From Blanket Hill to Beirut

Kali Price

Reporter shares war, May 4 stories

John Kifner, The New York Times Beirut correspondent, spoke to about 200 people in the Kiva yesterday evening about his experiences both at The New York Times and covering wars. Kifner has been at the newspaper for more than 30 years. GAVIN JACKSON | DAIL

Credit: Steve Schirra

James Gaudino, dean of the College of Communication and Information, told about 200 people in the Kiva he felt “like Will Ferrell mimicking James Lipton interviewing Tom Cruise.”

Gaudino moderated a discussion last night with John Kifner, The New York Times Beirut correspondent. Gaudino asked Kifner questions from a series of notecards, similar to Lipton’s style on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

“Bringing Beirut Home,” was sponsored by The New York Times Knowledge Network, the Honors College, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent Interhall Council and Undergraduate Student Senate.

Kifner recently returned from a month-long trip to Beirut, Lebanon, to cover the conflict between Israeli troops and Hezbollah forces. He has special ties to Kent State as well.

“It’s pretty moving (being back at Kent State),” he said after the event. “I look at that hillside (Blanket Hill), and it all comes back. It really brought back a lot of memories.”

Kifner was the only national reporter at Kent State on May 4.

“(The National Guard) just started opening fire,” Kifner said during the discussion. “Everyone was just completely stunned … There was just this complete, kind of stunned silence.”

Kifner recalled his memories of the events of May 4, including helping a Daily Kent Stater reporter. He also remembers the National Guard’s initial inaccurate reports that there had been a sniper.

“I was really happy that he talked about May 4,” said Ross Miltner, USS executive director. “It was interesting to hear his aspect on it.”

Kifner discussed his experiences as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, elaborating on his first trip to Iran, which was also his first trip to a foreign country, and what he has seen in Lebanon.

“You have the idea that Hezbollah is a blood-thirsty terrorist organization … with blood dripping from their fangs,” he said, drawing laughter from the audience. “Twenty-five years ago, they were a terrorist organization. They’ve evolved since then,” he went on to explain.

Kifner described these people, who Americans see as militants, are just everyday citizens.

“Basically, you’ve got just villagers defending their homes,” he said. “How would you feel if you look out the window of your hut at your village and there’s tanks coming down the road?”

Despite covering events such as May 4 and violent Middle Eastern conflicts, Kifner said he doesn’t think he has changed.

“This is what I do,” he said. “It’s what I’ve done before and what I’ve done ever after.”

Contact student politics reporter Kali Price at [email protected].