Telling the Stories behind the Headlines

CNN’s star journalist, Hala Gorani, finds ordinary people extraordinary

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By Raziqueh Hussain

Published: Fri 9 Oct 2009, 9:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:18 AM

She laughs out loud when you ask her to “define” herself. “Well, that’s a difficult question... primarily I am a journalist and reporter for CNN International. I host a variety of shows, the latest being International Desk from Atlanta. Earlier, in Inside the Middle East, I looked at cultural stories, social stories and brought those to the public.

There is a whole world in that region that is not necessarily related to war all the time,” says Gorani, speaking from Atlanta.

As part of her anchoring duties, Gorani has interviewed some of the world’s most influential news makers, including Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, Italian fashion designers Miucca Prada and Donatella Versace, as well as boxing heavyweight Evander Holyfield.

But it is the common man who moves Gorani the most. “The interviews that stay with me are ordinary people who tell me extraordinary things that help me understand an event or a trend,” she says.

One interview that stands out was with an Iraqi man who was the head of the National Public Library. It contained countless documents and objects of national heritage which mapped the history of Iraq and the civilisation in the region.

“He never left the country, though he had all the papers to do so. He wanted to protect his country’s heritage from being destroyed by keeping the place safe. Humanity can sometimes be at its worst, but there are those few people who light up your life with their courage who change you.” Although she’s been in the limelight for a decade, she says it is still an odd feeling. “First of all, I don’t think I have that many fans; secondly, when I am outside of work, I wear glasses and no make-up. If someone recognises me, it’s flattering, but also difficult to deal with,” she says. As an anchor, she is moved by certain events, but has never ‘lost it’ on air. “I’ve never burst into tears as an anchor. Even though you can see the worst kind of tragedy in front of your eyes, you should know how to control your emotions. But once, while working as a reporter, I interviewed a man from Darfur who showed me the only thing he had left: a picture of his family, that’s all he had.

He was crying, I was crying and my producer was crying. Things like that really happen, but you are a bit further removed when you are anchoring since you are not there looking into somebody’s eyes.”

The war in Lebanon in 2006 changed the course of her career. “I was there when the bombs were going off. From the moment it began until the moment it stopped, I worked right through.

The whole atmosphere was so fragile that it changed my perception of life. I saw the worst side of human behaviour then,” she adds.

Having Syrian roots, what does she think is the global preconceived notion of the Middle Eastern woman? “Yes, people do think of the region in a particular way, but it has never affected me.

There were some people who told me they didn’t know restaurants existed here. There are women here who are making waves in their own ways, but not many know about it. Maybe it’s mostly got to do with stereotyping, but that’s nobody’s fault,” she concludes.

International Desk, hosted by Hala Gorani, airs weekdays at 9pm on CNN.

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