Saturday, September 09, 2006

Band of brooders

The Big Carnival sent me an email today quoting the contents of a recent letter to the the NYT editor from Steven Vincents widow in response to an op-ed suggesting foreign journalists are "untouchable" in Iraq.

To the Editor:


While reading "Iraq's Endangered Journalists," by Ali Fadhil (Op-Ed, Sept. 6), I was shocked by his claim that "foreign reporters have the advantage of being considered untouchable by the Iraqi police and security forces."

Might I remind Mr. Fadhil that on Aug. 2, 2005, my husband, Steven Vincent, an American journalist living in and writing from Basra, was kidnapped and killed by five men in police uniforms?

Two days before Steven's murder, The New York Times ran an Op-Ed article he wrote in which he disclosed how the British Army was ignoring both the infiltration of the Basra police force by Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and the resulting spike in fundamentalist violence. He specifically mentioned the white police vehicles used to abduct and kill an ever increasing number of people; two days later, one of those vehicles came for him.

Steven thus has the dubious distinction of being one of the few foreign journalists in this Iraq conflict specifically targeted for execution.

Lisa Ramaci-Vincent.

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New York, Sept. 7, 2006


Commentary

In fact, if memory serves, Steven Vincent was the only foreign journalist to have been killed in 2005, which was the banner year of the insurgency. That statistic has always haunted me. Why should he be an outlier in the pattern?

The most innocent explanation is that he was "outside the pattern". The regular journalists know the drill: when to work out of a hotel and work through stringers; when to "arrange" an interiew which will provide the journalist with protection; and maybe, through the grapevine, know which stories not to cover unless you have recently bought a lot of life insurance. When foreign journalists operate outside of the envelope as in the case of mainstream news anchors who made unscripted descents from American patrol vehicles, their risks increase dramatically. When Eason Jordan described his arrangements with Saddam for "access" he was probably stating a fact of life. If you don't have your own tank and infantry company along, a camera and a press pass provide scant protection.

I don't think this is necessarily a sell-out or a sign of cowardice. But it is, however, a relevant circumstance that materially affects news coverage whether the journalists like it or not. Whoever isn't convinced that intimidation doesn't affect speech should try the following experiment. Stand in front of the White House and ask the passers by whether George W. Bush is good for nothing so-and-so. Observe the result. Then stand in front of Nasrallah's entourage and do the same. Observe the result. So once, again, why was Steven Vincent the only foreign journalist to die in 2005? And why did the NYT leave him off the books? Beneath them or not one of them? Which?

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