Who You Calling ‘Old Media?’

A few months ago I was interviewed by a public relations outfit called the Beekeeper Group. They wanted to know about my journey from “old media” to “new media” through my use of “social media.”

I’m approaching 67,000 subscribers on Facebook and recently passed 2,000 followers on Twitter. I can do better, of course, but considering my college newspaper was produced on a Linotype machine, I’m not complaining.

Check out the buzz at Beekeeper here and please follow me @andreastonez.

Israel Ceasefire, Circa 2006

President Obama has dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from Cambodia to Israel to try to broker a ceasefire that will end the conflict in Gaza. The deepening violence, which comes as the administration is trying to pivot its foreign policy away from the Middle East and toward Asia, recalls a previous crisis in which America’s top diplomat shuttled between the two regions in a precarious balancing act.

In July 2006, I traveled with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she led a high-level U.S. diplomatic mission to end an earlier battle in which Islamic militants fired thousands of rockets over a border into Israel. Today the clash is with Hamas in Gaza, then it was Hezbollah in Lebanon. In each, the conflict quickly escalated with Israel’s superior firepower taking a disproportionate toll on its enemy and the international community demanding an end to hostilities.

Then as now there were questions about how hard the White House would press the warring factions to stop the conflict. Back then, the small traveling press corps secretly choppered from Cyprus into Beirut with Rice to meet with Lebanese leaders. Here is my  audio report from Beirut:

Next we were off to Jerusalem and Ramallah, where Rice huddled with here Israeli and Palestinian counterparts. Here is my audio update from Jerusalem:

Our next stop was Rome for a hastily convened meeting of representatives from 15 nations. The conference failed to end the fighting thanks to foot-dragging by President George W. Bush’s administration, which quietly favored giving Israel more time to pound Hezbollah’s forces before calling a truce. Listen to my audio report on the conference:

From Rome we were off to Malaysia for a previously scheduled forum of Southeast Asia nations. We would cool our heels for two days in Kuala Lumpur while backroom talks continued in the Middle East. Then it was back to Jerusalem once more before we headed home to Washington with a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, where we filed our last trip dispatches.

The UN Security Council would approve a ceasefire two weeks later. How the current crisis will end remains to be seen.

Nancy Pelosi Is Staying

The news this morning that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California will stay on to head the Democratic caucus for another two years ends speculation on Capitol Hill on who will be in charge of the minority party during the upcoming 113th Congress.

Pelosi has already secured her place in history as the first woman to serve as speaker of the House. I was covering Congress in 2006 when it became clear that Democrats would take over the House in a wave election. USA TODAY sent me to Albuquerque, N.M., to interview the future leader, whose schedule was so tight that the way I could get a few minutes was to meet her on the campaign trail. It was worth it though as my profile of the highest ranking woman in U.S. history would later show.

Though Pelosi went on to win the votes of her caucus, her tenure as leader was hardly without bumps or controversy — none more divisive than her pivotal role in pushing through health care reform. Still, as I wrote for AOL News, by the time Republicans took back the House and ousted her as speaker, historians and nonpartisan political observers ranked her among the most effective legislators in history.

Ismail Khan Is Back

This morning’s New York Times offered a blast from the past:

HERAT, Afghanistan —One of the most powerful mujahedeen commanders in Afghanistan, Ismail Khan, is calling on his followers to reorganize and defend the country against the Taliban as Western militaries withdraw, in a public demonstration of faltering confidence in the national government and the Western-built Afghan National Army.

I interviewed Khan for USA TODAY almost exactly 10 years ago, in December 2002.

Herat, Afghanistan – December 2002

Then as now, he was among the most powerful Afghan warlords, ruling the western region of the country near Iran with an iron hand. My interview, arranged by U.S. special forces and held at a government guest house in the middle of the night, remains one of my most memorable interviews I have ever done.

As the mujahedeen commander, who now holds the seemingly benign post of minister of energy and water, reasserts his power as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw by 2014, this article published a decade ago remains valuable in understanding the thinking of a key figure in Afghanistan’s future. As Khan told me, he rejects the label “warlord.” He and other armed regional leaders are ”genuine nationalists,” he said, ”not just people who are carrying guns. We are not gunslingers.” Indeed.

