people that hear FOX News and then New York Times in this country today
in some political circles automatically jump to big conclusions.
LAMB: You’re married to a man with the New York Times.
GRIFFIN: That’s right.
LAMB: What do you say to them they say oh, FOX News, that’s going to be right wing and the New York Times that’s going to be left wing?
GRIFFIN: Well, it’s interesting because sometimes we’ll find at dinner parties somebody will really love FOX or really love the Time and they will literally turn their back to one of us. And we both laugh because we’ve both been doing journalism a long time now and we both have worked for many different people and it’s never really affected the way we report.
So we chuckle at the sort of dividedness and the polarization right now because really if you looked at our reports back to back you probably wouldn’t notice much difference in terms of who we interview. We are both we’re both journalists plain and simple and we aren’t involved in the what has become it seems a very politicized environment in the U.S. right now.
And sometimes people joke and they call us the Mary Matlin and James Carville of Jerusalem but it’s really not true. We’re not politically involved in that way and what we do is plain and simple journalism.
LAMB: Who hired you at FOX, under what circumstances?
GRIFFIN: Under what circumstances? Well, originally it was a person called Simon Marks who had a production company called Feature Story Productions. And he did not only did we work for FOX News out of Moscow he had the contract with them and I was hired to work for them. But I also did other TV work and we were allowed to do other TV work.
And he had also a contract with Jim Lehr and so I did pieces I would take go out and shoot things for FOX and do a shorter version and then I’d do a six or eight-minute piece for Jim. And so people also always wondered how you could work for PBS and FOX at the same time. But as I said, we have always my reporting has always been pretty fair and down the middle.
So it was it’s an it’s been so I started with Simon and then and then John Rudy (ph) hired me to go to Jerusalem.
LAMB: Watching you from here
in Jerusalem the one thing I noticed years ago when I first started seeing you this is a personal question but you looked tall. How tall are you, if you don’t mind me asking?
GRIFFIN: I’m five-10.
LAMB: But in that country in that environment over there
you can end up towering over a lot of those people.
GRIFFIN: I’m a little taller than a lot of the people. You know, Ariel Sharon was always up to my shoulder.
LAMB: What impact does that have as you’re trying to do your job being looking at the world from five-10?
GRIFFIN: I’m not sure I’m not sure it has much impact. I haven’t really thought about it. I think being a woman actually helps in the Middle East and that’s one thing people always ask, you know, but isn’t it harder being a woman working. And I say no absolutely not, to the contrary. I think people relax around you. They underestimate your questions and they you’re able to probe things in a way and you have access to places that many of my male colleagues don’t have. They can’t go into an Arab home and interview the women about how they feel about something. And
LAMB: Why is that?
GRIFFIN: Well there are cultural differences and in some places if it’s a religious household and if they keep what we call well in Pakistan they called purda, which is separation. There is no way that they’re going to go in and be able to ask those women. They don’t allow males from outside the family to talk to women from their family. That’s a cultural thing and not only in Arab areas but in Iran and also in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So I have had tremendous access as a result of being a woman in these areas and I love it. I love working there.
LAMB: Is there any other woman like you in Israel reporting for television?
GRIFFIN: I think my TV colleagues are mostly male now that I think about it. Kim Dozier, who was just injured in a wreck, she’s a friend of mine. She’s mostly been working she’s based in Jerusalem and she lives near us. But she’s mostly in Iraq.
There are plenty of women who do what I do but on television in Jerusalem I don’t think so, no.
LAMB: What was your reaction when you hard of Kimberly Dozier getting well her two colleagues were killed and she was
GRIFFIN: I cried. I it hit a little too close to home. She’s a friend of mine and I it was it was really upsetting. That was one that’s you know I think sometimes journalists and particularly foreign correspondents go out there and they we all think that we’re Teflon and everything it can’t happen to us. And ever so often there’s a death that occurs and it’s close to home. The cameraman who worked with her was very well known in Israel. He had covered a lot of the Intifada. And it’s really I think journalism is a lot more dangerous than when I started.
