Surabaya to CNN: Alumnus Eli Flournoy Remembers IU

Seated in the Indiana Memorial Union Gallery, Eli Flournoy talked about IU and his international career.

Eli Flournoy was on the ground for CNN during major crises in Angola, in the Middle East, and in India, Pakistan, and Hong Kong.  As part of CNN’s international news “desk” in Atlanta, he has directed coverage of the Bosnian war, the Kosovo War, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Princess Diana’s death, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He was part of teams that received major awards for coverage of the Southeast Asia tsunami, the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, Hurricane Katrina, and the 1999 Indonesian elections. 

He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and African studies from IU in 1991.

 Asked if his experience at IU had turned him into an internationalist, he replied instantly, “That happened long before I came to IU.  My parents took my sister and me for a year-long stay in Surabaya when I was nine.”  After that experience in Indonesia’s second-largest city, the family entertained international visitors frequently at their home in Athens, Ohio. The international perspective was inescapable.  “I came to IU with a specific goal.  I would major in political science with an emphasis on international issues, go on to graduate work, and then take the Foreign Service exam with the goal of working in an embassy overseas.” 

 While IU may not have created the internationalist, it did have an impact on the direction of Flournoy’s career.  “IU is outstanding in the opportunities it makes available to its undergraduates.  I was president of the Residence Halls Association, and in that job I was allowed to take on mature and real responsibilities for such things as the management of a million dollar budget and responding to significant personnel issues.”  Flournoy had developed a strong interest in Africa.  ” With its undergraduate certificate in African Studies, IU was one of the few places that gave undergraduates major opportunities to study Africa.”

Flournoy found that not only could he study Africa, but even as an undergraduate, he could get involved in teaching about Africa.  Patrick O’Meara was director of African studies at the time.  “Dr. O’Meara gave me, an undergraduate, a chance to do a teaching assistantship.”  He became teaching assistant to Charles Bird in a course in African Studies with a special emphasis on South Africa.  “I learned a lot from Professor Bird.  He was always determined to experience not just to study.  He made his own wine and beer. He would have African drumming sessions at his house.” 

The shift in his career came in a summer internship after his junior year.  With a grant from IU, he worked at the CNN Atlanta headquarters that summer while investigating why news organizations didn’t get more information out of Africa.  During the fall semester of his senior year, CNN contacted him with an offer of another internship for the spring.  With the help of Dr. O’Meara, who agreed to oversee a major independent study project, Flournoy spent the spring at CNN.  He joined the team that produced CNN World Report, a  CNN venture to encourage international coverage by broadcasting and sharing news briefs, uncut and unedited, prepared by other news organizations around the world.  He was there during the Gulf War, and for the equivalent of a senior thesis, he investigated the media propaganda of the war, comparing the media strategies of Saddam Hussein and George Bush. 

The CNN internships jump-started a career that celebrated its 20th anniversary last August.  Flournoy comes back to IU periodically.  His visit this time was part of the “Making War, Making Peace” Themester of the College of Arts and Sciences.  He was much in demand as an expert visitor to telecomm courses.  In a presentation sponsored by the Union Board, he fielded passionate questions from students about the role of the media in today’s world.