CA: The journalists in Iraq have always done a tremendous job of covering the story; including the good and bad news. I think the fact that both sides of the debate criticize journalists equally means that we’re probably striking a good balance.


LCB: What news outlet/s or reporter/s are, to your mind, still managing to do great work in Iraq today in spite of all the challenges? Who do you read, follow, admire over there?


CA: I read Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor; Ellen Knickermeyer of The Washington Post; and The New York Times. The Atlantic Monthly’s 2004 article “Welcome to the Green Zone” by William Langwiesche brilliantly captured the group-think that existed inside the U.S. administration in Baghdad. Asne Seierstad’s book “101 Days” gave great insight into the Iraqi mindset preceeding the invasion. One of my favorite pieces recently was Jack Fairweather’s Mother Jones article investigating how the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi duped the U.S. media into the war. On the other side, I hated Paul Bremer’s book: “My Year in Iraq.” It was so self-congratulatory and just reinforced the sense of Republican loyalists dipping into Baghdad for a year of adventure and not realizing the tens of thousands of lives that are being ruined.


LCB: You’re currently working on a book about the women’s movement in Iraq. What drew you to this topic? And what is the state of the women’s movement in Iraq (size, goals, obstacles faced)?


CA: I was fascinated by the idea of the U.S. exporting to Iraq a women’s movement that would serve as a model for the Middle East. We women here in the U.S. can’t seem to decide on a definition of feminism anymore, and I often question whether a show like “Sex and the City” moves women forward or sets them backwards. So, what model, exactly, were we interested in pushing on Muslim women? Once on the ground in Iraq, the story took all sorts of turns: while there are almost no laws protecting battered women, Iraqi women were better off in other ways: they have lower divorce rates, and better child care, and have a much easier time balancing career and family because of shorter work days and the close proximity of extended family. When a grassroots Iraqi women’s movement started to lobby the new Iraqi government for a quota, the story just got more and more interesting.


LCB: Your first book, published in January, is about the teaching crisis in American public schools, as seen through your year teaching in a crumbling public school in Philadelphia. Prior to teaching, you were an education reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Did your experiences in the classroom cause you to look back at any of the stories you wrote for the Inquirer and cringe (specifics, please)?


CA: My first book, “The Emergency Teacher,” is about the year I spent as an urban school teacher in Philadelphia’s worst-performing middle school. I look back and cringe at the infinitesimal amount of time I spent interviewing kids and teachers compared to school board members. I also am much more interested now in the kinds of experimental high schools that Bill Gates is pioneering — the current structure of our school system is very obsolete, and I’m excited by the innovations taking place.


LCB: You’ve reported from a war zone. You’ve reported on neglected kids in a broken school system. Name a type of journalism (medium and/or subject matter) that you would never want to do (and why)?


CA: I would never engage in these sniping TV debate shows that drag discussion down to the lowest common denominator. Nor would I ever want to work for a publication that was motivated primarily by profit. I have this very romantic notion of one day being an editor of a small town newspaper, and using the paper as a forum for different voices to engage in vigorous debate. Very Norman Rockwell!

 

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.