BAGHDAD — And no, I’m not talking about WMDs or anything like that. More in my quixotic feud with noted fiction writer Ralph Peters, who came here for a little while and declared All is Well, and “the media” are aiming to undermine the heroic mission here in Iraq with all that bad news. Why, he himself saw Iraqis cheering his patrol as he rumbled through Baghdad atop an up-armored humvee.
Let’s conduct a little thought experiment. “The media” here are fiercely competitive. Everyone of us is looking for any angle — any! — that will break news, make our stories stand out or otherwise distinguish ourselves. That’s what journalists do, and the corps here comes from the entire ideological spectrum, from the conservative to the socialist. But weirdly, this herd of cats — which is what we could be best be compared to — have all come to the same conclusion: Iraq is a mess.
I would argue that this prevailing view is the aggregate of a lot of professional reporting, mine but a small bit. If it gravitates toward a single viewpoint, well, that’s the way it is. Sorry, truth hurts. But a guy who writes exclusively for publications that supported the war before it went down comes here and says things are fine, and somehow I’m supposed to suddenly doubt my own observations and experience? Pardon me if I believe my lyin’ eyes instead of him.
But more unforgivably, Peters also “continues his libel”:http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/03/myths_of_iraq.html against Iraqi stringers/journalists by saying the “The Iraqi leg-men earn blood money for unbalanced, often-hysterical claims.” (emphasis added.)
Mr. Peters, you should be ashamed of yourself. Three Iraqi journalists have been killed this week alone trying to report the news, and the stringer who work for us are no less the journalists than the guys at the Iraqi networks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists:
Muhsin Khudhair, editor of the news magazine Alef Ba, was killed by unidentified gunmen near his home in Baghdad Monday night, becoming the third journalist killed in Iraq in the last week, Reuters and Agence France-Presse reported. The shooting took place just hours after Khudair attended a meeting of the Iraqi Journalists Union, which discussed the targeting of local journalists in Iraq, Reuters said.
The killing punctuated a deadly week for the press. Amjad Hameed, head of programming for Iraq’s national television channel Al-Iraqiya, and driver Anwar Turki were killed on Saturday by gunmen apparently affiliated with al-Qaeda. Munsuf Abdallah al-Khaldi, a presenter for Baghdad TV, was killed by unidentified gunmen last Tuesday as he was driving from Baghdad to the northern city of Mosul.
At least 67 journalists and 24 media support workers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, making it the deadliest conflict for the media in recent history. The killings continue two trends in Iraq: the vast majority of victims have been Iraqi citizens; and most cases have been targeted assassinations rather than crossfire. CPJ research shows that Iraqis constitute nearly 80 percent of journalists and support staffers killed for their work in Iraq. Overall, sixty percent of journalist deaths were murders.
Maybe Mr. Peters would like a nice chat with “Salih” from the _Washington Post_, who reported a story about the looting of Saddam’s palaces in Tikrit after the U.S. military turned it over to the Iraqi security forces. His reward? A $50,000 bounty put on his head by the head of security in Tikrit, Jassam Jabara.
Perhaps he’d like to talk to the family of Allan Enwiyah, the translator for the _Christian Science Monitor_’s Jill Carroll. He was killed when Jill was kidnapped Jan. 7, unprotected by American firepower. She is still captive, by the way.
Or perhaps he’d like to discuss “blood money” with the widow of Yasser Salihee, a careful and conscientious reporter for Knight-Ridder who was killed by American soldiers at a checkpoint when the car in front of him blocked his view of the troops, who opened fire and killed him. Did I know him? Yes, but not well. I found out about his death when Hannah Allam, then bureau chief for Knight-Ridder called me in hysterics.
You want to know what the Iraqis — who frankly do a better job that we do — feel and think? “Read this”:http://cjr.org/issues/2006/2/McLeary.asp. Highlight:
“To get a story you have to risk your life,” [said Salima] matter-of-factly. “Sometimes I wonder if the people in the U.S. really understand how much we go through in order to write the story.” To underscore that, she told of being pushed from behind by an Iraqi man while covering a story with a Western reporter, of being caught in a firefight in Sadr City, Baghdad’s sprawling and violent slum, and of being threatened by a group of insurgents while out reporting. Yet in a country with few opportunities, journalism is a way to make a living, and to stay involved. “We never know when something could happen to us,” she said. “But then at the same time, I cannot stop living.”
How dare you, Ralph. How dare you question these men and women’s intentions and honesty. I’ve worked with our staff in the TIME house for two years and I’ve never seen a more dedicated, careful group of journalists. They’re not in this for the money. We pay them well, yes, but they could make more money doing other work. Lord knows they’d be safer, and their families would be, too. But they come in to work every day and do their level best to get us every scrap of information and to get it right. Anyone of them is a better journalist than Ralph Peters, who feels his view from the back of humvee is the only valid one. It’s _a_ viewpoint, yes, but hardly the whole story. You come talk with _me_, Ralph, we’ll go walk the streets of Karradah, drive without armor, feel the copper in your mouth when the fear and adrenaline comes to you in wave after wave and you realize the L-T from the 320th hasn’t got your six for you, man. You come talk to me then.
Finally, I’ll let a former Army guy have the last word. This from a buddy of mine who was a Public Affairs Officer just a few short months ago:
Oh my god, dude. [Peters] is completely full of sh*t. That’s all I can say. Apparently that f**k hasn’t spent enough time down in the trenches here to understad the little bastards will run out and wave at any patrol for one reason — begging for choclate or soccer balls. They don’t care the Grunts are valiently coming to save the day. … He’s not aware of how f**king dangerous it is for gringos to roam the streets here.