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Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

PBS Foreign Correspondent Nick Schifrin discusses global conflict and reporting with empathy

Face to Face Speaker Forum hosts Annual Appreciation Event
Evan Harris
Schifrin was invited back to Wake Forest due to popular demand from donors.

PBS Foreign Correspondent Nick Schifrin was a senior at Columbia University when the first of the twin towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. He was managing editor of The Daily Spectator and a history major — though he likes to joke that his professors would say he majored in the newspaper.

The morning of 9/11, Schifrin went from trading an advertising space in the paper for free pizza to hearing and telling stories he would never forget. 

Members of The Daily Spectator’s staff were told not to report on the ground of the attacks due to safety concerns. Instead, the student reporters wrote short vignettes about the experiences of those near the University — including Columbia students and people on the street. According to Schifrin, the most impactful ones included a bartender whose girlfriend was missing and the video game room where students were playing on their computers and consoles while the aftermath of the atrocities raged outside. 

“[I now have] this belief that even [for] the biggest story in the world, the most impactful or most memorable stories can be the smallest,” Schifrin said, who, as a senior in college, didn’t know the breadth of international conflicts he would cover in his career, in which this motto would continue to hold true.

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The Face to Face Speaker Forum hosted its Annual Appreciation Event on April 10, where Schifrin spoke about his perspective on past and current global events — including the Israel-Hamas war and Russia-Ukraine war — as well as the importance of empathy throughout his journalism career. The event was closed to the public, with only Wake Forest donors, the Board of Trustees and certain members of the administration invited.

A returning speaker

According to Sue Henderson, executive director of the Face to Face Speaker Forum, the event was held “in appreciation” of the donors who have made each keynote speaker possible.

“We couldn’t bring any of these speakers, pay for the projection, and all the other operational expenses that go into producing one of our keynote events without these [attendees],” Henderson said. “The people who [were] invited that night are the people that give us money to bring Face to Face to fruition.”

In the 2023-2024 season of the Face to Face Speaker Forum, Wake Forest has hosted Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, Daymond John and Liz Cheney and Jon Meacham. Trevor Noah will be coming to campus on April 30 as the next Face to Face speaker.

[I now have] this belief that even [for] the biggest story in the world, the most impactful or most memorable stories can be the smallest.

— PBS Foreign Correspondent Nick Schifrin

According to both Henderson and Lynn Anthony, chair of the board of advisors, Schifrin was invited back to Wake Forest due to popular demand and because of the relevance of his area of expertise.

Schifrin visited campus in November of 2022 to moderate a Face to Face event with author and reporter Thomas L. Friedman. Along with Schifrin’s accolades — including being one of the first journalists in Abbottabad, Pakistan after Osama bin Laden’s death — that stood out to organizers, his character and insights were most memorable.

“We’ve found that you can have great people on stage, but the moderator is just as important as the person invited to be interviewed,” Anthony said. 

Henderson echoed her sentiments and emphasized that the donors were especially interested in understanding current events from Schifrin’s perspective.

Wake Forest Professor of Journalism Justin Catanoso moderated the event. The discussion began regarding Schifrin’s experience as a student journalist in New York during 9/11, and how it impacted his career path. 

“[Covering 9/11] inspired me to want to do what I have read about in my teenage years, which was to travel to the Middle East and Southeast Asia,” Schifrin said. “[I wanted] to understand, one: how did this happen? Beyond that, [I wanted to] truly try to understand the notions of how someone or something could believe that this is the best way to affect change.”

The Israel-Hamas war

Schifrin was one of a handful of journalists who had the opportunity to enter Gaza during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. Catanoso asked Schifrin if he could relate the latest Israel-Hamas war to his experiences 10 years ago, to which Schifrin had a simple response: no.

“This is nothing anywhere near [2014],” Schifrin said. “It’s really important to understand how much has changed in fundamental ways in multiple ways.”

On Oct. 7, 2023, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack at a music festival and Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip — a Palestinian territory that Israel and Egypt have blockaded for 16 years (Editor’s Note: The Old Gold & Black follows AP Style guidance, which is to refer to Hamas as a militant group). The attacks resulted in the death of roughly 1,200 people and the capture of 240 people. In response, Israel carried out air strikes and sent troops into Gaza. The Gazan Health Ministry says Israel’s offensive, precipitated by Hamas’ attack, has resulted in the death of over 30,000 people.  

Schifrin discussed his views on two main differences between the latest conflict and his 2014 experience: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Nentanyahu’s (‘Bibi’) willingness to sacrifice military personnel and the implications of the possibility of peace before Oct. 7 within the region’s countries.

Netanyahu has been in power for over 16 years, and, according to Schifrin, has always been averse to casualties. In 2014, 74 Israelis were killed in the month-long battle and Netanyahu, focused heavily on how “[his] goal is not to hurt a single individual, not to hurt a single civilian.”

“That’s not a personal decision of Bibi, that is simply the most popular politician for many years in the country not believing that a policy of high casualties would be supported,” Schifrin said, though he now argues that Netanyahu’s attitude has changed.

Secondly, Schifrin discussed a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. In exchange for the United States providing Saudi Arabia with security support and nuclear enrichment, Saudi Arabia would agree to “normalize relations” with Israel — a step forward in progressing toward a two-state solution with Palestine. The discussion of this agreement was, according to Schifrin, scheduled for Oct. 10, three days after the Hamas surprise attack. 

This meeting did not happen. 


Read the Old Gold & Black’s reporting on the Israel-Hamas war here.


On April 4, an Israeli airstrike resulted in the death of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers who were delivering food to Palestinians in Gaza. Among the victims were British and American citizens, causing outrage from not only President Biden but British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as well

Founder of WCK José Andrés said he suspected the Israeli forces targeted the vehicles “systematically, car by car,” despite Israel’s apology. Schifrin agreed with Andrés’ statement and described it as a turning point in the Israel-Hamas war.

