This Burning Land: Fishbowl5 With NPR’s Greg Myre

NPR “Morning Edition” Editor Greg Myre is first to admit, with laughter, that writing a book with his wife, FNC’s Pentagon Correspondent Jennifer Griffin, wasn’t without conflict. Together they’ve written the newly released This Burning Land, which chronicles their years living in war zones covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The book was his idea. But she went along with it. So much so that the couple spent portions of her Friday chemo appointments to cure her breast cancer putting the tome together. He’s not entirely kidding about the conflict that arose. In the book you’ll see her writing in italics to offer his and her takes on what they witnessed.

The couple was busy last week promoting the book — on Monday evening there was a private event at the home of former U.S. Rep. to the U.N. Esther Coopersmith to honor Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). On Wednesday they did a public book signing at the The Middle East Institute.

The book officially released on March 27. The couple moved from Jerusalem to Washington in 2007. “It was almost four years ago when we started working on it and it has has been in progress ever since,” Myre said. “My wife had breast cancer. We had another kid. That slowed us down a little bit.”

We caught up with Myre for more details.

1. Who came up with the idea of writing it together? It was really my idea. We were in Jerusalem, that was our fifth foreign posting. We had been in Jerusalem over seven years. We were really into the Israeli-Palestinian story. In previous postings, we’d never been able to move both our jobs together. Jennifer got a very good offer to be the Fox News Pentagon correspondent and I resigned from my job at the NYT. I came here and had a bit of a break.

2. Was it difficult making the decision to leave NYT as a foreign correspondent and move to Washington? Yeah, yeah, obviously I was well aware of the situation in the newspaper industry. Every time we had moved, it was always hard for the person who had to quit, but something always worked out better. Yeah, I was reluctant, sure.

Fox News beat the NYT. [Laughter] We always knew these things would work out from past experience. I came here and began writing the book before I had a contract. Took a little longer than I anticipated. Quite frankly I wasn’t looking too hard when I first got here. We were living in my mother-in-law’s basement because we were renovating the house. I brought the kids to school everyday and picked them up.

3. When you were traveling and living in war zones, how much did you two work together on stories, share sources, information and so forth? Entirely. You’re husband and wife. You’re used to sharing everything. We couldn’t help but share. It was never a problem. It was totally beneficial to both of us. Jennifer might be down in the Gaza strip and I might be talking in the Palestinians or in Tel Aviv talking to the Israeli military. Obviously it was informal. Maybe in a couple instances, I had to say, ‘This story is going to be in the paper tomorrow morning so you can’t use it on Fox News tonight.’ That was very, very rare. Obviously we wouldn’t steal each other scoops.

Find out about the competition between them…

4. Are you two competitive? Competitive, but not so much with each other. In Jerusalem in particular you had a lot of American journalists, everyone talking to the same people and people were filing stories everyday. When you’re in that environment, it was much to your advantage to share than conceal information. It’s a little different overseas. When you’re out there, you feel real camaraderie with other journalists. Here in Washington, I think there is a greater sense of competition. If you’re in Gaza and you’re trying to figure out what happened, you need all the help you get.

5. What do you make of the difference between reaction to Fox News and NYT? We felt we did need to address it in the book. When we would go to a dinner party we would get very different reactions. Both Israelis and Palestinians followed media very closely and were very familiar with the NYT and with Fox. We would go to a party and immediately when we walked in we knew. Immediately they would gush over Jennifer and look at me like I had two heads or vice versa. We would be out covering the exact same news. Jennifer tended to get these really nice love letters saying, “You’re doing brave work.” People were often hoping I would get caught in the crossfire. At the NYT in general we’d get a lot of criticism from Jewish Americans, which I don’t think was a fair criticism. Jennifer would hear from diehard Fox viewers who thought she was brave and courageous. I defy you or anyone to try to find evidence of bias. Put them side by side. It would be amazing at the end of the day, after we’d already done our stories, totally independent of each other, we’d find that we called the same people, gone to the same places.

BONUS Q: What can you tell us about the disputes during the writing of the book?

Oh yeah, lots, everyday. It was my idea to write it at first. I had to lobby Jennifer a little bit to get her on board. I can’t really write this without talking about how we were both doing this. She was a little hesitant. It took us awhile to figure out the format. Both of our voices are in there. When Jennifer got her diagnosis in Sept. 2009 and we were not quite finished with the book. Literally we wrote many of the revised during her chemo sessions. During her 17 rounds of chemo, four five six hours sitting in a La-Z-Boy chair in the oncology clinic, we had nowhere to go and nothing to do. I just brought my laptop and stayed far enough away so she couldn’t kick me. We shaped our notes. She talked to me and dictated.