Reporting on War and Disaster

Reporter in Sinjar
Charlie D’Agata reporting from Sinjar in northern Iraq. Photo by Omar Abdulkader.

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

CBS News foreign correspondent Charlie D’Agata (B.A., ’90) has reported from the front lines of every major conflict around the world since 9/11 as well as onsite at natural disasters. This award-winning correspondent gives credit for his extraordinary career to the journalism education he received at CSU.

Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, D’Agata attended Mullen High School in Denver. He originally became interested in CSU due to its veterinary medicine program, but journalism stole his heart. While on campus, he was inspired by journalism professors, notably Greg Luft and Fred Shook, and worked in student media.

Professors with Charlie D'Agata
Greg Luft, Charlie D’Agata, and Fred Shook at the first Alumni Media Festival.

D’Agata deems his alma mater a “fantastic school,” praising “the balance” between the faculty’s passion for teaching and focusing young minds with their urging students to find their own way. In pursuit of the latter part of that balance, D’Agata and a friend became founding members of Campus Television (CTV), “working literally out of a closet.” This experience led him “to fall in love with TV broadcasting” and with “creating something out of nothing.” He also credits CSU with teaching him the fundamentals of storytelling, which he notes have not changed over the years despite the enormous changes in reporting and broadcasting equipment.

His professional career did take an unanticipated turn, however, as “no one in their right mind sets out to be a war correspondent.” He says he had a romantic notion of a journalism career  ̶  “becoming Hemingway, being posted overseas.” What happened instead was he and his CSU roommate, who was in Air Force ROTC but not yet commissioned, cycled through Europe, paying their way by waiting tables and bartending. Thinking the experience “would look great on a resume,” he then went to CNN, NBC, and ABC, looking for work.

reporter in Iraq
D’Agata reporting from a location outside Mosul, Iraq. Photo by Omar Abdulkader.

Offered a job at CNN, he instead accepted a position as desk assistant at ABC, where the news-gathering process captured his imagination. It was, he explains, “the most exciting experience I had ever known.” He worked with an “incredible reporter,” Hillary Brown, which led him to pursue becoming a war correspondent.

When he accepted a position with APTN, they sent him into the field. In 2002, he was hired at CBS News, first as chief overseas correspondent for CBS radio. When 9/11 happened, as D’Agata tells it, “everyone with a stable pulse was shoved out the door” to follow stories. He was sent to Bahrain, home of the Fifth Fleet. He first did radio reporting. When he was sent alone to Baghdad just before the fall of Saddam Hussein, he started filing TV reports. After months in Iraq, he was sent to various other conflicts, including in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine. He has covered every major conflict and disaster since starting at CBS.

Reporter standing next to F-18 fighter jet
D’Agata suited up for a ride in an F-18 fighter jet.

D’Agata says he deals with the dangers he faces in reporting on war by “making deals with self and God” and trying to minimize the chances of harm. He recently returned from Afghanistan, where he carried med packs and a tourniquet in case he was hit. “You cannot deny risk,” he explains; “instead you accept, mitigate, and be prepared for whatever happens.” Another challenge of his career is being witness to so much human misery and tragedy. He says that “never gets easier,” but he and his crew try to “empathize and help those they encounter stay strong.”

He also keeps balanced by recalling good times in his life. These include experiences while he was a student. One particularly fond memory is of cycling around Horsetooth Reservoir while listening to his Sony Walkman and watching a beautiful sunset, an experience he calls “spiritual.” He also enjoyed the change of seasons in Colorado as well as skiing. He calls his undergraduate years at CSU “some of my happiest times.”

This extraordinary alumnus has won the Overseas Press Club Award. His work also helped CBS News win a number of Edward R. Murrow awards, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, and the Sigma Delta Chi Award. When D’Agata is not telling stories of war or disaster somewhere in the world, he is based in London, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.