Defending Ellen (and the rest of us…)

BEIRUT — I was about to write a scathing retort to Airedale’s slag on Ellen Knickmeyer when I something more important happened: “Today, CBS cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed, and the correspondent, Kimberly Dozier, was critically injured”:http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/24/iraq/main541815.shtml when the convoy they were embedded with was hit by an IED. This brings the total journalists killed in Iraq to 71 with an additional 26 media workers (translators, drivers, etc.) also dead. My sympathies go out to all of their families.
“Airedale’s comment”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/05/alalousi_stands_alone.php#comment-31398, reprinted below, should be see in this light. My response is below his comment.

Chris,
on a side note, this reporter Ellen Knickmeyer
has filed a story from Baghdad ( green zone ) about an investigation into a possible incident of excessive force atrocity of marines and Iraqi soldiers ( Shia ? ) in a convoy through sunni dominated Haditha.
What I read was that a video tape ‘happened’ to catch the explosion of an IED and the following mi lai ……
Do you know this “Ellen Knickmeyer” who files reports about Haditha eye witness accounts from a Baghdad office?

The story that Airedale is referring to is “here”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12998125/.
First of all, let’s clear something up. ALMOST NO REPORTERS LIVE IN THE GREEN ZONE. I really don’t know why this has to be repeated so often. The U.S. military does not allow us to live there. The _Washington Post_ house, where Ellen lives, is right next to the TIME Magazine house, where I lived. We most certainly do NOT live in the Green Zone, and we go through the ups and downs — well, mostly downs — of living in Baghdad like other Iraqis. We have almost constant contact with Iraqis through out staff and their families.
And most of us don’t _want_ to live in the Green Zone. It’s boring. It’s almost impossible for our Iraqi staff to get in and out. And when they do, they open themselves up to retaliation from insurgents and terrorists who see anyone using a GZ entrance as a collaborator. It’s hella dangerous.
And, yes, I know Ellen well. We worked together briefly back in 1997 when I was new to the Associated Press and she was an old hand on the International desk.
But that’s not important. What’s important is the way reporters work in Baghdad these days. More on that later. But also important is Airedale’s blatant misreading of the story. The video didn’t “happen” to catch an IED and the massacre that followed. The story makes no mention of that, either, so Airedale didn’t read any such thing. Secondly, TIME Magazine broke this story back in February. I know the guys who brought in the video and I’ve seen it. It’s grim. It’s a recording of bodies, bloodstains, bullet holes and shell casings. It’s obvious from the video that this was a massacre and not a firefight.
I’m not going to go into too much, for security and competitive reasons, but TIME Magazine reporters — not Iraqi stringers — interviewed survivors of the massacre in a safe place in Baghdad after bringing them down from Haditha. I’m not sure how Ellen did it, but my read is that she did something similar, or used one of her Iraqi staffers to interview survivors in Haditha.
Oh, wait! That’s exactly how she did it: “The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, *witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week* and U.S. investigators said in Washington.”
In another paragraph, she writes: “Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.”
Hm. Sure sounds like a Washington Post reporter, possibly Ellen, did some shoe-leather work there.
But, look: This is how it’s done these days; we rely on stringers and Iraqi staffers who can go where Westerners can’t. It’s not perfect, but it works better than you think. Our Iraqi staffers are getting better and better: more professional, more discerning, more skeptical. I have utter faith in the Iraqi TIME staffer who brought this story to us, and I’m sure Ellen has the same confidence. Since I know Ellen and I know her to be a good journalist, I’m going to say I’m pretty sure she knows what she’s doing.
This accusation that reporters don’t go out has been dogging the press corps in Baghdad since things got bad, and it’s almost wholly undeserved. Why the hate, brother? Other than the obvious and clumsy White House attack on the media to discredit all news coming out of Iraq as “biased,” I also think it’s because the Washington press corps was so phenomenally bad in the lead-up to the war that people think we’re all the same people. We’re not. I don’t know any Baghdad reporters who were also in the Washington corps before the war. Except for maybe some TV and magazine parachute journalists.
But the fault, dear brutes, lies not just in ourselves, but in the stars of the blogosphere, sites like Daily Kos and Instapundit. Blog culture has created such a distrust of _all_ so-called Mainstream Media that it’s almost heretical to defend “the press” in a blog these days. Well, fire up the coals and burn me at the stake then: _I think the journalism coming out of Baghdad has been some of the best the international press corps has produced._ Under tremendous difficulties, we have produced some great journalism — like TIME’s Haditha scoop, for instance. No other enemy has been so covered as the Iraqi insurgency; hell, the press in Baghdad understood there was an insurgency before the U.S. military did!
Our military coverage has been, in a word, great. Tom Lasseter’s coverage from embeds has been some of the most hard-hitting of the war. He has been ahead of the curve on the sectarianism fury within and between the various security forces — and he did all that reporting while embedded.
We had one major misstep: Abu Ghraib. I’ll cop to that (not personally, of course.) Reporters had been hearing that stuff for weeks and months beforehand, but we just couldn’t believe that Americans were piling naked guys into piles and putting glowsticks up their asses. It just seemed too outrageous. And every reporter in Baghdad has had the experience of hearing an Iraqi blame the “Israeli missile” for what was obviously a suicide bomb. Iraqis do have a tendency to exaggerate.
But we learned after our lesson; we stopped dismissing seemingly wild Iraqi claims out of hand, earning us unending scorn from the right which thinks the press corps is populated by raging lefties who think the U.S. military is a bunch of baby-killers. It’s not. I think most of us thought, initially, that an all-volunteer military with Vietnam behind it would have learned some lessons from My Lai, etc. about the abuse of power. We were all shocked by Abu Ghraib. We’re not shocked now.
Which brings us back to Haditha. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with an outlet that broke this story and which got an investigation going into this. The evidence I saw on that videotape was overwhelming against the Marines involved. Men are going to go to jail for a long time over this, _inshallah_.
And we did it using the exact same frustrating, imperfect and flawed reporting methods Ellen used. And we were right, dammit. And so is Ellen. To criticize her for her using Iraqi staffers to go where she can’t is to criticize and doubt _all_ of the reporting that comes out of Iraq these days. Lord knows the Bushies would like you to lose all faith in the media so they can claim all the bad (but true) news is a giant conspiracy by east coast liberal elites out to undermine the troops. You’re perfectly free to believe that. But you won’t be getting the story of America’s misadventure in Mesopotamia.
Two more men are dead and a woman critically injured for that story. You may not like the stories coming out of the theatre of battle. Well, I don’t like what the Marines did in Haditha. If you want me to “support the troops,” whatever that means these days, how about a little support for the press corps?

1 thought on “Defending Ellen (and the rest of us…)”

  1. Deadly Attack On CBS News Crew, 2 Team Members Killed, Correspondent Seriously Injured By Car Bomb – CBS News

    Link: Deadly Attack On CBS News Crew, 2 Team Members Killed, Correspondent Seriously Injured By Car Bomb – CBS News. True heroes are slain on Memorial Day. Trying to bring truth to America, they were brought down. Trying to stop

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