The Grim Tigris

The BBC travels “Iraq’s river of death”

As vital as are hard-news stories about the complex situation in Iraq, I’ve come to appreciate even more the coverage that operates on a visceral level, forcing the war out of abstraction and into the realm of urgent, unavoidable reality. BBC News has a particularly commendable example of that type of piece, describing a grim new ritual taking place along the storied waters of the Tigris: fishermen retrieving corpses of people slain in the conflict.

Divested, as a radio story, of the visual images of war to which many of us are building an emotional immunity, the piece centers on sound: the tension in the voices of fishermen as they encounter their dismal catch, the sputtering of boat engines as they drag mutilated remains to shore, the crackling of gravel as it’s shoveled over bodies laid in makeshift graveyards. The piece invites empathy: you can almost feel the heat, smell the exhaust, taste the sour air. You are there. It’s horrible and haunting. Which is precisely what makes it so valuable.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.