Q&A with Greg Barker
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, C-SPAN: Greg Barker, we need to tell the audience right up front that you actually used to produce this program. What year?
GREG BARKER, FILMMAKER: I worked here from 1984. It was my first job out of college until 1989. They were great years.
LAMB: So you must have been – you know you were the early producer of Booknotes.
BARKER: I was the first producer of Booknotes.
LAMB: Yes. And struggling – I’m trying to remember. Like you know time’s gone by. But we didn’t invite you here to talk about that so much as what you’ve done since then. Explain what your job is.
BARKER: Well, I should say also that what I’ve done since then is in some – in a lot of ways a product of what I went through the experience that I had here. But I’m a – I’m a filmmaker. I make mostly documentary films, mostly about international events and characters that I find out there in the world who I think have interesting stories to tell and also provide a window into the rest of world – the outside world for a general audience. So I look for stories that are – that are compelling and relevant and that speak to me personally. So I make – I’m most – right now, I’m making feature documentary films, which is usually about 1-1/2 hours in length for HBO at the moment, and I’ve also worked for PBS and BBC over the course of the years.
LAMB: We’ve seen each other since you left here, but not for a long time. So this is – and we hadn’t had to talk about any of this, so we’re going to catch up. And I’ve got to warn the audience; it’s a grim hour. I mean we’ve got stuff here that they’re going to see that’s – anyway, I’ll stop talking and show a clip from your Rwanda special in 2004, and when we come back, it’s fairly self-explanatory. I ask you about the person that we see.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I saw the soldiers come in, and they started shooting and shooting. All we had to defend ourselves were rocks. Then our local governor, Gacumbizi, came in and sit in front of us. Gacumbizi said that everyone should know what they were there for. He said that all of those who were there should be killed, that no one should survive.
Then they started killing, hacking with their machetes. They kept doing it, and I was hiding under dead people. They didn’t kill me because of the blood covering me. They thought they had killed me.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It was as if we were taken over by Satan. When Satan is using you, you lose your mind. We were not ourselves. You couldn’t be normal and you started butchering people for no reason. We had been attacked by the devil.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It was very late, around 2:00 a.m., when you hear Homeway (ph) came back. One of them stepped on my head. He was shaking me with his foot to see if I was alive. He said, ”This thing is dead.” And so they left.
I lived among the dead for a long time. At night, the dogs would come to eat the bodies. Once, a dog was eating someone next to me. I threw something at the dog, and he ran away. I hid in a small room. That’s where I stayed and slept for 43 days.
LAMB: Where were you in all of that? Were you in that room talking to her?
BARKER: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: You know it’s incomprehensible when you watch it. How did you get into this, and I mean how many people were macheted to death in Rwanda, and what year?
BARKER: Well, it was 1994, and of course about 100 days, probably about 800,000 people were killed in an incredibly systematic way organized by the – by the government at the time. I mean – yes, I mean how did I get into it? You know through a friend of a friend, I knew a guy who I had worked with in Uganda making another film, and he was Tutsi, which was the tribe that was – the ethic group that was the target of genocide, and his mother had come from Rwanda some time ago. And he told – I went there on a trip with him a couple of years after the genocide, and it was a place that got under my skin. I became fascinated by the nature of evil, and also how people respond when confronted with evil, both people and institutions, particularly governmental institutions.
So the film – that’s a – that’s a clip about an amazing young woman who survived. The film is about how all of us responded to that horror that took place there and how the international system, the political system made a calculated – logical, to them – decision to do nothing, that it was in the best interests of the United Nations, particularly the members of the Security Council, the U.S. in particular, to take no action during that – during the genocide. And that question haunted me, is how is that possible, and on a deeper level, how would I have responded if I had been in a position of power or been on the streets. What would I have done if I was one of those people seeing that, and I think it’s a – it’s the fact is most of us don’t know how we would – how we will respond to those moments of crises until they happen, and then our true nature is revealed. And that issue fascinated me.
LAMB: Who is the other fellow?
BARKER: One of the killers. He was a killer from that village.
LAMB: So how did you talk about a man that, sitting with him, recalling all of this?
BARKER: Well, it’s a long process. The woman, Valentina, had been interviewed by a BBC reporter who was a partner on this project for Vockine (ph) in the weeks – in the weeks after the genocide. He found Valentina and had made a film actually about her. So she was kind of a known quantity to the production team. The killers are much harder because – and there’s a whole team that works on these with me, so I don’t want to take all the credit – but basically it’s a – it’s a question of building trust with people. And what I found is that the case like that guy and others who may have done awful things is that ultimately people do want to tell their story, and they want to find some kind of meaning in it, even if it’s just a way of making sense of it to themselves, and perhaps offering a cautionary tale to others.
And what fascinated me about the stories I heard in Rwanda was that they’re not just stories that, particular to Rwanda itself, they’re human stories. They’re stories that transcend that one country. They’re the same kinds of stories that one would have heard out of Cambodia, out of Nazi Germany. How are ordinary people suddenly able to do these horrific things?
LAMB: How long did you spend in Rwanda?
BARKER: Well, if that – Ghosts of Rwanda, which was the film, was the product of about 7 years of research. I became obsessed with Rwanda and came to know quite a bit about it. I was going there back and forth on my vacations for a long time.
LAMB: Now, if somebody wants to see that today, can they get it?
BARKER: Yes, you can get it. You can get it from – I think you can get it on Netflix, and you can buy it online from PBS.org. But it’s easier to rent on Netflix, and it’s in a lot of video stores and the library as well.
LAMB: We had a second clip from there, and there’s a U.N. worker by the name of Gromo Alex.
