Lauren Addario is a funny, self-effacing artist; the cultural technology coordinator for New Mexico Highlands University’s media arts department—and the older sister of Lynsey Addario, a New York Times photojournalist captured, abused and released by forces loyal to Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya last month.
SFR: Describe your relationship with Lynsey.
LA: I’m the oldest of four girls. I remember each one of my sisters being a baby…but Lynsey was a little bit different because I was 7 when my mom was pregnant with her. I definitely felt a sense of closeness to her and care for her in a very different way. Being an older sister, you’re always cognizant of the fact that you’re setting some sort of example or have some sort of responsibility but, for Lynsey in particular, I felt a very strong bond.
Was it hard for you to accept her career choice as a war correspondent?
No, it wasn’t. People need to do what they are called to do, what they feel is important to have a meaningful life, and she clearly felt that this is what she wanted and needed to do.
What was it like for you when she was detained?
We first found out through an email from my brother-in-law. She had been kidnapped before, in Iraq in 2003. I didn’t necessarily think that she was detained. I thought, ‘Well, Libya is such a volatile place right now; maybe she just can’t get in touch with us.’ At first, I didn’t really have a sense of urgency about it. Then, of course, as the hours went by and there was no word, I started to feel this kind of swelling sense of fear and terror that something might be really, really, awfully wrong.
There was, of course, nothing you could do but wait.
It’s very interesting how you cling to routine in a way that’s almost completely not practical. You know, like, ‘I will make a cup of coffee, even if I don’t drink it. I will make breakfast, even if I don’t eat it.’
Within a few days, though, you learned she was alive.
Again, it was an evolving situation. We had gotten a phone call from my sister that they were in Tripoli and they were in a safe house—they were basically under house arrest. But then the next set of questions is, ‘What had she been going through during the three days when she was missing?’ And we all went there almost immediately: ‘Yes, we’re happy she’s alive, but what has she experienced?’
Her experience contributed to a national conversation about whether women should cover war.
I want to know what the undercurrent of that question really is—‘Why aren’t you in the kitchen having babies?’ Why address this question to her and not to her male colleagues? She has repeatedly said, ‘Look, I was groped—but my male colleagues were hit in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle.’ [New York Times photographer] Tyler [Hicks] was threatened with getting decapitated. Lynsey was groped and repeatedly told that she was going to be killed. How do you quantify which is worse? I don’t think you can. When people react and say that [CBS News correspondent] Lara Logan and my sister and any other female war correspondent shouldn’t pay attention to what they feel is important because of their gender, I have a really hard time with that.
Lynsey has covered conflicts from Darfur to Afghanistan. Why is the conversation about endangered journalists happening only now?
I think the level of civilian casualties in Libya has elevated the dialogue—the fact that Qaddafi is indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of his civilians. I also think the Libyan conflict is really unscripted. The front line keeps shifting, and it’s an extremely unpredictable situation. Perhaps all war is unpredictable, but the Libyan conflict embodies a sense of complete chaos.
What change would you hope to see come out of this conflict?
I think I’d like to see more respect for journalists and what journalists do—the fact that, if they’re not out there telling the story, then we’re no better off than being under the rule of a dictator or a despot that controls the information we get.