I was unable to find the original post on the USA TODAY website, which only goes back so far. But an English language Afghan news website, e-Ariana, reprinted the entire article. There was just one glitch: it attributed my USA TODAY story to the New York Times. But at least they spelled my name right. Check out “Afghan governor de facto ruler in west “Warlords” like him hold fate of central government.”

Petraeus Scandal Update

After a weekend in which more details about the extramarital affair that ended the storied career of David Petraeus leaked out, I went on HuffPost Live this morning to talk about what we know so far. Watch my conversation with hosts Marc Lamont Hill and Alicia Menendez here.

Covering Yasser Arafat’s Funeral

It was eight years ago today, on Nov. 12, 2004, that I stood in a half-finished building overlooking the Mukata Compound in Ramallah on the West Bank. There I was a witness to history as tens of thousands of grieving Palestinians mourned their national leader, Yasser Arafat. I had arrived in Jerusalem just as preparations for the funeral were underway but nothing could prepare me for the frenzied melee of hysterical mourners, gunfire and overall chaos as the helicopter carrying his coffin kicked up dust and debris as it was enveloped by the mob.

Listen to my live report from the scene as I try mightily to be heard above the din of gunfire:

Honoring World War II Veterans

No article I have written in my long career has gotten as much heart-felt feedback as this 2003 Veterans Day cover story in USA TODAY,  “WWII veterans’ kids keep reunions, memories alive.” The piece was about how my generation of baby boomers began to ask ask questions about what their parents did during World War II.

In my case, the inquiry was prompted by my job as a reporter for USA TODAY when

“I accompanied D-Day veterans to France for the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Dad was already gone a year by then. Yet I had his yellowed Army discharge papers. No unit was listed, but I knew he fixed B-29 bombers on Guam. Eventually, I found the 29th Bomb Group.”

I would eventually attend a reunion of the 29th Bomb Group in Gettysburg, Pa., with my great photojournalist colleague Eileen Blass, also the daughter of a World War II vet and my “partner in crime” in Normandy and other far-flung places. The reunion would turn out to be an amazing experience that would end with an amazing twist having to do with this photo and my bald father’s “thick curly hair.”

Milton Stone with Madolyn II, his B-29 Bomber on Guam

But you’ll have to read about all that here.

And be sure to listen to not only me but other children of World War II veterans and some of the former airmen themselves in this great photo and audio gallery put together by Eileen and called “Dad’s War: Boomers Seek Keys To Unlock WWII’s Past.”

David Petraeus Bombshell

Talk about taking out the trash on Friday!

By now you all have heard that CIA Director David Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, has resigned because of an extramarital affair. As soon as HuffPost Live heard the news, host Mike Sacks summoned myself and a few others to parse what it all means. You can read his resignation letter and watch it here.

The Last World War I Veteran

The nation will observe Veterans Day this weekend without a single American survivor of the First World War alive to mark the occasion. Yet as we approach the 100th anniversary in 2014 of the “war to end all wars,” you will doubtless hear much about Frank Buckles, America’s last doughboy.

I interviewed Buckles on his West Virginia farm in 2007 when is was 106 years old. At the time I featured him in a USA TODAY cover story, he was one of four known surviving veterans of World War I.

Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

Soon after, I was offered a book contract to write about his Zelig-like life, which the publisher wanted in a hurry given Buckles’ advanced age. While the deal fell through, the book proposal eventually fell through, an outline I prepared of his Zelig-like life came in handy when I wrote his obituary for AOL News four years later when he was 110.

One of the first stories I covered for The Huffington Post was Buckles’ military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. In a nod to the new multimedia world we all now live in, I used my iPhone to shoot a clip of the honor guard removing the coffin from the caisson.

Before the funeral, though, I led the reporting on Buckles’ daughter’s insistence that he lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. Having covered President Ronald Reagan’s state funeral, I knew that would be highly unusual given that only 32 national figures had been similarly honored. One of my articles, an exclusive interview with the family of one of the most highly decorated soldiers of WWI, contributed to the decision by congressional leaders to deny the request.

Buckles lives on in the fight over dedicating a national memorial to World War I veterans in Washington. Before he died, his daughter and a Michigan filmmaker wheeled him into a U.S. Senate hearing room to speak in favor of nationalizing a modest monument to District of Columbia residents who fought in the war. But as I reported, local officials — whose constituents died and still die for their country without a vote in Congress — revolted and the monuments backers are now looking to establish their memorial elsewhere on the National Mall.