March 22, 2010 — Updated 1639 GMT (0039 HKT)
- Longtime CNN photojournalist dies of cancer at 59, after surviving wars
- Shot in Sarajevo, she lived and went back to conflict zone as soon as she could
- Moth was one of the first camerawomen to cover international news
Editor’s note: CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth, who died of cancer Sunday in Rochester, Minnesota, was renowned for her gutsiness, striking appearance, distinctive humor and sense of fun. Barely surviving a sniper’s bullet in Sarajevo in 1992, she battled back to continue working around the world, impressing all with her determination and attitude. Here, several of her colleagues at CNN pay tribute.
The best of CNN
By Ben Wedeman, CNN’s Senior International Correspondent based in Cairo
I met Margaret Moth in Baghdad in September 1996 when I was a relative newcomer to CNN, working as a producer in Amman, Jordan. I had heard plenty about the legendary Margaret, that she had been wounded by a sniper in Sarajevo, that she always wore black, that she didn’t suffer fools easily.
But I soon discovered that Margaret was not such a scary character. She was soft-spoken, hard-working, but very unassuming despite her formidable reputation. She didn’t hang around the office, she didn’t spend her evenings in the hotel workspace drinking and bullshitting. She was a very private person, but that didn’t mean she was unfriendly or antisocial.
When she wasn’t working, I discovered that Margaret liked to sit in her room, read and play Go, a Chinese strategy game with black and white pieces. After teaching me how to play, Margaret and I would spend hours playing the game (she always won). She would puff away on cheap cigars all the while, her black hair wreathed in a thick could of acrid smoke. Other than Go and cigars, her other weakness was the cringingly sweet Iraqi ice cream. Almost every shoot either began or ended with a visit to one of Baghdad’s ice cream parlors.
Video: ‘Larger than life character’
Video: ‘Wanted to come back and work’
After Baghdad, I met up with Margaret in Gaza at the tail end of another bout of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. Margaret and I divided Gaza with another CNN crew, alternating each day between the northern and southern end of the Strip. The story was cooling down, there was less news by the day, so every afternoon, when it was clear there was nothing to be done, we would enter the settlement of Gush Katif and head for a shack on the beach, one of the few places in Gaza where you could find beer. I can now reveal, in Margaret’s honor, that we spent some very pleasant afternoons sipping beer and enjoying the view. We dared not tell Beirut correspondent Brent Sadler that every day’s assignment involved such a pleasant side trip.
Margaret also joined me on a trying assignment covering the civil war in Sierra Leone. I worked mostly with Cairo camerawoman Mary Rogers, but at the end of each day, I could find Margaret by the murky, algae-filled pool of the Solar Hotel (definitely not a five-star establishment, by the way), nursing a beer, smoking more of those awful cigars.
A few years later, I was paired with Margaret again, covering the second Palestinian intifada. Waiting to pass through the Kalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem in our armored car, we were approached by a young Palestinian street urchin selling little cloth hand puppets in the shape of a duck, which when squeezed, stuck our a plastic tongue, making an annoying squeak. Margaret insisted on buying one and dubbed it “Yaani,” an Arabic word that means “it means.” For years afterward, Yaani collected dust in the Jerusalem bureau armored car.
Margaret represented the best of CNN. Modest, yet confident, skeptical of bluster and ego, utterly dedicated to her job. She had no tolerance for the “news star” syndrome that often afflicts reporters these days. She kept all of us with our feet firmly planted on terra firma.
On one occasion in Saddam Hussein-era Baghdad, Margaret and I went to a mosque for Friday prayers. Women, one of the mosque-goers told me, were not allowed in. Reluctantly, Margaret gave me the camera. As I went inside, I looked back and saw that Margaret was most unhappy, as if I had taken her only child. It was the only time I ever saw her frown. When, after about an hour, I came back, she grabbed the camera, embracing it affectionately. Later, she reassured me, the pictures were crap and I had no business touching a camera. Years afterward, she would remind me of the event as if it was the only black spot in our working relationship.
