Friday, December 01, 2006

Worth Another Read ...

With developments in the Iraq War over the past few months, I would like to once again recommend the book, "Naked in Baghdad" by National Public Radio senior foreign correspondent, Anne Garrels. Though it is a collection of reports and impressions she gathered more than four years ago, at the start of the conflict, it sill holds up well to the 'current affairs' label it received when it first arrived on the shelves.

But, perhaps more than it is a document of political, social and martial forces at work in that still-bubbling cauldron that is Iraq - this is a book on the craft of journalism under the most trying of conditions. On one hand is the totalitarian regime that ruled Iraq at the time, and used a variety of methods to rule the media, as well. On the other hand are political forces on the far side of the world, adopting ever-more-extreme measures to change said regime.

And, caught in the middle are the ordinary people of Iraq, and a dwindling pool of western journalists who are neither embedded with the U.S. military, or 'in bed' with the Iraqi government. By the beginning of the war, that pool had gotten so small, that Garrels had an almost totally-unique and exclusive position. Some of the best examples of Garrels practicing her craft, are the steps she took to maintain her independence - and that of her reports - from the Iraqi government monitors ... one of those steps provided the title of this book.

"I'm not really very interested in the strictly military part of war," Garrels writes at one point. "Rather I'm fascinated by how people survive, and how the process of war affects the attitudes of all sides involved, and how they pull out of it."

"Naked in Baghdad" offers a healthy dose of comments and observations from ordinary Iraqi citizens ... a refreshing change from books filled with the rhetoric of leaders on both sides of the conflict. Some of you out there - content with your perception of journalists as a united and monolithic cabal of evil - might be surprised at some of the sharp words Garrels has for other practitioners of her craft who, she believes, have crossed the lines that define responsible journalism.

It is a book that granted us special insight, then, and perhaps an even greater insight now. As a report on current affairs, and as a primer on the craft of journalism, I heartily recommend it.

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