Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Monday, March 21, 2005

Eli Lake Wrote for "The Forward"

Succeeding: " Eli Lake '94
Journalist travels to the front lines of the
rhetoric and reality of U.S. foreign policy

As the State Department correspondent for United Press International, Eli Lake ’94 has a front-row seat for both the rhetoric and the real-life application of American foreign policy. At daily press briefings, Lake and the other members of the press corps pose probing, on-the-record questions to a State Department spokesperson—usually Richard Boucher. “The object,” says Lake “is to detect very minor gradations in rhetoric from the most powerful government in the world.” Lake also telephones his sources “in the various nooks and crannies of American national security institutions” to further inform his news stories. The gist, he says, is generally “the State Department’s take on something that’s happening in the world, whether it’s a flood or a coup or the breakdown or breakthrough in negotiations in a regional conflict.”

Rhetoric meets reality when Lake visits some of the world’s diplomatic hotspots. Often traveling with the Secretary of State, Lake has been to places few Americans ever go, including North Korea, Kosovo, and Sudan. He was with Colin Powell on his mid-April trip to the Middle East, where the Secretary of State was unsuccessful at jump-starting peace negotiations. Powell may have returned empty handed, but Lake came back with a story called “Policing Terror, Palestinian Style,” which was the result of an interview with the chief of the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence service, and which was published in The Weekly Standard. Lake, who likes to complement his news writing with more in-depth freelance features, says the article examines Palestinian perspectives “on the prospects for a cease-fire and, more importantly, the prospects for security cooperation given that the Israelis have destroyed a lot of the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.”

Lake says he always gains tremendous insight from his travels. On one of his most memorable trips, Lake hitched a ride on a United Nations relief program’s single-engine Cessna to the southern part of Sudan for an interview with John Garang, the rebel leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. At the base camp, which was guarded by camouflaged soldiers with machine guns, Lake met Garang for what he expected to be an intense conversation about Sudan’s internal conflict. Says Lake, “He’s talking about the civil war, and then he mentions, ‘I went to Grinnell College and a liberal arts education is one of the best things that ever happened to me.’” Lake, who has a flair for the ironic, quips, “Tell that to [Professor of Philosophy] Dan Lloyd!”

A philosophy major, Lake knows his Trinity education has served him well as a journalist. He names Jerry Watts, Cheryl Greenberg, Maurice Wade, Howard DeLong, Adrienne Fulco, and Jack Chatfield as professors who “gave me a lot of personal attention and encouraged me to think critically about the texts we were reading.”

It was ideal preparation for the kind of analytical processing of information he does now. Lake, who wrote for the Tripod at Trinity, started his journalism career writing for various Washington, D.C., newsletters, covering the Environmental Protection Agency and the Education Department before landing a job as the Washington correspondent for The Forward, the oldest and largest Jewish newspaper in the country. From there, he made the leap to UPI. He hopes to someday write for The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

Lake says that being a journalist, especially for a newswire, requires learning about things very quickly without getting “spun by someone who has an interest in whatever you’re writing about.” He says, “The challenge is to avoid the spin of what any particular side wants you to write about something and to try to write about it objectively.”"

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