FishbowlDC Q&A with BBC’s First Disabled Correspondent, Gary O’Donoghue

"That blind bloke you sometimes see on the news."

unnamedThe BBC’s newest Washington correspondent is not your typical journalist. At the age of eight, Gary O’Donoghue lost his sight on the same day his family bought their first color TV. The English-born, Oxford-educated political journalist is now the BBC’s first disabled correspondent and “that blind bloke you sometimes see on the news.”

From covering the war in Kosovo during the late 90’s to bungee jumping off the Chelsea Bridge his first day at the BBC, O’Donoghue’s career has been anything but ordinary. With a phenomenal sense of humor, a razor-sharp wit and that lovely British accent all Americans wish we had — he has been justly called “the complete correspondent” by fellow BBC journalist, Justin Webb.

FBDC had the privilege to chat with Gary, and he couldn’t be a nicer gent. We discussed everything from how he’s adjusting to life in Washington, to the political differences and similarities between the United States and our friends across the pond.

FishbowlDC wishes Gary the best of luck in his new role, and look forward to watching him on the tele for years to come.

FishbowlDC: With all the hurdles you’ve had to climb to get where you are today, what made you want to become a journalist in the first place?

Gary O’Donoghue: You know, I think I became a journalist pretty much by accident, which is what I hear most journalists say, quite frankly. I was involved in a little bit of student journalism, particularly at school, and I got a taste for it then, I guess. But while I was at university in Oxford, I started doing some freelance work for the BBC. I would sort of sneak off out of my classes and go up to London to do some work for a couple of BBC programs. And during the vacations, I got taken on, doing some work experience and things like that. And really, pretty much, that sold me on the idea of it. I’ve got a pretty skeptical personality, I suppose, and a pretty skeptical view of the world – that kind of disposes you to journalism, I think, in a healthy way.

FBDC: Why specifically a foreign correspondent?

GO: Well, this is the first time I’ve worked abroad properly. I’ve been at the BBC for more than 20 years doing network news, mainly as a political correspondent at Westminster in London. I was the chief political correspondent for the last three years in London. And really, I thought I’m in the point of my career if was going to do any foreign reporting — be a foreign correspondent — now is the time to try it. So yes, I went for it and they offered me this job, so I’m very happy with it. And I think it’s, I mean it’s difficult to say, but we think it’ss probably the first time that BBC has appointed, I’m totally blind, a disabled person as a foreign correspondent

FBDC: So, you were reporting from Macedonia during the war in Kosovo. What was that experience like for you?

GO: Well, during the NATO bombing of Kosovo, I was just across the border in Macedonia. We were there for a few days, and watched the flood of refugees coming over the border into Macedonia from Kosovo when the bombing was happening. You know, we did a lot of interviews; we went into the makeshift camps that were around there. It was a very, sort of, humbling experience. There were people carrying babes in arms across the border at that stage, literally with only the possessions they could carry. It was a very moving experience. Large amounts of people in Europe on the move resonates, you know, if you’re a European it kind of resonates. So that was pretty interesting. And I went back into Kosovo a couple months later, when things had settled down, and went to Priština and did some television pieces there. And that was very striking too because we got around the general post office in Priština, which had taken a direct hit. And to see the sheer devastation that kind of airstrike could do was astonishing. We did lots of interviews with people who had been driven from their homes; Albanians, particularly, had been driven from their homes by Serbs. I went to Mitrovica, which is that divided town, divided by the bridge. That was a pretty scary existence even after the bombing had stopped. So, that was a quite a baptism for me. We went down to Albania as well, and did some stuff in Tirana. But this was all for a program called the “Today” programme, which is the main, sort of, flagship morning news show in the UK, because I was a staff reporter there for five years in the late 90’s from ‘95-2000.