When I started I was running around townships where there were wars going on and you felt like you were protected because if you were a journalist everyone wanted to talk to you. Now in the aftermath of the Daniel Pearl incident I think people started seeing journalists as fair game and as part of this conflict, particularly the al Qaeda types.
And I think it’s really unfortunate because it means that we have to think twice. The first time I started thinking twice about going into anyplace in the world because I used to go everywhere was in Chechnya. And the reason was that they started sending kidnapping videos and they were snuff films to our bureau in Moscow.
And it was so sickening and scary that I just couldn’t bring myself to go down to Chechnya. I was too I was paralyzed with fear.
LAMB: What’s a snuff film?
GRIFFIN: One where you show death on camera. And they would show the beheadings on camera. And we’ve all gotten used to that sadly because of Iraq and what we saw with Zarqawi but this was sort of the beginning of that in Chechnya and it was it was so horrifying that it did limit I have to say I drew a line at Chechnya and I didn’t go there.
I’m not proud of that. I would like to think I would go anywhere for a story but at some point you do start thinking of your safety.
LAMB: What other rules do you have your own rules about how you’re going to live in Jerusalem and going through Israel?
GRIFFIN: Rules well many of most of them have to do with my children. They really aren’t allowed to go to crowded restaurants or I don’t drive them in the West Bank. Excuse me.
I don’t know a lot of rules for myself there. I don’t feel that Israel and the West Bank and Gaza are dangerous to way some of these places are. I feel that, again, Israel and the West Bank and Gaza are still a place where they still want to use the media, both side still want to talk to us, they want to tell their stories. And they still they really they still value the press. So we aren’t at a stage where they are there were a few kidnappings in Gaza. In fact, my husband’s colleague, James Bennett (ph), was nearly kidnapped in Gaza a year or two ago. And I’ve had other friends kidnapped in Gaza. But it’s not like the kidnapping in Iraq. It’s almost it’s they ply you with tea and cigarettes and it’s you know, I mean it’s a different they’re doing it to get some attention, not for a national cause but usually for jobs for the family and usually they know where you’re staying and it so it hasn’t gotten to that level. It may get to that level at some point and then I might say this is getting dicey.
Gaza is getting dicey but I still feel like there are people who want to tell us their stories and, therefore, we’re protected there.
LAMB: If you’re in Jerusalem how long does it take you to get to Gaza and which way do you drive?
GRIFFIN: OK. We drive southwest and it takes I think about an hour-and-a-half hour and 45 minutes to get to the border crossing which is Arez (ph). And that’s a pretty intense border crossing because you first of all very few people are going in and out. Nobody is coming out or very few are coming out.
And so it’s not a busy border crossing and the security is extremely tight there. The Israelis run the security and you go through quite a gauntlet and then you walk down this long corridor that’s almost like a it’s very eerie, it’s like you’re in prison. And you get down but they’ve had a suicide bomber blow up in that corridor before. They’ve had you know, they get shelled there.
They it’s so there’s this no man’s land and zone of crossing in that at times can be frightening but then at other times it’s very routine. So things change on a dime in Israel (INAUDIBLE).
LAMB: When you go let’s say you’re going over to interview somebody like (INAUDIBLE)
and he’s located where?
GRIFFIN: Well he’s usually in Ramallah but if I go interview any of the Hamas leaders they are always in Gaza so we go to Gaza for that.
LAMB: And Ramallah is on the West Bank, the other way?
GRIFFIN: Ramallah’s in the West Bank and so that’s about a 45-minute drive from Jerusalem in the opposite direction towards Jordan.
LAMB: When you travel how many people do you travel with? Do you have security wherever you go?
GRIFFIN: No, we don’t have security and I don’t think we need security. We usually have an armored vehicle and we have usually a cameraman, a producer. And usually we work with a local fixer who is from whatever town we’re going into. So if it’s in Gaza we have someone from Gaza, Ramallah someone from Ramallah (INAUDIBLE).
And those people I always believe and I think this is the one safety precaution I’ve always taken is always work with somebody who is from the town that you’re in because they have family connections and connections so that if anything went down or went wrong they can usually solve it very quickly. Even if something is stolen they know probably the person who did it and they can get it back for you.
