Journalists Say Most Of Iraq Too Dangerous To Visit

While the White House and its legions of RepubliPundits are busily pounding out praise for the newly tranquil environs of Iraq, observers at the scene have a very different tale to tell. The Project for Excellence in Journalism recently completed a survey of war correspondents that describes harrowing circumstances wherein 57% report that at least one of their Iraqi staff had been killed or kidnapped in the last year alone, and that…

“A majority of journalists surveyed say most of the country is too dangerous to visit. Nine out of ten say that about at least half of Baghdad itself. Wherever they go, traveling with armed guards and chase vehicles is the norm for more than seven out of ten surveyed.”

The survey recounts the experiences of seasoned reporters on a dangerous assignment. Many of them are frustrated that they are unable to thoroughly report on the everyday lives of Iraqi civilians because of the risk undertaken to gather information for a story. They cringe at scolding from stateside critics who complain that there aren’t enough “positive” stories about newly painted schoolhouses.

“…when journalists cannot cover a playground being rebuilt because it’s too dangerous to travel around the city, then that playground is not the primary story.”

Amongst the difficulties for reporters is access to sources. The survey reveals that the easiest sources to acquire are Iraqi civilians and foreign diplomats. It’s interesting to note that one of the most guarded groups are private contractors (i.e. Blackwater). Eighty-one percent of reporters say that they are “hard” or “impossible” to reach. That is second only in difficulty to Iraqi insurgents (90%). When enemy combatants and security firms paid for by American tax dollars share the same aversion to press inquiry, you have to wonder about the motives of each of them.

The safety impediments are not the only barriers to effective journalism. The Iraqi authorities are refusing reporters access to the sites of bombings and other violent incidents. That may make for a more uplifting tone from the media, but also one that is less representative of reality. You also need to take into consideration that some in the media are already soft-peddling the horrors of war. Take CNN’s John Roberts who admittted in an interview with Broadcasting and Cable that he is more concerned with not frightening away viewers or stirring up complaints from warmongers than he is about do his job:

“If we showed people the full extent of what we see every day in Iraq, we would either have no one watching us because they couldn’t stand to see the pictures, or we would get so many letters of complaint that some organization would come down on us to stop.”

The survey overall conveys a reality far removed from the emerging Eden of Democracy that the Bush administration is trying peddle. The tribulations of reporters are an important factor to consider when evaluating news items from war zones. If reporters are prevented from posting comprehensive accounts of their experiences because security concerns keep them from relevant scenes and sources, then that is a story in itself. And they shouldn’t have to suffer insults from the homefront studio-potatoes that whine about excessively “negative” coverage.