As told by Butterfly Co-founder, Bradi Nathan
|On December 27th, 1983, I received a letter from the White House, signed in black ink by Ronald Reagan. I was the only student in class to be granted a letter back from our President as part of a class assignment. Ronald Reagan wrote, “Dear Bradi: I always enjoy hearing from my young friends across the United States. Thank you for writing to me. It shows you are interested in our nation’s well-being and will always be a part of making life better for all our citizens. Knowing I have your support and friendship certainly brightens my day. You have my best wishes for now and for the years ahead. God bless you.” Sincerely, Ronald Reagan
I have since framed this keepsake and often wonder what I wrote in my initial letter that prompted Ronald Reagan to respond only to me. Nevertheless, that was my first brush in recognizing that the world, and my place in it, was bigger place than I had envisioned.
For many children this realization does not take as long. Fox News Political Correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, raised her babies in Jerusalem, as she reported on violence and war. It is Jennifer that Ronald Reagan should be proud of. She is “making life better for all our citizens.” Jennifer lived amongst snipers, suicide bombers and kidnappers and conducted a rare interview with Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel. She provided coverage of the battle of Gaza and played a role in the kidnapping release of fellow Fox News reporter Steve Centanni. And, amidst it all, Jennifer Griffin coordinated her daughter’s preschool pick-ups.
It is clear that Jennifer embodies a sense of mission ~ I can believe that her daughters keep her sane when faced with injustice. I am SO incredibly proud to feature this Madame Butterfly in an exclusive interview:
BN: What challenges did you face in keeping your girls safe in Jerusalem?
Shortly before my oldest daughter, Annalise, was born in Jerusalem the Intifada broke out and a rash of suicide bombings swept the capital of Jerusalem and other cities across Israel. But my concern for my daughters' safety began while they were in utero. I quickly realized that flak jackets actually did make good maternity wear (their velcro extensions and ability to expand expanded with my belly). Now I sometimes pinch myself when I think of standing out looking over Bethlehem in the dark as gunfire rained onto the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo from members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades who eventually I got to know face to face. We often worried that our spot lights from our cameras would draw fire so we would do a quick stand-up or live hit and quickly turn off the lights as the bullets rained in. The day before Annalise was born I interviewed the family of the first Palestinian suicide bomber in this round of fighting. I traipsed over barbed wire barricades to get into Ramallah and got home that night, called the handyman who I felt HAD to hang the last picture in the nursery (I was nesting and didn't know it). The next day I went for my check up at the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus and found that my water had broken and Annalise was born a few hours later. After that suicide bombings occurred at cafes on the same block that we lived on in Jerusalem. I always drove 50 feet or so behind any buses for fear they would blow up and once our beloved babysitter, Rose, had a bomber blow up under her apartment on King George Street and the blood from the bomber blew up on their freshly cleaned laundry hanging to dry on her balcony.
Those were crazy days but the children were young enough that it was easy to keep them at home or arrange playdates. It was years before my kids had gone into a grocery store because we had strict rules about avoiding public places. Then as the girls got older we had a difficult summer (2006) in which war broke out in Gaza, and on the Lebanese border and my colleagues from Fox were kidnapped in the Gaza Strip. I was involved in all of those events the summer of 2006 and at that point my husband and I had decided we had had enough and it was time to leave. I didn't feel like I could roll the dice one more time by travelling to Gaza. Ironically, my next assignment was to the Pentagon and my first stop was Baghdad before the surge - more terrifying than anything I had faced in Israel because I didn't know the territory. In Israel and the Palestinian territories we had watched the conflict evolve and grow and felt like we could still make rational decisions about how to be and keep our family safe.
BN: How has having children affected your decisions on what and where to report?
I don't have any specific rules about where I won't report from - though generally any place where there is kidnapping - I draw the line there. But that being said I was traveling in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen when I figured out that I was pregnant with my son Luke last summer. I kept throwing up every time I got on the Blackhawk helicopters. The penny dropped for me in the dangerous Korengal Valley on the border with Pakistan. Admiral Mullen's aide knew that I was pregnant before my husband did!
BN: What specific occasion did you fear for your life the most?
