Tuesday, November 28, 2006

War Reporters, Oft-Criticized, Proven Right on Iraq

Dexter Filkins, who covered Iraq brilliantly for this newspaper until his departure this summer to take up a fellowship at Harvard, says he was constantly accused of reporting only the bad news, of being unpatriotic, and of getting Americans killed.

“I don’t think it ever affected our reporting,” he said. “But I did find it demoralizing, the idea that the truth — the reality on the ground that we were seeing every day — did not matter, that these overfed people sitting in TV studios and in their living rooms could just turn up the volume on what they wanted to be happening in Iraq and that that could overwhelm the reality.”

Mr. Filkins added: “I have almost been killed in Iraq 20 or 30 times — really almost killed. “I’ve lost count. Do these people really believe that we were all risking our lives for some political agenda?”

Richard Engel of NBC says he was taken aback when pundits accused him of standing on a balcony in the Green Zone and simply feeding the world bad news. “Like most journalists in Iraq, I have never lived in the Green Zone,” he notes, adding: “To imply from afar we were just lazy was missing the point, and also dangerous. I know several reporters who were so incensed by similar criticism, they took extra risks.”

While it’s the right that led those toxic attacks, the left is also vulnerable to letting ideology trump empiricism. Mr. Filkins notes that while he used to get nasty letters and e-mail primarily from conservatives, much of the fire more recently has come from liberals accusing him of covering up atrocities — all of it from people whose ideological certitude is proportional to their distance from Baghdad.

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