Foreign correspondents have been on the endangered species list in recent years, but Lawrence Wright isn't going anywhere. He won a Pulitzer for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and a film adaptation of his first one-man stage production, My Trip to Al Queda, premiered this month on HBO. Wright cannot be regarded as simply a hold-out of a rapidly declining breed, but rather as a champion of some sort of journalistic natural selection. They've trimmed down the ranks, but Wright is still here, and with good reason.

His endurance in the field is marked by his deft reporting in the Middle East, but also by his translation of such investigations into effective pieces of theater. Wright does it for the second time with The Human Scale, a stage adaptation of his essay "Captives," which appeared in the November 9th issue of The New Yorker and looked, unflinchingly, at the desperate situation in Gaza. Last week Wright spoke with us about his take on the Park51 mosque, the underground tunnels in Gaza, and his fear for the future of journalism.

Directed by the Public's artistic director Oskar Eustis, The Human Scale opens October 2nd at the New Yorker Festival and continues through October 31st at 3-Legged Dog.

What is it like for you as a journalist to be the subject of all these interviews right now? [Laughs] Oh, God! I mean, I've done it before, but I always feel like I'm on the wrong side of the fence when I'm being interviewed rather than interviewing. I also have more sympathy than I should for the reporter because that's what my art is.

My Trip to Al Queda came out on HBO recently. How did you feel your stage performance translated to film? Well, I was really lucky to find a kindred spirit in Alex Gibney, whose vision for how to take what was a theatrical experience and turn it into a cinematic one. Alex came up to me after seeing the show at the Trinity Center, and there were several people who had talked to me about making a documentary of it, but Alex's notion of the screen that I had behind me, where I was projecting the images during the show, was like a tunnel, and you could go through that screen and go into any other part of the world. It could be Egypt, London, wherever. We could break out of the theater and then come back to it as needed. It was a simple idea, but it made perfect sense to me as a way of translating the piece into a movie.

A lot of critics have compared the use of the screen in your documentary to Gore's technique in An Inconvenient Truth. How do you feel about that comparison? Certainly An Inconvenient Truth gave a little more room for documentary filmmakers to seek a popular audience for a difficult subject, and all along we knew that we were dealing with a very difficult subject, and something that's hard for people to accept, because it's threatening, it's unsettling, and it's very exotic to a lot of people's understanding. A documentary film is a great way of helping people understand, because somehow when one is able to see the people involved, it lends a certain immediacy and understanding that is hard to get on the page.

You've written a plethora of books across several disparate fields, but The Looming Tower, My Trip to Al Qaeda and now The Human Scale all look...and I'm being reductionist here...all look at a similar world. What drew you to this beat, why do you cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and terrorism in the Middle East? The Middle East has been a part of my life since I was a young man, when I went to teach in Cairo. I spent two years in Cairo and I felt a certain urgency about trying to understand the region and the conflict here, in the modest way that a journalist might be able to try and shed some understanding and enlightenment on a region that is profoundly conflicted, and a conflict that has real consequences for Americans. That's what drew me into that region.

After everything you've witnessed, how do you feel about this conflict over the Park51 community center and mosque happening in New York right now?[Wright recently wrote a comment on Park51 in the New Yorker] I have two general thoughts about it. This whole controversy reminds me a lot of the whole Danish cartoon controversy. The cartoons—there were twelve of them—were published in a Danish newspaper. They were very unmemorable for the most part, aside from two of them. One of them was (as it was reported to me) Muhammad with a bushy beard and a curved sword, and it looked a bit like a racial archetype. The other was of Muhammad with a turban shaped like a bomb, which is probably best known.

These cartoons were actually republished in a number of Arab papers to prove that they weren't really all that offensive, they were just tasteless. And essentially nothing happened. Then six months later, you have Danish embassies being burned, boycott of Danish cars, and 139 people are dead! So what happened during that interim period was that some radical imams in Denmark decided to make an issue of this, and they put the cartoons in a portfolio to show to religious authorities in the Muslim world, but the cartoons themselves weren't enough, so they added other cartoons that were never published. They had an image of a dog raping a Muslim at prayer. They had an image of what looked like a man wearing a Muslim prayer cap with a pig snout over his mouth. That turned out to be a French farmer at a pig-squealing contest. They had another picture of, supposedly, Muhammad as a pedophile. These were never published. They showed them to people in the Muslim world, and of course it got people very worked up.

