Chris Cuomo is once again on the ground covering yet another war for NewsNation, but this trip is eerily unique.
Speaking to ET’s Nischelle Turner on Friday via Zoom from Jerusalem, the 53-year-old veteran journalist succinctly explained how Israel’s war with the Hamas militant group compares to other war zones he’s covered in his career. He was previously covering the war in Ukraine, but the ongoing conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip, he says, is extraordinarily rare.
“Israel occupies a unique place on the planet. The existential threat is unlike any other conflict,” Cuomo tells ET. “The taking feeling of mass hostages — specifically American ones as well — [it’s] something we’ve never handled before in this conflict, but also as Americans.”
“This is a very bizarre situation,” he continues. “And you add to that what happened to the people in this terrorist attack, Hamas, and all the complications between the two combatants here … I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In the early hours of Oct. 7, the ruling Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, firing thousands of rockets. Hamas fighters infiltrated the border in several locations by air, land and sea.
According to CBS News, the Israeli military says the attack killed more than 1,200 people, including at least 27 Americans. Nearly 3,000 people were also wounded. Immediately after the surprise attack, Hamas reportedly seized between 100 and 150 hostages across southern Israel. France, the U.K., Germany and Italy are among the nations joining the United States in condemning the attack.
And the war’s only going to escalate.
CBS News on Friday reported that the United Nations said Israel’s military told the intergovernmental organization late Thursday night that everyone in northern Gaza should evacuate to the south within 24 hours, hinting that an Israeli invasion is imminent.
With so much danger in the region, Cuomo says he relies on his years of experience on the ground as a reporter to keep him and his team safe.
“You try, if you can, if the American military is involved obviously you try to stay close,” he explains. “You try to pay attention to where the conflicts are and how you get in and how you get out and where you stay … you try not to ask for trouble. You try not to go to places where you know it’s easier to be taken. You try not to make yourself vulnerable. A lot of this is just common sense, being reasonable and depending on the instincts that you develop over many years of putting yourself in bad situations and knowing what has worked and what hasn’t in the past.”
Cuomo says he doesn’t fear for his life before adding that he does owe it to his family and his team’s families to do their due diligence while on the ground reporting. But, ultimately, they know they have a job to do.
“This is no place for people who are seeking [to] worry,” said Cuomo when asked if he or his team fear for their lives covering a dangerous war. “You just keep the risk low. The stories are basically obvious. The realities are usually obvious, and you try to make it as not dangerous as possible.”
A journalist is expected to report without bias, but witnessing pain and suffering when it’s unfolding before your very own eyes can have an effect on anyone. Take BBC journalist Adnan Elbursh, who broke down in tears while reporting from a Gaza hospital he said has become “a graveyard.” Elbursh spotted a friend lying on a hospital bed and then began to cry.
Cuomo can empathize, admitting it’s not easy to not be moved by emotion.
“I don’t keep it together. It’s impossible to separate the two,” he says. “It’s not about you, but you are the by proxy for the audience. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes you have to reign in your own opinions and not bring in the emotions. I’m very passionate.”
“There is no question that I can’t wash this off,” he continues. “I will be haunted. I think it compromises you. It makes it harder in your personal life. It has changed my ability to process trauma — sometimes things that are not upsetting become upsetting. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. You have to give it your all in this job.”
Cuomo airs weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on NewsNation.
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