Laura Haim, France’s Voice in Crisis
She works for French television in the U.S. But since the Paris ISIS attacks, she has broadcast distinctively accented reports for MSNBC.
French television White House correspondent Laura Haim—who has been a near-constant presence on MSNBC since the horrific events in Paris on November 13th—was in the middle of a hairstyling appointment in Washington, D.C when she learned of ISIS’s mass-murdering rampage.
“I never go to the hairdresser’s, and to have something to do I was checking my emails,” says the usually pony-tailed Haim, who works for the cable channel Canal Plus. “I had an email from my newsroom about a big thing happening in Paris. I said a very bad word, and then left right then for my home,” in an upscale apartment building near Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.
Five minutes after Haim started monitoring the grisly events on her home computer—“France’s 9/11,” she calls it—and telling her editor in France that she was available to get on the next flight to help with Paris coverage, a producer for The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell booked her for that night’s show.
“I’ve been working this type of story for a long time, and I have many sources,” says Haim, who happened to be flying commercial to New York from Miami on the morning of September 11, 2001, with her plane diverted to Baltimore—one of the last landings permitted before U.S. air traffic was suspended.
“One of my best friends is in charge of the emergency room in a big hospital in Paris,” she continues, “and he talked to me about what was happening and he was able to put me in touch with somebody who was injured at the Bataclan [the concert venue where most of the victims died] who was able to describe to me what happened.”
Haim quickly signed a contributor’s contract to report on the developing story for the American media outlet, and has shown up every day, day after day, including with breaking news anchor Brian Williams.
On Tuesday afternoon, Haim reported for MSNBC on French President François Hollande’s meeting with President Obama at the White House, where she sat near the front—and tweeted out several photos—of the two leaders’ joint news conference in the East Room. She even interrogated the American and French presidents (36:56 in) on their military plans for defeating ISIS in Syria, and pointedly asked Obama, beyond his “beautiful statements,” whether there is a real deadline for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to leave. (Answer: no ground troops, no deadline.)
“Canal Plus gave me permission [to appear on MSNBC] and said they didn’t need me in Paris,” Haim recounts. “ ‘But if something happens in the United States we definitely want you to be in the United States,’ they said.”
Recalling that grim logistical calculation, Haim tells The Daily Beast, “In a way they were right, because we didn’t know in which direction the story was going to go.”
For Haim, the November 13 massacre was a shock, but hardly a surprise.
“This is not new for us, what’s happening with the French Muslims who are radicalizing themselves,” says Haim, a Parisian doctor’s daughter who’s known on French TV by her given name, Laurence, a common appellation for females in France, but who uses “Laura” in the United States to avoid gender confusion.
Haim first began appearing regularly on U.S. television back in January to give context to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and also helped cover the aftermath of the March 2012 killings of three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse by a 23-year-old Al Qaeda-inspired gunman, Mohamed Merah, who later died in a hail of police bullets.
“We worked our sources, and everybody knew that it was going to happen again,” Haim says of the attacks on unsuspecting civilians by young Muslims bent on martyrdom. “You can feel them radicalizing…When you’re an American and you think about Paris, you think about Edith Piaf and the nice restaurants. But what’s happening now, and for the past five or ten years in France…is people coming back from Syria and a rise of the political right, and the radicalizing of the young people…And it’s far from over.”
Haim says that the phenomenon of Muslim radicalization often begins at age 11 or 12, “and it will probably take a generation to fight that. It’s a very complex problem. There are many factors—the economic factor, and these people are living separately in the suburbs of Paris. And if your name is ‘Ali,’ I guarantee that there’s no job for you in France most of the time.”
She says the biggest story, for the moment, is the international manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, who reportedly slipped past the French cops at a roadside stop after shooting up a Paris restaurant, one of several locations at which nearly 500 people were killed or wounded by the terrorists.
“I want to know what’s going to happen to this guy,” Haim says. “I don’t think he’s back in Syria. These people want to die in front of the camera. They want to be seen by their world as heroes. I don’t know if he’s going to do what the investigators are calling a ‘prime-time show.’ But it could be bloody.”
The 49-year-old Haim’s swashbuckling journalism career has taken her from Somalia to Bosnia to Gaza, including three years for CBS in Baghdad as Dan Rather’s point-woman during the Second Gulf War. “Dan Rather’s my model—I love him,” she says.
And now Haim is becoming a familiar face and voice to American viewers who are getting accustomed to her fact-packed, deeply-sourced, no-nonsense reports on Islamic terrorism.
“My doorman told me, ‘Oh my God, I saw you on TV!’ And then my friends living in New York are calling me and emailing,” she says. “But I don’t do this job for fame. I do it only for journalism, and making sure that people understand what you’re talking about, and show respect for them. Maybe I’m naïve but I really believe in that.”
Although Haim has dual American-French citizenship, has lived in the United States on and off since 1992, and delivers her insights in flawlessly grammatical English, in perfectly-constructed paragraphs, her French accent is as thick and heavy as Hollandaise sauce.
“I hope you can understand my accent,” she apologizes over the phone, “but I’m working for French television and speaking French all the time.”
She laughs good-naturedly at the suggestion that, like Henry Kissinger, she’s managed to retain her accentual integrity despite decades of living with and listening to the flat cadences of Americans.
“Oh my God—such a compliment!” Haim retorts. “My French accent is now popular on American TV,” she adds with a soupçon of self-deprecation.
Regarding the future of Islamic terrorism, Haim says she’s of two minds.
“The French part of me is constantly reassessing these problems that we have to go through,” she says. “The American part of me is telling me that we will win.”