A Second Iraqi Media Worker Dies for The New York Times
The mainstream media practices its own form of apartheid in
By David Paulin
It’s an Iraq story that reporters ought to fall over themselves to cover: Iraqis employed by U.S. companies are being sacrificed for the sake of corporate profits. You might call it a sort of corporate apartheid. But you won’t find the Bush administration or Halliburton in this scandal. The culprits are America’s most illustrious media giants – The New York Times, Associated Press, and a number of others. At issue is their practice of “hotel journalism.”
American journalists for much of the war have stayed holed up in hotels and well-guarded homes in the Green Zone. Most write their stories and do phone interviews there. And they communicate with Iraqis whom their companies employ as reporters, translators, and photographers.
Hastily trained, most of these Iraqis lack the professional backgrounds that even a small-town weekly paper in the
There’s a curious irony here. Liberal papers like The New York Times rail against the economic injustices of outsourcing; yet they demonstrate no such anger over their own employment practices.
Some Iraqi media workers, to be sure, have demonstrated courage and a commitment to a democratic
Whether exceptional, mediocre, are despicable, all Iraqi media workers have one thing in common. They grew up in a brutal Stalinist dictatorship – one simmering with social tensions and devoid of intellectual freedom and a responsible press.
The blogesphere has registered the harshest criticism of “hotel journalism.” But earlier this month, The Times addressed the issue in some unusually frank and circumspect articles regarding the death of one of its media workers. He was the second murder victim in ten months.
Khalid W. Hassan, 23, gave his life on July 13 for the Gray Lady. A Palestinian Sunni, Hassan was driving to work when he was shot to death under circumstances that The Times said were unclear. The well-liked Iraqi interpreter and translator started with the newspaper of record when he was just 19 years old. And on
The two are among at least 129 Iraqi journalists and media workers who have been murdered or killed in hostilities since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In contrast, only two American journalists have died.
Paying tribute to Hassan, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said Hassan comprised a “large, sometimes unsung” group of media workers who “take enormous risks every day. Without them, Americans’ understanding of what is happening on the ground in
“Our Iraqi reporters — who do double duty as interpreters when they accompany New York-based correspondents and photographers on assignments — are the bedrock of our enterprise.
“This is not to confirm what some of the more scathing critics of the American media’s performance in Iraq have alleged, which is that American reporters in Baghdad practice a form of “hotel journalism” — meaning that for most of what we write we rely on the reporting of Iraqi staff members who venture beyond our well-guarded compounds, and rarely do so ourselves. There is hardly ever a day when one or more of our American reporters is not out in the city, or on embeds in Baghdad and beyond with American and Iraqi troops, and the results can be measured, on any day, by the authenticity of the reports that appear in the paper. Burns is one of the most well respected Western journalists in
“But it would be foolish to deny that there are occasions when a sensible calibration of risk deters us from going out on assignment ourselves. Often, those judgments apply in equal measure to our Iraqi reporters, too. But there are other times when an Iraqi, blending into the environment in ways that no foreigner can, feels safe in taking on an assignment that we judge to be too hazardous to undertake ourselves. Our principle is that any Iraqi leaving our compound on assignment — whether reporter, driver or guard — does so only as a “willing partner,” and after a thorough security review of the assignment beforehand."
Burns is one of the most well respected Western journalists in
Dying in Large Numbers
In all, at least 152 journalists and media workers have died: 109 were murdered and 43 killed due to hostilities, according to CPJ. Sixty-four (42 percent) worked for international news organizations – including The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, and McClatchy (formerly Knight Ridder). Iraqis comprised 90 of those whom the CPJ classified as “journalists.”