But no, we basically don’t we wouldn’t travel with security, no.
LAMB: The Intifada and the suicide bombings and all, what’s the worst situation you’ve ever seen?
GRIFFIN: There have been so many. One of the worst was the Spiro (ph) pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem because that was about that was just really blocks from my home and we got there very quickly. I drive with Unev Turgeman (ph) is my cameraman on the Israel side and he drives faster than most ambulances and we literally kind of skated behind an ambulance and got to the scene in minutes. It was on Jaffa (ph) Road and our office is on Jaffa (ph) Road.
And I’ve never quite seen death and destruction up close. I mean I had seen death and people starving in Somalia, that was my first experience with death. And watching somebody literally a stick-like figure fall over from starvation in front of you was that was that was shocking to me. And I really I was very kind of that affected me a lot the Somali famine.
Then in Jerusalem the suicide bombings really bothered me, really got to me because there were a lot of children who were targeted. There was a case where I interviewed the mother of a female bomber who had gone to a restaurant. She’d actually sat down with her taxi driver, eaten her lunch and then stood up, gone to the bathroom, adjusted herself, went out and stood next to a baby carriage with a baby in it and blew up.
And when you hear these stories I found the mother of that baby afterwards and I interviewed her and she had a son who had shrapnel in his head as a result, she lost her husband as well. It’s unfathomable and I’ll be the first to admit I know I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been very emotional at the scenes of suicide bombings.
The tsunami was also a really hard story for me.
LAMB: Where did you go during the tsunami?
GRIFFIN: During the tsunami I was in Thailand. And we were there very quickly because there were direct flights from Israel and it was the day after Christmas, December 26. My family was visiting Jerusalem as they often do. They visit us in all the places that we’ve lived, my young sisters and my mom.
And we were in the old city and I got a call that it had happened. And I said, ”Do you what to go?” And I called Greg, my husband, and I said, ”Do you think I should go? I mean everyone is here?” And he said, ”No, I think this is big. You should go.” So he fully backed me. He sent me. He watched the kids. It was the first time I’d left the kids for it ended up being two weeks.
But we got there quickly and we just happened to end up in Kalak (ph), which ended up being one of the hardest hit areas in Thailand a day after it happened because Roger Ayles, who is the head of FOX, had sent us a fax overnight while we were traveling saying that he had some friends some neighbors of his who had been staying at a resort and he gave us the address and it was up in Kalak (ph) and would we mind checking on them.
And so we thought oh, this is, you know, taking us off the story and we can’t do this but we’ll do it. And we start heading up there and it ended up being the worst hit area.
And it was oh, I know what else happened, we met at the airport family members from Sweden had flown in to try and find their family members and we let them come with us. And we then started going through all of the temple morgues. And the first thing we did well, first as we were driving up the road we knew it was bad because there were literally still bodies in the trees and the smell was beyond description because it was so hot there and the bodies were decomposing. And the Thais were not very quick about removing the bodies even though they are very efficient they for some reason they were very slow and methodical about removing them. So, you know, there were bodies everywhere.
And it was I’ll never forget the at the temples all the arms were up like this and it was almost like you could imagine the wave coming in and the people trying to stop it with their hands. And I don’t know if there’s some physical reason that arms rise but it was a haunting image of body after body with arms up.
And you know, I really that was the closest I probably faced to a breakdown. It was the toughest and I heard a lot of really seasoned foreign correspondents who said that they cried in a way that they’d never let stories affect them.
LAMB: By the way, did you ever find Roger Ayles’ friends?
GRIFFIN: Sadly, it was a family of seven I think if I remember correctly and they all died. There were about five children under the age of 10 and they all died.
LAMB: Were they Americans?
GRIFFIN: They were Swedish.
LAMB: You know somebody about now is saying why does she do this? I mean she’d got two little kids, what are they boys or girls?
GRIFFIN: Two girls.
LAMB: Five and three.
GRIFFIN: And three.
LAMB: Why does she and her husband do this?