“It was kind of shocking how an organization that had told the [Israeli Defense Force] where it was going was struck such that the first car was hit [and] anybody who survived that one ran to the second car. [Then] the second car was hit [and] anybody who survived that one ran to the third car. Then the third car was hit,” Schifrin said.

He continued to emphasize Andrés influence: “[Andrés] has access to the most senior corridors of power in Europe and the United States. When he calls the president, the president answers … which ignited President Biden to say ‘enough.’”

At the same time, according to Schifrin, the deaths gave Netanyahu the opportunity to tell his right-wing coalition to “cut it out,” before they lose the support of the United States. Instead, with a push from President Biden, 468 aid trucks entered Gaza on April 9 — the most since the war started six months ago.

Schifrin acknowledges the possibility of Hamas taking the aid intended for civilian Gazans, but emphasized that these changes are a pivot point regardless. And yet, Iran enters the conflict.

The complexity of Iranian involvement 

Israeli ground forces have pulled out of Southern Gaza, with the U.S. and Israel agreeing that the final four Hamas battalions in Rafa must be defeated — but disagreeing on how. However, as of April 1, an Israeli air strike on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, Syria killed at least 11 people, including a senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). 

Schifrin described this attack as the most senior strike on the IRGC ever and expressed concerns about Iran’s retaliation.

With the unpredictable future of American politics, and the possible return of former President Trump, Schifrin described his sources in NATO with one word: terrified.

What the president said publicly today and what his officials have been saying privately recently is that Iran is about to attack Israel,” Schifrin said. “The concern right now is not only Gaza, and how that goes, but is this about to become a regional war?”

Schifrin and the president were right to be concerned.

This past weekend, Iran fired hundreds of drones and missiles into Israel. According to Schifrin, although Israel has not said how or when they will retaliate, “if” they will is not a question. Simultaneously, Israel has to navigate the underground tunnels in Gaza — which could be anywhere between 350 and 450 miles long — making it an even more difficult fight. 

Russia’s growing war economy

As Catanoso put it, Schifrin has had the “professional responsibility to cover two of the worst wars that have happened in decades” — the other being the Russia-Ukraine war.

Schifrin compared Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approach to the fight to Joseph Stalin, who believed in strength in numbers. But he also called it “cannon fodder” — military personnel who are treated as expendable.

“Hundreds of thousands of Russians have died to achieve not very much gain in terms of territory,” Schifrin said. “But what they have done is they have bled the Ukrainians dry.”

According to Schifrin, Russia is recreating a war economy — flagging the rapidly increasing Russian economy. In 2024, Russia’s defense spending is expected to double.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is struggling to stay afloat, with a “lack of ammunition, a shortage of well-trained troops and dwindling air defenses.” Schifrin highlighted this as a challenge for policymakers.

“[Ukraine] won’t win because they get $60 billion of United States money, they’ll simply not lose,” he said. 

However, although the Senate passed a Supplemental Security Assistance Bill — which has $95.3 billion for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — it hasn’t been as successful in the House of Representatives

With the unpredictable future of American politics, and the possible return of former President Trump, Schifrin described his sources in NATO with one word: terrified.

“NATO only exists because of Article Five, because of the commitment that the United States will be there if Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania is invaded,” Schifrin said. “That doesn’t mean anything beyond that. And if the United States can’t be trusted, then I’m not sure NATO can be trusted.”

I hope when I cried with her, she understood that she was not being exploited. That she was being asked a question by someone who cared to ask it, and someone who cared to listen to the answer.

Reporting with empathy

Schifrin credits a lot of his learning to his time at Columbia, reminiscing on his days as a student journalist in the Upper West Side, which has a rich history of local activism.

“I met people whose stories deserved to be told,” Schifrin said. “It’s where I learned the principles that I would later apply in my career.”

It’s with this mindset that Schifrin has often run toward danger — from ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza to the borders of Syria.

“Presenting yourself as someone who cares and then trying to extract something from that where your readers care, it’s a beautiful thing,” Schifrin said.

Many in the audience appreciated this sentiment, including attendee Emily Shoffner.

“[Schifrin] not only wants to cover a story but he really cares about people,” Shoffner said. “I don’t think you’ll always see that.”

During Schifrin’s reporting in Ukraine, he was at the gravesite of a man who had been killed by Russians when they occupied his town. The Russians thought the man was in the military, so they tortured him and murdered him. Schifrin stood next to the man’s mother — to this day he claims he can still smell the graveyard.

“You have to think, ‘Who am I to ask her anything on what is probably the second worst day of her life, after the day that her son died,’” Schifrin said. “I have to believe that when I ask her a question, my goal is not because I think it’s an adventure or because I think this is an interesting place to be. My goal is to create a dignity for her son that the Russians had stolen.”

He continued: “I hope when I cried with her, she understood that she was not being exploited. That she was being asked a question by someone who cared to ask it, and someone who cared to listen to the answer.”


Print Correction 4/19: In the printed version of this story (Old Gold & Black Print Edition Vol. 110, No. 14), the first sentence contained an error — stating that the attack on the World Trade Center occurred on Sept. 1, 2001, when it was meant to say Sept. 11, 2001. This error has been corrected in the online edition.

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About the Contributor
Shaila Prasad
Shaila Prasad, Deputy Editor
Shaila is a junior from New Delhi, India, and South Florida majoring in economics and minoring in journalism and psychology. Outside of the OGB, you can find her listening to Tyler, the Creator, scrolling through Depop and taking pickleball incredibly seriously. 

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