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Carroll Bogert

Former journalist got "out of the stands" to become a human rights watchdog

By Nini S. Moorhead, Crimson Staff Writer

On Sunday, Carroll R. Bogert ’83 shot a missile into the middle of the nostalgic merriment of upcoming Harvard reunions.

In a op-ed in The New York Times titled “Enjoy the Reunion. Skip the Check.” Bogert blasted Harvard for what she sees as its contentment to sit on the endowment, which is set to hit $100 billion in a decade. She asked, “Why do all those clever classmates of mine continue to invest their money in an institution with such a lack of imagination about how to deploy its resources?”

Bogert pointed to Harvard Alumni for Social Action (HASA), a group that funnels grads’ donations to needy universities in Africa, as an alternative to giving to the endowment.

“The University currently has very limited, in a strange way, ambitions for itself in the world,” Bogert said in an interview with The Crimson. “I think the message of HASA is a positive one: Harvard should grow, reach, and be a leader around the world.”

Tamara E. Rogers ’74, vice president for alumni affairs and development, said she was disappointed with Bogert’s “misrepresentation” of the role of the endowment and philanthropy at Harvard.

“The goal of the Harvard Development Office is to raise gifts for Harvard University that support our education and research mission,” Rogers wrote in an e-mail. “Through that mission, Harvard is vitally engaged throughout the world, including in Africa.”

YOUNG AND FEARLESS

Bogert’s op-ed follows on the heels of a globe-trotting career as a foreign correspondent.

After graduating from Harvard with a master’s degree in East Asian Studies in 1985, Bogert bought a one-way ticket to China. She quickly found a job with The Washington Post’s Beijing Bureau as what she calls the “eyes and ears” of the correspondents. Eventually, she moved on to Newsweek, first as a freelance stringer and then as a staff reporter in 1987.

Her colleague Jonathan Mirsky described Bogert as fearless when they covered the Tiananmen Square protests together in 1989.

Mirsky described one day when protests were gearing up and Bogert convinced him and two female correspondents to bribe a taxi driver to take them to the countryside outside Beijing, where she had heard there was a column of tanks in a village. When they saw the tanks, Bogert proposed climbing atop them to ask the soldiers inside why they were in the village.

“It seemed very daunting, but once she had said it, it seemed childish to refuse,” recalled Mirsky, who was reporting for The Observer of London.

Bogert was as fearless before before power brokers as she was before tanks, another friend remembered.

“I was watching a TV broadcast of a press conference with [Mikhail] Gorbachev and I remember seeing her stand up and ask a question,” Jennifer B. Freeman ’83, an HASA member, recalled. “She was very articulate and outspoken from a young age.”

‘JOINING A TEAM’

A decade later, Bogert had covered major international crises across the world for Newsweek, and she said she was ready to move on. The breaking point came, she said, when her editor asked her to travel to the south of France and recreate Princess Diana’s last days after her death in 1997.

“That was the best story of the week,” Bogert said. “But I didn’t want to do that, and I said no.”

With that, Bogert decided the time had come to “get out of the stands and join a team”—Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based organization that researches and reports on human rights abuses. Today, she serves as HRW’s associate director, using her media experience to help the organization publicize reports on human rights violations.

Bogert spoke to The Crimson from a conference in Dublin that brought together 110 nations to sign a treaty to ban cluster munitions, a weapon that explodes in the air and disperses a number of “bomblettes” over a wide area. She said the treaty had given her hope for progress on human rights in the coming century. But she said human rights activists are not as blindly optimistic as some people believe.

“We’ve looked the absolute worst in the world in the eye and documented it extensively,” Bogert said. “We’re not naïve about how awful people can be to each other, and we don’t expect to work ourselves out of business.”

Staff writer Nini S. Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@fas.harvard.edu.

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