Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Panel Assesses "Covering Iraq"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Panel Assesses "Covering Iraq"

Article excerpt

IN A LIVELY April 19 panel discussion at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a division of the Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, DC, journalists who have covered Iraq tackled subjects such as why there are so few reporters on the ground,

John Schidlovsky, founder and director of the International Reporting Project at SAIS, summed up the problem: It's too expensive and dangerous to send reporters abroad. As U.S. newspapers begin to pull out of international arenas in order to cut costs, he said, they are focusing more on local stories that attract local advertisers. Schidlovsky cited the run-up to the Iraq war as a perfect example of the danger of this policy: with fewer perspectives from fewer reporters, the press failed to ask the right questions. Schidlovsky said this country sorely needs multiple news outlets and many eyes to bear witness for the public.

Matthew O'Neill, co-director of the HBO film "Baghdad ER," spent two months embedded with the American military to make his film. Next time, O'Neill said, despite the danger, he'd like to be imbedded with Iraqi nationals in an Iraqi hospital to get their perspective on the war.

Quil Lawrence, foreign correspondent with PRI/BBC's "The World," spent time in both northern and southern Iraq right after the invasion-"when everyone was exploding wanting to tell their story." Then reporters could jump in the car and do a story on the Marsh Arabs and spend the rest of the day in Mosul, he said. "Nowadays," he noted, "you have to be border-line insane to be working in Iraq." According to BBC rules reporters can't leave Baghdad, so Iraqis have to come into the Green Zone to talk to them.

Lawrence described trying to interview Iraqi shopkeepers while walking in Fallujah embedded with an Army foot patrol: "They've just searched through the man's underwear drawer and I'm asking how he feels-in one minute-before I try to catch up" with the troops.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, was in Iraq before the invasion, when he couldn't talk with Iraqis without shaking off his "minder." He also was in Iraq during the "one golden year" when Americans were hugged and kissed and the greatest danger they faced was drinking water from the Tigris. Then the light turned off and the door closed and reporters became prisoners in their hotels and offices.

Now, Chandrasekaran said, his most important job is to train a half-dozen Iraqi journalists-"I run Journalism 101"-who do the work Americans can no longer do.

Chandrasekaran said he sometimes feels like he is running a witness protection service. …

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