Journalist expelled from Yemen discusses her travels on podcast

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Gaylord News launched the new podcast series “Oklahomans of DC,” which will highlight Oklahomans living and working in the U.S. capital. The series is hosted by Gaylord News reporter Bennett Brinkman. PHOTO: Bennett Brinkman/Gaylord News

Bennett Brinkman, Reporter

WASHINGTON — An Associated Press reporter talked on a Gaylord News podcast about her experience being expelled from Yemen because of her journalism.

Gaylord News released the third episode on Thursday for its podcast series called “Oklahomans of DC,” spotlighting people from Oklahoma who now reside or work in the U.S. capital and how much the COVID-19 pandemic and recent political crises have shaped their lives.

The third episode features Ellen Knickmeyer, who never completed her intended bachelor’s degree from The University of Oklahoma because she left during her junior year to work at The Oklahoman newspaper. Soon afterward, her reporting for the Oklahoma City office of the Associated Press in the 1990s evolved into more and more national reporting for bigger AP bureaus, eventually allowing her to travel to various countries around the world.

Not every experience has been pleasant, however, as Knickmeyer recalled being thrown out of Yemen in retaliation for her coverage of the country’s president.

“At that time, that was right before the [2010-2011] Arab Spring uprising, so I was covering a little bit of Al-Qaeda and what have you,” Knickmeyer said. “I was kind of freelancing for a foreign policy magazine, and I got a good tip for a story, and I did the story about about the Yemen president [Ali Abdullah Selah]. And after the story came out, the president’s security guards showed up at my apartment and expelled from the country for it. They drove me to the airport at high speed and made me get on a plane.”

“They wanted me to leave the country right away, but I convinced them to take me back to my apartment and let me pack,” she said.

Knickmeyer, who now reports on national security and foreign policy for the AP, said that since that former Yemeni president has been overthrown, she believes she can eventually re-enter the country. Knickmeyer said she has also been expelled from Ivory Coast and Syria, and that such chaotic experiences “go with the territory.”

Despite having been expelled, Knickmeyer said she still has very fond memories of Yemen.

“It’s got some of the oldest cities in the world, thousands and thousands of years old, and the architecture is still the way it is,” Knickmeyer said. “It’s really off the beaten path, and I just liked wandering around in the old city Sana, the capital of Yemen, and the people there are so hospitable. If they realized I was lost, some old grandfatherly person would tell his grandson to figure out who I was and to get me back home. Stuff like that I enjoyed. And getting to see these out-of-the-way places with really intact cultures that haven’t been homogenized by Western culture yet — I really enjoyed a lot of that.”

At the time of recording for the podcast, Knickmeyer was tending to her great-grandfather’s old farm she had bought just outside of Oklahoma City, where she has been living since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world. “I wanted to come back here, because my family is here and my house is here,” Knickmeyer said.

Hosted by Gaylord News reporter Bennett Brinkman, “Oklahomans of DC” will highlight key differences between living in Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., as well as what experiences Oklahomans bring to the U.S. capital city and how the experience is affecting them.

“One thing that I’ve found is that if you try something and push it, lots of times it works,” Knickmeyer said. “If you push for a job hard enough, lots of times you’ll get it. I wanted to go overseas, so eventually someone sent me overseas. Obviously, I was lucky, too, and privileged. I do think it’s a little bit harder for people from Oklahoma who maybe didn’t go to an Ivy League college, it can be harder to bring yourself to the attention of the people with the authority to give out those jobs. But even then, there’s lots of Oklahoma reporters here in Washington, D.C. and overseas, lots of really well-respected ones.”

“Oklahomans of DC” is available for listening on streaming platforms such as Spotify and YouTube.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.