LAMB: Who is he, and this is – it does show at one point, if you look closely, it’s somebody being macheted, but it’s at a great distance, and before we do – who is he first?
BARKER: Gromo Alex is a guy from a – from a small town in Pennsylvania who was a football player in high school and college, and he wanted to be a hero and went off seeking adventure, ended up working for the U.N., a lot of sort of relief agencies, and ended up in Kigali, Rwanda working for the U.N. before the genocide began. There was a big U.N. operation there, or part of a peacekeeping operation, and he’s a guy who found himself tested during the genocide on a deep, personal level. And actually, he was my first – kind of on a personal level, way into the whole story.
When I got to Rwanda I was – I had a gut feeling that there were people who did amazing things during the genocide who’s stories had not been told, and I was asking around, and saying is there anybody who was from the U.N. who was here at the time and is still around, and finally somebody told me about Gromo. And they said, oh, that guy’s a hero.
So I went to see him in his office. He was still there, and I said – I said, ”I hear you’re a hero,” and he says, ”Well, no, I’m not. But I knew a guy who was,” and he started tearing up, and the guy who was – the true hero, the hero that he wanted to be, was a – was a Senegalese peacekeeper, who, despite all the orders to do nothing during the genocide, coming down from the U.N. headquarters in New York, went out on his own and saved people, saved, when you think about it, thousands of people.
And that story just inspired me, and then that’s when I knew that I had a film there, and that was the beginning of the seven year journey to make the film.
LAMB: Here’s the clip.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Each day, Gromo Alex delivered food to refugees at U.N. safe havens in the city and learned to navigate the Interahamwe roadblocks.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Started as early as we could in the morning, not too early. We tried to finish it as early in the afternoon as possible because at – by noon, they had been drinking. They were intoxicated, and they had either killed people and wanted to kill more, or they hadn’t killed and they wanted to kill. Killing was like a drink, that if you’d – if you took one drink, you wanted another one, and you wanted another. You wanted to become more and more intoxicated. Sometimes people kill once, and then to lessen the impact of that murder on their psyches or on their conscience, they have to kill again, and then they kill again, and then each murder drives you to kill again, not so much that you forget that you’ve killed before, but that you’ve killed, and it just becomes part of you, and you’ve just got to kill and kill and kill.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Four weeks into the genocide, the Red Cross estimated 300,000 Rwandans had been killed.
LAMB: Where did the video of the bodies come from?
BARKER: Well, the driving shots, that came from a freelance reporter who was there on assignment, I think for Reuters at the time. The shot of the killing is the only shot that we know of somebody actually being killed, and that was shot from a long lens from a rooftop.
The organizers of the genocide were very careful to make sure that a lot of the killing or the killing happened away from foreign media. There were not a lot of foreign media there to begin with. But that footage – you know the drive-by stuff, we found it in an archive somewhere in Nairobi, and because a lot of – because there wasn’t a lot of interest in the Rwandan genocide on the part of the Western media. I mean there was some. It was covered, but it wasn’t covered that deeply, not really, and so a lot of the original footage that we wanted to really capture it was just stuck in – was never sort of fed back to the news headquarters either in New York or Atlanta or whether, or London, and it was still out there just in boxes you know really ever – really not ever watched, and I sent teams out to look through them.
LAMB: And I want to make sure our viewers know we’re talking about techniques along with the tragedy, and it’s hard for people to say why are they asking about – why am I asking about the way film is done. But part of it is how you tell a story, and that’s the reason we’re doing it. What impact did doing Rwanda have on your personally if you spent 7 years doing it? What’s left after all of this?
BARKER: Well, I haven’t watched that since then – because I think it went to a couple of screening since then that I just – it was – it was – it had a huge impact on me. It had a huge impact because you know it was – you know when you – when I was immersing myself in one of the darkest episodes of modern history and kind of you know trying to figure out the darkness of the human soul, and that was a very draining experience. Doing those interviews was really draining. I did the last one a few days before we finished, actually, and that was the only time that after the interview I just went in and locked the door and just busted up, lost it you know.
But it is about technique as well. I mean it’s – this is – this is the complicated, sometimes bizarre, uncomfortable thing about telling stories in filmmaking is I am asking people to reveal themselves to me, often their most – their innermost secrets or their most tragic moments that they lived through, and then I’m taking that footage and turning it into something that is watchable, and I hate to use the word entertaining, but it has to actually – actually has to work as a story, has to work as a story, and that means that you have to look at it in a very hard, rational way, seeing what’s working and what’s not.
And – but Rwanda, it kind of – well, I think I can make any film after making that, and I feel like it’s given me hope, actually. I mean the thing is that immersing myself in that story, what comes out of it is that actually in the worst times, there are people who do amazing things, amazing things, and these are people who are – who face that moment of truth and somehow find the courage to do the right thing, usually at great risk to themselves and the people that they love. And within that, I found just deep inspiration, and that’s kind of what drives me forward. I want looking for those kinds of stories, where people are – people face these moments that most of us are lucky enough to avoid and then somehow do the right thing.
LAMB: What’s something like that cost?
BARKER: That was about $1 million.
LAMB: And who pays for it?
BARKER: That was paid by Frontline, PBS, and it was a co-production with the BBC, and so there was a lot of shared sort of material and things like that. But yes, that was paid entirely from public television money.
LAMB: And how many people would be involved in making that happen?
BARKER: You know in the greatest sense you know probably upwards of 100. I mean you’re talking – you know there’s a core team that I’ll have about you know five or six people on my team, but then we’re engaging you know lots of translators and people that organize shoots and that sort of thing. So it’s a big operation.
