Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times correspondent who covered the war in Iraq, says things are so dangerous there that the Times sub-contracts actual, on-the-scene reporting to a group of 70 Iraqi nationals. They do so, says Filkins, who is now a Fellow at Harvard, because Western journalists are prime targets for local terrorists.
As a result of the horrific surroundings, the Times has constructed a facility in Baghdad that reminds me of the old movie, "Fort Apache, the Bronx." It’s surrounded by "45 full-time Kalashnikov-toting security guards who patrol its two blast-wall-enclosed houses." There are also machine gun nests on the roof and three fully armored cars. The Times also pays hefty insurance premiums for the five reporters who hunker down and do the actual writing inside the fortress.
So, what we read in the Times every day is once removed from the actual incident. Perfectly understandable in terms of safety and security, but if true, a major scandal. The Times is the bastion of liberal America and the number one cheerleader against the war in Iraq. If they rely on locals to collect the news and information, how do they (and we) know it’s not slanted one way or the other? How do they (and we) know it’s 100 percent accurate?
To compound the problem further, Filkins says the U.S. Military is just as out-of-touch with the day-to-day realities of daily Iraqi life as their counterparts at the Times. Soldiers are mostly confined to bases and don’t interact with locals at all. Filkins summarized his report (which appeared in Editor & Publisher) by saying that 98 percent of Iraq and most of Baghdad is simply off-limits to western journalists.
So, the administration is basing its decisions on what its military leaders tell it to do. But, they’re so hunkered down that they see very little of what’s what. And, the media are so scared that they hire others to do the actual fact collecting.
So, what are we left with? In my mind, no one really knows what’s going on, why it’s going on or if it will ever end. In the meantime, one of the greatest newspapers in the world is reporting second-hand news? The only winners in this scenario are the bad guys. When the credibility, image and reputation of both the government and the media are called into question, it’s time to either immediately fix things or pack up one’s tent and go home.