October 15, 2021 | NEWS | By Isaac Yee | Photo courtesy of the author
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dave Philipps visited Colorado College this week to talk about his book “Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs.” His book chronicles the story of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher who was charged and subsequently acquitted of war crimes including killing a defenseless ISIS prisoner during a deployment in Iraq.
In the event organized by Corey Hutchins, the interim director of the Journalism Institute at Colorado College, students and members of the local community participated in a reading and Q&A session with Philipps, a Colorado Springs local who currently covers the military for the New York Times.
Hutchins told The Catalyst that he knows Philipps through the journalism community in Colorado Springs. Philipps grew up in the Springs and previously worked for The Gazette, the city’s biggest newspaper, before moving on to The New York Times. Philipps has also participated in several journalism classes at CC upon invitation from Hutchins.
The event marked one of the first in-person events held by the Journalism Institute since in-person learning resumed this fall.
Philipps started the event with a 20-minute reading of his book “Alpha,” that captivated the audience. As he did not want to give too much of the book away, he chose to read just the prologue. This was enough to have students at the edge of their seats wanting to hear more.
After the discussion, Hutchins led a Q&A session with Philipps.
Asked by The Catalyst about when he first heard about the story, Philipps said that he read about the charges against Gallagher in a small piece in the Navy Times.
“It was a story that basically said this Navy Seal, Eddie Gallagher, who was a platoon chief, had been arrested and charged with murder,” said Philipps. “As a military reporter, I thought it was really interesting that this guy got turned in by his own men.”
Philipps said he quickly realized that the trial was “going to be a really gripping story” and decided to write about it for The New York Times.
“I just couldn’t shut up about it. That man would make an incredible movie,” he said. Philipps added that the idea for the book came when Random House approached him and asked if he wanted to write one. At first, Philipps hesitated but he quickly realized that some of the Navy SEALs who were on Gallagher’s team had “an amazing story to tell that no one ever said had great value.”
He described his book as a “murder mystery involving Navy SEALs and a courtroom drama with the president,” joking that before it published, he thought, “probably, I could get it into the airport bookstore.”
From the start, Philipps said, “I knew that it was a great story that had an important message to tell, so that made the decision [to write the book].”
Following the Q&A session, Philipps stayed behind to sign copies of “Alpha” and talk to the participants more about his book and his experiences as a journalist. Esteban Candelaria, who graduated from CC last year and now works at The Gazette, weighed in. “Dave’s obviously a phenomenal writer and that was put on display when he read his book aloud,” he said.
“He’s really good, engaging storyteller, a super humble guy,” Hutchins said. “This is a Pulitzer Prize winner… who is willing to share his time and his knowledge with students anytime. We are really glad that he is willing to do that.”
Journalism minor Izzie Hicks ’22 said she “enjoyed the night and being able to see journalism homies in person.”
Despite this being one of the first in-person events hosted by the Journalism Institute since the pandemic, this was not the first time Philipps has come to Colorado College. Over the past few years, he has taught reporting workshops about some of the stories he’s written for The New York Times in journalism classes at CC.
One such workshop took students through Philipps’ reporting process on his story about Col. Paris Davis, one of the first Black officers in the Special Forces, and Davis’ difficulty in obtaining the Medal of Honor he was awarded compared to his white counterparts.
“Essentially, the [workshops] stuck us in the real world, making them very practical lessons. Dave was also a huge part of why the [workshops] were so helpful because he did actually take the time to edit our work and give us pointers on our writing,” said Candelaria, who has taken two classes Philipps led workshops in.
Hicks, who also participated in one of the same workshops as Candelaria, said they “helped me in journalism because I got the experience of talking to sources and writing reports in a high-pressure situation.”
For a nail-biting account of the Eddie Gallagher saga, pick up Philipps’ book “Alpha” at a local bookstore near you.
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this piece mispelled Philipps’ surname and incorrectly stated the full title of his book. We regret the error.