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The Whole Truth

Hannah Allam's first-person account of what it's been like covering Iraq for Knight-Ridder as the situation deteriorates is fascinating. I wish news organizations would let more of their foreign correspondents do this sort of writing along with the more conventional hard news pieces they turn out. Not only is it interesting in and of itself, but these kind of accounts make it easier for you to understand the more traditional kind of reporting that gets done by giving you some context in which to place the work and the limitations circumstances place on reporters' ability to get information.

November 18, 2004 | Permalink

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Anne Garrells' (sp?) reports for NPR regularly include the difficulties inherent in reporting from Iraq (she was recently embedded with Marines in Fallujah. Also, her recent book Naked in Baghdad, is just the sort of reporting-on-reporting you're looking for. I find her reporting at once informative and very very sympathetic toward soldiers and civilians alike.

Posted by: John B. | Nov 18, 2004 12:17:58 PM

I wish news organizations would let more of their foreign correspondents do this sort of writing along with the more conventional hard news pieces they turn out.

I wish more news organizations would let their foreign correspondents -- or other reporters -- do hard news pieces to start with.

Posted by: cmdicely | Nov 18, 2004 12:37:59 PM

Fascinating article. But shouldn't it be titled Freedom is on the March?

Posted by: poputonian | Nov 18, 2004 1:05:54 PM

"eating beans with Shiite Muslim rebels while they're being pounded by a U.S. airstrike"

This is blatant treason. Hannah Allam should be tried and executed by firing squad.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Nov 18, 2004 1:14:13 PM

Ms. Allam is right. She should come home.

From what I've read of it (admittedly not as much as NYT and WaPo), Knight Ridder's reporting has been a dismal failure, giving us absolutely no idea what's going on over there other than the latest Zarqawi attack, as if that's the most important event.

In the old days - pre 9/11 - I would complain about (and not watch or read) the local news, because we all know what the local news finds important: "if it bleeds, it leads". Well, it looks to me as if our best local reporters have been sent to Iraq. Because, with today's Iraq reporting, "if it bleeds, it not only leads, but it will be the only story about Iraq we play, exclusive of all others".

So, what's going on with oil revenues - up or down, plans for and Alaska-type fund? How's electricity and gasoline supply these days? What about the local governments in Al Basra province? How many Iraqis have registered to vote? What are the election procedures going to be like? What are women's rights like in Karbala province? What's happening with the Baghdad museum? How does health care in Irbil province compare with before the war? How much cellular service is there? What's the legislature doing? Is there much trade between Iraq and Turkey? Who are the powerful Shia clerics other than Sistani and what do they think?

There's a dozen questions off the top of my head that you will never find the answer to in your newspaper.

The incompetence of our reporters in Iraq is simply amazing.

Posted by: Al | Nov 18, 2004 1:14:47 PM

Matt, seeing the quality of the last 2 comments it may be time to shut down your comments again.
Sigh.

Posted by: Give up | Nov 18, 2004 1:25:46 PM

well, al, they can't really report if they risk death and kidnapping every time they leave their hotel room. blame the terrible security situation, not the reporters.

Posted by: catherine | Nov 18, 2004 1:27:08 PM

That's why I said I agreed with Ms. Allam that it is simply time for her to come home, catherine.

Posted by: Al | Nov 18, 2004 1:30:09 PM

What diceley said. What Give up said, except, as always, I think that you should delete Al or deputize someone to do it.

On most stories K-R has been superior to the bigger operations.

Trolls are always talking about how reporters in Iraq don't report the good news. What they mean, I think, is that they want the military to have perfect message control. Trolls complain because the reporters are not getting out where the action is, but this story explains why (and squares with lots of other stories).

Posted by: John Emerson | Nov 18, 2004 1:34:06 PM

Actually, Al, Knight Ridder has run numerous articles on topics similar to the ones you mention. And the New York Times even has a reporter (James Glanz) specifically assigned to the "reconstruction beat" for several months this year.

Why don't you know this?

Posted by: Swopa | Nov 18, 2004 2:51:07 PM

Actually, Al, Knight Ridder has run numerous articles on topics similar to the ones you mention. And the New York Times even has a reporter (James Glanz) specifically assigned to the "reconstruction beat" for several months this year. Why don't you know this?

He doesn't want to know it, because it interferes with his narrative that the media wants us to lose.

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Nov 18, 2004 3:00:45 PM

I think Al's encyclopedic knowlege of Iraq and its geography (Karbala province? Ibril???) more than qualify him to be the new Yglesias foreign correspondent. Seriously. This will resolve a number of issues. It will allow Al to see objectively what is happening in Iraq, it will allow him to get the message out and tailor it as he sees fit, and whether or not we believe Al's reports his health and welfare will nonetheless be a sort of barometer for the readers here as to how well things are going.

What did Hannah say? Even a trip to the grocery store is like crossing the DMZ, requiring flak jackets and radios? I wonder what precautions one needs to take to report on all the newly painted schools? Let's find out!

Posted by: Windhorse | Nov 18, 2004 3:17:38 PM

Horsesh*t, swopa. Let's take a look at what Mr. Glanz has written about since the beginning of September, shall we? I get 17 stories about fighting or the insurgency, 3 stories about the al QaQaa caca, one story about politics (what Iraqis think of the US election, nothing to do with Iraqi politics), and 5 stories about reconstruction (2 of which deal with security - the trucker story and a story about the proposed diversion of $ to security). That leaves all of THREE stories in the Times by Mr. Glanz about how the reconstruction is going: one about Najaf, one general story about how it is "inching along", and one about disease.