The period in Gaza during our colleague's kidnapping was particularly scary. A number of clashes when Palestinian stone throwers and gunmen took on the IDF - Israeli defense forces - and we were caught in the middle of firefights on the edge of various West Bank towns. There were moments in the war with Lebanon when Hezbollah was firing Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel. Baghdad pre-surge with a Stryker unit going house to house looking for insurgents - we found a young Sunni man who had been kidnapped and just returned to his home - he had been roughed up terribly and didn't look like he would survive but he was too scared to go to the hospital which was controlled by the Shias who were taking Sunnis out of their hospital beds and killing them summarily. A lot of my fear is in thinking back on places that I was and interviews with dangerous characters in vulnerable situations - at the time you kid yourself into thinking you are in control of the situation and safe - otherwise you wouldn't do it. I don't think of myself as someone who takes chances with my safety given that I have kids who depend on me - even though I have been in a lot of dramatic situations in hindsight. In general I don't take chances. I am very cautious when it comes to this kind of reporting.
BN: When did you realize what your sense of mission was in this world?
I realized my sense of mission in this world when I was a college student and went to South Africa at the end of apartheid and stood at Nelson Mandela's feet a few moments after he was released from prison after 28 years. It was in Cape Town. Then when I was in Somalia during the early days of its famine in 1992. That is when I realized I definitely wanted to be a journalist. When we arrived in Pakistan and I was 24 years old and on the first day there interviewed Benazir Bhutto and shortly thereafter found myself in Afghanistan caught between warring mujahideen groups (this was all pre-children) the adrenalin from that period and the access we had as journalists to tell stories, I consider the Golden Age of foreign reporting. Much of that has changed now. We lived in a period when journalists were teflon. Now in the post Daniel Pearl world it is more difficult to move around without fear of being a target.
BN: How do you explain such tragedy to your girls in an environment where it is impossible to shield them?
I am very straightforward with my girls about the tragedy and difficulties of the world. When they were younger - prior to last year - we didn't explain the troubles where we lived and in general kept them sheltered and immune. When we moved back to the U.S. our children were too aware to shield them anymore. They had great curiosity about 9/11 - especially since I worked at the Pentagon. They began asking big questions about Bin Laden - especially after I covered a 9/11 anniversary at the Pentagon and their teachers had raised 9/11 with them. Now they have big questions about Bin Laden and his "team" as they refer to Al Qaeda. And they want to know if the other parents at the school where his children go in Pakistan don't want to report him for being a "bad guy". We try to have constructive conversations about the problems in the world right now without scaring them. I think it is important for them to know that there are problems and that not everyone is safe or privileged. They are very in tune with the problems in the rest of the world and in the rest of our city and they are sensitive and empathic which is what I would hope for them.
BN: When did you realize that you had a passion for reporting?
My passion for reporting started in college - on the Harvard Crimson. One of my first big stories was on race relation on campus and then I went to South Africa. Africa is where I discovered the fun and adventure of being a reporter. I fell in love literally.
BN: How did your career evolve over the years?
I went from Africa to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Then Cyprus and the Middle East - Iran, Iraq, Lebanon... then Russia at the end of the Yeltsin era. Kosovo. Then Israel in 1999. Returned to US in 2007.
BN: What has been a career highlight of yours? Did you at that time think, “I have arrived?”
Many career highlights: starting with Mandela's release, first legal ANC rally in Soweto where I met my husband, Somalia during the famine when there were only a handful of other journalists, Pakistani elections, nuclear tests and the rise of the Taliban, the capture of Ramzi Yousef near our house in Pakistan and initial signs that Al Qaeda was moving into Kabul, Yeltsin's government firings and health woes, the Mir space station crises, Kosovo when the Russians arrived and I spoke to them in pidgin Russian over cigarettes and a barbed wire fence - at that time NATO didn't know if they had come to do harm or not - the Albanian militias in the hills after Kosovo was taken over by NATO, Yasser Arafat's funeral, documenting the emergence of the Al AqsaMartyrs' brigades in the Palestinian areas, Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, and then certain conversations and interviews that I have in Washington - at the Pentagon where all the threads have come together from our previous life's work and many of the problems that we have spent years documenting remain unresolved. Not yet arrived but have enjoyed the journey.
BN: How were you able to secure your rare interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?
