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Former Tribune Reporter on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: “I Was More of a Chicken”

Kim Barker talks about being the inspiration for the new Tina Fey movie, which opens March 4.

Kim Barker   Photo: Dustin Aksland

How closely does the film follow The Taliban Shuffle, your memoir about reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

It’ll be as much a surprise to me as everyone else. I was given the script a couple of years ago, but I deliberately did not read it. I thought, I’m just going to trust that they’re going to use my memoir as source material. But they’re also Hollywood—they’re going to fictionalize it. Like, they made me a TV reporter. Some of my friends are like, “Oh my God, why didn’t they make you a print reporter?” But it’s frankly not that interesting, sitting in front of a computer, typing furiously.

The poster looks cool, with Tina Fey as you.

Fictional Kim is a total hottie. You watch the preview, and she’s in explosions, being thrown on the ground. I was never in that immediate danger. I don’t want people to think I’m somehow brave. I was more of a chicken.

What was it like being a female war correspondent?

You have to dress and act in a way that blends in: things that covered my arms, long shirts over baggy pants. It keeps you safe and makes the person you’re trying to talk to want to talk to you. Female journalists had to ride that line pretty tightly.

But in the book you talk about taking swings at local men who pinched your rear.

I didn’t do that in Afghanistan, where you have to be more careful. But there is that side of Pakistan, where there is more fetishization of Western women. Yeah, I hit a few people. It even happened at [Prime Minister] Benazir Bhutto’s funeral. If that’s how folks are treating guests, imagine how they treat local women.

How did reporting on war affect you?

You have to learn how to be alone and rely on yourself. There’s no school that can prepare you for covering a suicide bombing and having to wash blood and pieces of people off your boots before writing a story about it. After that, I knew I could deal with anything that came up in my life.

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