GRIFFIN: Well, I think long before they were born we got hooked. And we loved foreign news. We loved we loved travel. We loved telling the stories that are out there. We loved explaining those stores. We found that there were fewer people doing those stories and the places we loved more than anything going someplace where there weren’t other journalists. You know it was a way to operate in places I mean mostly we’ve lived in developing world countries. We have been in Europe based in Europe and done those stories.
Conflict, the human condition, it’s all they’re the best stories out there and they are so gripping, so important. We were so worried sadly, the only perhaps good thing I can say about 9/11 is it focused America’s attention back on the world. And I feel like people really care about foreign news again and it’s something we always did. And it’s sort of a specialty.
I think I think that some people are really good at working a source in Washington. I wouldn’t know where to begin to do that. But I can you can drop me in almost any place, any village, any war-torn capital and I would know how to go about working with aide workers and getting in, getting out, getting to the people whose stories you wanted to tell.
It’s just I think some people have that strength and some people have other strengths as journalists. And my husband and I just both happen to like that kind of work and that kind of we feel it’s important and we love it.
LAMB: Either you or your husband Jewish?
LAMB: Does that make a difference?
GRIFFIN: I don’t think so. I mean I think we’ve enjoyed living there because our kids have gone to preschool, Jewish preschools, and they’ve learned amazing Jewish history. And it’s been an amazing cultural experience. Now they’re learning Arabic at the American International School because most of the kids there are Arab-Israeli students.
And we I don’t think it’s made a difference at all. We’ve been embraced by the community there. I think it helped this is a strange thing to say but it dawned on me the other day, a lot of journalists don’t like being based in Jerusalem. They end their two or three years there and they walk away and it’s they’re exasperated. They’re exasperated by the conflict, they’re exasperated by the people. They feel that it’s a bitter conflict that has no end and they get eaten up by it and they don’t enjoy the assignment compared to other overseas assignments.
And my husband and I have had a very different experience. Six-and-a-half years is a long time to be here there unless people think we’re nuts. But I think having had children there, having been pregnant there, both sides of the conflict that broke down so many barriers. It was a commonality that I had and there was a warmth from the people that I encountered being very pregnant, covering whether it was air raids in Gaza or suicide bombings or any other number of really kind of dicey situations.
And the amazing way people interacted with me I think gave the place a humanity. And I think it’s contributed to my reporting there in a way that I think if I hadn’t been pregnant I wouldn’t have experienced the country and the people in the same way.
LAMB: Babies born in Israel?
GRIFFIN: Yes. They both were born in Jerusalem. We had a delivery room with a glass-plated window over looking the Dome of the Rock. So you can’t ask for a better place.
LAMB: And how long did you work as a pregnant woman in those two cases?
GRIFFIN: In the first case I was a little naοve and didn’t quite know how quickly these things can happen and I worked up until the day beforehand. My last story was I remember I went out to Ramallah. It was the first suicide bomber who had blown up in Jerusalem. He grew up on the corner I remember the corner of French Hill (ph). And I went to find out what was unusual about him is in the past, in the mid ’90s when there were suicide bombers they were poor from refugee camps, seemed like they had no hope and it was their only option in a way. That was the kind of common thinking then.
This guy had everything going for him. He was an honor student, he was from a middle class family. He was he had a lot and so I wanted to find out what it was that drove someone like that. And so I did that story and then I went back and that night I went into labor the next morning I think.
LAMB: The second baby?
GRIFFIN: Second baby I think I didn’t work up until the last. I took the two weeks off before she was born and she was a little bit late so I took a little time off beforehand. But I was still I was still pretty active up you know actually I remember I was supposed to go up to Jenin and we had a visiting bureau chief at the time and he said, ”You’re not going up to Jenin.” At the time Jenin was really dangerous.
And I said, ”Oh, no, no. I’ve been to Jenin many times. I’m going up to Jenin.” And so I did work up until the end there.
The more striking thing about my second daughter’s birth was that my father was very sick at the time and he had suffered from cancer for a while and I knew I needed to get back to see him because he was very sick in the hospital. And so two weeks after she was born I flew back and I got there on Christmas Eve and he died he died the day after Christmas. So I got to see him right before he died.
