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November 17, 2003



November 17, 2003

Not Our Lara!: Saddam Didn't Need to Check Lara Marlowe's Dispatches from Baghdad

Instapundit and PORPHYROGENITUS are nattering on about how correspondents in Iraq may be getting a skewed picture from their former Saddamista minders, whom they have now hired on as "factorums".

We don't suffer such problems in Ireland. The Irish Times reporter doing much of the on-site Iraq coverage, Lara Marlowe (Is she still Mrs Robert Fisk?) was such a good reporter that the Saddamistas knew that they didn't need to monitor her dispatches!

Really. She tells us so in her November 8, 2003 Irish Times story Post-war, journalists ask themselves hard questions - An international seminar in Paris reviews media's role in the Iraq war.

The international colloquium hosted by the Panos Institute in Paris this week made clear that although this conflict was probably the most broadly - and expensively - covered in history, serious ethical questions remain unanswered.
How do journalists reconcile the duty to report everything they know with the constraints of working under a dictatorship? Why did media covering Washington or "embedded" with US troops so often act as cheerleaders for war? Is Western coverage, like US government policy, permeated with anti-Arab bias?

Unlike "[t]he US television networks, which fled Baghdad, [and] presented a far cleaner, technological vision of the conflict",

Those of us who covered the war from Baghdad had little access to the Iraqi military; the regime did not want us to witness its collapse. But we did see something so obvious that it ought to go without saying: that war is about blood and gore and suffering and dead women and children....
Most disheartening of all, [Even more disheartening than dead children?] some of the "embedded" journalists who arrived in Baghdad with US forces lost all semblance of detachment and began to play soldier.

Unlike some British reporters at the conference who claimed that Iraqi censorship and self-censorship inhibited their truthful reporting before the fall of Baghdad, our Lara had no such problem:

Not once during the Iraq war did a "minder" read my copy or listen to me talking to Irish radio. Yet the idea that journalists in Baghdad were somehow suspect, manipulated, was so deeply ingrained that I repeatedly had to correct radio presenters in Dublin who adopted the BBC's phrase, saying that my reporting was "monitored by Iraqi authorities". It was not.
Ms Marlowe believes that the

"single greatest error of Western media - especially in the US - was their failure to challenge and investigate claims about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war. Journalists in Washington were lazy, and those on the ground in Iraq were afraid of being labelled stooges of the regime.
Fortunately Keith Richburg of the Washington Post as an unembeded "unilateral",

was also able to debunk false US and British reports of an uprising in Basra, and the story of Private Jessica Lynch, who was allegedly shot and stabbed when she was captured.
"If there is one paramount lesson," for our Lara, "it is the necessity to maintain a moral distance from both sides in war."

The Irish Times is truly blessed to have a reporter of such moral distance that not even the suspicious Saddam regime thought it had to keep an eye on her.


(Posted on November 17, 2003)

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