I think the beheading of Nicholas Berg [in May 2004 was a turning point]. And then after that it really seemed almost overnight. I guess it was the realization that reporters were not immune as targets. That we were considered foreigners, there was no distinction. That what we are doing here is noble and truth-telling, there was no distinction. A foreigner is a foreigner is a foreigner.
The Washington Post
I think after April 2004, it changed pretty dramatically in all respects. I remember pretty vividly that moment of standing in the street when there was a militiaman manning a checkpoint, wearing a bandolier of bullets, and on a street over there was either a Bradley or a tank, and you got that sense of the street fighting that was talked so much about before the invasion was actually happening at that point.
I had done a story back in 2003 on the village called Thuluyah and I’d gone there quite a few times in 2003. I’d ended up doing a story on a father who’d been forced to kill his son for being an informer for the Americans. And it felt pretty relaxed in 2003 doing those stories. I met the people who had forced the father to kill his son and I met the father himself. I moved pretty casually through the village. And as you move through these villages, you look for people who know everything. You look for the barber, the pharmacist, the people who talk to everybody. I latched on to those people early on, I latched on to the pharmacist, and he really made it easy, getting around the village, talking to people.
[In 2005] I wanted to go back because I was trying to do a story on what life with the insurgents, you know, what life in liberated Iraq was like. I thought this would be a good village because it very much was off limits at this point. The Americans just didn’t go in there and, when they did, there was fighting. And I spent three days in Balad, trying to set up some sort of guarantee.
I had met some doctors at the hospital in Balad from this town, on another trip a couple of months earlier. And they had said at that time that they thought they could get me into this village. And so I went and talked to them. On the first day, they said, “Let us make some more calls.” And I went the second day — it’s not that safe of a drive from Baghdad to Balad — and they said, “You know, give us one more day.” And on the third day I went back, and two of the doctors said they couldn’t guarantee my security and the third doctor said he could.
And I thought about it, and I thought, if I were ten years younger and desperate for the story I would have done it. But you think, two out of three isn’t great odds. It just kind of hit me that this is an important story, and it’s a story about where Iraq is headed and where it’s been. And it just wasn’t possible.
The Christian Science Monitor
Probably the way Fallujah was leveled [in November 2004] was not as well reported or understood as it could have been. But press had great access to that story. They were there. They were banging away with the Marines, so they saw a lot. And there was an incredible amount of destruction in that city. And you have to remember you didn’t have to be in Fallujah to cover the Iraqi side of the story. There were a lot of refugees that fled Fallujah and came to a refugee camp right up the road from where I’m staying. Of course, the people who ran that refugee camp took to kidnapping foreign reporters who wanted to talk about the situations those families found themselves in. So that story got a lot less coverage as time went on because they were shooting the messenger. But you know we did a couple of stories about them. We tried.