But it was oh, and I know what else happened, this is now coming back again. And that was very difficult for me, that was extraordinarily difficult to have a new baby and to lose your father. And then we were preparing for war in Iraq and I was supposed to take three months of maternity leave and I asked to come back early because I was finding it difficult to be at home and the mourning was too tough. And so I wanted to be busy again. And so I went back to work and I was still nursing and when the Iraq war started and we were in Israel at the time. We went back to Israel right after he died and I went back to work pretty quickly. And fortunately nothing happened in Israel but we were in war preparedness.
And I remember when Amelia (ph), my youngest, was born, at the hospital they give to every Israeli child born they give you a voucher and go and get a gas mask for the baby. And at that time we really didn’t know what was going to happen when the Iraq war started and so everyone was getting their gas mask.
And had this little baby tent that and truly I didn’t believe I don’t think I would certainly people would hear this and say why are you putting your kids in danger. But truly, we didn’t think that in Jerusalem we didn’t know what would happen in Tel Aviv but in Jerusalem where the kids were we got the gas mask and we had a safe room and all that as preparation. But I didn’t believe that Saddam or any other Arab leader would strike or Muslim leader would strike Jerusalem because of the danger of hitting holy places.
So that’s how a lot of people evacuated at that time but we kept the kids with us.
LAMB: And when you gave the speech to your old high school
what else what other kinds of messages did you want them to have about becoming another Jennifer Griffin?
LAMB: And I assume that’s one of the things that you were suggest to them that how the how did you get to where you are?
GRIFFIN: Well, I was trying to convince them to become whatever whoever they were and try to give my story as an example of how to find a path that leads you to something that makes you truly happy and where you’re contributing in some way and doing what you love, and that’s the only way to really succeed.
But those what I really tried to my main message to them was leave your comfort zone. And I think that goes back to what I did when I took a real risk and went to South Africa after that sophomore year. And I really that was really uncomfortable and really I didn’t know what I was getting into. And even at that time running around, you know, going into the townships when, you know, people with light skin weren’t going into townships unless they were policemen and they were not welcomed. So it was it was a really interesting time there.
And I also said I said to them you never know when you’re going to be a witness to history so make sure you record everything, record, take snapshots of every moment because there have been so many times that I looked back and I think I can’t believe I was there for that and I didn’t record it in some way.
And so I really tried to inspire them to take time off, leave school, get out of school as fast as possible, get out there and just go somewhere. Just go and I think I think the best thing I ever did was get on that plane and go to Somalia and not wait. And we were only there were only four journalists at the time four or five of us in Mogadishu so we owned the story. And it was just AP, Reuters, maybe BBC, but and a couple of freelance camera people. But so that was a tremendous education on the job.
I never went to journalism school. I didn’t I didn’t and I certainly value education. I loved my high school and college experience. But I do think traveling the world is the best education there is.
LAMB: How many FOX people in Israel?
GRIFFIN: In Israel we have a bureau of about 15 people. There’s another correspondent other than myself and a bureau chief. Mostly other than myself and the other correspondent and an Australian cameraman, Malcolm James, who is very he’s an excellent cameraman, the rest are from Israel or the West Bank.
LAMB: Do you ever get instructions from anybody as to what to talk about, what to think, what angle to take on any story?
GRIFFIN: No. I couldn’t work under those conditions.
LAMB: Why not?
GRIFFIN: Because I’ve worked as a journalist a long time and I know I know how to do it. And the beauty of working where I work and the reason I’ve lasted there for six-and-a-half years is that I have a lot of autonomy and I get to I decide along with my bureau chief, Ellie Fastman (ph), who is a wonderful producer and partner in this our coverage, we decide what the news is and we tell them.
And what I’ve always enjoyed is that they’ve always listened to us. And it’s been incredibly gratifying work as a result. So nobody tells us what to cover or what not to cover.
LAMB: How well did you know Yasser Arafat?
GRIFFIN: I watched him and observed him closely for those last four years or so of his life. I didn’t know him well. He never granted me an interview. He didn’t like for whatever reasons he didn’t grant me an interview. And so that was a great frustration to me because I did want to interview him. But I but I certainly watched him close enough.