Wherever you are now, Margaret, I know you’ve been permanently reunited with your cursed “lead parrot.”
Carry on, comrade!
A law and a life unto herself
By Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent
Margaret was a law and a life unto herself. Before I actually worked with her, I was quite intimidated by the idea of Margaret MOTH! The woman who had changed her name to that of a small plane, who even leapt out of them! The woman who wore black clothes and heavy black eye makeup, who was goth before it was cool. The woman, who I discovered under siege in Sarajevo, wore her heavy black boots to bed, just so she could be ready if the shelling started.
Bosnia, summer 1992, was my first assignment with Margaret, the latest in a string of distinguished women who changed my life on and off the road. She was wonderful, funny, hardworking, brave, tireless and fiercely private.
After a few weeks there, I had taken a break. I think it was July 14, I remember leaving her at the Sarajevo airport shooting a Bastille Day celebration day for the French UNPROFOR troops. I got on a plane to see my family. She didn’t want to take a break, she wanted to stay on the next rotation. Three or four days after I left, she was shot in the face.
I remember flying off to the Mayo Clinic to visit her with Parisa Khosravi. I remember walking down the corridor to her room. Luckily, there was a picture of her on the door, because lying in bed, her face swollen and swathed in bandages, she was unrecognizable except for her hands. It’s the only way I knew it was her. At some point that very day, I had to make a decision to go back to Sarajevo or not. The International Desk called me from Atlanta and asked whether I would go back. I looked at her in bed … holding back tears. … I quickly said yes into the telephone. I think I knew if I didn’t say yes then, I might never go back.
She was remarkable. She came back to the battle zones as soon as she could. She endured all those endless surgeries, she had to learn to eat and drink and talk again. She had to endure people’s embarrassed, curious stares. She got hepatitis C from the initial blood transfusion in Sarajevo that saved her life. And later, she got cancer, fought the good fight for longer than anyone could imagine, and died. Life battered and brutalized her, but she remained unbowed and happy. She was a survivor, a unique soul, and she bore all that came her way with a remarkable sense of calm and equanimity. She loved music, antiques and animals. She taught us so much about what it means to be a real person, the consummate professional.
She deserves to finally rest in peace. Now she can.
One of a kind
By Parisa Khosravi, Senior Vice President of International Newsgathering for CNN Worldwide
For those of us lucky enough to have known and worked with Margaret Moth, she was truly one of a kind. She lived her life full-on without holding back.
For nearly two decades, Margaret traveled the world for CNN and covered every war zone and major story. Margaret was shot in the face by a sniper in Sarajevo in 1992, and the doctors were able to save her life, and we medevaced her to the states.
I remember being there when she arrived at the Mayo Clinic. Her head was all bandaged up and she could not speak, but she was fully alert. I gave her a pen and paper and she jokingly wrote: “I want to go back to Sarajevo to look for my teeth.” True to her word, she went back to Bosnia when the doctors cleared her nearly a year later and continued to volunteer for the toughest assignments.
She did not complain of the incredible physical pain and health challenges that she faced in all the years since the attack. She loved life and had no regrets.
CNN recently did a documentary on Margaret’s life. If you have not seen it, check it out on CNN.com; you will be amazed and inspired.
Margaret’s dear friend and colleague, actually more like a brother, Joe Duran, was at her bedside when she passed away Sunday morning in Rochester. Margaret’s ashes will be taken back to her home in Istanbul. This was her wish.
Margaret did not fear death; she saw it as “the next adventure.” Margaret loved animals, and outside her hospice window Sunday morning, a deer was prancing about, as if ready to take her beautiful spirit on her new adventure.
Heaven is even more fun, now that Margaret has arrived.
With the fondest memories and utmost respect,
Memories of Margaret Moth
By Mary Rogers, Cairo-based photojournalist
I stood in awe of her courage, the utterly fearless way she lived her life. I couldn’t imagine, nor would I want to imagine, what it was like for her, this beautiful, striking woman, who in a split second had her jaw blown off by a sniper’s bullet.
