This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
The test of my commitment to the Time story came by surprise several weeks later when Duffy called me at midnight. I was groggy and hostile when I answered the phone. He said that a Time reporter and photographer working on ‘our story’ were injured in some accident, perhaps fatally. His voice was controlled, but there was panic in the tone. I grabbed my bathrobe and ID and rushed toward the palace. Within two minutes I was in the media center, the so-called Green Room. Colonel Bill Darley, an Army public affairs officer, was on the telephone, telling higher headquarters that some media people had been hurt. After I explained my previous relationship with Duffy (not mentioning the Man of the Year project), Darley provided the name and telephone number of the doctor attending the two Time people at the nearby Army medical center. First word (later confirmed) was that the reporter, Michael Weisskopf, had lost a hand and Jim Nachtwey, the photographer, had taken a lot of shrapnel but was expected to recover. They had been in an Army Humvee when a terrorist dropped a grenade in the vehicle. Weisskopf struggled to throw the grenade away, but it exploded.
I passed this on to Duffy by cell. I visited the men the next day just before they were evacuated to Germany on their way to Walter Reed. Duffy appreciated my help in keeping him and the families informed, and sent my wife a bouquet. Just as all politics is local, as Tip O’Neill famously said, all public affairs is personal.
It was a bittersweet victory when the Time edition appeared. But it gave me a rush to see the three soldiers on the cover, including the medic who was first on the scene to provide aid to Weisskopf and Nachtwey.
It’s depressing to think about leaving here if Admiral Nash resigns. This has easily been one of the most exciting episodes of my life, vying with recollections of the Vietnam War nearly forty years ago. I don’t kid myself that I’m still the soldier I was outside Hu’ during Tet ‘68. When I decided to go to Iraq, it wasn’t because I harbored any ambition of reliving a lost youth. I just wanted to help win the war, and I knew I’d fit in. Most people predisposed to serve in a war zone have some military connection and tend to be optimists. Fortunately, I haven’t met a defeatist here yet, so when I compare Iraq with Vietnam, I’m very selective about what I say to avoid giving the wrong impression.
It’s possible a couple of things I’ve done in just a month have made a difference and may deserve recording in the family archives. Near midnight on December 8, I was called by a reporter stationed in Baghdad who had heard that Ambassador Bremer was planning to visit the 101st Airborne Division the next day. I didn’t know about this, because travel plans of the CPA administrator are closely held for security reasons: there is supposed to be a price on his head. I gave the news of the security lapse to Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Durr of the Army secretary’s office, who scolded me for discussing classified information on the cell phone. I reminded him that I learned of the trip from a reporter, which meant that a lot of other people must know, too. Chuck got the message and called the security people, who immediately canceled the trip. The next day there was a suicide bombing at a 101st Airborne Division location, feeding the fear that Bremer’s helicopter might have been attacked, too, as he arrived. All this is a little far-fetched, but may be true and certainly makes an interesting story. Regardless, I was the main topic of conversation at headquarters for a day, all because of a telephone call from a friendly reporter.
It’s not my job to work on issues unrelated to construction, but when a reporter from my old Pentagon network calls, I answer. Usually I can add something to the story, engaging sympathetic contacts within CPA headquarters willing to share information, so long as I protect the source.