LAMB: You call it Ghosts of Rwanda, and again, you think you can find it on – from Frontline, and …
BARKER: You can get it on PBS.org, and you can rent it from Netflix.
LAMB: Here’s a clip from showdown with Iran in 2007, and I believe you’re in this clip. You’re not talking, but you’re in it.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Late this summer, Frontline traveled to Iran to learn the roots of the regimes new confidence and how it has found itself on a collision course with the Bush Administration.
Outside, Friday prayers in Downtown Tehran. A possible war with America was on everyone’s minds.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I’m going to catch another several hundred (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Inside, this reached official sermon, delivered by a leading Ayatollah, was about America and Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That day, the same sermon was read in every town across the country. Anti-Americanism is one of the regime’s founding principles. It’s turned the former U.S. Embassy, where the hostages were seized back in 1979, into a kind of museum of grievance, recanting decades of U.S. meddling in Iran’s affairs. In the main stairwell, a mural depicts the latest perceived grievance. America’s actions in the Middle East since 9/11. The mural begins with Hollywood run by Jews, who controlled Bin Laden, who worked with George Bush to attack America.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Do you know any American or any Israeli (INAUDIBLE) killed here in these briefings, any information that they’re (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It’s a conspiracy theory Iran’s current hard line government seems to encourage.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: There were thousands of (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE).
LAMB: He – I guess you were disputing him at the time, and he didn’t buy it.
BARKER: Right. Yes.
LAMB: What’s it …
BARKER: I mean it’s crazy. I mean that’s kind of – you know I think the thing is, Iran’s a very complicated place. You know and there is that element to Iran, but there’s also a totally different – there’s a very, very sophisticated culture there, and so I went in with an open mind, and yes, I was disputing that guy. Clearly, he didn’t know what the – what he was talking about at all, and those – it’s repugnant those murals. At the same time you know there’s a lot of fascinating people in Iran inside and outside of government who will have very informed, sophisticated discussions with you, often saying things that they can’t say publicly because that’s the official law.
LAMB: Who did you do this for?
BARKER: That was also for Frontline.
LAMB: And how did you get in the country? This – what year, what – I mean the documentary was 2007. What year did you go in?
BARKER: Yes, we went in in 2007.
LAMB: How did you get in?
BARKER: Well, we – it was interesting. We couldn’t get in. At the time, they weren’t letting really any foreign crews, and particularly American crews, in. And we kept saying – they kept saying no, no, no, and you know I met the ambassador of New York who didn’t want anything to do with us. And in the end, actually the way we got in was we met in a Middle Eastern country, we met a guy who I believe was a – he was attached (ph) just like an organizer for a local Iranian mosque, and he was with the revolutionary guards and the hoods (ph) force, and that was my sense, and convinced him that this was a good idea to let us in, and again, they decided that – and the reason they let us in is what I said to them is, ”Look you know most Americans you know don’t understand the history of Iran since the revolution. What I’d like to do is to tell the story, and so how do you guys see the world, and particularly how do you see the world since 9/11, and also particularly the invasion of Iraq, and I want to understand that, and I want to meet the hard liners. I don’t want to just meet you know people who are opposed to the regime. I want to understand this government and its supporters,” and ultimately, that’s, I think, the reason they let us in, and that’s what we were, I think, able to do.
LAMB: Were you in the room when the Ayatollah was speaking to those – that group of all men?
LAMB: Any women in the room?
BARKER: The women are – the women are there, but they’re in a separate place, separate of my crew.
LAMB: And did anybody look at you, or did they think you were an American when they said, ”Death to America” and things like that?
BARKER: Yes. But you know at the same time, they’ll be very friendly outside, and I think you know they’ve been chanting these slogans since the revolution. So how much do they – do they actually believe it? Well, some do. But you know I’m not sure that – I never felt like they really meant death to me at all. On the contrary, Iran at the time felt like a reasonably safe place. And I’ve been places that didn’t …
LAMB: But there have been – Americans have gone to Iran and they end up in jail …
LAMB: … in the – in the business of reporting. So did you have any security protection, or you know how many people were with you?
BARKER: It was just me and my camera man and my field producer, Claudia (ph). You saw that. So I mean I was – I breathed a sigh of relief when the plane took off, because you just never know, and there were – yes, I mean there were people who, just a couple of weeks before we arrived, there were people who you know had their footage confiscated as they were leaving the country.
So I don’t want to belittle it, but I just felt like – I felt like we were there. They had let us in because they wanted to tell a story, and they knew – I mean you know I’m going to take the footage and put my own perspective on it and all of that, but I felt like they wanted the story to get out, and that’s why we would be OK. It’s a calculated judgment that you make, and you know you kind of learn how you to do that, and I think anybody reporting out in the field has to go through that process is when are you putting yourself at risk and when is it worth it or not, and that was a calculation that I – that I made.
LAMB: I have to say, in preparation for having you in that chair, I looked up the narrator of these – I mean this fabulous voice, Will Lyman.
LAMB: Do you know him?
BARKER: Yes, I do know him. He’s fantastic, and …
LAMB: I mean he’s an actor, I guess.
BARKER: He’s an actor. He’s an actor, he’s a great storyteller, and he’s a really smart guy, and he does these amazing jobs. I mean I have to – when – and he’s a – he’s a really nice guy, and he doesn’t actually sound like that you know when you sit and talk to him. He’s got – he’s got a deep voice, but not quite that to the voice of authority. But he’s a – it was an amazing experience when we did Ghosts of Rwanda together, because normally I’d give them the script, and they’d kind of – you know he’d prepare some. With Ghosts of Rwanda, we just watched it all the way through. He’d never seen a thing, and he just had the script, and I just – there’s sections in there that are like six minutes with no narration, and normally we’d skip over them. I just had him watch everything, and so by the end, he was – you can hear it in his voice. He’s just emotionally drained like the audience is, and yes. I mean and he e-mailed me like when it went out because he was on the set of the movie of the week that he was doing, and when he watched them he’s like this is why I do this work. I mean he’s a – he’s a phenomenal talent.
