Reporter’s Notebook: A great Fox News cameraman says goodbye
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They are images that helped make Fox News a presence abroad, when the channel was getting started back home.
Days after Sept. 11, 2001, pioneering “video phone” transmissions from Pakistan. A few months later, a look inside the caves where Usama bin Laden and his terrorist gang held out. And then, with the first rank-and-file U.S. troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan.
When the War on Terror reached Iraq, there were strong shots of burning cars, ugly casualties, gunfire ripping, all from the “tip of the spear” of the military’s “Thunder Run” into Baghdad.
And, as the Mideast cauldron roiled: Unrest in Gaza, upheaval in West Bank, missiles flying across Israeli borders.
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The man behind those shots and many more is U.K.-born, Australia-raised and trained, retiring Fox News cameraman Mal James.
With Fox News from its early days, he worked first in Hong Kong, then Jerusalem and finally in London. He is one of the finest photographers around, as well as a great journalist and good friend.
We first worked together over 20 years ago in the ethnic battlefield of Kosovo in Europe’s Balkan region. Our next trip took us to Afghanistan, the last time the Taliban was running things. And then, sealing our partnership: a visit to civil war-wracked southern Sudan.
Mal had a knack of knowing where to turn. Whether it was getting up at dawn to catch a glimpse of North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un, or slipping by a guard to get an inside look at the horror of the U.S. consulate in terror-torn Benghazi, Libya. Or, finding his way through treacherous checkpoints in eastern Ukraine, the first time Russia targeted the region in 2014.
All the while, he helped portray the injured, the hungry, the desperate.
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Mal James got the shot, no matter what – but don’t take my word from it. Ask Steve Harrigan when they were literally “on the run” in troubled ex-Soviet Union Georgia. Or Jennifer Griffin amid the horrors of the tsunami in Thailand. Jonathan Hunt on the politically nasty streets of Hong Kong. And Benjamin Hall, hard on the trail of ISIS terrorists in Syria.
Mal was a concise shooter. He “edited in the camera.” And when he’d have to edit on a deck, he was one of the quickest around, always keeping up with the latest turn of fast-changing digital technology.
He was a purist when it came to images. Forget about the bells and whistles, it was the shot that mattered, the truth.
Mal also knew what it took to get the shot “out.” That is, he made sure the live transmission worked and the images were sent back to Fox News headquarters, no matter what the conditions or location. For Mal, if no one saw what you did, you didn’t do it.
(He did joke that his future autobiography would be entitled, “Rooftops and Parking Lots I Have Known,” a reference to the locations he’d have to seek to establish a live shot.)
Mal didn’t have much patience for press officers whose job seemed to be to thwart press coverage, or public officials who liked to keep things private.
Still, it wasn’t all nasty stuff for Mal. While we never got to cover the Chelsea flower show in London (one of our tongue-in-cheek dreams), there were features on everything from royalty, to life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, to a long-ago solo trip to a Thai island, the scene of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, “The Beach.”
He loves his family, his kids, his dog, his beloved “footie” (soccer for us Yanks) and every episode of “The Sopranos.”
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When all is said and done, Mal was good at getting bad stuff on the air, from war to terror to famine to street brawls. We’re all better informed because of it.
Have a great next chapter!