I was friends with a good friend of Ariel Sharon and Sharon had grown to trust me. I interviewed him for an hour and a half before he was ever considered a Prime Ministerial candidate - he was in the political wilderness then and he remembered I had had a lot of time for him then.
BN: What would you have done if your daughters’ school called you in the middle of it?
I would have taken the call if my daughters' school had called. He would have understood. He had grandchildren who he loved very much.
BN: Who would you most like to interview and why?
I would like to interview A Q Khan - father of Pakistan's nuclear program - I used to sit in his living room in Pakistan. Have a few questions for him.
BN: How difficult is it to report on stories that, as a mother, are heart wrenching to learn?
I cry a lot. Ask me about my coverage of the Tsunami in Thailand. It makes my reporting powerful and empathic but sometimes (often) it takes a toll emotionally - big time. I once interviewed a mother of a suicide bomber and it was very powerful television - I was pregnant at the time and it was shocking getting inside her psychology.
BN: What obstacle(s) do you face in juggling the demands of your career and the needs of your family?
You can never get the balance right - you always feel like you are short changing someone - your job or your children - you make it up to both in other ways - going beyond the call when you can. I remember one conversation I had with the head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, on a visit back from Jerusalem. He said, "make sure we think we are your number one priority but make sure it is really your children and family." I took that to mean that he understood and valued what mothers have to do to work and raise their children and it elicited my undying respect and loyalty to him and Fox News as a result. They have always supported my need to raise my kids - and I in return am willing to go to the mat for them and Mr. Ailes knows that.
BN: Please share some advice with women who are trying to “do it all.”
Choose a company like Fox that appreciates the importance of family and create a supportive environment. Don't beat yourself up and feel guilty when you can't do it all - because you can't. Sometimes it is better to be slow and steady and not the flashy rising star - better to think about longevity and keep you eye on what is really important - your children and family. You will never be happy if they are falling apart. And have good help - a grandparent or loving caregiver who can be the third leg of the stool as you and your husband try to balance career and family.
BN: What type of role model do you try to be to your girls?
I try to teach them that it is important to work and to love your work and that while I love them more than anything in the world - they have to understand that sometimes there are issues that are larger than ourselves and that are worth pursuing - to help a "greater good". I don't want them to think they are the center of the universe but I want them to be confident that they are the center of MY universe and that I love them dearly but I can't be with them all the time and that is okay. I teach them that there are others - such as military families who are sacrificing a lot more than we are in terms of children being away from their families and parents. They get it.
BN: How different will it be to raise baby number three in the United States? And, do you think Luke might see the world differently because of it?
JG: It will be different raising Luke in the U.S. as opposed to overseas. The girls have a truly international perspective and we will have to work that much harder to make him understand that there is a big wide world out there.
BN: What would your reaction be if your daughters put themselves in harms way for the sake of their career?
I will worry about them if they choose a dangerous career - but as long as it is in the name of something bigger than themselves I will hold my breath and allow them to explore the world the way I did. They have to contribute.
BN: What mark do you hope to leave on the world?
I do not pretend that I will leave any mark on the world. I simply hope to try to bring greater understanding to those who are thinking about the big problems we now face based on our international experience in some of the world's tough spots. The best I can hope for is to raise my children to be good citizens who give back - I believe in "paying it forward" - doing something for someone else so that they can contribute down the road. I hope for my kids that they have a carefree and creative childhood where they have lots of free time to play and be kids because once they get to be adults they are going to face a lot of big unresolved problems. I work on the philsophy that they should not be over programmed or over scheduled - I think the over emphasis on homework and afterschool activities and the "best" education - is counter productive. My husband and I are the product of the best degrees but we both feel our real education didn't start until we moved overseas and began traveling. We hope our children will find their own paths and we hope to buck the trends in parenting that put pressure on children to learn x, y and z and perform at a young age. We want them to be young and have lots of free playtime with their friends so that when it comes time to work they aren't exhausted or stressed out. If I can give them a happy childhood then I will have left my mark. So far we are on our way. They are great and happy kids - even though I work and sometimes have a crazy schedule and issues pulling me away from them. They have grown to respect that.
BN: How do you think a site like Butterfly could help women today?
We need a site like Butterfly so that women stop being so +!@#$ themselves.
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