LAMB: You know when you were at this network show you were a happy go lucky guy, and it looks like you know. Has this all changed you overall? I mean …
BARKER: I hope I’m still happy go lucky. I mean …
LAMB: Right. I’m sure you are. I mean we haven’t had a chance to talk, but I mean this is some heavy stuff. It’s amazing.
BARKER: Yes, and I – well, I have – I found myself drawn towards stories of the human condition and moments of crises because I think they reveal truths about humanity and the individuals. So you know I – you know I am a happy guy, but I think it’s – I think that we have to look at what’s out there in the world, and I try to – I try to tell those stories.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
BARKER: I grew up in California. My dad was in the Navy, and we moved around the state.
LAMB: What places?
BARKER: I was born in Monterey and lived some in San Diego as a boy and then went to high school outside of Los Angeles in a place called Thousand Oaks.
LAMB: And where did you get your education?
BARKER: In D.C. I got a masters – or a BA at George Washington University. I wanted to leave California. So I just wanted to do something else, and then I got a masters at – in London at the LSC in international relations.
LAMB: When you came here in ’84, did you think you wanted to do this?
BARKER: No. No, I wanted to be in the media and do some kind of reporting or producing or some – but I was fascinated by Washington and wanted to be somehow in journalism. So no. This kind of all developed and – really after I went to London, and started looking around about what I wanted to do next and ended up getting a break with a guy who was – at the time was one of the top PBS and BBC documentary filmmakers, and he gave me a job, and I just kind of fell in love with the mix of travel because I love travel and storytelling, the artistry of making films and just the education of like every new film is like going back to grad school, because I’m a generalist. I don’t – I’m not – I don’t know a lot about specific things until I make a film about them, and then I know a lot.
LAMB: Let’s watch – this one’s from 2001, another Frontline program, and you did two, I think, of a three-part series called Commanding Heights; the Battle for the World Economy.
LAMB: And this is about a double agent by the name of Oleg Gordievsky.
LAMB: Let’s watch this.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Oleg Gordievsky was perhaps the most valuable agent because he understood the Soviet system from inside.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: In Moscow, the net was closing in on Oleg Gordievsky.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: At that time, I decided to use my secret long-standing plan of escape and sent a signal to British Intelligence.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Gordievsky evaded his KGB watchers and made his way to a forest near the Finnish border.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: In the morning, I started to move toward the site in the woods, and there I waited, awaited arrival of a car driven by two British people. The Brits picked me up, put me in the boat and drove to the boat. It was a very small car, very small boat. On the border, we started to stop, one stop, second stop, third stop.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: They were approaching the moment of maximum danger.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: The KGB and so custom checks of the cars. I heard the voices. I heard even the KGB dogs barking. And to my great luck, it went without any accidents.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: One of the British agents, a woman, threw the guard dogs off the scent by feeding them potato chips.
LAMB: Is that all produced?
BARKER: Yes, that’s all produced.
LAMB: All drama, I mean all docu-drama stuff.
BARKER: Yes. I’ve said – I didn’t direct that sequence. We – that was a big collaborative project, and we had our associate producer direct that sequence. He did a great job, just looking at it.
LAMB: So where was it shot?
BARKER: I think it was shot in Finland. Finland, I think.
LAMB: Did you do the interview with Gordievsky?
BARKER: No. Not that one, no.
LAMB: You know the really odd thing is that I realized when I was watching it that Gordievsky came to do this network to do Booknotes. It’s the only time in the history of the program that something happened, and we never aired it. It was the only time it ever happened, and something happened to the tape in those days, back in the early 90s. And he even had a – he was wearing a disguise because it was in the early 90s, he had a book out. So did you ever meet him?
BARKER: No, I didn’t meet him.
LAMB: So what is Commanding Heights, the Battle for the World Economy, and what role did you play in it?
BARKER: Well, yes, it was – it was a 6-hour series about the – about the rise of capitalism and the struggle between state control of the economy and free markets that sort of defined a lot of the 20th Century. And so it was one of these big projects. It was based on a book by Dan Yergin, who was an economist and oil analyst. And so we were trying to bring economics to life, basically. I mean that’s what it was. And so the – I made the – I made the final 2 hours and about half of the middle 2 hours. We kind of split it. It was me and my mentor who made the whole – the whole 6 hours together, and my bit I worked on the most was really telling the story about the rise of globalization in the 90s and the backlash against it.
But it was kind of like – you know this is what I think PBS can do really well is they take subjects that are very kind of academic and bring them to life, and I know that that series is used by a lot of educators. I mean I know it is. I studied economics as an undergraduate, so I was fascinated by the story. But it was really trying to find a way through storytelling through like a spy story because you don’t actually need to have that story in the film to tell the story about you know free markets. It’s just that it works and it makes – it’s compelling television. So you try to use these little tricks to get people to watch and then – and then you know have the bigger message woven throughout.
LAMB: When we see ”Produced and written by Greg Barker,” explain that. How much did you write of it, and how – what’s the producer do?