If that's the "reconstruction beat", he might as well come home too.

Posted by: Al | Nov 18, 2004 3:23:14 PM

When people are hiding at home hoping not to get shot, it's hard for them to get out and observe the splendid success of the occupation. We should hire braver reporters, and lots of them too, since replacements will frequently be required.

Nice Googling, though, Al, you piece of shit.

Posted by: John Emerson | Nov 18, 2004 3:38:30 PM

"Nice Googling" if you overlook the artificial cutoff date, which hides the fact that Glanz has been reporting since April, with several more articles on reconstruction issues (particularly in June).

One of the things Glanz writes about is that it's hard to write about reconstruction successes, since the U.S. doesn't like word to get out about rebuilt power plants and the like -- because they become immediate targets for the insurgents.

Just like the collapsing security nationwide (as Allam writes) makes it impossible to do on-the-scene reporting anywhere in Iraq. Perhaps such non-liberal publications as the National Review and Weekly Standard should prove how the MSM is overhyping the violence by sending their own reporters to Iraq to travel among the grateful, liberated people of the country?

Oh, that's right. They'd be slaughtered within days if they did that. Never mind.

Posted by: Swopa | Nov 18, 2004 4:02:46 PM

I work at a large daily newspaper, and have heard about this young woman from our reporters who have been circulating in and out of Baghdad. Many of our reporters have years of experience covering foreign lands, and they consider her to be a joke. She just turned 27 and had spent her four previous years in journalism (in other words, her entire career up to this point) covering the cozy suburbs of St. Paul.

Knight-Ridder doesn't have anyone with more experience they could have sent to be their freaking bureau chief?

Same with the guy from the Post. A relatively inexperienced tech writer who knows some Arabic.

Some newsroom decisions are just laughable.

Posted by: Joey | Nov 18, 2004 4:15:06 PM

"Nice Googling" if you overlook the artificial cutoff date, which hides the fact that Glanz has been reporting since April, with several more articles on reconstruction issues (particularly in June).


So, what you're saying is that they pulled Glanz off the reconstruction beat to focus more on the fighting beat. Which is EXACTLY MY POINT: if it bleeds, it leads, and they don't care about reconstruction or anything else in Iraq.

Just like the collapsing security nationwide (as Allam writes) makes it impossible to do on-the-scene reporting anywhere in Iraq.


In which case I agree with Allam that they just ought to go home. If they can't report fairly, there is no purpose to them being there at all.

Posted by: Al | Nov 18, 2004 4:36:34 PM

John, don't you realize that feeding the trolls is like fighting Darth Vader? Like the dark side, the harder you resist, the stronger they get, the more likely they are to win.

And "you piece of shit" qualifies as troll-food.

Why do you care what he thinks? Why do you care what he writes? Why do you care that other people see it?

Let "Al" write whatever he wants, and avoid the urge to "prove him wrong." You'll never convince him, so what's the use? The rest of us read your comments and skip over his... there's no need to fight a battle you've already won, if that's the way you want to think about it.

Posted by: foo | Nov 18, 2004 4:41:13 PM

I don't think I like all this fighting. But one thing is clear, those that complain about reporting from Iraq are quite free to grab a "flak vest", a "radio", a "2nd car to look for kidnappers" and go for it.

I for one am not going to fault journalists for putting their safety over a story.

Posted by: Adrock | Nov 18, 2004 4:54:00 PM

Say what you want about Al, it is true that Iraq is a large country, and if you don't have people full time in places like Basra and Mosul, only in Baghdad, you will get a skewed impression of what is happening overall.

Posted by: Campesino | Nov 18, 2004 4:57:18 PM

Knight-Ridder doesn't have anyone with more experience they could have sent to be their freaking bureau chief?

I suspect that the larger problem, which Allam alludes to, is that their other reporters aren't sufficiently Arabic-looking to get out much.

A few months ago, IIRC, Allam filed a report from Fallujah after it had become a no-go zone for Westerners. So I doubt your sneering about her sheltered background holds much water with anyone, save for jealous competitors.


Same with the guy from the Post. A relatively inexperienced tech writer who knows some Arabic.

To whom are you referring? Hopefully not Anthony Shadid, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his Iraq reporting in the Post. Is this more jealous backbiting?

Posted by: Swopa | Nov 18, 2004 5:04:54 PM

You know what, I'm tired of the MSM. They always harp about the huge carbombs. What about the little carbombs, do we ever hear about those? Nooo, it's always the big ones.


How this jibes with my conviction in the wisdom of the free market ( readers/watchers are interested in fair reporting so if current news sources don't report fairly new ones will spring up to take their place and become the MSM ) is really besides the point, now isn't it?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Nov 18, 2004 6:50:52 PM

my conviction in the wisdom of the free market

Ever hear of market failure?

Posted by: Al | Nov 18, 2004 8:01:29 PM

That exists? How can it be? You must be some kind of socialist.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Nov 18, 2004 8:07:31 PM

Al can live without food. Ignoring him doesn't work.

Posted by: John Emerson | Nov 18, 2004 8:30:43 PM

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