The Real Story: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Posted on March 6, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Tina Fey’s new film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is “inspired by” not “based on” the true story of journalist Kim Barker, which is why the character’s name is one letter removed from her real-life inspiration: she is called Kim Baker.

The real Kim Barker was a print journalist, not a television correspondent. She wrote for the Chicago Tribune and she did go to Afghanistan planning to spend three months and she did stay for three years. Her book, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan describes her struggles to understand a culture that was very different from what she knew and yet in some ways similar to her home in Montana: men with beards and guns who hate their government. As we see in the film, the people she encountered included an official who made romantic overtures and the other correspondents who were sometime rivals, sometime friends, and who, caught up in the “Kabubble,” let off steam with some intense partying.

Visiting with her former Tribune colleagues to talk about the movie, Barker explained that unlike Fey’s version, she went to Kabul because she was a journalist, not because she was unhappy with her life at home and needed and adventure.

“I remember after 9/11 happened, (former Tribune reporter) Kirsten Scharnberg and I went to some Italian restaurant that had white butcher paper on the table and we mapped out how many women were getting sent out and how many men were getting sent out (to cover aftermath of the terrorist attacks),” she said. “As a journalist you don’t really think that much about the risk or of being terrified. It was just, ‘I want to be one of the people who get to see it.'”

She did become very close to her “fixer,” and says that if he and his family had not relocated to Canada she would not have been able to write the book because it would have put them at risk. You can read a sample of her Tribune coverage here.

Barker is now an investigative reporter for the New York Times. Here she talks about her book.

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