Mohamad Bazzi

This former Newsday Middle East bureau chief is a former student of mine who is an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is also an assistant professor at NYU. I came across his keynote 2009 speech at the City University of New York Baccalaureate Commencement exercise while researching the Do Not Remove Any Documents!!! project. He told the assembled students and families and friends great war stories.

But I know of two he didn’t discuss about his experiences as an undergraduate student journalist who was paying his way through college with freelance fees earned at Newsday as well as with journalism scholarship and award money he had won. He often tipped me off so that I could clue other student journalists trying to jumpstart their careers while working their way through Hunter.

[It’s easy to say that he has contributed to the journalism experiences and careers of Hunter students more than many if any of my colleagues in D:F/M.]

All of his war stories – those told at the commencement and the two that I describe below – attest to his remarkable aplomb in the face of adversity.

Here is quick background info before an account of his experiences as an intern at the Washington Post and what I call an encounter with the Courier News in New Jersey. The urban studies program at Hunter was his home base for his CUNY BA studies and he took several news writing classes with me. His Newsday reporting assignments I accepted as collateral for his homework assignments as long as he let me know ahead of time of what to expect. He also has been a guest speaker at Hunter for my classes and for the College. He always kept his eye out for info to pass on to Hunter student journalists.

Regarding his remarkable aplomb in the face of adversity: I recall his internship at the Washington Post one summer. He arrived in D.C. ready to get down to business and immediately faced a major challenge. He didn’t own a car. There were and are news organizations that won’t accept internship applications if candidates don’t own cars. Ironically, Newsday is one (and I don’t recall how Bazzi negotiated that reality). In the past I expressed contempt to various internship representatives about how most of Hunter/CUNY’s talented students don’t own cars, but I never made an issue of it (that, obviously would have been stupid) even though such policies, I believe, are discriminatory against working class.

Obviously, the W-Post selection process didn’t consider it an issue though there were certain attitudes he had to face in the newsroom. He had to travel by taxi to some assignments. Another matter was that no CUNY student in memory had ever been selected by the Washington Post for an internship. QWfE, “CUNY, what is that?” was not an unusual query in that Ivy League milieu where a lot of Harvard alumni and interns can be found.

Anyway, this is how he blew them away. Temperatures in the 90s and 100s had been scorching the city the day he was assigned to the city desk to do a weather story. Stories like that, when a reporter is working the phone from the inside, can involve calling around a city checking on such things as the sale of air conditioning units, ice cream, cold drinks and other assorted trivia. Those would include queries about how the polar bears at the city zoo are holding up to the heat. Reporting for those stories include contacting a National Weather Service meteorologist or a spokesperson.

Bazzi called the city morgue.

Well, actually he called the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Lots of elderly people had died and were dying if they weren’t suffering, he learned. Boom! Front page and a big story for several days. After that coup, there were questions inside that newsroom, like, QMfE, “Are you sure you aren’t from Harvard?”

Anyway, that’s the short version. Here is one about him applying for an internship at the Courier News in New Jersey, a typically prosaic, Jersey newspaper in Bridgewater. On the Internet it’s been squished into one of those evolving Internet amalgams popping up around cyberspace as newspapers, presently dying on the vine, try to hang on for dear life. He sent his impressive portfolio of Newsday clips to the publication and followed up with a phone call and was told that he couldn’t be considered a candidate because he didn’t have any police reporting experience.

Ppoppycock. I was teaching at the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University at the time. I wouldn’t meet Bazzi until a few years later but was writing recommendations for Rutgers journalism students – talented though most were nowhere near Bazzi’s level. None of the students whom I recommended and who were eventually selected for internships at the Courier News had any police reporting experience.

I also knew the editor who would tell Bazzi that he lacked police experience. It’s quite obvious to me why she made that statement. Bazzi years later would shrugged off my explanation about her deceit as he had shrugged off her decision to keep him out of her newsroom.

But I don’t forget such things. There’s too much of that going on.

Need I say more?

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