CBS News’ Elizabeth Palmer on lessons learned as a woman at war

London — CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer works just down the hall from me, but most of the time, she’s not there. Liz, as we call her in the London bureau, is usually on assignment in a foreign country. For almost three decades, Liz has reported from war zones, first for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and since 2000 for CBS News.

When we sat down for a conversation for Women’s History Month, she shared some lessons she’s learned along the way. While some pertain to being a woman journalist, others are more universal. Liz tells journalism students they need two things to make it in the business: “curiosity and a perpetual skepticism, a kind of, ‘Oh, yeah? Prove it,’ sort of attitude.” These traits, she believes, have allowed her to thrive. It makes sense – both curiosity and healthy skepticism can help us learn.
She says she’s been learning throughout her career — from reporting for The Haney Gazette in British Columbia, (“It was really part of living in a community, and the police chief I might report on, I’d see at the grocery store the next day,”) to covering business news and the oil industry in Calgary, (“I realized if you follow the money, you really understand the guts of a story well,”) and then to foreign news, opening the CBC’s Mexico City bureau in 1994.”(It was) a change of focus but not a change in the way I approached the job, which was to be curious and not take anything for granted,” Liz told me. “I always enjoyed where I was.”CBS News’ Rita Braver: “Many women got their foot in the door by taking the worst jobs”CBS News’ Lesley Stahl: “We wanted to prove we could do any story as well as a man… I don’t feel I have to prove that anymore”I have to admit, I didn’t always enjoy where I was. I got my first job in television news in my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota. After studying international relations, I had hoped to jump into international news, not potholes and blizzards. But after a few months, I, too, learned to appreciate what I was doing; covering a community I cared about and learning from my experienced colleagues.Like Liz, I went on to report overseas, starting in Iran, where I found that being a woman journalist can have its advantages (like getting better access to places where only women were allowed) and its disadvantages (like being barred from places where only men were allowed).Liz told me that although she had similar experiences, she usually sees her job as “gender-neutral,” particularly in the Arab world.”To the men there, Western women kind of do not compute,” she has said. “We show up and are bold and forward and show our hair and all that. We’re aliens.”And she has had to deal with sexual assault.