The beauty of Israel is you can get and the West Bank and Gaza in covering this conflict is that you have tremendous access to people and you can get very close to people, and you can watch them, and you can hear what they’re saying and thinking
And so without having sat down with him I still felt like I had a really good impression of what he was all about and I understood him as much as anyone understood him. And I think he was a very tricky character.
LAMB: Have you ever interviewed anybody from Hamas?
GRIFFIN: Lots. Hamas I’ve interviewed all of their leaders, most of whom are dead right now because they were assassinated
LAMB: All right.
by Israel. Sheik Yassin I interviewed him. He was the only one that I had to cover up for and I usually am opposed to covering up unless it’s a very unless it’s required because I think that we should all respect each other’s differences. But I needed to cover up to in order to comply with the formal standards in order to get the interview with him.
So Ema Jaseen (ph), he was assassinated in his wheelchair outside a mosque not about a year or two ago. Ismail Haniyeh I have interviewed, who is the current prime minister. Mahmoud Zahar, who is the foreign minister I’ve interviewed a lot.
But again, all the other ones are dead right now.
LAMB: What’s the difference now that Hamas controls the government?
GRIFFIN: I think it’s still I think I think we’re still in a period where it’s hard to say I think they’re still deciding how they want to behave as a government and as and what’s happening is they’re finding that it’s very difficult to operate in government because all the money has been cut off to them. They haven’t been able to pay salaries in three months.
And the most interesting story I’ve done recently was about how the U.S. anti-terror laws banking laws have actually really frozen the money to them because none of the Arab banks there the Arab Bank of Jordan and all the big banks in the Middle East none of them will touch sending any money, even if it’s from Dubai or from Egypt or legitimate sources they will not transfer that money because they’re scared that the U.S. or somebody will bring a case against them and accuse them of supporting terror groups because Hamas is still on the U.S. terror list.
So there is no money going in and out. We had this case the other day where a Hamas spokesman was caught at the border with Egypt going into Gaza and he had a million almost a million dollars strapped to his body. They were euros but they were the equivalent of a million dollars. And one of the packets fell out and then his own the (INAUDIBLE) presidential guard jumped on him. So the Palestinians were the ones who caught him but he that was the only way they could get money in was under a shirt.
So that they’re really having a hard time functioning and the thing that they’re being asked to do is, A, recognize Israel to be acknowledged recognize and respect past agreements in Israel which will require Israel, which they won’t do; and renounce violence.
And the problem is their leaders in some ways have been sending mixed signals. They have two sets of leadership, one in Gaza and one up in Damascus. The internal leadership in Gaza has been a bit more responsible than the ones up in Damascus and are less hard line. And they are starting to cave in some ways.
They told FOX News first, actually an interview with my colleague Mike Tobin (ph), they sat down shortly after they were elected and they said that they could see they could recognize the 67 borders and call for a long-term, very long-term cease fire as a result of that.
Now that’s an inherent recognition of Israel without saying the words. But it’s the it’s the breaking of the ice that and but they haven’t
gone further than that. So they need to decide how they’re going to behave as leaders. I think they’re still behaving like an underground movement and I think that’s what you saw when the person was still walking in when the spokesman had a million dollars strapped to his body. They’re still behaving like an underground movement and not like they’re in power.
LAMB: Money both from Israel and the United States goes to the Palestinians in what way though and how much is that?
GRIFFIN: Well, what’s interesting is the money from Israel is really tax money that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians so it’s really Palestinian money but Israel is the pipeline for it. And they collect the customs duties and so they realize that that is $50 million that they can squeeze Hamas with.
And so I think I talked to Stanley Fischer who is the Central Bank Chairman of Israel and he said that they were going to set up a trust fund for that escrow account or something that if Hamas were to change down the road the money would be there because it’s not really Israel’s money to be keeping but they are squeezing Hamas in that way.
So that’s $50 million a month. They need about $150 million to pay salaries. They haven’t paid the salaries in three months. And the rest they used to get mostly from the Europeans European Union. I can’t remember the figure but I think it’s about $150 million a month I think. And but they’re really hurting right now because neither the Europeans a few Arab countries have pledged some money but not much. Iran said they pledged money but none of that money is arriving.
