Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mission IMPOSSIBLE?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mission IMPOSSIBLE?

Article excerpt

If the U.S. attacks Iraq, reporters must pursue the truth -- with both notebooks and gas masks at the ready

As a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq nears -- perhaps next month -- editors at most major daily newspapers remain confident they'll be able to cover the war with journalists bunkered in Baghdad, embedded with troops, or posted elsewhere in the Middle East. Reporters, by all accounts, are tanned, rested, and ready. Many are also packing gas masks and protective suits, and some are even rewriting their wills.

Most major papers are relying on the embedding opportunities offered by the Pentagon to supplement coverage, with a number of them receiving as many as half a dozen slots for journalists to travel with the armed forces. Editors say the restrictions placed on embedded reporters -- and concerns that journalists bonding with troops might hurt coverage - - do not worry them.

"I don't see any reason not to be close to the troops," says Marjorie Miller, the Los Angeles Times' foreign editor, who expects to direct at least six embedded reporters and about 20 in the region overall.

While an invasion is far from inevitable, editors and publishers at several major papers have already started planning for coverage of a postwar Iraq -- literally jumping the gun. A destructive attack followed by a U.S. occupation most likely would require beefed-up reporting in the Persian Gulf area for years. "We will probably set up a mini-bureau there," Colin McMahon, foreign editor of the Chicago Tribune, says of this scenario. "I would imagine five or six people there for several months, perhaps a year."

"Our long-term coverage will depend on how long the war lasts," says Dennis McGrath, nation/world editor for the Star Tribune in

Minneapolis, citing resources as a concern. "If it's a short war, we can do more occupation coverage."

Bill Spindle, Middle East editor at The Wall Street Journal, says the postwar shakedown "is much more our story than the fighting," pointing to effects of a projected Iraqi regime change on oil prices, long-term Middle East stability, and the world economy.

Several editors told E&P, however, that they had not even begun to look that far down the road (a charge now being leveled at the Bush administration). But newspapers already making plans for postwar coverage include USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, The Boston Globe, the Detroit Free Press, The Miami Herald, and The Denver Post.

The road to, and from, Baghdad

As with past wars, many papers, such as The Oregonian in Portland, will rely exclusively on wires and syndicates for their invasion coverage (see story, p. 30). But for others, having everyone in place when the U.S. attack occurs is the chief concern. For many editors, that means placing the majority of their would-be war correspondents in the region as soon as possible -- even as early as, well, today.

"We know there is a narrowing time frame," says Philip Bennett, assistant managing editor/foreign for The Washington Post, who sent the first of as many as 20 reporters slated for war-related coverage into the Middle East a week ago. Like most major dailies, the Post will have a handful of reporters embedded with troops, others in surrounding countries, and at least one or two in Baghdad, Bennett says. The one hitch in that plan, however, is keeping access into Iraq open with limited visa availability. …

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