Magazine article Editor & Publisher

New Book from 'WSJ' Bureau Chief 'In Same Spirit' as Famous E-Mail from Iraq

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

New Book from 'WSJ' Bureau Chief 'In Same Spirit' as Famous E-Mail from Iraq

Article excerpt

It was the e-mail read 'round the world. Nearly four years ago in September 2004, Farnaz Fassihi -- an Iranian-American correspondent in Iraq for The Wall Street Journal -- sent a brutally frank, private e-mail to friends that somehow leaked out to fellow journalists and various bloggers, who posted much of its contents on numerous Web sites (including E&P Online). "Iraq remains a disaster," she wrote, and that was just for starters. It was not widely known until the e-mail, for example, that, as Fassihi revealed, foreign correspondents in Baghdad were "under virtual house arrest."

She described the hardship of the forgotten Iraqi citizens caught in the middle of "a raging, barbaric guerilla war," and lamented countless abductions, including that of her friend Georges, "the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf."

It caused a sensation. Some readers charged the U.S. media with keeping the true nature of horrid conditions in Iraq from them -- was it suitable only for airing to friends? -- while others charged that Fassihi, based on the e-mail, must be providing the Journal with "biased" reporting.

Fassihi's editors stuck by her. She remained on assignment in Iraq for another full year -- and, coincidentally or not, the tone of a lot of reporting from Iraq by others did start to focus more on average people as conditions, for many months, went from bad to worse.

Now Fassihi has penned a memoir, Waiting for an Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq, to be published in September by Public Affairs. She is now deputy bureau chief of the Middle East and Africa for the Wall Street Journal and is currently based in Lebanon, she told me in a recent, non-controversial, e-mail. Growing up in Tehran, she experienced the Iran-Iraq war quite directly, when Saddam's war planes dropped bombs nearby. Her family soon moved to Portland, Ore. After working for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., and The Providence (R.I.) Journal, Fassihi joined the WSJ in 2003 and was soon sent to Iraq.

In the forthcoming book, Fassihi revisits that famous e-mail only briefly, in the foreword, recalling that after it was passed around the globe, it even showed up as the subject of a "Doonesbury" cartoon. Because she was writing friends, "I spoke freely, without the restraints of daily journalists that obliged me to be distant and objective," and this moved readers the way her newspaper pieces rarely did. …

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