Margaret and I spent time together while on assignment in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Sierra Leone, to name a few. I will never forget her wicked sense of humor. It kept me laughing away, during many dull moments of downtime on the road.
I remember once during Saddam-era Iraq, she was joking around with me, forcing me to choose which Iraqi guard around the Ministry of Information (where all the journalists had to base themselves) I would sleep with. “You have to choose one” she insisted. I asked her which one was her dream man, and she pointed to a skinny, adolescent-looking one. “Margaret, you are a cradle robber!” I joked. She told me she wanted to take him home. I asked her how she would get him out of Iraq. She told me “I will stuff him in my tripod tube!”
Another time we were together, I asked her what menopause was like. She got there ahead of me. Did she suffer from hot flashes, mood swings? She told me it didn’t affect her at all. But something did happen that pissed her off: Her boobs got bigger! “Oh Margaret,” I told her, “I would take that problem any day!”
Other times, we would discuss our investments. Boring, tedious stuff. Neither of us wanted to end up as bag ladies with shopping carts in our old age. I used to tease her, telling her that with all those cats she had, she was already on her way to becoming one!
Margaret had another side to her that few knew. She was a very private person in some ways. In 1997, I went to Paris to cover for her as she had just found out she had hepatitis C, contracted from a bad blood transfusion given to her in Sarajevo, after she was shot. Before she went on her medical leave, we spent some time together. What a stylish, elegant dresser she was, when she was not behind the camera. Of course, everything in one color: Basic black!
She took me to her apartment. What a view! She lived on the Left Bank, and smack out her window, looming large across the Seine, was the Notre Dame cathedral. She had exquisite taste in furniture. She loved Victorian antiques. We went to the antique market outside Paris, joking that we would never have to fight over a piece of furniture. She loved the big, heavy, rococo pieces, and I loved the simpler style of Asian antiques. Thank you, Margaret, for sharing that side of your life with me.
I miss her. I will never forget her. I imagine her soaring above us now on her Rollerblades, beer in hand, laughing all the way to heaven.
CNN’s globetrotting camerawomen lose one of their own
By Cynde Strand, CNN Director of Coverage for International Newsgathering
Each of us wanted to be one of the boys. We all wanted to be cameramen, because in the early ’80s, there were hardly any camerawomen covering international news.
CNN, the then-unknown TV maverick, gave us a chance. We paid our dues, and we worked hard. We kept turning up on all the big stories, on the front lines, in the midst of the disasters and revolutions, in the right place for the best shot. The cameramen made room for us, gave us the nod, and we became part of a club that is more like a family.
At one point, there were five camerawomen based internationally shooting for CNN. We were based at various times in Japan, Egypt, Italy, England, France, Lebanon, China, Cyprus, Turkey and South Africa. We worked with the best reporters on the biggest stories. We were pretty and fun and brave, and we came back with the goods. We were hard-core when it came to camerawork. We pushed the envelope, and we took shots that would take your breath away.
We were all fiercely independent, much too independent to be united as a women’s group. What united us was our passion for each picture, each story, our insatiable curiosity about new places, and as journalists, the feeling that we just had to be there.
What did we learn? We learned that life is short and precious, we learned to be as respectful to the street sweeper as to the king or president, we learned that for all the intolerable cruelty that mankind is responsible for, there are also moments of incredible humanity and grace. And we learned that one powerful image can make a difference.
Will we mourn Margaret Moth differently? Yes, in a few ways. This is one of those great wrongs that none of us could right. No single frame of video was powerful enough to change the outcome and keep Margaret alive, and that is utterly devastating.
But we are also smiling as we think about birthdays in Somalia, sunrises in Iraq, mountain peaks in Tibet, floating down the Congo River and Rollerblading down the Champs-Élysées. Our smiles celebrate the extraordinariness of our lives and the residue we carry, of at times sharing through the camera lens some of the most intimate moments in people’s lives.
Jane, Mary, Maria, Cynde and dear Margaret — we broke news, we broke stereotypes, we broke hearts, and tonight I will drink to one of the girls.