New America journalist wins Carnegie Fellowship

ASU Professor of Practice Azmat Khan will use the $200K prize to focus on in-depth, investigative reporting

May 12, 2020

Azmat Khan, an ASU Future of War Fellow with New America, has been named a winner of a prestigious Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.

Khan is a New York Times Magazine contributing writer, a professor of journalism and an investigative journalist who has won the National Magazine Award, the Hillman Prize and other honors.  Portrait of ASU Professor of Practice Azmat Khan. New America Fellow Azmat Khan says it's easy for Americans to ignore today's "precision" air wars — both because fewer U.S. combat troops are fighting on the ground and because the casualties are increasingly foreign populations. Download Full Image

As a member of the 2020 class of Carnegie Fellows, Khan will receive $200,000 to devote up to two years to significant research and writing. She is one of 27 winners this year, selected from a competitive pool of 322 nominations.

Providing one of the most generous research stipends of its kind, the Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program was established in 2015. The program represents a total investment of $38 million in some 200 recipients in support of high-caliber scholarly research across the social sciences and humanities. The selection criteria prioritize the originality and potential impact of a proposal, as well as a scholar’s capacity to communicate the findings with a broad audience.

ASU Now talked with Khan about the fellowship, her work and what the future holds for her.

Question: Tell us about the book you’re working on, what it’s about, where it’s taken you and what you’re learning.

Answer: “Precision Strike” — the book I’m working on for Random House — is a ground-level investigation into the true human costs and implications of America's “precision” air wars around the world. It is also an exploration of ways in which we might envision an alternative future.

Over the past several years, this work has taken me to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where I have been investigating aerial bombing and civilian casualties on the ground, but the book expands into other countries and weaves scholarship with literary narrative following characters in the crosshairs of violence.

In terms of scholarship, I’m systematically studying data I’ve collected on the ground, as well as civilian casualty data I’ve obtained from the U.S. military through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. I’ve been learning so much about how often and why casualties are occurring, the long-term impacts of “mass casualty” incidents, and what the quality of intelligence underpinning this bombing is. But perhaps what I am learning from the most are the ways in which survivors grapple both with the loss of loved ones and the question of what life is worth.

Q: How do you feel about being recognized as a Carnegie Fellow, and what will be the immediate impact to your work?

A: It is an honor and will have such a meaningful impact on my work. It is rare to find substantial support for time-intensive investigative journalism today, particularly when working in war zones can be so costly. The fellowship will allow me to make critical reporting trips safely, replicate my work in other conflict zones, collaborate with others to collect and study data and invest in fact checking for the book. One thing I also hope to do during the fellowship is share data and methods with a select group of freelance investigative reporters who may be able to carry out similar work elsewhere.

Q: Why is it important for citizens to understand what’s happening in our air wars? And have these strikes been effective?

A: It is easy for Americans to ignore the wars happening in their names today. In part, this is a result of the shift to primarily conducting wars via aerial bombing. With fewer U.S. combat troops fighting wars on the ground, there is less attention on these wars from the news media and the general public — even though these wars continue at record pace. For example, the U.S. dropped more bombs in Afghanistan in 2019 than in any year of this 18-year war.

At the same time, there has also been a shift in who is paying the human costs of these wars; increasingly it’s foreign civilians. All of this means less accountability, less transparency and the erasure of the realities and harms of war on foreign populations. We can’t understand what is “effective” unless we know what is happening, and ground investigation in war zones is rare today.

That said, one of the things I hope to do in the book is go beyond the traditional parameters of how we understand what is effective. In policy circles, this question all too often comes down to whether the U.S. is achieving its end goals, and whether the costs or means are worth it. But we can't answer the question of whether aerial bombing is effective without considering what the ultimate purpose of the war is, and whether those purposes are just. A collective, democratic debate needs to happen on this question, but the reliance on air power is one way in which our population is completely inured from the reality of war and cannot participate in that debate in any meaningful way.  

Q: You’ve been a fellow with ASU’s Center on the Future of War for several years now. What do you think of the work they do?

