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The Statesman

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    My Life As: Randall Pinkston

    On Mar. 13, the Stony Brook School of Journalism hosted another “My Life As…” event. The guest was CBS anchor, Randall Pinkston. Dean Howard Schneider introduced the theme of the night and how the “My Life As?” series came to be. He then called Marcy McGinnis to introduce Pinkston. Pinkston is an award-winning correspondent covering both Iraq and Afghanistan – especially Baghdad – before and after Saddam Hussein’s reign. Pinkston engaged the crowd by being humorous from the beginning. In relation to the response to what time the program would end, he said, “Well, some of us have to go to bed.”

    Pinkston formally reported for “The Jackson Daily News.” He lived in Jackson, MS, at a time when civil rights were not reported in a positive light. Originally, Pinkston wanted to join the Air Force, but discovered that in order to join a letter of approval was needed from your state’s Congressman. The Congressman for Mississippi was a segregationist, and Pinkston wished to join during the Vietnam War – needless to say, this plan did not take off. It was at Wesleyan University where Pinkston discovered his love for journalism. He had originally intended to pursue a career in law.

    Pinkston decided the best way to go through his presentation was to speak to the audience about his defining moments, “points in [his] career that made [him] realize something about [himself] and why [he] chose this profession.”

    Pinkston described to the audience his first defining moment. He worked at WCBS-TV for 10 years before being asked by his boss, Eric Ober, to be the network correspondent in Washington, D.C. He had been reporting on politics in NY area, including the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

    Leaving WCBS to be a network correspondent covering the White House was a scary transition for Pinkston. When George H. W. Bush fell ill in Tokyo, he had to make sure it didn’t sound worse that it was, yet explain what was happening and why. “It was the longest live shot in my career,” he said. Pinkston could be seen in the clip that he was writing down what to say to the viewers and receiving word from NY what clips were going to be played. “People say anchors are scripted?they’re not,” he said as he let out a chuckle.

    “People don’t give Mrs. Bush enough credit for her shrewdness. She is the only one whom the public would believe that President Bush was truly okay. If anyone else had said it, Secretary of Defense for example, the public would’ve immediately been skeptical and suspicious,” Pinkston said. Mrs. Bush calmed everyone’s nerve by describing President Bush’s competitiveness, as well as how they had been playing tennis earlier that day in a light-hearted manner. He covered the White House until Bush was defeated in 1993 by Bill Clinton. This is when he said he came to his second defining moment, “I had to find a way to survive and obtain a new beat.”

    He began to pitch stories to magazines and news shows until he obtained a new beat. Vicki Mabrey invited him to Haiti while the politician, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was being exiled. 1994 was his first experience of covering conflict in a foreign land. “Verification, you must trust your source if there is no trust you must be careful of what is put in the story. I felt in physical danger when the Haitian refugees were being brought back.” The refugees get beaten. He described the hypocrisy in the US foreign policy regarding refugees in comparison to the procedure taken when Cubans arrive on US soil. “Castro’s communist government,” he said sarcastically, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

    In 2001, Pinkston was again covering conflict in a foreign area. He was sent to Tora Bora in Pakistan which is located southwest of Jalabad. This is the last place where Osama Bin Laden was seen. A number of men said they didn’t see Bin Laden in the area, but a 16-year-old said that he did. “I chose to believe the kid, you have to maintain your skepticism.”

    Pinkston came to his third defining moment when three journalists from stations such as ABC and NBC were ambushed. The CBS crew luckily stayed behind and did not travel to Jalabad. “It was one of the roughest moments because I always wonder if I would’ve been a victim of kidnapping and if it was safe to even stay in Jalabad.”

    The sad part of the story is that a female Italian reporter from ABC was going to ride with them, but her photographer told her that they were leaving immediately, thus she went with those that were later ambushed and kidnapped. One of the things Pinkston learned that enabled him to avoid harassment is to be yourself and what you are not. “Always try to learn something about the local culture and language,” he advised the students.

    Time soon ran out, and Pinkston did not get to finish showing the students all of his clips, but left them with one last statement. “Journalism is the first draft of history, it’s written by people such as your esteemed Dean, I’d like to think that anchors such as myself, we’re more like the footnotes.”

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