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David Guttenfelder/AP
U.S. award-winning photojournalist James Nachtwey, right, rides on the top of a U.S.
Humvee during a patrol in central Baghdad.

Is Press Behavior a Barometer of War?

October 16, 2008 06:59 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A large number of foreign journalists are leaving Baghdad, but what does their departure say about the state of the Iraq War?

A Shift in Iraq

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According to The Washington Post, 219 journalists traveled with the U.S. military in September 2007, but that number has dwindled to less than 40. Only four of the original 12 U.S. newspapers that “maintained full-time bureaus in Baghdad in the early years of the war” still have a permanent staff of foreign correspondents in the struggling city.

The Washington Post attributes the sharp decline in the number of foreign journalists to “Iraq’s growing stability and the financial strains faced by some news organizations.”

Despite the media’s smaller presence in Iraq, some journalists and U.S. military officials say there is much to be reported on. The news in Baghdad has shifted, however, from violence to more complex issues, such as voter registration.

Gen. David G. Perkins, lead spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, indicated to The Washington Post, “Less-sensational events … go largely uncovered in the Western news media.” Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times’ acting bureau chief in Baghdad, said the important stories there now are “more complex” and lack a “clear narrative line.”

Taking such statements into account, does the departure of Western journalists mean that there is less to report on, or that journalists are avoiding the less sensational, more complicated issues facing the Iraqi people?
In March 2008, an article in The Christian Science Monitor examined the role of the press in public opinion of Iraq, revealing the intricacies of reporting in war-torn regions. According to the article, “more than a third” of journalists admitted that “their poorest coverage was in the war’s impact on Iraqi civilians.” Reporting was made more difficult by Baghdad’s inefficient transportation system. The result, according to The Christian Science Monitor, is “an unintended bias in coverage.”

Although it may be uncertain what the declining presence of Western journalists in Iraq says about the war, it is clear that “the coverage of the war and the course of the war are somehow intertwined,” wrote the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Background: Danger to journalists in Iraq

According to Reporters Without Borders, in the past five years, the number of journalists killed worldwide has risen 244 percent. Additionally, of the 86 international journalists killed in 2007, more than half died in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Kurdish journalist Diyar Abbas Ahmed, was shot and killed in Kirkuk. He was the 136th reporter killed in Iraq in the five years since the U.S. invasion, according to The Washington Times.

Last February in Basra, a CBS News reporter and his Iraqi interpreter were “abducted from their hotel by a gang of masked and armed men,” according to U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

Increasingly, journalists have also been forced to go into exile to escape danger in their native countries. In June 2008, Newswatch reported that 82 journalists had fled home “under threat or harassment” in the previous year, and more than half were from Iraq and Somalia.
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