On Native Ground
IRAQ: THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST PLACE FOR JOURNALISTS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Monday's car bomb attack in Baghdad that killed CBS cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan and critically wounded correspondent Kimberly Dozier underscores how dangerous a place Iraq is for journalists.
How dangerous? According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 71 journalists and 26 support workers have been killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began three years ago. Dozens more have been wounded or kidnapped. It is now the deadliest conflict for journalists since World War II.
The next time you hear someone from the Bush administration complain about the alleged one-sided coverage of the war in Iraq, remember those numbers. As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate into civil war, it has become impossible for journalists - in particular, non-Arabic journalists - to do their jobs.
Dozier, Douglas and Brolan were not rookies. All three had extensive experience covering wars and all three volunteered to work in Iraq. They were embedded with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division and were on a seemingly routine assignment to spend some time with American soldiers and show what Memorial Day was like for them.
But nothing is routine in Iraq. The CBS trio was less than a mile from the heavily-fortified Green Zone when a car bomb was detonated just as they were leaving the armored humvee they were traveling in. One U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were also killed in the attack and six U.S. soldiers were wounded.
Robert Fisk, the nonpareil Middle East reporter for The Independent of London, has said that most reporters in Iraq are reduced to what he calls "mousehole journalism," skittering in and out of places quickly before being spotted. Unless you are inside the Green Zone in Baghdad or are with a U.S. military unit, most of Iraq is a free-fire zone for reporters. And even being with a U.S. military unit in the middle of Baghdad does not guarantee safety, as the CBS crew so tragically learned.
Dozier, Douglas and Brolan knew the risks, and took them anyway because they believed in the important of telling the truth about what was happening in Iraq. If things in Iraq were as rosy as the Bush Administration paints them, journalists wouldn't have to risk their lives to tell the world was is going on. But it's important that they do.
In the course of covering the war in Vietnam, 63 journalists lost their lives. These men and women "died because they were serious about the craft they practiced," wrote Pete Hamill in his 1998 book "News is a Verb."
"They knew that only part of the truth could be discovered in the safe offices in Washington, D.C.; they had to witness the dark truths by getting down in the mud with the grunts. They died because they believed in the fundamental social need for what they did with a pen, a notebook, a typewriter, or a camera. They didn't die to increase profits for the stockholders. They didn't die to obtain an invitation to some White House dinner for a social-climbing publisher. They died for us. ... They died to bring us the truth."
That so many media workers have killed, wounded or kidnapped in Iraq in the effort to bring us the truth should alarm us all. It speaks volumes about how dangerous Iraq remains and how oblivious the Bush Administration is to that danger.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.