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No more reporting for *you*, Ms. Farnaz Fassihi
October 12, 2004 8:51 PM   Subscribe

When respected journalist Farnaz Fassihi wrote her friends a letter about the bleakness of trying to live in Iraq as a journalist and a westerner, I doubt she realized it would become public, and that the WSJ would recall her, and place her on a mandated "vacation" until the election is over.
posted by dejah420 (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
:::obligatory "slaves should never bite the hand that feeds them" comment:::
posted by rushmc at 9:50 PM on October 12, 2004


The LA Times link appears to be dead, but the poynter link works. Wow. Powerful testimony from the ground. No wonder the WSJ wants to shut her up. Get back into your foxhole, bitch, and keep smiling! We have an election to win here!

If only I could be assure that the merry band of dittohead war cheerleaders would read this, I would ask them what they think of the Bush "optimism" on Iraq now. Sadly, and expectedly, they won't read it.
posted by squirrel at 12:33 AM on October 13, 2004


the WSJ is slightly to the right of the Michigan Militia. it is hardly surprising that they have a little problem with peacenik, appeaser correspondents with clumsy e-mail habit to boot. also, Farnaz Fassihi sounds like an unAmerican name, better watch out in wartime. better to be safe than sorry.
lib'rul media, indeed
posted by matteo at 12:50 AM on October 13, 2004


Here's the e-mail in case the link goes dead:
Date: 9/29/2004 2:58:10 PM
From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to  and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never  walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it  April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't  control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation,  basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad  alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive,  cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His  car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around  Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and  highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had  been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two  Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came  out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods.

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down.  If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated  every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the  military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told  our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other  way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National  Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the  insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out  30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of  sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer  because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were  allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the  importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq  into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget  about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to  salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could  salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of  the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In  the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show  up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott  elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds  and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most  certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate  in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to  some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"

-Farnaz
posted by squirrel at 1:03 AM on October 13, 2004


Relax. According to this story, she's on vacation - one that was planned before the email "incident".
posted by O9scar at 2:13 AM on October 13, 2004


*unbunches panties*

Well, still a great read.
Sounds like she needs one; and who wouldn't!
posted by squirrel at 3:38 AM on October 13, 2004


She certainly sounds frazzled. I am sure its a difficult, dangerous situation. It must be even harder to understand or tolerate when one fundementally fails to grasp the issues at stake.

Bring her home permanently, she has nothign more to contribute fromt hat place given her obvious stress.
posted by soulhuntre at 7:13 AM on October 13, 2004


thanks deja... good thing we "liberated" those iraqis huh? baghdad burning has frank regular updates on the situation as well.
posted by specialk420 at 7:22 AM on October 13, 2004


WSJ is a weird paper in many ways. They have a staunchly business-conservative editorial position, but they hire a lot of reporters who end up looking kind of...well... liberal.

Anyway, if they do fire her, there's plenty of work out there for experienced Arabic-speaking field reporters.
posted by lodurr at 7:33 AM on October 13, 2004


It must be even harder to understand or tolerate when one fundementally fails to grasp the issues at stake.

Sez the intarweb nerd to the war zone journalist. Oh, lord.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:56 AM on October 13, 2004


I am sure its a difficult, dangerous situation. It must be even harder to understand or tolerate when one fundementally fails to grasp the issues at stake.

You were in Iraq recently? Please share your grasp of the issues...
posted by jalexei at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2004


If she got fired for speaking her mind, it'd be almost a highlight on her CV, wouldn't it?

Let's have a show of hands here: How many of us found her writing from the link provided in this week's Doonesbury strip?

(raises hand)
posted by alumshubby at 8:23 AM on October 13, 2004


Bullseye, octobersurprise.
posted by squirrel at 8:30 AM on October 13, 2004


alums: Actually, I think I found it here, first, some time back. It's been floating around for a while. Still, it's a powerful piece for how it speaks to relatively unfiltered experience.