BARKER: Well, it’s – for PBS and for television, produced generally means something different than it does for film and for HBO. For that, produced means you’re kind of in charge of it. Usually it’s run through a production company that I would – I would be in charge of. I would be in charge of budget. And so produced means the kind of – the organizational and business side of it. Directed means who’s actually saying this is where the camera goes, and this what we’re doing and who’s running the edit and putting it all together. Written usually means who’s writing the script. In the feature doc world, produced has more of a kind of a film connotation. Who’s putting the packaging together, the money together? Who’s kind of dealing with the – with the execs who are financing it, and directed by means who’s the creative force behind the project.
LAMB: I know Frontline’s done out of Boston. Where do you live?
BARKER: Well, right now, I’m living in California. But I spent most of my adult life after leaving C-SPAN based out of London.
LAMB: Why did you come back to California?
BARKER: My wife and I were sitting around. We just had our second child, and we were thinking about where to edit my most recent film at the time, and there was an editor in L.A. I wanted to work with. And on the spur of the moment, literally, we decided to cut the film in L.A. and went out there for 6 months and decided we liked it and are still there.
LAMB: And who are you married to?
BARKER: My wife is Harriet Fraser. She is a – she’s British. She’s a doctor in the U.K., and she’s a classical soprano and is singing professionally in Los Angeles now.
LAMB: And how old are your children?
BARKER: Six and 2. The boy’s 6 and the girl’s 2.
LAMB: What year was War of Ideas done?
BARKER: That was done in – aired in early 2007.
LAMB: And what was it?
BARKER: Well, it was a project ending for Frontline World, which is a magazine program with much smaller budgets, not really an investigative edge. But it was a film about Arab news channels, and they – David Fanning of Frontline said, look you know would you be interested in doing this? And I found it fascinating. I just sort of went around the Middle East trying to figure out how news channels like Aljazeera and Al Arabiya operate, and we just – I went to all of them over the course of a couple of months, and also tried to look at how the – at the time it was – it was the Bush Administration, but it’s still going on today – how the U.S. Government tries to shape the message that these channels are conveying to the Arab world because they’re widely, widely watched. You know we have an idea in our mind about what their agenda is, and part of that’s true. But also it’s – the reality is, across the Middle East, this is how people get their news.
LAMB: Very quickly, Alhurra is owned by the U.S. Government. Al-Manar is owned by …
LAMB: Which is?
BARKER: A terrorist organization based in Beirut.
LAMB: And Aljazeera is owned by?
BARKER: Aljazeera is owned by the – ultimately by the government of Qatar, Qatar, which is a strong American ally.
LAMB: And you’re involved in this. We see you narrate this.
BARKER: I’m in it. I’m – yes, I sort of travel – it’s like a little road trip.
LAMB: OK, let’s watch a clip.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: And so I went to Beirut. The first stop; photo (ph) journey to see the Arab media revolution in action. On the road into town, the leader of the Islamic Hezbollah Party, Hassan Nasrallah, asserts his authority. I was curious how Washington’s channel, Alhurra, covered Hezbollah, one of America’s sworn enemies.
At a desk rented from the ”Associated Press,” I found Alhurra’s bureau chief, who I’d seen reporting on TV. We had barely met when she got an anonymous text from Hezbollah.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: If you are interested, watch the important speech to say in Hassan Nasrallah at 1:30 today afternoon, Al-Manar TV, wishing you a beautiful Sunday. I don’t know who’s the person sending this SMS (ph) to me.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We agreed to meet later. I wanted to see Manar TV, the Hezbollah Channel. We were taken to a secret location.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: And someone who’s going to come and get us and take us to the location. They are really careful about security. They’re really paranoid, I guess, for you know. They’ve been …
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Israel had tried to bomb Al-Manar off the air and failed.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: We just want to make sure that we don’t know where the place is.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Now, we could only film in their news director’s office.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: What are you watching?
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Well, you’ll see, that’s the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and the Lebanese …
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Hezbollah says Al-Manar is, quote, ”A station of resistance against designist (ph) enemy.”
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: How will …
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: People here have a part, and it’s very difficult to separate between the cause, and they were. Anyway, I would ask you, do you know any neutral media in the world? Can we say that BBC, for instance, is neutral? Can we say CNN is neutral? There is – there is always an influence between the owner of the medias and the people who work there.
LAMB: How do you recognize truth?
BARKER: Well, you recognize that you’ll never fully know truth, right? I mean how do we – you know what you see and you know what you think and you know kind of how you got to that conclusion, and you kind of know falsehood when you see it, I think.
LAMB: So when you’re in the middle of all of this Al-Manar, you – with people watching, what are they getting?
BARKER: They’re getting propaganda from Hezbollah. That’s what they’re getting. I mean …
LAMB: And when they’re watching Alhurra, what are they getting?
BARKER: Well, they’re getting a form of propaganda from the U.S. Government that the people running Alhurra is as close to a – sort of an unbiased journalistic take as is possible. I mean there are professional journalists working there, but they do have a certain agenda, and certainly the owners of it – or the administrators of it have a certain agenda.
LAMB: Our taxpayer money goes to Alhurra.
LAMB: And the interesting thing is that we have a – there are several people that used to work here that are at Alhurra now, in the technical world out there. There are some people that have worked Aljazeera that come here on a freelance basis.
LAMB: There’s you at PBS doing this. As you watch – I mean you’ve been in all of these places. When you hear this guy say that CNN has a point of view, do you agree with that?
BARKER: Well, I – not the way he means it. But I mean if you take a – take a big-picture you know view of it, CNN has a point of view, and that is it’s – an American network ultimately is going to project an American view of the world. Not an American Government point of view, but an American view of the world that will be different to Aljazeera’s view of the world.
