Covering Iraq

In the last two posts the role of
journalists and their trustworthiness have been discussed. In an interview on
Fresh Air today Dexter Filkins, the reporter for the New York Times covering
Iraq discussed how he worked in that dangerous environment. It’s an insightful
interview worth hearing as we think about journalism today.

In the last two posts the role of journalists and their trustworthiness have been discussed. In an interview on Fresh Air today Dexter Filkins, the reporter for the New York Times covering Iraq, discussed how he worked in that dangerous environment. It’s an insightful interview worth hearing as we think about journalism today.

Filkins described how he covered those who were drafting the Iraq constitution. He told interviewer Terri Gross that the constitution writers worked until midnight in the Green Zone, a fortified area not easily accessible. Filkins had to reach them in the early morning hours using Baghdad’s unreliable telephone system, or traveling to meet them, which was a violation of the curfew.

Given the violence of Baghdad in the daylight, one can only imagine the risk this involved under cover of darkness. Filkins lives outside the Green Zone so he travelled through dangerous streets that are the scene of car bombings, ambushes and banditry.

The interview isn’t about how he covers the war, it’s about his insights into the Iraqi situation, but it’s not possible to describe the situation without illustrating the challenges of covering stories there. It’s a risky, difficult posting.

Filkin’s comments reminded me of an article by James Glanz in the New York Times recently detailing the life of Fakhir Haider, a stringer slain as he pursued a story.

Even for him, a native, the danger of covering the war finally caught up with him. Filkins isn’t a journalist who drops in, stays a few days, writes a few stories and moves on. He has remained in Iraq for several months and is returning after a brief visit to the U.S.

War correspondence is an assignment unlike any other, but it illustrates what dedicated journalists do to get a story. Under the most adverse circumstances those who take on this kind of reporting demonstrate a commitment to storytelling that is courageous. Not every journalist is cut out to do this kind of work. But many work under adverse circumstances facing threats and other risks that are never included in their reporting.

It’s this kind of commitment that calls me back to a more balanced perspective when I get frustrated by reporting that doesn’t square with my own understanding. I’m willing to cut journalists some slack because I’ve seen people like Filkins and I’ve come to respect the commitment they bring to their work.

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