War Correspondent Gina Chon Defends Herself: "I've Never Felt So Vulnerable"
In an heartfelt email to friends, former Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon defends herself, and her husband, Brett McGurk, after their private emails leak. McGurk is the nominee to be next ambassador to Iraq.
After enduring a devastating week of attacks against her professional reputation meant to derail her husband's nomination to become the next ambassador to Iraq, former Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon sent an email to friends and supporters today defending their relationship.
The email, obtained by BuzzFeed, opens with the veteran war correspondent thanking her friends for their support in recent days.
Then she writes: "I also want to take a moment to correct what you may have heard or read about Brett and me, especially because you know us well – and that we are not who we are being misrepresented to be."
Chon goes on to detail how McGurk never gave her classified information, and that some of the emails have been completely misinterpreted.
"In reality, he was joking about his ability to take me to the embassy cafeteria, where the ice cream sundae bar was one of the few treats for non-embassy employees in Baghdad," she writes about one email that was reported as him taking her to a high level meeting.
Chon writes that she feels like "collateral damage" in the nomination process.
In the email, Chon defends her relationship with McGurk as well, saying they had fallen in love during what was one of the most violent periods of the war.
"But underneath the half-truths and outright lies is a fairly simple tale of two people who met in Baghdad, fell in love, got engaged and later married," she writes. "In the process we formed a strong connection with Iraq, a place where we lost many friends."
However, she also admits to making "mistakes" four years ago.
"I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility. People were hurt along the way and for that, I am truly sorry," she writes. "I made stupid mistakes four years ago in Iraq while working for the Wall Street Journal and for that, I’m also sorry. I had to leave my job at a news organization I love and for that, I am heartbroken."
McGurk, Obama's nominee for ambassador to Iraq, has faced intense scrutiny in recent days over emails he exchanged with Chon while serving as a diplomat in Baghdad in 2008.
Chon, who covered Iraq at the time for the Wall Street Journal, agreed to resign from the Journal this week.
She covered Baghdad for the Wall Street Journal for over two years during some of the most dangerous and most deadly times in that conflict.
Chon is well respected and admired among the Baghdad press corp--a relatively small and tight knit group of journalists who were based in Iraq during the conflict.
Her colleagues who spent time with her in Baghdad have been horrified at the public criticism she's been subjected to.
"I just feel so bad for her," one correspondent at a rival newspaper tells BuzzFeed. "She does not deserve this."
Although McGurk's nomination appeared to be in jeopardy, the 39 year old received a much needed public endorsement from three former ambassadors to Baghdad this week, including from Ryan Crocker, the most highly respected diplomat currently serving in the State Department.
The full email is below:
from: Gina Chon
date: Fri, Jun 15, 2012 at 1:02 PM
subject: Thank you
Thank you for the many kind notes, emails and calls you have shared over these trying days. I appreciate the support. I also want to take a moment to correct what you may have heard or read about Brett and me, especially because you know us well – and that we are not who we are being misrepresented to be.
As many of you know, I’ve been shot at, survived rocket attacks, and lived through a truck bomb explosion that killed more than 150 Iraqis. In Haiti, there were a few times I thought I would be crushed under a pile of rubble.
But I’ve never felt so vulnerable, so targeted and so exposed as I have in the last two weeks.
On Tuesday, I resigned from the Wall Street Journal in the aftermath of leaked emails from 2008 between me and Brett, who as you know is the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
I feel like I have become collateral damage in this process. And, after witnessing all I have, I’m amazed that anyone would want to become a public official.
Many of Brett’s colleagues have already made the move to the private sector, using their connections from Iraq to make a lot of money as consultants to oil companies and other firms.
But Brett always turned to public service and went back to Iraq every time he was called. Even now when people are saying horrible things about me and him, he still wants to serve. We’ve both had to tell our crying moms not to look at the news.
I’ve seen the ugliness in human beings in war zones and natural disasters but I’ve never seen it up close and personal in the comfort of the U.S. The venom of Washington politics makes Wall Street, which I covered for the last two years, look like a playground.
But underneath the half-truths and outright lies is a fairly simple tale of two people who met in Baghdad, fell in love, got engaged and later married. In the process we formed a strong connection with Iraq, a place where we lost many friends.
I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility. People were hurt along the way and for that, I am truly sorry. I made stupid mistakes four years ago in Iraq while working for the Wall Street Journal and for that, I’m also sorry. I had to leave my job at a news organization I love and for that, I am heartbroken.
I want you to know, though, that while I worked in Iraq for the paper, Brett never gave me sensitive or classified information nor did he trade his knowledge for my affection. We were both dedicated professionals too committed to our jobs and had too much respect for each other to do anything like that. And as individuals, it's simply not who we are or how we approach our work. Nor did he need to. He was authorized to speak on occasion on background with journalists and did so with me, the Washington Post, the New York Times and other news outlets.
Our emails, which were exposed just before Brett’s confirmation hearing, reflected flirtatious banter and nothing more. I have to wonder, do people really think I get my stories by asking sources if I can hide in their briefcase?
Brett talking about having “pull” to get me in somewhere has been magically reincarnated as him taking me to a high level meeting. In reality, he was joking about his ability to take me to the embassy cafeteria, where the ice cream sundae bar was one of the few treats for non-embassy employees in Baghdad.
I never thought those emails would come back to hurt us and become so twisted and perverted by others that they became unrecognizable even to me.
Fast forward to Tuesday, June 5, when a disgruntled State Department employee began pitching a flickr web site to some blogs and news outlets.
The image on that site showed a print out of emails between me and Brett – copies someone had kept all this time, waiting for the right moment to unleash them.
And that’s exactly what happened the day before Brett’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The emails didn’t really catch fire and the hearing came and went without any questions about them, even though Brett was prepared to address them. Later that day, I received an email from someone named “Brett McGurk.” It read “I am missing you so bad right now….how is your day going?” The real Brett was sitting next to me in a cab. I guess the impersonator wanted me to write them back so he or she could post those emails, too.
Since then, people have jumped to unfair and inaccurate conclusions using our own words against us. Yet, nobody knows what we meant, what was in our heads, or in our hearts, better than we do.
The question I continue to have is when will the conversation return to issues? Because when they do, I know Brett will become the next ambassador to Iraq. So I am getting up each day, hoping that my belief in the good and fairness in people is proven true. And I remain as hopeful that the man I love gets to serve the country he loves, as I do confident that he would do so with honor. And most of all, that our finding love with each other does not imperil his chance to serve.
Thanks again for all your support.