Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Second Draft of History?

The Columbia Journalism Review's series, "Into the Abyss," an oral history of the reporters who've been covering Iraq is a fascinating read.

Two years ago, I wrote this after watching Reporters at War on TV:
I also can't help but wonder, and I really had this question nagging at me all through the drive towards Baghdad in March of 2003: How much are the reporters holding back so that they can put the really juicy stuff in their books. You know, the ones they plan on writing when they come back.

I still wonder that, but this piece did make me realize that there is a danger inherent in simply telling the story in dangerous places where, in this case, an American is an American is an American. Doesn't matter if you're a soldier or a reporter or a diplomat, you're simply seen as someone who doesn't belong.

For example, from Chapter 6 - Turning Points:
Alissa Rubin
Los Angeles Times

[In March 2004], people in Fallujah had been laying IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and we knew that a serious assault was coming. We had someone with the Marines, writing about the Marines, and some civilians in Fallujah were killed, and so I felt that we needed to tell the story also from the point of view of the civilian Fallujans. So I went out there to talk to them. And I was in a hospital and a relative of someone who had just been killed came in and he was very angry that there was a foreigner there, although I was properly dressed in an abaya and a hijab, but he became furious and he pulled out a gun. An Iraqi translator I was working with was there and [the angry man] basically held the gun far closer to his head or my head than either of us ever want to see again.

And Suhail [Rubin’s translator] told him, “Calm down, stop it. We didn’t mean any harm.” That sort of thing. And he told him that we were trying to explain what had happened to his relative who had been killed. No one offered to help us or pull the man away, and we walked out of the hospital and survived. Although we were very afraid as we walked out that we’d be shot in the back.

In an age when you don't know who has access to satellite television or the internet, you don't know who is going to end up seeing or reading your story, you don't have the assurance that you once did that only the people back home are going to see what you're showing. I still think that there is some deceitfulness, and I think that our newsrooms are beholden to delivering eyeballs to advertisers over serving the public trust, but I have less of a gripe with the reporters themselves than I might have before.