A Press Pullout In Iraq?
My friend and former colleague Paul McLeary has been in Iraq and Kuwait this month for Columbia Journalism Review covering what it's like for the press covering the war. His latest dispatch, out today, ends with this riff on his hotel in Baghdad:© 2006 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.
Getting a room wasn't a problem; while the hotel used to be full of journalists, many either left the country after the December elections or were pulled out by their publications, which have been cutting back on Baghdad staff as things have gotten progressively more dangerous. The day I checked in, the only people I saw were a few middle-aged Iraqi men in leather jackets forlornly smoking by the front desk, and a lonely cafeteria attendant, sitting at his cash register watching a soap opera.McLeary's dispatches – there are five of them so far, and they can be found here – offer an invaluable window into what it's like for reporters in Iraq. Many so far have focused on his inability to get around, which has itself been telling. Here's part of one from Jan. 19:
In fact, I didn't see any Westerners at all until my second day, when I contacted the acting bureau chief for an American paper who was staying in my hotel. As we were discussing the state of reporting in Baghdad and Iraq in general, he told me that I was a little late to the game. These days, more American reporters are leaving Iraq than arriving. In large part, for the U.S. press, "The party's pretty much over."
The next night (after a total of 37 hours stuck at the airport, trying to make it the 10 or so miles to the International Zone in downtown Baghdad), I made it back over to Camp Sather for my chopper -- but just barely. I got there an hour before liftoff, and was told by a contractor I recognized from the night before that the flight had been cancelled. A few minutes later, dejected, I began to gear up to head back over to the Rhino when I saw the same guy running to the flight deck. Apparently I had missed the announcement that the flight was back on, and, throwing on my Kevlar helmet and flak vest, I squeezed onto the chopper just before liftoff.If you're interested in going beyond the typical, trite debate about why the news from Iraq is "slanted" the way it is, McLeary's dispatches are a must read. So check out what's up so far, keep an eye out for what's to come, and join me in rooting for his journey, and return, to be a safe one.
Flying over a darkened, nighttime Baghdad was a humbling experience. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have to admit that I had a kind of "Yossarian moment" -- I couldn't help but take very personally the fact that there were probably people down there who would very much like to see me, and everyone in my helicopter, dead. While we sped over the empty streets, glowing a dull orange under streetlights, I became acutely aware that the entire ride was designed to avoid just that.