Saturday, January 29, 2005

Emily Harris from Baghdad

Another insightful -- and frank -- discussion of being a reporter in Iraq is out, this time from NPR's Emily Harris. It is compiled from a series of e-mails she has exchanged with Willamette Week Editor Mark Zusman (Harris grew up in the Portland, Ore., area and began her broadcast career there, and her parents still live there, according to the Eds. note).

This one seems to be sanctined and so isn't likely to cause the fuss that the leaking of an e-mail by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi did last year.

Harris has some good insights. Among them:
  • I find it (beioing a journalist in Baghdad) intense. When I say intense, I don't mean just grappling with the possible threat to your life. I mean the range of people I've met and observed.
  • One advantage of being a female reporter is sometimes you get ignored.
  • "Wearing" is the first word that comes to mind to describe day-to-day life in Iraq. But that's not because of a shortage of human comforts! There are actually excellent chocolate-chip cookies available at certain supermarkets. And not-bad cheesecake at a bakery I discovered last spring.
  • So in my mind it's still a very important story!But when I was in Portland last August, I got the feeling many people had made up their minds that the inital invasion was either good or bad. That assessment was the end; everything they heard supported that position. It's a much more nuanced place than that.
  • One soldier once overheard me identify myself as a reporter then asked, rather angrily, why all the media report when soldiers get killed. I said I thought it's an important part of weighing the costs and benefits of this war. He said, "It makes us look weak." Which I hadn't thought of before.
It's a good read. But I understand what she's saying about people at home tiring of the story. For those who pooh-poohed the parallels with Vietnam, there's another one. Go look it up. I lived through it, and that's exactly the homefront attitude that developed (remember the "silent majority") -- and it stinks for journalists like Harris who understand that nuance is critical in understanding not just the current situation but the affect this is likely to have for the next two decades.


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