Washington Post photographer Michel du Cille covered Ebola crisis in Liberia in September, has completed 21 day self quarantine, shown no symptoms, and accompanied head of CDC yesterday to Congressional hearings
Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications disinvites respected journalist from journalism conference
October 17, 2014
Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille was disinvited from being a featured speaker at a journalism conference put on by the Syracuse University School of Journalism yesterday because of alarmist fears by senior university officials that his recent coverage of the Ebola crisis in Liberia meant he could infect the upstate New York state university community.
du Cille returned from Liberia 22 days ago and self quarantined himself for the maximum period recommended by the U.S. Center for Disease Control, and has exhibited no symptoms whatsoever.
He was contacted Wednesday by Syracuse University officials and told not to come to campus where he was scheduled to participate in a journalism program.
du Cille said in an interview that he was invited to a journalism school workshop “last summer”, prior to him going on a 12 day assignment to Liberia in September, and “there was no question” that he was disinvited because of his trip to Liberia.
“I just got off the phone with the Dean [Lorraine Branham], and I am pissed off,” du Cille told News Photographer magazine on Thursday, who broke the story. The full story can be seen at https://nppa.org/news/syracuse-disinvites-washpost-pulitzer-photographer-due-ebola-fears.
“I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria,” du cille told the magazine, which is the official publication of the National Press Photographers Association.
Du Cille had been invited by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications “Fall Workshop” to share his extensive knowledge of 30 years of news photojournalism with students. Du cille’s wife, Nikki Kahn, also a Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post photo journalist, was also disinvited and both were told they were not welcome on the university campus.
The Fall Workshop director and Newhouse journalism professor Bruce Strong Thursday confirmed to News Photographer Magazine that the photographers had been disinvited and told they were not welcome on the campus of the well known journalism school.
“It was really out of our hands,” Strong said. “The decision came from the Provost of the university [and University Vice Chancellor Eric F. Spina].”
“He was disinvited because of concerns that were generated by some students that led me to believe that it would lead to even more concerns,” Syracuse University Dean of Students Lorraine Branham said. “So it was in the best interest of the students for me to withdraw the invitation.”
Ironically, du Cille had spent Wednesday with Center for Disease Control director Dr. Thomas Frieden at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent Thursday photographing Frieden testifying before Congress on the Ebola crisis in Washington.
Syracuse University Dean of Students Branham told New Photographer that she knew du Cille had spent the last days with the CDC director and had successfully completed a 21 day self quarantine during when he showed no symptoms.
“But even knowing that, it’s my responsibility to protect the students…. I knew that parents would be upset. And at the end of the day my concern is about the students,” Branham said.
Branham said she told du Cille today she wanted him to come to Syracuse “in the future” to speak to students about “irrational fears and making bad decisions” regarding the Ebola crisis.
“We have not yet decided whether we will attend,” du Cille said in a telephone interview Friday.
“I know Michel considers my decision a bad decision. But we can have that discussion in the future with a larger group of students from the entire university, not just a smaller group at the workshop.”
News Photographer Magazine reported that another similar incident happened at the Grady College of Journalism of the University of Georgia where an event featuring Liberian journalist Wade C.L. Williams was scheduled was cancelled after its announcement was met by local complaints.
In an interview with du Cille in early October, when he was under self quarantine by the this reporter, he spoke of the experience of covering the Ebola story.
“I wouldn’t call it apocalyptic, but it is hellified. The rules are don’t touch anything. Don’t shake anyone’s hands. So if the person falls on the ground, no one can touch them or help them. That touch becomes dangerous. So that person will probably die where they fell and they are laying on the street. We would see day after day someone lying on the ground dead for hours, sometimes for days. That is the reason why everyone calls it apocalyptic,” du Cille said about his 12 days assignment in Liberia covering the Ebola crisis which ended on September 23.
“I like to give people dignity in my photographs. I have to find a way to give people dignity. But I found it extremely hard to give people dignity in Liberia last week. How do you give dignity to a woman who is laying dead in front of the hospital and no one comes and picks her up? Here is a dead person and here is life going on–something creatively digestible that my editors would publish. It is the rainy season in Liberia. You don’t have that contrast of light and dark that allows you to give a sense of hope–there is a void of the use of light. I found it very hard to give dignity and present the true scenario that is almost apocalyptic in Liberia. It was very hard, a challenge,” said the Washington Post’s Michelle du Cille.
Michel du Cille worked alongside Mukpo Ashoka while in Liberia. “It was one of the most challenging assignments I have ever had and it was my eighth trip to the continent. Up to the time I left, things were getting worse each day.”
“When I heard Ashoka was infected, it was a jarring experience for me. We would see each other every night. The rules are: don’t touch anything. No hand shakes,” said du Cille. “Ashoka was extra careful. When I ran into him, because we were brand new, he would give us advice. He was coaching us. I was surprised he became infected.”
Du cille related a story of Ashoka admonishing him for entering a hospital ward for Ebola patients. “He said ‘What? You did what?’ But I was suited up. I took all the precautions.”
Ashoka was referring to when photographer Du cille visited Redemption hospital. Du cille entered the Ebola medical clinic wards to take photographs–something that many journalists have refused to do out of fear of infection.
“I went in there and, man, that place was somewhere out of another century. Workers would come there with spray bottles of bleach and spray everything and everyone down. There were two rows of beds in this ward. There was a dead person outside the front door. There was another dead person on the floor between the front door and the ward,” said Du cille. “People were afraid to even cover the dead on the street. People would fall and die and lay there for days.”
du Cille, a widely respected veteran photographer for 30 years was particularly disconcerted that a journalism school training young journalists on covering news in crisis zones were sending such an ironic message to future photojournalists. He said on Friday his wife and he “were going to go off the grid for the weekend” on the heels of 12 days covering Ebola in Liberia, 21 days of self quarantine afterwards, and then being disinvited by a respected journalism school because of fears of infection, despite having no basis in scientific or governmental guidelines.