LAMB: Impact of Ariel Sharon’s stroke on the whole
GRIFFIN: Well I think
GRIFFIN: At the time we didn’t we thought the impact would be greater, frankly. I think what was surprising was how quickly Israel got on with things. People were shocked. It was shocking to see the reaction of Israelis who saw him as a very controversial figure for a number of years to pour out their emotions and feel that he had ended his life as really one of the greatest Israeli leaders. And is what you said from both sides of the political spectrum, especially the left in Israel had really come around on Sharon.
A lot of people thought that Olmert, the current prime minister, would not be able to carry the day. And he this new party that Sharon had formed before he went into his coma, Kadimah, they weren’t sure they thought that it was a one-man party and that it would fall apart, this centrist Kadimah party, which ran on the platform of pulling out of the West Bank or most of the West Bank settlements.
They weren’t sure that Olmert could carry that off. They did end up winning the most number of seats in the parliament and they formed the government. So Sharon’s legacy in terms of beginning a disengagement from Gaza appears as if it may continue in the West Bank and that’ what Olmert says he plans to do. But you never know anything in the Middle East. So we’ll see what happens but that’s the plan at this point in time.
So what’s quite amazing is Israel is a thriving democracy and it moves on leader or no leader. And it had a system in place and it was shocking how things the combination of his stroke and the election of Hamas you would have thought would have sent things into a tailspin because they were elected in January as well.
LAMB: What’s your own since you’ve been over there now six-and-a-half years what’s your own point of view as to the future?
GRIFFIN: Well, I think at times I’m very pessimistic and it seems like this is just going to go on and it’s going to go on for quite some time because you’re at time it looks like a zero sum game and both sides see it as a zero sum game. And the radicals at times seem to have more of a voice than any of the centrists despite Kadimah winning on the Israel side.
And it’s hard to be optimistic. But what is interesting is that we’ve seen more changes when I arrived six-and-a-half years ago you couldn’t you couldn’t say the word occupation without getting the ire of the Israeli public up in arms. Israel did not consider it an occupation what was happening in the West Bank.
So you did dance around. You could use the word occupation but you knew you were going to be that people were going to challenge you on it from the Israeli government, the prime minister’s office. Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to use the word occupation.
The word that the the talk of the Palestinian state was an anathema when we first arrived. It was the end of the (INAUDIBLE) period and we didn’t know it was the end at the time but it was nobody was talking really about a Palestinian state even though I mean your Israeli. It was not commonplace to so the lexicon has changed since I’ve been there.
And I tend to think that when the lexicon starts changing and I mean the things that Sharon said about not wanting to rule over the Palestinians and those were those were revolutionary things when compared to just six to 10 years ago. And I think, you know, him breaking the ice by pulling out of Gaza, whether you agree with that or not, it was a historic moment that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle and talk of evacuating settlements in the West Bank. That just wasn’t done a few years back.
And so what I notice and the parallel that I we’ve been at different moments, my husband and I, for better or worse and not through any planning of our own historic moments where you sense where things changed dramatically in a country or a place and there’s no turning back.
And sometimes those historical forces overtake leaders and sometimes the leaders get on the bandwagon, sometimes they’re slow to. But we saw F.W. de Klerk surprise people in South Africa, we saw Mikhail Gorbachev surprise people in Russia, things changed in Pakistan whether we liked it or not in Afghanistan there was an emergence of something that the embers were there at the time.
We what I’m saying is that I feel that we’re in a historic period in the Middle East right now, particularly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’m not going to tell you that it’s going to be solved tomorrow but there is movement momentum that is leading to a separation of these two peoples.
Now some people say separation wasn’t necessarily a good idea. It was better when if they could both live side by side. And the economy of the Palestinians is so dependent on Israel’s economy that it’s going to be hard for them to have a viable state next to Israel without being interconnected.
But they’re separating right now and we have to watch the process play out see how it plays out. And but I don’t have a solution for it.
