Award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker
Leslie Cockburn is a graduate of Yale (BA ‘74) and the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (MA ‘76). Her career as an award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker spanned thirty-five years.
In 1976, she won the Vogue writing prize in London and began working for NBC News and later CBS News 60 Minutes covering foreign affairs.
She began her documentary film career in 1980 at CBS Reports. She won an Emmy and Writers Guild award in 1981 for co-directing and writing The Nuclear Battlefield on tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. She went on to direct a CBS Reports on the tobacco lobby and to direct and serve as correspondent for several films for PBS Frontline, including Inside the Cartels, on the war between the Cali and Medellin cocaine cartels and The War We Left Behind, on the devastating effects of sanctions in Iraq. She directed and produced Peter Jennings Reporting: From the Killing Fields, on the return of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, that aired in 1990, and won the Robert F. Kennedy Award, the George Polk Award, the Columbia Dupont Award and the Overseas Press Club Award. In 1997, Ms. Cockburn co-produced The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.
Ms. Cockburn has written three books and co-authored two more on foreign affairs among them Looking for Trouble, on her coverage of “six wars and a revolution”, including the war in Central America, the anti Duvalier revolution in Haiti, the wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq (both Gulf Wars) and the guerrilla and drug wars in Colombia. Her latest book (2013) is the political thriller Baghdad Solitaire, set in Baghdad in the fall of 2003.
In 1998, she became a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. With her husband Andrew Cockburn (Washington Editor of Harpers Magazine), she wrote for Vanity Fair, including stories in Baghdad, where she was the only Western journalist to interview Saddam’s sons, China, where she interviewed the Red Princes, and Iran, where she gained extraordinary access to the Ayatollahs in the holy Shia city of Qum. She and Andrew also wrote for the New Yorker on the Royal family, the Wahhabis and the opposition in Saudi Arabia.
Leslie has produced and directed dozens of segments for 60 Minutes, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Yemen and Russia between 1997 and 2011, winning the Emmy award for her story on Yuri Lushkov in Moscow and the Columbia Dupont Award, for a “prescient” story on radical fundamentalist groups in Pakistan in 2000. In 2009, she directed the critically acclaimed feature documentary American Casino, on the financial meltdown, which won the Women Film Critics Circle Award for Best Documentary. Leslie was invited to be a Poynter Fellow at Yale. In 2010, she won a second George Polk Award for her 60 Minutes story “The Price of Oil” on oil speculation on Wall Street.
In 2013 her novel Baghdad Solitaire was published by Asahina and Wallace. In 2014 she wrote a cover story on Hillary Clinton for British Vogue. In 2016, with co-writer Susanna Styron, she adapted Baghdad Solitaire for the screen. She is currently finishing a novel set in Afghanistan. In March 2016, she lectured on her fiction at NYU Shanghai.
In 2017-18, in the wake of the Trump victory, she ran for office. Leslie defeated five opponents to become the Democratic nominee for the US House of Representatives in the 5th district of Virginia. She lost in the general election by 6 points, having done better in her district than any Democrat since redistricting. Her campaign made the gerrymandered 5th district competitive and left a powerful field organization behind for all Democratic candidates. Leslie’s story of how she entered the race, “Thank you Mr. Trump”, was published in Vanity Fair.
She is a member of the Cosmos Club in Washington, the Explorers Club in New York, and is a founding member of the Frontline Club in London. She has served on the boards of the Piedmont Environmental Council in Virginia, the Krebser Fund in Rappahannock, the Washington Ballet, the Pen Faulkner Foundation and the Fund for Constitutional Government. This year she joined the board of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti. (H.A.S.)
Leslie is a skier, sailor and hiker. She raises Red Devon cattle (George Washington’s favorite) for grass-fed beef and produces organic hay. She has created an ornamental garden dedicated to butterflies and bees.
Leslie has three children, four grandchildren, and lives with her husband Andrew in Rappahannock County, Virginia.