http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...ml?hpid=topnewsIn L.A., Families and Friends Await Pardoned Journalists
Laura Ling, Euna Lee and Bill Clinton Expected to Arrive on Wednesday
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009; 7:14 PM
LOS ANGELES -- One woman approached China's border with North Korea as a seasoned foreign correspondent, the other as a sharp editor who was on her very first trip abroad in her new role as a producer.
Laura Ling, 32, one of the two American journalists released by North Korea on Tuesday after five months in captivity, had reported from Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil, Pakistan and Eastern Europe, among other places.
"She knows her way around the world," said Morgan Wandell, who supervised Ling at San Francisco-based Current TV after working with her at another start-up, the Channel One news outlet that is broadcast into classrooms. "And she's a smart, prepared journalist. One of the things I take a little bit of issue with, she's not a cavalier risk-taker at all. She's very smart, and while she's curious and ambitious, she knows her limits, and she's certainly not a cowboy."
Euna Lee, 36, had been a standout editor at Current TV, the cable and Web network co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, and was breaking into producing via the route that had worked for Ling a decade earlier: hard work backed by language skills and cultural knowledge that could add immense value to a story that demanded discretion and delicacy. The women had traveled to the Chinese border with North Korea, where they were preparing a report about North Korean refugees.
"It was unfortunately her first assignment," said Annika Mandel, who was hired as a writer-producer at Current in 2005, about the same time Lee came on as a video editor, the person who ties the report together.
"She was the editor we all wanted to work with," said Mandel, who now works for a health insurer. "I knew that if I worked with her, my work was going to be ten times better than if I was going to do it myself. She brought a really critical creative eye to things."
Friends said they expected the women to arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday on the plane carrying former president Bill Clinton, who arranged their release Tuesday in a trip to Pyongyang.
"We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms," said a statement from their families, whose united effort to free the women display the qualities -- discipline, determination and devotion -- that friends said marked the captives' lives.
"We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home," the statement said. "We must also thank all the people who have supported our families through this ordeal, it has meant the world to us. "
In Los Angeles, Lee will be reunited with her husband, actor Michael Saldate, and their daughter, Hanna, 4. Lee's parents live in Seoul, the South Korean capital where she grew up. She has two sisters in the United States, where she came to attend college.
"She has a little bit of an accent," Mandel said.
Ling will see her husband, Iain Clayton, a British-born investment banker who has said he wrote her a letter every day of the five months she was captive. Wandell said the two met in college, on a concert date that went so well Ling purposely left her ID in his borrowed jacket "so she had an excuse for contacting him."
"We have been together for 12 years and this is the longest I've gone without hearing her voice," Clayton wrote on a blog for CNN's "Larry King Live," where family members appeared in late May when they judged that going public might help after the women's admission they had crossed the border. The families largely withdrew again after North Korea sentenced the women to 12 years hard labor, following the advice of experts, including Gore, who friends of the family said was consistently available.
"There was a strategy for a long time to keep things sort of low-key," Mandel said. "They didn't want to make them any more marketable as detainees than they already were."
Ling grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks. Her father, a second-generation Chinese American, was a military contractor; her mother was born in Taiwan. At Del Campo High School, her sister, Lisa, was already on her way to success as a TV journalist on a program, "Scratch," that went national, said Jim Jordan, who taught Laura Ling honors English her junior year.
Lisa Ling went on to National Geographic, "Oprah" and "The View," but, Jordan said, "I wouldn't say Laura was in her shadow." Friends and relatives describe the sisters as best friends.
"Laura was always just really secure, said Angie Wang, a cousin. "She knew who she was."
The sisters helped each other. When Gotham Chopra, a producer at Channel One, was preparing to travel to China for a story in 1999, he told Lisa he needed an interpreter. She recommended Laura, fresh from UCLA and fluent in Mandarin. By trip's end, Channel One had offered her a full-time job.
" She evolved within the first six months from being a lower-level translator to associate producer to she's now basically running Current's Vanguard news division," Chopra said.
On the trip to the North Korean border, Lee was following the same path into producing. Fluent in the language of the refugees, "her Korean would be very helpful," Mandel said. Plus, she was a good listener.
"If you're ever having a problem, you can go to Euna and just vent, and she validates your feelings and helps you get through a hard time." Mandel said. "I definitely had a few of those starting at a job, and you could always rely on Euna.
"She's a devoted worker and a devoted family person and just a sweet soul. A very sweet soul."