Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Chivers speaks about award-winning story, covering military conflicts at MTSU

Photo courtesy of the MTSU College of Media and Entertainment

Story by KeWana McCallum / Contributing Writer

Chris Chivers, the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, spoke to students about his experiences covering military conflicts overseas and his award-winning story, “The Fighter,” which he wrote for The New York Times Magazine, in the Student Union Building on Tuesday.

The article features Marine Corps veteran Sam Siatta, who was sent to prison after breaking into a home and assaulting a man. 

Siatta’s case was intriguing to Chivers because Siatta suffered from PTSD, a subject that Chivers had dealt with many times through his extensive coverage of military conflict.

Chivers began the article by setting the scene of that night in April 2014. Siatta, who was drunk at the time, staggered into someone’s home. There were people in the house, including another veteran. Siatta and the other Marine got into an altercation, and Siatta was stabbed several times. Siatta was rushed to the hospital and was later sent to prison.

Chivers’ article not only led to a Pulitzer Prize, but his investigative work led to Siatta’s release from prison. Despite the abundant praise that Chivers received for the article, he said that the Pulitzer did not change the way that he went about his work. 

“Anybody that writes for a prize is a jerk,” Chivers said.

Chivers has reported from conflict zones all over the world, such as the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iran. He has also served as the Moscow Bureau Chief. Chivers joined The New York Times in 1999 and worked with the police bureau in New York City during the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. He frequently covers assignments that involve conflict and human rights in places such as Libya, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iran.

Chivers showed a video he filmed during his time as an embedded reporter in Afghanistan that showed footage of United States Marines in a firefight with Taliban soldiers. There were six Marines pushing the Taliban-occupied area of Marjah using different tactics, such as “hit and runs,” to protect themselves. Chivers was there during the entire conflict, covering it for The New York Times.

“In the moment, it seemed like a significant and perhaps useful report,” Chivers said afterward. “But years later, I’d argue it’s wholly insufficient. It tells you very little whatsoever.”

He explained how that operation was supposed to do away with the opium poppy trade. Opium is a substance with a chemical base that is used in drugs like heroin and morphine. According to the 2016 World Drug Report, people in Afghanistan used 70 percent of the global opium production.

Chivers also discussed the things he had to do to prepare for going overseas and the effects of coming back home after being away for so long. In order to be out on the front line with the soldiers and keep up, he had to train.

“I worked really hard,” Chivers said. “I needed to be able to run and keep up with these guys. Ethically, if you’re in a kill zone or an ambush with people, you can’t become the problem. You need to be able to get out of that just as quickly as they do.”

He explained how you have to not only be physically prepared, but mentally as well.

“(Being physically prepared) was rooted in the mental side, which was trying to insulate yourself from the regret before the regrets came and haunted you,” Chivers said.

Being in a state of mind like that for so long can have a big impact on your life, Chivers said. He explained how he would be overseas for six months and return home, but he would be too focused on leaving again to focus on other things.

Chivers does not plan to go back out overseas anytime soon due to his age and the fact that he now has a family at home.

For more information on Chris Chivers and his Pulitzer win, visit here

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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