Suzanne Kianpour: Thoughts on Politics and Public Service
What was one moment that shaped your understanding of politics and public service?
SUZANNE KIANPOUR: In 2014 I was based in the BBC bureau in Beirut, Lebanon - traveling around and covering the Middle East region. When we first heard word from our contacts on the ground in Northern Iraq of the horror happening on Mt Sinjar in Kurdistan, our team flew there as soon as possible. The Yezidi people were being massacred by ISIS. I'll never forget the swarms of newly orphaned children, yet also their resilience, their defiance. One of them told me “I’m not scared of Da'esh" (that’s what they called ISIS.) She was maybe 6 years old, big green eyes.
We worked non-stop, cranking out reports, broadcasting it around the world through various BBC outlets. Then, the US-led airstrikes against ISIS began.
When I moved back to Washington, a US official who was in the Situation Room as President Obama was weighing whether or not to take action told me he watched those very reports we were sending out.
That is the meaning of public service, giving a voice to the voiceless – shining a spotlight on events and issues that need attention from those with the power to do something about it and create change.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in going into politics and public service?
“Going into politics and public service” sounds prestigious, but it’s not always so glamorous and it doesn’t always pay like some jobs in other fields. If you want to enter this world, make sure you’re truly passionate about it, that you’re willing to do ALL the grunt work required, including sacrificing sleep, fun times with friends and family and sometimes missing milestone moments in life. Think about what drives you – if it is money and power, perhaps think carefully about whether or not this field is for you. It’s not that there isn’t financial benefit and influence to be had; it’s just that it often can take quite a bit of time to get there. If you want to make the world a better place and “leave a dent in the universe” as the late Steve Jobs said, then please, take the plunge!
Contrary to the narrative we’ve heard at times from the Trump White House, journalism is a public service. It’s also a super competitive industry. I graduated undergrad during the worst economic climate in the US since the Great Depression. I was told I’d never get a job in journalism. Two weeks after completing a political journalism program at Georgetown (which thankfully allowed me to continue to intern and look for a job) I landed a newspaper gig covering defence contracting. I knew nothing about defence contracting at the time. As I walked out the door having just accepted the job, NBC called with an offer. The job was to deliver mail to the journalists I aspired to be like: Andrea Mitchell, Savannah Guthrie, etc. It paid peanuts and my family thought I’d lost my mind, but it got my foot in the door. I took it, recommended a college friend for the position that I’d just accepted and then promptly left, and within a matter of months I was working as a desk assistant at NBC News, a role that included assignments like covering President Obama’s events, pool duty at the White House, covering protests in the field during the Arab Spring and writing and reporting, filing for all NBC outlets.
Life’s a series of leaps of faith.
Suzanne Kianpour is a GU Politics Fall 2018 Fellow and a Foreign Affairs & Political Journalist at BBC News