Conversation: David Aikman
A Time-ly message
David Aikman spent nearly 23 years at Time magazine. He has interviewed many major world figures, from Mother Teresa to Manuel Noriega, from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Pham Van Dong, from Boris Yeltsin to Billy Graham. As a seasoned journalist he reported for Time from Russia, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and China. Aikman was bureau chief for Time in Beijing, Jerusalem and West Berlin. He has authored eight books. He is associate professor of history and writer in residence at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. Recently, Aikman spoke with Reuben David, an assistant professor of mass communication at North Central University (AG) in Minneapolis.
tpe: What led you to join Time?
AIKMAN: Well, it was by accident that I joined Time. I was working as a columnist for a college newspaper; somebody saw my writings and took my articles to the Time president. It was the chief of correspondents who invited me to join Time. But I first started with a summer internship.
tpe: As a Christian journalist working for a secular magazine like Time what were the unique challenges when it came to issues of faith?
AIKMAN: There were a few challenges. I did not favor some stories that I was working on, like stories about prostitution. I did my reporting professionally and perhaps that kept me away from unnecessary troubles.
tpe: In your career at Time you have interviewed many world leaders and politicians, including several Israeli prime ministers. Can you share any experience where you shared your faith?
AIKMAN: Yes, several times I had the privilege of sharing my faith with different government officials. In Brussels, I had the privilege of sharing my faith with one government minister from Saudi Arabia. The Lord used me in leading former Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir ArafatÕs mother-in-law to Christ. At that time her daughter had not yet met Arafat. I remember conversing about my faith with several Chinese government officials besides meeting up with Russian officials. I was based in several parts of the world while working for Time, and it did give me a unique chance to share my Christian faith.
tpe: A unique experience in reporting from global hot spots is that you get to witness many world-shaking incidents firsthand. Has any reporting particularly affected your spiritual life?
AIKMAN: In all my global reporting from the hot spots of the world — China, Russia and Israel — I experienced and witnessed the reality of manÕs sinfulness. I also closely observed the behaviors of different types of people hailing from various cultural backgrounds. In 1989 I witnessed the fall of the communist government in Czechoslovakia. Observing a nation experience a complete change of regime was a unique experience.
tpe: Why did you leave Time?
AIKMAN: I left Time because of some personal issues in my life. But I was really getting bored working for Time in the Washington bureau. I felt the Lord leading me to something else.
tpe: How did you become a Christian and when?
AIKMAN: As an undergraduate at Oxford, I was an atheist. I believed love aided by reason was the way of life that ought to apply to everyone, but I realized this was not the actual situation. I was deeply influenced by a nonargumentative Anglican clergyman. In my interactions with him I felt the real presence of God. He would read many passages of Scripture I had heard many times earlier, but on one occasion those words absolutely resonated in my heart. I was converted on the spot, born again without knowing what that was.
tpe: What are you currently doing? Do you still write for mainstream magazines?
AIKMAN: There have been a lot of changes in my career. I do radio commentaries for Salem Radio Network, the largest Christian radio network in the United States. I am a regular participant in a Voice of America discussion program called Issues in the News. I write columns for Christianity Today and articles for The Weekly Standard and The American Spectator magazine.
tpe: WhatÕs your perspective on the status of secular media today? What roles do Christian journalists have in mainstream media?
AIKMAN: The print media have gone through a lot of changes with the emerging media technology. Huge strides have been made in the reporting of events via the Internet, though some of the reporting is uneven and even unreliable. The weekly magazines no longer hold their audiences. There has been a stress on novelty, gossip and mere opinion and less in-depth reporting. Secular media seem to be in perennial need of acquiring sensational material.
The role of a Christian journalist is one of being a good journalist doing a professional job. I would expect a Christian journalist to be a person of integrity. Reporting should not be specifically evangelistic at all, not to mention propaganda for a particular church. The advantage a Christian has in being a reporter is threefold: to believe there is such a thing as truth, to understand human nature is made in the image of God but is still flawed, and to know God always wants the truth to be told.
tpe: Are you working on any books presently?
AIKMAN: I am working on a book that will be a response to the current upsurge in atheist books by people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I am also completing the second novel in my Richard Ireton series. The story will be based in Israel.
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