A: So many of the journalist colleagues I admire most have been fellows at the Center on the Future of War and New America. Consider Rania AbouzeidIona CraigAzadeh Moaveni and Anand Gopal, to name just a few. All of them are freelance reporters whose work from Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan has broken new ground in our understanding of war and the people who face its brunt. They produce award-winning journalism that takes more time and autonomy than a newspaper or investigations team would ever allow, and that high quality of work requires serious support, as well as sacrifice on the part of the reporters. All of them could have more comfortable positions as staff correspondents, but their work speaks for itself. I genuinely feel lucky to be able to learn from them. 

Q: You’re also involved in a project called the Gumshoe Group. Tell us about that. 

A: Some of the best accountability reporting didn’t come from leaks of classified information, but from hard-fought efforts to get government data through public records laws. Most of the time, reporters’ public records requests languish in queues for years or are denied outright, but journalists who are able to get legal assistance in pursuit of those records have a serious advantage. While staff reporters may have in-house counsel to turn to, freelance investigative reporters do not. Investigative journalist Seth Freed Wessler and I started the Gumshoe Group to help fill that gap. Over years, we both built up networks of lawyers who helped us file lawsuits and get the information we were fighting for. Gumshoe connects freelance investigative journalists with pro bono attorneys to help them do the same. It’s an under-resourced but vital segment of the journalism ecosystem, and though we only launched last year, I’m excited to see the journalism that comes from it.

Reporter , ASU News


ASU Online student one of the first to graduate through adidas partnership

May 12, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Charles Gentry always had a goal to go back to school to earn his master’s degree, but he also knew that was sometimes easier said than done. So when Gentry started working for adidas on the Reebok Finance team three years ago and learned about the educational partnership between adidas and Arizona State University, he decided to take a leap of faith.  ASU Online student Charles Gentry Charles Gentry of Boston was drawn to ASU's Thunderbird School of Global Management and its online Master of Applied Leadership and Management program. Download Full Image

“I had just started working for the company when the partnership was announced, and I thought it was great. After attending an informational session at work, I decided it was time to stop putting it off and just put my mind to it,” he said.

Having already developed an interest in gaining international business experience, Gentry enrolled in the online Master of Applied Leadership and Management.

“ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management was the main draw in my decision to take advantage of the program and attend ASU,” he said. “With the global aspect of the program, it was the best school for exposure with a global lens.”

During his time at ASU, Gentry came to appreciate the resources he was offered and is thankful for the experience he was able to have.

“At the end of the day, it really speaks volumes about ASU and Thunderbird that they care about their students. The effort all staff put in truly shows they care about the students and really embrace the program so that everyone succeeded.”

Continue reading to learn more about Gentry’s experience as an online student and as one of the first students to graduate through the adidasED x ASU Scholarship. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: Once I started researching Thunderbird, what really stuck out to me was the research and exposure I would get to the student base all over the world. I realized this would not only benefit my current role but would help in moving forward as well. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: When I first started the program, I was not a fan of group projects as you could be pulled in 100 different directions. But throughout the program, I started to embrace everything they brought. With classmates all over the world, you really learned how to be flexible with time and you learned to embrace that they were able to bring to the table towards your final goal. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Robert Owen is the professor that stuck with me the longest. He would answer emails or questions all day, every day. I could email him on a Saturday and he would respond within an hour or two. He really seemed to have compassion and care for his students and their success. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t let the assignments and hours get you down. Power through as there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It always feels like you are bogged down with work and there are not enough hours, but manage your time and you will get through and succeed. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I would say my favorite spot to study would be outside on the back porch. It was great during summer to be able to get sunlight and not be stuck inside all day, to embrace the springtime weather. During winter months, my favorite spot in Boston was at a local coffee shop down the street. It was nice to be somewhere different and see what was happening in the community. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan to continue working at adidas. I would like to be able to transition to focus more on the global aspect of the business. I would also like to continue my studies as I am never content with what I know. I am always looking for the next skill I can add. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: It would be to focus on the reduction of single-use plastics. Adidas has a project where they manufacture plastic ocean waste into sneakers. I would use the money to help create products to reduce and not damage the environment. To help use what we already have available. 

Carrie Peterson

Associate Director, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University