LAMB: Let’s – here’s a clip of you telling them about this Aljazeera power.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: But in Lebanon and across the Arab world, the most watched channel remains Aljazeera, with over 50 million viewers. So far, their PR advisors, wary of more bad press, wouldn’t give us access. After weeks of phone calls, they finally agreed.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: All right. Well, listen, thank you so much for calling back because I was – we were getting a bit desperate.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: That got us into Aljazeera’s Beirut bureau, by far the largest in town. They had just heard the prime minister was about to respond to Hezbollah’s demand that he resign.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It’s 11:30. So if you want to go, we can go in a half-an-hour, I think.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Her reports during the recent war made Bushra Abdul Samad well known across the Middle East.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: She is Lebanese herself and says objectivity is impossible, especially about Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I try to be neutral because you know all of the political problems in Lebanon. So this gets to be a nuisance, and that’s the main issues that I think about almost all the time. OK, as to the war in Lebanon, lots of people saw that you used to work and are pro Hezbollah. Just because it was our positions during the war, it wasn’t with Hezbollah. It was against what Israel was doing. So you cannot have another position in this situation like this, I think.
LAMB: You know if you live in Northern Virginia, you can watch Aljazeera in English, and I’m going to get – I hope I don’t get in trouble because I hope my memory’s right, but Jana Raffey (ph) who used to be at CNN is the correspondent there now.
LAMB: Rob Reynolds, the son of Frank Reynolds, who used to be on ABC, is a correspondent there. And Rosalind Jordan, who used to be at NBC, is a correspondent there. So what are we seeing in the United States? Now, this is a public television station over in the suburbs carrying Aljazeera public station paid for by Virginia State money and others. I mean what – if you were watching Aljazeera, what are we getting?
BARKER: You’re getting Aljazeera English, which is different from Aljazeera Arabic, and it’s run out of the Middle East, owned by the same people. The editorial control ultimately is the same, but there’s totally different people running it. I mean they’ve hired a lot of people from the – from the states, a lot of British broadcasters to come down and produce this thing. I mean when I did that project, they had just launched, and that’s actually part of the film. I know that there have been some tensions within the newsroom over the editorial line that they’ve been told to take on certain issues. You know on the other hand, I know that there was a guy, a producer there who was given $50,000, told to go off and find some interesting stories in Congo because the Western media wasn’t covering Congo. So go off and tell us those stories. So I think you know it’s a mixed bag.
I do look at Aljazeera English and their Web site because I think it’s interesting to kind of see how they’re covering things. But I think you know ultimately the editorial control is the same. But it’s worth bearing in mind that that editorial control rests with one of America’s allies in the Gulf. They just – they don’t really want to acknowledge that, but that’s the reality of it. And also the government of Qatar is one of the governments that has pretty decent relationships with Israel, and Israel, last time I checked, had a commercial office in Doha you know a couple of miles away from Aljazeera headquarters.
The Middle East is a complicated place. The Iranians talk to the Israelis quietly all the time you know and if you sit down for a drink with even an Israeli hard liner who’s from the national security world, he’ll talk about the meetings that they have informally with the Iranians through some various third parties and all of that. It’s kind of like a – it’s the vision that we have of it, which is why it’s such an interesting place to kind of report on. It’s just much more nuanced than is ever possible to convey to people through the news media.
LAMB: Again, that show is available for people that want to see the whole thing?
BARKER: Yes. That one I think you can get on the Frontline World Web site, which is Frontline – if you – yes, if you looked up News, War, Frontline, World, it would take you to it, and you actually download the video.
LAMB: And all of this stuff’s sold through Amazon.
BARKER: Yes, Amazon or on the Internet or iTunes.
LAMB: We’re going to move to another one. This is from 2000, the Survival of Sadam. Set it up. It’s another Frontline piece. This is – by the way, did you go to – didn’t you go to Saudi Arabia for this network in ’91?
BARKER: I did, yes. I went to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War. Yes, it was great. It was – and that’s kind of where I got my first taste of this kind of experience, that kind of you know war like sort of reporting. And I found it fascinating, and the kind of – the people that are drawn to that world fascinating. So I have you to blame.
LAMB: Well, I also – Susan Bundock told me that she had steered you wrong when you showed up in country, and it’s only a short distance from, I don’t know, Riyadh to Dhahran or whatever, and it took you 24 hours to get there. So she figures you’ve been holding it against her ever since.
BARKER: She told me to take a taxi from Riyadh to Dhahran, and it was the same, I realized then, as landing in Washington D.C. and taking a taxi to Iowa. It cost me 1,000 bucks of your network’s money.
LAMB: Ouch. The Survival of Saddam from the year 2000. What’s the deal?
BARKER: Yes, I was there, I think, in ’99. It must have aired in 2000. It was – well, this was the late 90s. We were wondering how it was that Saddam had – was still in power, being colleagues in Frontline. Yes, I mean we went there to try to figure out how Saddam had survived the first Gulf War, and also several CIA and British Intelligence attempts to get rid of him, and at the time you know we were lucky to get in, and I was one of five Americans inside Iraq at the time. It was a very scary place. I mean it was – it was so oppressive, and I can only imagine what it was like to actually live there. I mean I’ve never felt such fear or seen such fear in people’s eyes just walking down the streets, and somebody would catch your eye, and then you know the minder that you know was there all the time would sort of see them looking at me, and Satan to them. You could just see them being so petrified that somehow they would get in trouble for even looking at a Westerner, an American. It was – it was a brutal, brutal place, and really fascinating.
LAMB: And you got in through what?
BARKER: We got in through it because we had option to book that was a ”Biography of Saddam,” and the guy who wrote it was in the film, Said Aburish, had some sort of contacts with the Iranian – the Iraqi government back in the 70s, and he knew Tariq Aziz and some others and kind of convinced them – helped us convince them that it was a good idea to try to tell Saddam’s story to the Western world.