That is somewhat like what is happening now. The truth is one thing, and what people have made of it is something else. They've improved the truth in order to make it more controversial. There's a concept in Islam called "fitna" which means chaos or disorder. When people refer to Islam being a religion of peace, they often reference the fact that Muslims are not supposed to create fitna. I think it would be wise for the organizers of that mosque to be a little more flexible in their response to the conflict over where it should be located.

In your essay Captives, you talk about gaining access to the underground tunnels in Gaza. What was that like? It looks like prairie dog land. You go to the border with Egypt, and there are these mounds of sand in places, and there are tents over holes. A kid would be hired to disperse the sand. They would dig out the sand and load it on a docking cart and they would scatter the sand in the desert. What mainly struck me is how many of them there are. There were more than a thousand before the war, but there's only a few hundred of them now. But they're still digging them. Not all products are allowed in [to the Gaza Strip] by the Israelis, so what they don't allow comes in through the tunnels.

You mentioned the long list of materials not allowed into Gaza in Captives. Are those bans still in effect? Cement is one of the things that is still banned, so that's what they bring in through the tunnels. This is a ridiculous approach. Whatever is banned by the Israelis is provided by the smugglers. The Israelis have killed the legitimate economy, and created this black market economy run by these smugglers. I'm worried that they're creating a criminal class in Gaza.

How did you go about gaining the trust of your interviewees in places like Gaza? Well, first of all, its a bit of a mystery why people ever talk to journalists. [Laughs] I'm sure you've run into this. What I've learned is that everybody really wants to sell their story. No matter who they are, everybody feels that what they're doing is the right thing, and if they could only explain themselves to a reasonable person that understands them, then maybe they'll listen. I try to be the reasonable person in their mind, the person they would like to have understand them. That's my persona when I go into a story like that. If I can persuade them that that is who I am, then most people will want to share their story with me. They have a great desire for people to understand them.

Where do you think journalism as a field is headed? Oh, man, I'm worried. Journalism is in a terrible quandary right now. I think we're paying a penalty for it already. There's so much disinformation that's gotten into public discourse because the press has gotten so shrunken. The press is like a rudder in society, and it keeps extremism from blowing the ship off course. That rudder is having less of an effect now, because so much of journalism has withered. So many newspapers and magazines have gone out of business. Just the number of foreign correspondents is at a bare minimum. There's plenty of information, but from much less reliable sources. We don't have very many foreign correspondents in Saudi Arabia, where I've taught for three months. So we rely on Saudi government television to tell us what is going on in that country. Well that's not exactly an unbiased source. That's the price we pay for cutting back so severely on our international press.

Do you see that unraveling happening at The New Yorker as well? The New Yorker, so far, has been able to withstand a lot of this economic downturn. We've suffered as a magazine. I mean, there's been cutbacks, expenses have been trimmed to the bone. And the ad pages...they'll never recover. Yes, the New Yorker has been able to just barely...I don't know if we're making a profit, because they don't release those kinds of figures, but we're not losing money the way that a lot of other magazines have been doing. I'm hopeful that The New Yorker will survive, but there's so many others going out of business. I don't see a future for them. I don't know what will replace them that would be reliable and trustworthy.

What advice do you have for journalists just entering the field? You're a pioneer in this new field! This is obviously the direction it's turning. Towards entrepreneurial reporters who can find a way to somehow make a living in the field. I'm hopeful that you, or someone of that sort will be able to make it profitable enough for you and reliable enough for the consumer.

Do you have any plans to go back to the Middle East in the immediate future to work on another story? We're hoping to take this play to Israel, and hopefully then over to Gaza and Palestine. I would really like for that to happen. That's the thing that I'm thinking of most right now.

It would have a whole other impact over there. It would!