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Remembering AP photojournalist Niedringhaus, who found grace in the face of war

April 4, 2014 at 6:46 PM EDT
Veteran AP journalists Anja Niedringhaus and Kathy Gannon were traveling with election workers, soldiers and police in Khost province in Afghanistan when a police commander approached and shot them. Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, was killed and Gannon was hospitalized. Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of The Associated Press, remembers Niedringhaus with Hari Sreenivasan.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we return now to Afghanistan, and to a deadly attack on two veteran Associated Press journalists by an unlikely perpetrator, an Afghan police officer.

Hari Sreenivasan has more.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The shooting happened this morning in Khost Province. Photographer Anja Niedringhaus and reporter Kathy Gannon were traveling with election workers and under the protection of Afghan soldiers and police, when one of the police officers approached the car and fired several shots.

Niedringhaus was reportedly killed instantly. Gannon is in stable condition at an Afghan hospital.

We are joined by the Associated Press’ senior vice president and executive editor, Kathleen Carroll.

Ms. Carroll, first of all, do you have any update on the health of Kathy Gannon?

KATHLEEN CARROLL, Executive Editor, Associated Press: Well, she’s had some surgeries, and we are optimistic about her recovery, but she’s still being treated, and that will be true for some time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For our audience, how did you know Anja Niedringhaus?

KATHLEEN CARROLL: Oh, Anja was a photographer for most of the time that I have been editor of the AP, about 12 years.

And we worked together at the Olympics and on war coverage and on many issues, a quite infectious personality. It’s hard not to be drawn to Anja.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And tell us a little bit about that personality.

KATHLEEN CARROLL: Well, she — people have been describing her all day in various ways, kind of a magical pied piper.

Anja covered many dreadful things throughout the course of her photography career, wars in every place that they existed from the ’90s on, but also sporting events and just everyday life. But what was wonderful about Anja is that she found grace and calm and ordinary human behavior in the face of some of the worse situations life has to offer.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And is that what the Pulitzer Committee or other people around the AP and other people around the world saw about her pictures?  What is it about her pictures that made them so special to you?

KATHLEEN CARROLL: Well, Anja was a very open person, and she was open to life and open to new people. And everybody will tell you she had the most wonderful laugh. And it was just the first thing you noticed about her.

And the people that she was photographing, she was open to them as well, and I think that showed in her work. It had — it pulled you in because you were invited by Anja to experience what she had experienced, and to see these people on their own terms, not as — not as icons of some horrible conflict, but ordinary people who had been thrust into terrible circumstances and were still finding a way to have a birthday party or a place to play on a battleground or a cigarette in a quiet corner of a terrible field.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As you mentioned, she wasn’t just a war correspondent, though. She has several images in the field. You can see that she put the flak jacket on. She was there embedded with troops. She was there covering the struggles in Libya.

But then she has also got great photographs that have become iconic, of, say, Rafael Nadal.

KATHLEEN CARROLL: That’s true.

And one of my favorite stories about Anja is when — is at the Beijing Olympics for the race with Usain Bolt, and there were hundreds of photographers there. Anja was one of them, but Anja had set up five camera bodies on a piece of wood and aimed each camera at a lane.

And she operated it with a wireless device with her foot, so that she was going to photograph him with the camera in her hand, but also five cameras operated by her toe. It was pretty amazing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes, that is pretty amazing.

So, we’re heading into tomorrow’s election in Afghanistan. You have got to be thinking, as a news organization, you have still got people there. Does what happened change your plans for coverage?

KATHLEEN CARROLL: Well, throughout the course of the history of the AP, we have had losses as bad as the one we suffered today, and yet we still cover the stories.

We’re not cavalier about the safety threats, and we spend all our time, I do personally and the staff here and our security teams, focusing on how we can do our jobs safely. But we never go away. The story of Afghanistan is important, and we will still be there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there specific topics that Anja and Kathy like to cover, especially considering how long they have been working in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

KATHLEEN CARROLL: I think if you look at their work, what you find is, each of them had a passion for our country that people wanted to forget and often did forget, or wanted to dismiss and often did dismiss.

Something — they each found in a different way something compelling about Afghanistan, and they didn’t want the world to forget or reject this place, and it wasn’t just the conflict and it wasn’t the politics. It was the people and their struggles and their joys and the sheer ordinariness of life that was possible in a beautiful, but sometimes very tragic place.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Kathleen Carroll from the Associated Press, thank you so much.

KATHLEEN CARROLL: Thank you.