LAMB: What do people I know this is extremely general you can’t pin this on everybody, what do people in Israel think of the Iraq war and our involvement?
GRIFFIN: That’s a good question. It’s not something they discuss that much. Originally they were very much in favor. I think your average Israeli Jewish Israeli person was very much in favor. They felt that I mean they truly believed Saddam was a greater threat to Israel than he was to the United States, frankly, and they knew that. And they knew that they are so close and within striking distance and they knew that they were they were his punching bag if he decided to use any of the weapons that he did or didn’t have. And so they were nervous and they wanted the U.S. to deal with Iraq.
Now they see it as very messy. It’s they’re concerned about that chaos spreading. But I think that right now the discussion is more about Iran. They are very concerned about Iran. Iran is the real threat to Israel right now and that’s what Israelis are talking about.
LAMB: How involved would they get with Iran?
GRIFFIN: That’s a great question and I’ve asked every person from the prime minister on down that very question. We’ve done a number of specials on it. I talked to the fighter pilot, the colonel who bombed the Osirak reactor back in Iraq in 1982 much to the chagrin of the U.S. at the time. The Reagan administration was not pleased.
And, you know, that was a secret mission. They blew up Saddam’s nuclear power plant then and he was the colonel of that flight and they didn’t know they were going to if they were going to make it back. It was I can’t remember now there were about 10 F-16s that they have gotten from the U.S. The U.S. didn’t know about it. It was a surprise mission.
And he says that it’s going to be very you can’t carry out the same mission in Iran. It’s not even remotely similar. You could damage it. You could you could symbolically blow up a few things.
My impression from the leaders and the air force people I talked to is that they really would like the U.S. to deal with this. They do not want to be the one who has to deal with it.
First of all they’re going to be the first ones hit back. They Iran has Hezbollah has a proxy group in southern Lebanon and they have tens of thousands of SCUD missiles facing Israeli cities. So they’re going to those are going to rain down on Israel if there’s any strike.
They also could lose their own nuclear reactor. Israel has a nuclear reactor.
And so it’s a very dicey game for them. It’s not a simple mission. They are pushing very hard to get the U.S. and others to take this seriously.
LAMB: About out of time. Can you watch FOX News in Israel?
GRIFFIN: Yes, we can.
LAMB: Can the rest of the Israelis watch it?
GRIFFIN: Yes, Israelis and Palestinians.
LAMB: What else? Do you watch CNN and MSNBC and all those?
GRIFFIN: We see the international version of CNN. We can’t see MSNBC. And we see BBC mostly.
LAMB: And how much of the Internet has impacted Israel?
GRIFFIN: Oh, I think hugely. They and it’s also affected their technology industry is unbelievable. They have what is really similar to Silicon Valley there. They come up with amazing inventions and they have more second largest number of companies listed on NASDAQ because of their technological advances.
LAMB: Where do you think Greg Myrie (ph), your husband of the New York Times, and you will be in 10 years?
GRIFFIN: I hope before 10 years I hope to be in Iran. I’d like to be based in Tehran. That’s where I want to go.
GRIFFIN: That’s one of the most fascinating places on earth. And we don’t know enough about it and we’ve been cut off from it for so long. And there aren’t very many journalists operating there. And to me to get inside that culture that’s where I’d like to be next.
LAMB: Are you asking to go there now?
GRIFFIN: I think I would but the problem is the Iranians don’t want us there. They aren’t allowing FOX to open a bureau there but maybe that will change at some. But I would be first in line to go there and I think Greg would be, too. And I would I would, you know, wouldn’t be worried about raising the kids there.
LAMB: By the way, the fact that your kids were born in Israel
does that make them Israeli citizens?
GRIFFIN: No, because you have to be Jewish to automatically get citizenship.
LAMB: So are you ever going to come back to the United States and live here?
GRIFFIN: I hope so. I’m very American and I love America. And I’d like my kids to grow up here at some point. But we just I still keep feeling we keep putting off a few years at a time because we still feel like there’s more for us to do there.
LAMB: Jennifer Griffin of FOX News, thank you very much.
GRIFFIN: Thank you.