LAMB: Tariq Aziz – I wonder if he’s still alive in that group. Let’s watch Man in a Hat (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: A rising star in a rabidly anti-communist party, Saddam once led some visitors into his private library. They were shocked to see shelf after shelf devoted to Saddam’s role model, Joseph Stalin.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: When we went in, absolutely, and we saw those books, I was amazed to see it. And I asked him on the idea of communism is really all those books that’s on. Well, he say no, but even Stalin was here. You’re a communist.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Everything Saddam did had Stalinist overtures. Stalin is his hero. Saddam Hussein models himself after Stalin more than any other man in history, consciously and very, very deliberately. He admires the man.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: With Stalin’s methods, Saddam believed he could control and modernize Iraq, and like Stalin, he coveted his mentor’s office.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Saddam Hussein is a patient man. He does not jump, you see. He served under the presidency of al-Bakr and very, very faithfully and honestly. But then president al-Bakr you see became older and older. He became ill.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Saddam’s time had come.
LAMB: Tariq Aziz’s a Christian.
LAMB: Speaks English fluently. Did you interview him?
BARKER: Yes. Yes, fascinating. I mean, yes, I mean he’s a very charming guy, and I think with Aziz you never quite knew how much power he actually had because he was – for a long time, he was the face of the regime to the outside world, and he was considered by many throughout the Middle East to be one of the most effective foreign ministers because you had a guy like Saddam, who was universally reviled throughout the Middle East by leaders, and Aziz, who was able to still push forward Iraq’s agenda. It’s interesting; we ended that film with a prediction from a CIA agent, who had been part of an effort to overthrow Saddam, and this was – I think ’99/2000, saying that Saddam Hussein, like Joseph Stalin, his mentor, would die peacefully in his sleep unless there was ever an effort to overthrow him, and that would never happen. So it’s – I think it was astonishing how quickly that question eventually changed.
LAMB: How long were you in the country?
BARKER: About 5 weeks.
LAMB: Did you try to interview Saddam?
BARKER: Yes. Yes, we did. Yes.
LAMB: Did you get close?
BARKER: I don’t think so. You never really know. I don’t think so.
LAMB: Where did you say there?
BARKER: We stayed at the Al Rasheed Hotel.
LAMB: And so after the war and everything, what was the impact on you looking back at it, having been in that country?
BARKER: I’ll tell you the one thing that I regretted, because we interviewed Achmed Chalabi in the course of that, and I spent some time with him, and I have a very clear memory of being in a big gathering at his offices in London, where he was passing stories on to some journalist who were in the room, a prominent British journalist, leaking stories that I don’t think were true, and I remember thinking there’s something fishy going on here, and I actually really wish that I had followed up on that because I think there was something about the way that the – everything about the WMD was – went down that there was a way to get into that story before. He was a very, very charming guy, and he made a – he went out of his way to charm journalists, and a lot of them – I don’t exclude myself – were caught up in that because you have a sense of access, but what was the agenda. So that’s the sort of – journalistically, that’s the one question that’s nagged at me.
LAMB: A personal question; can you survive financially doing all of this?
BARKER: Well, I have.
LAMB: Yes. But I mean is it – are you on the edge, I mean but can you make enough to live a comfortable life?
BARKER: Well, it’s – yes, you can. I mean it’s – I think I’m very lucky in that it’s – a lot of people really struggle as documentary filmmakers, and I – and I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to go from project to project for some time. So – but it’s not a – you know it’s not a way to get rich at all. But I do it because it’s something that I’m passionate about, and I love being out there in the world and telling stories.
LAMB: What are you working on right now?
BARKER: I’m doing a new project for HBO that’s about the Middle East.
LAMB: And what’s the deadline on it?
BARKER: Well, I mean we may have it done early next year, or it may take a bit longer. We’re at the – we’re at the early stages of it.
LAMB: When documentarians like you work, do you get paid on a monthly basis, or do they give the money up front, or they have to wait till it’s done?
BARKER: No, you generally get paid a fee for a project, and that is cash flowed over time. So there’s money upfront and throughout. So it’s – you know you can – most finance – people who finance documentaries know that you need to eat while you’re making them.
LAMB: Have you been back to the Middle East recently?
BARKER: Yes, I was just in – yes, I was in Dubai a few weeks ago. I’ll be going back in a few weeks.
LAMB: Are you still liking the travel?
BARKER: Less since I’ve had children. I love the travel, but being – it’s harder to be away from the family and harder to be in L.A., frankly, than it was in London. I mean London is you know – it’s 5 hours to the Middle East you know 3-1/2 hours to Moscow. It’s – and L.A., I love living out there, but it’s a long way from the rest of the world.
LAMB: All right. Here is a – here is what really got you in front of us again was a lot of attention you got on Sergio. Let’s run a minute and 50 seconds of this, and then you can explain it.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: The countries that had fought so fiercely over whether to go to war decided that they had to somehow kiss and make up. Let’s agree that we all have an interest in seeing Iraq stabilized. Let’s send a United Nations mission, and much more importantly in a way, let’s send the most charismatic, most experienced person in the entire system of conflict management, conflict prevention, nation building, refugee care – you name it. Let’s send this guy who’s known as a cross between James Bond and Bobby Kennedy. Let’s send Sergio.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I asked him personally to take the job in Iraq. I said you’re the right person for this job, and I hope you’ll do it.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: President Bush I know had met him, and I think rated him very highly, and you know there was therefore a general consensus that if he could be persuaded to do it, he would be the right person.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: He never wanted the job in Iraq, but that week he called me to say that he had just received a phone call from New York, where the Secretary General was asking him to go and see him. And I ask him, is that talk about, what, about Iraq? But you were already clear about your position vis-à-vis Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Sergio with his friends was absolutely adamantly saying no way, forget it. Are you crazy? I’ve just got a new job. I (INAUDIBLE), et cetera, et cetera. Gradually, the interest melted and the pressures melted, and he clearly became more interested, and was finally influenced, I think, by the profile of the issue. It was the center stage of international U.N. action in 2003.
