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The cost of war: Pulitzer winners discuss how the media tell the story

Hundreds gathered Thursday evening in a Los Angeles theater for a powerful discussion of the suffering and violence of wars — and the role of artists, journalists and the global media in covering the human toll of such conflict.

Held at the wood-paneled Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Hancock Park, the event kicked off a two-day confab featuring panel discussions with seasoned foreign correspondents, bestselling writers such as Sebastian Junger, and intrepid photographers such as Nick Ut of the Associated Press, whose images showed children in flight from a napalm bombing during the Vietnam War.

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The summit features several winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the top award in American journalism, arts and letters, and is one of several events commemorating the 100th awarding of the prestigious prize.

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Kim Murphy, the assistant managing editor for foreign and national news at the Los Angeles Times and the 2005 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, led the discussion with a panel that included novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, Harvard University professor Fredrik Logevall and Junger, a novelist and documentary director.

Threaded through the conversation was the central role of the media in telling the story of war and its costs. Nguyen, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his debut novel “The Sympathizer,” focused on the impact of the media narrative.

“How we tell stories about war shapes our understanding of them, and how we fight future wars,” said Nguyen, later stating that while war necessarily entails encountering people of other nations, those in the U.S. often have an American-centric view of war.

Murphy asked Junger, who chronicled the war in Afghanistan in his documentary film “Restrepo,” why he featured few Afghan people in his film.

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Soldiers, Junger said, rarely interacted with people — so he wanted to make a film that “communicated the experience of American soldiers.”

“War contains narratives — these ancient narratives — of courage, community, selflessness, cowardice and all these ancient things,” Junger said. “And it’s played very smartly in these war movies.”

The summit continues Friday at the Ebell Theatre, starting with a morning panel on war reporting featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning veteran foreign correspondents including Murphy, Times photojournalist Carolyn Cole and David Rohde, the 1996 international reporting winner. 

Later panels focus on migration and veterans, the latter of which includes investigative reporter Dana Priest.

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For more California news, follow me @MattHjourno. E-mail me at matt.hamilton@latimes.com.


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