Journalists under fire in Iraq

With news of car bombings and sectarian violence dominating news out of Iraq every day, 32 deaths wouldn’t even seem to make a dent in the toll there this year. But 32 journalists have died in Iraq since January 1, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists special report. That makes 2006 the deadliest year ...

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605290_bloodycamera25.jpg

With news of car bombings and sectarian violence dominating news out of Iraq every day, 32 deaths wouldn't even seem to make a dent in the toll there this year. But 32 journalists have died in Iraq since January 1, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists special report. That makes 2006 the deadliest year for journalists in any country the organization has ever recorded. What's more, the New York-based organization reports that most of these deaths are murders, not just accidental, caught-in-the crossfire deaths. 

It's more than just a troubling sign of the downward spiral in the country. It's a sign that the most important stories—good and bad—will be reported less thoroughly and adequately. Take the lengths CBS News reporter Elizabeth Palmer (no relation) recently said she and other correspondents have resorted to:

We now have the 15-minute rule: We never stay anywhere longer than 15 minutes."

With news of car bombings and sectarian violence dominating news out of Iraq every day, 32 deaths wouldn’t even seem to make a dent in the toll there this year. But 32 journalists have died in Iraq since January 1, according to a Committee to Protect Journalists special report. That makes 2006 the deadliest year for journalists in any country the organization has ever recorded. What’s more, the New York-based organization reports that most of these deaths are murders, not just accidental, caught-in-the crossfire deaths. 

It’s more than just a troubling sign of the downward spiral in the country. It’s a sign that the most important stories—good and bad—will be reported less thoroughly and adequately. Take the lengths CBS News reporter Elizabeth Palmer (no relation) recently said she and other correspondents have resorted to:

We now have the 15-minute rule: We never stay anywhere longer than 15 minutes.”

Not even the best journalists can do their jobs properly with only that amount of time. The Columbia Journalism Reviews November/December issue tackles the issue in depth, asking 47 reporters who’ve covered the country for their take on being a journalist in the most dangerous country for their profession this year. For a first-hand account of telling the story of the war, take a look at “Into the Abyss: Reporting Iraq 2003-2006: An Oral History.” Here’s a grim preview from The Guardian‘s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad:

So this debate accusing the media of not conveying the good news is such a — I mean do those people know what we are digging through when we go to Iraq? Just flying into Baghdad, driving, just doing the simplest, the basic, simple things, just being in Baghdad, existing in Baghdad is one of the most dangerous things you can do in your life, let alone covering it. So the effort we put into writing a story, any simple story, is enormous. And none of us, I don’t know any journalist who accepts taking such a risk just to manipulate the truth or write the bad news because you have this hidden agenda. People are getting killed on a sectarian basis. People are leaving their neighborhoods. Militias are roaming the streets; despots are functioning in Iraq. People are getting kidnapped; people are getting killed. Everyone’s getting killed: barbers, bakers, professors, officers, insurgents, Americans — everyone’s getting killed. So what are you going to write?

Kate Palmer is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

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