Braving the Front Lines - In Turkey and New York City

Q: When is a photo of Baghdad not a photo of Baghdad? A: When it's Turkey. Plus, Hugh Hewitt shows the bravery of a true stateside blogger.

Bloggers are raising questions about the authenticity of a photo — purportedly of a Baghdad street — posted on the Web site of Howard Kaloogian, a Southern California Republican running for the seat of the freshly incarcerated Duke Cunningham. Kaloogian’s site says that “We took this photo of dowtown [sic] Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it — in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.”

Josh Marshall picks up on speculation from Daily Kos and elsewhere that the photo was taken not in Baghdad, but in Turkey. Dissecting the picture, Marshall points out that “With the white arrows I’ve highlighted what appear to be cedillas under the roman ‘C’ and ‘S’ on the yellow sign. Add in the other contextual clues and that looks very much like the Turkish alphabet. And in fact the letters ‘C A R S I’ (which seems to be what this sign says) make a word in Turkish, ‘carsi’ which means ‘shopping center’ or ‘market.’” Marshall also posts an email from a reader in Baghdad who asked his Iraqi staff what they thought of the picture and reported that “they all just laughed.”

Speaking of Iraq, the New York Times, among others, reported this morning that the American ambassador to Iraq informed Shiite officials there that President Bush doesn’t want Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim Iraqi prime minister, to remain in that position for long. A Work in Progress apparently has had enough, writing, “First the Bush administration stomps its feet because Hamas was put in charge of the Palestinian Authority by a legitimate election. Now [the president is] whining about who’s in charge in Iraq, telling the Shiites that he doesn’t want the Iraqi prime minister to remain the country’s leader in the next government … Too bad. You can’t force-feed democracy into a region and then throw a hissy fit when things don’t go your way. Iraq is either sovereign or it isn’t.” Ottercat agrees, complaining, “I continue to be amazed at the unmitigated gall of Bush. In his mind, it’s only democracy if he approves.”

Blogoland culls this brilliant nugget from the transcript of a Hugh Hewitt interview with Time’s Baghdad bureau chief, Michael Ware:

MW: Let’s look at it this way. I mean, you’re sitting back in a comfortable radio studio, far from the realities of this war.

HH: Actually, Michael, let me interrupt you.

MW: If anyone has a right…

HH: Michael, one second.

MW: If anyone has a right to complain, that’s what…

HH: I’m sitting in the Empire State Building. Michael, I’m sitting in the Empire State Building, which has been in the past, and could be again, a target. Because in downtown Manhattan, it’s not comfortable, although it’s a lot safer than where you are, people always are three miles away from where the jihadis last spoke in America. So that’s … civilians have a stake in this. Although you are on the front line, this was the front line four and a half years ago.

Blogoland writes that they’re “in awe of Mr. Hewitt’s bravery. As funny as the above exchange is (‘I’m on the front lines, too!’) it opens a useful window onto the soul of the Keyboard Kommandos. See, when Hugh Hewitt is ensconced in a cushy office in the Empire State building, he actually imagines himself as a brave soldier on the front lines in the Universal Conflict Against the Evildoers. When he is on the airplane, he is an intelligence officer against fanatical Islamofascists …”

On the other side you have View From a Height, who, like Hewitt, proudly displays a deep ignorance of what life is like on the ground in Iraq. “While it does seem that Ware has gotten out of the bar at the Palestine Hotel,” they write, propping up the lame — and wrong — impression that reporters are simply chilling out, having a few brews, when they could be out reporting. We’ll say it again: Due to the deadly security risks reporting from Baghdad presents, reporters simply can’t go wandering around the streets, looking for kids flying kites and playing hopscotch.

But the View isn’t done. “[Ware] could do a lot more reporting under the protection of the US military than he either knows or acknowledges.” (Ware doesn’t know the embed option exists?) “If he’s really concerned about either his safety or that of his staff, there does seem to be an answer.”

It’s easy for brave stateside bloggers to complain and tell those wimpy reporters to toughen up, quit worrying about suicide bombers and insurgent kidnappers and random gunfire, and go find those happy, newly-liberated kittens and puppies to report on. But until the suburban keyboard jockeys leave their offices and march to the sound of the guns themselves, we’re going to have a hard time taking them seriously.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.