NEW YORK – Reporter Joshua Goodman traveled with his family to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York for a peaceful week away from the news. Instead, the news found him.
The journalist said goodbye to his wife and asked her to pick up their two children before he began to work, equipped only with his mobile phone. He dictated words, took photos and sent video that told the world someone had attacked Rushdie, whose 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims and led Iran’s then-leader to issue an edict calling for the author’s death.
It was a remarkable example of being in the right place at the right time to witness an unexpected event.
“It was very surreal is the only way you'd describe it,” Goodman said. “This was the last place you'd expect something like this.”
The institution is more than a century old, located over an hour away from the closest major city of Buffalo, N.Y. It is known for its summer retreats where visitors come for spiritual reflection and education. Goodman was one of 13 family members who rented a house on the grounds for the week. He left his computer behind and ignored emails.
Goodman, 46, learned to sail. On Thursday night, he and his family roasted marshmallows while watching a full moon rise over Lake Chautauqua.
Rushdie's interview, advertised as focusing on the importance of persecuted writers having a place to work, was one of the week's highlights. Goodman arrived at the outdoor amphitheater just as it was about to begin.
The threats against Rushdie — a $3 million bounty was placed on his head and he spent years in hiding — had not been forgotten. Some audience members joked nervously about not wanting to be in the front row. But there was very little security at a location where many families don't even lock their doors at night, Goodman said.
Rushdie was seated and was being introduced when his attacker climbed onstage and began assaulting him. From his vantage point, Goodman said he wasn't sure if Rushdie was being punched or stabbed, until he could see what appeared to be blood.
“There was a moment of shock,” he said. “Everyone in the audience was sitting in disbelief.”
When an officer with a police dog and others rushed toward the stage, Goodman realized what was happening and switched into reporter mode. He quickly sent an email to several of his editors at AP about what was happening and headed toward the stage himself.
Goodman lingered to take pictures and interview witnesses despite the institute's staff saying he and all the audience members had to leave, he said. Goodman had covered protests before while stationed in Latin America, so scenes of violence were not foreign to him, but never in such a bucolic setting.
The AP sent an alert to its members about the news at 11:06 a.m. Eastern, followed by the first story six minutes later.
It was only after an hour of work that Goodman had the chance to reflect on what he said was one of the worst things he'd ever seen. “It was so callous and deliberate,” he said.
Goodman said he was sad for his children who, like many, are affected by bad news in the world. He had hoped for a week's reprieve, and they had enjoyed their time in summer camp.
“I don't take any satisfaction in witnessing tragedy,” he said. “I do take satisfaction in informing others.”