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'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot': Finding comedy in war reporting




Former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker in Chicago doing publicity for the movie
Former Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Barker in Chicago doing publicity for the movie "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot" based on her book, "The Taliban Shuffle," on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS) 1181178
E. Jason Wambsgans

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The new film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is about a television producer, played by Tina Fey, who toils away at her job at a major network. One day her boss calls her and some of her colleagues in to talk about a plan to cover the war in Afghanistan.

At first it's a world she finds impossible to navigate, eventually it becomes a place she finds nearly impossible to leave.

The film is based on the book "The Taliban Shuffle" by journalist Kim Barker, about her time reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Chicago Tribune.

Barker says the movie is accurate with what goes on behind the scenes when reporting war, but there is a major difference between Barker and Fey's character.

"She tends to run towards explosions," Barker tells Take Two's Alex Cohen, "I tend to run away from them and cower in the corner."

Interview Highlights

On how Barker grabbed the opportunity to go overseas

Barker: I swear you know myself and another female reporter, we went out one night and plotted. We wrote down how many people were being sent out and whether they were men or women, and overwhelmingly men were getting sent out and women weren't getting the chance.

Our editor at the time Ann Marie Lipinski said in a meeting, "Why aren't we trying out more women overseas?" That's when I said, "Yeah, my name is Kim Barker, I'm a metro reporter, I'm single, I'm childless and therefore expendable, and I'll go anywhere you want to send me.

On how to cope with war while on the ground

Barker: I don't know if there was ever a world outside of being a reporter over there, you were pretty much reporting 24/7. I mean even if you're out in a social situation. It's like when you're dealing with such stressful things as a journalist -- covering suicide bombs, covering kids who get addicted to heroin --  you're dealing with these stories and there's no real way to have release, it's not like you can go to the gym...you constantly feel you've got this really constricted restrictive life.

So yeah we had parties, a lot of people would let loose at these parties. We drink to forget, you'd drink to numb out. You'd drink just because you drank at night. You know the next day was rinse and repeat, and you would do it all over again.

On the portrayal of female journalists in movies

Barker: I mean take a look at [Netflix's] House of Cards, you know she's sleeping around with sources to get a story. Female journalists are often portrayed like that, like we're not serious journalists.

But some of the best journalism that has come out of Afghanistan since 9/11 was done by women -- Carlotta Goll of the New York Times, Pam Constable from the Washington Post, Cathy Gannon at AP, and I think that's in large part because women have access to the entire population in a way that male reporters just don't. We talk to the women, and tell women's stories in a way that men will never get them to tell...