Some American reporters, to be sure, have faced perilous situations. Following some close calls, Times reporter Dexter Filkins even packed a sidearm for a while, much to the consternation of
Burns’ comments to the contrary, the blood Iraqis are spilling for The Times and other news outlets underscores the apartheid-like nature of the mainstream media’s war coverage. AP Managing Editor Mike Silverman summed up things two years ago, telling The Times: “The main obstacle we face is the severe limitation on our movement and our ability to get out and report. It’s very confining for our staff to go into
That’s how Knight Ridder (now McClautchy) has operated too, said its
Months later, Allam made a splash with a controversial memo addressed to Knight Ridder editors that was widely circulated on the Internet. She attacked a columnist at the St. Paul Pioneer Press – the Knight Ridder paper she worked at not long before
'Outsourcing' the News
The heavy use of non-staff personnel in
Cheats have an advantage when working abroad: They face little accountability. Who is going to complain when a story gets a few facts screwed up? And to whom would they complain? A weekly paper in the
In the chaos of
"There's a dramatic relationship between changes in the industry and use of freelancers. It's something that a lot of people are very worried about," observed Josh Friedman, director of the
Friedman was quoted in a recent article about Jill Carroll, the American freelancer who was kidnapped in
Fortunately, some counterbalance has been provided by well-informed bloggers who are scrutinizing the media’s war coverage. Without them, public opinion against the war would probably be even lower that it has been, noted author James Q. Wilson.
Of course, the most brutal aspect of
The news business is competitive, and news managers are expected to produce. When I had a stint as a wire service reporter in the
The photographer, a Jamaican father with children, was paid for individual assignments and photos. As a black Jamaican, he could easily be mistaken for a combatant, as opposed to an impartial photojournalist. The editors, single women tenaciously wedded to their careers, nevertheless fretted over the photos they were missing. I knew the photographer, and they were wrong about him. It didn’t matter. The editors had one concern – results.
Interestingly, the photographer was not issued a bullet-proof vest, even though I, as a Jamaica-based contract correspondent, got one. When I pointed this out to the photographer, he laughed nervously.
What kinds of pressures are being put on freelancers and media workers in Iraqi and other high-risk areas? And what responsibilities do media companies have toward them?
“The relationship is informal contract labor,” pointed out McClatchy’s managing editor for international coverage, Mark Seibel. “How far should an international news organization go to help them? There is probably a need to review and go over polices.”
Seibel has lots of experience with informal labor. As a Miami Herald senior editor in the late 1990s, he oversaw the paper’s international edition: Its masthead listed me as its “
Hassan apparently had money problems of his own, despite his prestigious job with The Times. One Times editor said he “spent most of his salary on rent for a cramped apartment for him, his mother and his siblings.” Fortunately, The Times set up a fund for Hassan’s family, noted The Times blog. People wishing to contribute were advised to “please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘fund for Khalid Hassan’s family’ in the subject line.”
Beyond problems arising from its system of journalistic apartheid, news outlets distort reality by adopting a morally neutral worldview, part of today’s journalistic conceit promulgated by media elites. Speaking years ago at a
Steven Vincent, the murdered freelancer, wrote eloquently of how such moral neutrality and equivalency was distorting our picture of
'If it Bleeds, It Leads'
And then there’s the problematic way in which news is defined and presented. Conflict is stressed above all else: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Most Americans get their
After all, you could write nearly every story the same way out of
Imagine the kind of stories you’d see out of
Venezuela’s Chavez opens food market amid mounting violence, deaths
By The Associated Press
Over the last three days, there were more than 150 murders across the South American nation, with most taking place in the grimy hillside slums where Chavez’s support is the strongest.
Chavez drew smiles from Sheehan and Glover when he said President George Bush could “learn a thing or two about eliminating poverty and creating jobs” with the subsidized market.
Meanwhile, much of
Chavez’s critics blame the runaway murder rate on government mismanagement and official corruption, which they contend has led to increased poverty and deteriorating basic services, despite record-high oil profits. But Chavez blames the violence on “oligarchs” whom he says are instigating the violence.
Aside from some artistic license, there’s nothing wrong with the basic facts here; you could put them in any story. Yet in reality it’s not quite so grim in
All in all, you might get better news coverage all around if you covered