It doesn't really tell me anything I hadn't heard, though, by watching BBC World Service broadcasts (6-6:30 on my local PBS affiliate), listening to BBC Overnight, or even watching Lehrer or listening to NPR. In all those outlets, I've seen/heard multiple instances of first-hand accounts that invlude the key information we get from this: It's so out of hand there that you effectively can't know what's going on unless you essentially go under cover.

I confess to being somewhat ignorant of other news outlets -- I don't have cable, and rarely watch network news. I barely recognized Charlie Gibson, for example.

As far as it being a bright spot on her CV: I think once that would have been true. It certainly worked for Linda Ellerbee. But the decisions are more bottom line, now. I don't think there's a sense of journalism as a great profession anymore, as there came to be at least here in the US in the early 20th century.
posted by lodurr at 8:52 AM on October 13, 2004


*raises hand*
posted by petebest at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2004


The WSJ is one of those papers whose editorial board is frequently at odds with their news division. Being a financial newspaper, the WSJ is incredibly dependable. Since the jobs of the readers depend on the WSJ's accuracy, the newspaper has to deliver good information and news.

At the same time, the job of the editorial page is to promote the Republican party's agenda. Now, if the editorial page interfered with the news reporting on, say, finance and health care, plenty of WSJ readers would likely lose their jobs by making decisions based on bad information. Thus, they generally don't do this, and the reporting in these areas is good and even provides fodder for liberal causes.

But when the reporting is about Iraq, this doesn't have much of an effect on the bottom line of the newspaper's readership, but it does have an effect on the ability of the editorial page to promote Bush's presidency. Thus, the paper had to clamp down on Fassihi.
posted by deanc at 9:48 AM on October 13, 2004


"they hire a lot of reporters who end up looking kind of...well... liberal."

Is that because the facts often end up looking...well... liberal?
posted by 2sheets at 9:56 AM on October 13, 2004


deanc, you don't regularly read the WSJ opinion pages, do you?

The WSJ Editorial Page is certainly not a Republican mouthpiece. The board has criticized Bush as sharply as it criticized Clinton. They have taken him to task over Medicare, Social Security reform, and a variety of social issues. When Bush became a protectionist a year ago, the administration was vilified over catfish, brasseires, textiles, and steel.

The editors support small government, free trade, deregulation, and tax simplification and reduction. The party (or the president, at least) has more or less abandoned three and a half of these four policies.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:07 AM on October 13, 2004


Kwantsar, I believe that you and Deanc are both right. The WSJ is independent of the GOP and usually does not serve as a mouthpiece. However, during an election year, the WSJ has endorsed a candidate, and its editorial pages will do what they can to promote their choice. While it's true that they often rap any leader who goes against their principals, you won't see many articles of that nature against Bush until after the election.
posted by cell divide at 10:27 AM on October 13, 2004


Karl Vick: [Fassihi] pretty much got it right. I don't think many reporters here would differ with much. Or a lot of people in the military or Green Zone, for that matter.
posted by soyjoy at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2004


This is brilliant inside info, De. Thanks!
posted by Shane at 12:21 PM on October 13, 2004


The WSJ board is filled with right wing nuts. It would be the equivalent of having Noam Chomsky, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Fidel Castro writing the editorials for the Washington Post. Seriously, watch the show, it is a riot. Watching it really makes you wonder how these people can walk down the street without their heads asploding their own hypocrisy and pelting pedestrians with their bizarro fringe ideas. This is a typical sample from Dorothy Rabinowitz regarding the situation in Iraq.
.
They're trying, but of course that's exactly what we don't hear. I know it's an old, old story. But the media are simply not focusing on things like this. If you took every war that we've been involved in and created this intense media scrutiny on every catastrophe, it would all seem like this. The best laid plans. You talk about the lack of planning in Iraq. Name a war in which planning has not gone awry. I can read you a long list of glorious battles, which produce these catastrophes. So I think that you have to say the reporting is not even.
posted by euphorb at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2004


Iraq faces growing health crisis
posted by homunculus at 10:16 PM on October 13, 2004


>The WSJ Editorial Page is certainly not a Republican mouthpiece.

Hehehe. Stop it. You guys are killing me!
posted by skallas at 11:00 PM on October 13, 2004


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