LAMB: Why Sergio?
BARKER: Well, why Sergio? Because you know because in the course of doing the Rwanda film, I met people like Gromo Alex, who I considered the best and the brightest of the U.N. Whatever you think of the U.N., and it’s full of contradictions, there are some amazing people working there. Gromo went on to work for Sergio and his team more, and I became interested in this guy’s life. Samantha Power, who was at Harvard at the time, was also somebody I needed for the Rwanda film, and she had known Sergio and …
LAMB: And now works for President Obama in the National Security Council.
BARKER: That’s right. And so I saw in this guy’s story a way to kind of speak to a lot of issues that I – that fascinated me on a – on a personal level, and I also saw as a filmmaker an amazing story as it’s kind of – the film is basically – and that’s part of the set up – it’s essentially a search and rescue movie about what happens after Sergio is – because he’s the head of the U.N. mission in Iraq – after he’s the target of the first big terrorist attack after the war and is trapped in the rubble with another guy as – after the building has collapsed, and these two amazing American soldiers try to get the two of them out, and I saw that as a way of telling a story that would reach a broader audience.
I was sort of at a point in my career where, as much as I love PBS and Frontline, I wanted to make films that were slightly more creative and – without narration and just sort of work more as movies, and this was a story that kind of just hit me on a lot of different levels.
LAMB: When did Sergio die?
BARKER: Two thousand three. August 2003.
LAMB: Did he die in the rubble?
BARKER: He dies in the rubble, yes.
LAMB: We’re going to show a clip of Gil – is it Lesher (ph) or Loescher?
LAMB: Loescher? Did you interview him?
LAMB: Who is he?
BARKER: He’s an American academic, a top expert on refugee flows in the United Nations, and he happened to be in Iraq meeting Sergio on a mission from the Council and Formulations and just happened to be in Sergio’s office with a colleague when the bomb went off.
LAMB: And so he’s under the rubble with him?
BARKER: Yes. He and Sergio are trapped literally you know a few feet away from each other.
LAMB: Here it is.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: My memory of it is that you know I’m just not going to give in. I’m not going to die. I have a lot to live for. You know I – you know I thought immediately of my family.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: A decision was made, and we all agreed on it, and the most important thing was Gil was ready for it. The only thing I found in it was an old rusty wood saw and my trusty paramedic scissors. I said I’m going to start sawing away. If you have to scream out, scream out. If the pain is unbearable, let me know and I will stop and give you some more pain medicine.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I don’t remember any of that. I’ve blacked that out.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I started to cut through his first leg. I had to kind of separate his screaming from what I had to do because I knew it had to be done.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Even with morphine, even being deeply in shock and basically reacting only to pain, it was pretty gruesome work. He screamed, and you probably could have heard the screams in you know the green zone. We felt terrible, but we knew if we didn’t do this, he would die where he was because we physically couldn’t get him out.
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I pulled tighter on the tourniquet, and I told him I’m going to go to the second leg. He didn’t answer for a while, for a few minutes. I thought I lost him. What I believe happened was the pain was so bad it had literally just knocked him out. So in a way, that was probably a blessing. I started to cut into the second leg, and he woke up again, and he started to moan. And he just said, Andre (ph), I feel that, but go ahead and do it and finish. And I did.
LAMB: I assume when you’re sitting there with Gil Loescher, he doesn’t have any legs.
BARKER: Right. Right.
LAMB: How hard was that on you?
BARKER: Well, all those interviews are difficult. I mean I just – he didn’t want to do the interview you know for a long time. He was reluctant, and he didn’t want to just go back there. He’d read Samantha’s book, because Samantha wrote a biography of Sergio called ”Chasing the Flame” that I optioned, and I think he found it difficult to see it all laid out. I just try to be honest with people about how I’m going to use the interviews and their role in the film, and I try to ask you know simple, basic questions and let them tell the story. I mean honestly, Brian, this is – that’s a technique I learned here, and you know people want to tell their stories ultimately if they feel like you’re going to honor them and treat them fairly. That’s what I try to do.
LAMB: This available, I assume, through HBO, Sergio.
BARKER: Yes, it’ll be – it’ll just premiere in HBO. In May, it’ll be on again, and it’s going to – you can get it on – I think the video is just now coming out through HBO.com.
LAMB: We’re out of time, and I know this has been a deeply serious program, but I have – I have to – you know your image is of a very intelligent, hard working man, but I have to show the audience a picture that you probably haven’t seen for a very long time, and in this picture you can see over here is – whoops, there it is, Mr. Barker. Tell him what you did that 1984. That’s a bus that went around the United States. What was your job?
BARKER: I was a driver. It was my first job out of college, and I was hired to drive that bus around the country for the election coverage, and my – I have such a clear memory of going to pick somebody up, you or some other people, up at the airport and running out of gas on the Interstate 5 in L.A. during rush hour and thinking all I wanted to do at that moment was walk away. And – but I stayed and got a tow truck and managed to have a career in television.
LAMB: On that note, Greg Barker, thank you very much for sharing this stuff.
BARKER: And thanks, Brian. It was fun.