Fellow Photojournalist Nicole Tung Remembers James Foley
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Freelance photojournalist Nicole Tung worked and traveled with James Foley. She talks to Kelly McEvers about the slain photojournalist and his work.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Now we're going to talk to someone who knew Jim Foley - Nicole Tung, who is also a freelance photojournalist. She met Foley in Benghazi, Libya in 2011 when they were both covering the Libyan uprising. Foley was later taken captive there by Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Eventually, the two journalists teamed up. They figured working as a pair was safer than working alone. They traveled in and out of Syria half a dozen times together, covering the civil war until James Foley was captured by militants on Thanksgiving day in 2012. Nicole Tung, thank you for joining us, and we are sorry for your loss.
NICOLE TUNG: Thank you for having me, and thank you for the condolences.
MCEVERS: Can you tell us how you first heard that Jim had been taken?
TUNG: I had actually - I was actually arranging a meeting with him on the Turkish side of the border that day. And he was actually coming out that day from Syria. And I was on email with him right up to the point where he was actually supposed to leave and take a taxi, actually, to the Syrian border and cross into Turkey. And I was going to meet him that evening. When he didn't show up, I started to get worried. I hadn't heard anything. I wasn't able to reach his cell phone, and I started calling our fixer who is someone who helps us translate and set up meetings inside Syria. The fixer was supposed to be traveling with Jim at the time. And when he picked up the phone, I knew immediately that something had gone wrong. He explained to me that they were on the road. Four masked gunmen stopped their car. James was taken at gunpoint. But the fixer was immediately released because the capturers weren't interested in taking Syrians.
MCEVERS: Tell me what it was like to work with him and travel with him. What was he like?
TUNG: He was an absolute delight. He was one of these guys who just warmed up to people very easily. I let him, pretty much, handle all the icebreaking because he was so good at doing that with people. And also because he was a man and, you know, in the patriarchal Arab society, it was more culturally appropriate for him to approach people, you know, pull out a cigarette and start talking. And that's pretty much how he got interviews and all the access we did. You know, traveling with him and working in dangerous environments was incredibly easy because he was so calm in the worst of circumstances.
MCEVERS: When something like this happens to a journalist, people always ask the question was he reckless? I guess I have to ask you that. Was he reckless?
TUNG: I think that some people may view him as being reckless because he'd been arrested in Libya once before. But I think that experience in Libya made him cautious. It didn't deter him from reporting, but it certainly didn't make him more of a reckless person. If anything, you know, he understood very well the risks because of that experience. So, you know, he very intent on getting the story. But no, he wasn't reckless. He was very calculated. We always went through security protocols and what was safe and what wasn't safe. I mean, nothing was safe but was it safe enough to do and would we risk these kind of consequences. And, you know, he understood what the consequences could be. But that also meant that he was intent on making the best choices available to him.
MCEVERS: We all have this horrible image in our minds of Jim's last moments. What picture of him would you like to leave us with?
TUNG: He always carried a grin with him - and - on his face. And he was always very, very quick to smile and share a joke. And it was a very, very warm smile. I don't know if it reflects in some of the photos that have been published out there but - and I think that that's the image that I would choose to remember him by. And I hope that many others do, as well.
MCEVERS: Nicole Tung, remembering her friend and colleague, photojournalist Jim Foley. Nicole, thanks very much.
TUNG: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.View this story on npr.org