I’ve been in Iraq for a while. I’ve been there longer than any of the military guys, and they rotate through, and they’re always the same: at first, you know, they come in with a message, and they treat you badly — I’ve gone through so many divisions. It drives me crazy. Every time, they come in and they treat me like a stranger. Let’s say, I’ve spent a year with the Third Infantry Division, and I know all the generals, I know all the PAOs, the public affairs officers, and I know all the captains on the frontline units. I know them, they know me, we trust each other to a degree. When soldiers are killed, a lot of times I know the units that they’re in. I don’t report that because they ask you not to; they want the families to be informed officially, not to have someone watch the Nightly News with Brian Williams and find their son is dead. I agree with that and respect that. After a while you build up trust, and you can have a real relationship and they’ll tell you information and you can tell them information and you can build a relationship of trust. Then, they rotate out, and a new division comes in, and they treat you like the enemy, like a stupid enemy, like you don’t know anything and everything is great. The guy’s been on the ground for two weeks and he’s telling me about Baghdad, and I’m like, “Look, you just got here. I had a great relationship with the divisions that just left. Didn’t they tell you?” And then okay, six months later, the guy finally trusts me and then I get six months of real, working relationship with him, and then he’s gone, and I have to start the relationship again. So that happens a lot with the military. You work up a relationship and they go [laughs].
I have young journalists who come to me and say, “I want to go to Iraq.” And my response to them is, “I will help you to build the sort of experience that would qualify you to go to Iraq, but you can’t go to Iraq. I’m sorry.” And most of them, in fact, all of them, have accepted it. I don’t think anybody should have to go to Iraq unless they have experience in a previous conflict, because I don’t think it’s fair to them, I don’t think it’s fair to their colleagues, and I don’t think it’s particularly good for the story. So we look at their experience, we look at their maturity. In a place like Iraq, they live and work with their colleagues in a compound where they can’t go out for most of the day and all of the night, and that requires a very special sort of person; you can’t have prima donnas in that environment, you can’t have loudmouths in that environment. I’ve worked in that sort of environment with loudmouths, and it’s unbearable.
I think a lot of journalists want every war to be like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a place where you can stay in a nice hotel, get up in the morning, drive in your car, see a battle, cover it, see all these dramatic things, and then drive back just in time to send your pictures and have a nice dinner at the American Colony [Hotel], and smoke and drink wine, and tell war stories, and what happened that day, and booze it up into the night, and do everything all over again the next day. That’s nice; I’ve covered stuff there, too, but the world isn’t conformed to how journalists should cover — the world is as it is and we as journalists go and do it. Sometimes things are easy and sometimes things are incredibly hard.
The Christian Science Monitor