Some of you asked to know more about the “Throwback Thursday” photo of my CNN press pass (pictured above). Although my two-week stint with CNN seemed a mere blip on the screen, it completely changed my life.
After graduate school, I moved to Singapore as a newly-wed in January 1994. The following spring my husband’s job transferred to Beijing. I joined him there after a brief vacation to visit my family in the U.S. I arrived in China that April inexplicably obsessed with the O.J. Simpson trial, having read an old People Magazine on the return flight. How had I not heard about the sensational trial and all of the hoopla surrounding it?
Rather than settling in smoothly as I had always done before, I felt isolated and wrestled with my sense of self. Very quickly, I became depressed. My journals from this time show how CNN became a symptom of my depression and, incredibly, the cure of it, just three months later.
(Above: One of my journals open an entry about my work with CNN in Beijing in 1995.)
A journal entry from June 8, 1995 is below:
It’s so lame that I have all of this free time right now, yet I can’t seem to get myself to do anything with it. For someone with so many dreams and ‘goals,’ it’s bizarre that I am completely incapable of following through with even just one of them. I sent that fax to CNN, but I’m sure in my mind that they won’t call. I know I need to get fluent in Chinese, yet I stay at home all day and don’t even try to read the local papers or listen to the local newscasts. It’s pathetic. I mean, look at all these seemingly pathetic characters who appear as guests on Donahue, Oprah, etc. Half of them got their shit together long enough to write a book. I’ll be turning 27 and I don’t have a real focus…I’m into this TV journalism thing, yet I doubt anyone would hire me.
Perhaps, lame to say, watching Larry King Live’s 10th Anniversary Special was beneficial, because I learned that many famous and talented people also lack confidence and are still fearful to face the camera and audiences that idolize them. On Larry King, I’m embarrassed to admit how wonderful it really is to watch his live interviews….I also seem to have developed something of a crush on Barry Scheck, O. J. Simpson’s attorney for DNA issues.
Completely unmotivated to do anything else, I watched endless coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial on CNN International in our apartment, while my husband traveled for work. Who knows how far downhill I would have gone had CNN not responded to my fax? Luckily, CNN called me, and it became the catalyst for a remarkable change in my life.
The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing for two weeks in September 1995. CNN devoted significant coverage to it, because then First Lady Hillary Clinton was attending, despite very loud calls for a boycott due to Chinese human rights violations. At the conference, Clinton took the government to task for its treatment of young girls and made the iconic statement “that human rights are women’s rights — and women’s rights are human rights.” (The full text of her speech is here and a video here.)
CNN temporarily augmented the local bureau with network heavyweights Judy Woodruff, Larry Register, and Richard Roth, and a handful of locals, including me. My job was to watch, read, and summarize Chinese media coverage of the conference, so that the CNN team could keep its pulse on the extent of Beijing’s censorship. At first, it simply got me out of the apartment. It didn’t take long, however, for that walk down the hallway to become a walk out of my depressive state. As I wrote on September 18th, 1995:
Last Friday was my last day at CNN, but it was incredible!! Most notably, Judy Woodruff and Larry Register gave me quite a lot of responsibility by allowing me to single-handedly select three short clips of young people giving their impressions of the Conference…
I will never forget the interview with an eleven-year-old Nigerian girl…Her speech was slow, and deliberate – she chose words carefully and spoke with intelligence about the government having to listen to the voices of the people. She said that the platform (the Beijing Women’s Conference) could help bring the voice to the government – but that people must be heard for it to make a difference.
Larry thought it was too harsh…But Judy Woodruff liked it – so it was in. I had no idea that they would close the series with 28 seconds of clips chosen single-handedly by me!!
My work at CNN was quickly followed by a few job offers, including the one I accepted as the China Marketing Manager for an American automotive company. That I had never heard of the field of “marketing” didn’t prevent me from acing my interviews and getting the offer that led to a long and successful marketing career. I remember a question the HR director asked at the end of my first interview: “The women’s conference is coming to Beijing very soon. Have you thought about taking part in some way?”
“Oh, yes. I cannot start with your company until after it’s over. I’ll be working for CNN during the conference,” I replied. I’ll never forget the look on his face.