“There’s a marked drop-off in the appetite for stories from Iraq,” said ABC News correspondent Terry McCarthy. “That’s partly due to the election, partly because of fatigue, and partly because things have started to go right here. The spectacular car bombs, the massive attacks, you just don’t see them anymore. A drip, drip story that’s getting a little bit better day by day doesn’t make a headline. We have to struggle to get more stories on the air. We have to do more feature-type stuff. The news of the day is not really here anymore.”
“It’s not difficult to judge what’s going to be on page one,” John Burns said. “We had a rhythm of stories like that for three or four years. It was a journalistic high.
“It’s a lot more difficult now. The reporter in Iraq finds himself similar to the problem of the reporter in Paris and London and Hong Kong. You’ve got to show enterprise. You’ve got to dig for the story, and very often it’s a feature. And then you’ve got to compete on an equal basis to get that story on the front page.”
“We will be more likely to go ahead and file a story on military activity around the country that doesn’t rise to the level of top of the foreign news page,” said Mr. Reid of the AP. But, “our editors are showing increasing interest in features and a decreasing interest in ‘Iraqi troops capture x amount of people and five bombs went off,’ unless it really does rise to the level of a huge explosion or something like that.”
The question is, what level of risk makes a story like that worth reporting?
“We could almost sit on a downtown bus, the entire Western press corps these days,” said Mr. Ware of CNN. “Other organizations will keep the bare bones of a bureau in place, but often it won’t be fully staffed. We only see visiting correspondents.”
According to Paul Friedman, senior vice president of CBS News, CBS keeps a bureau in Baghdad, including one full-time producer/bureau chief there, six months on, six months off, but no full-time correspondent. There is a pool of correspondents for CBS, including Lara Logan, who show up to do stories over there. “We cover the story when it changes in some significant way,” said Mr. Friedman, who confirmed reports that CBS News had had talks with CNN about using its resources and reporters. The deal fell through because of “rights issues.”
“It’s very hard to send people into dangerous places,” said Mr. Friedman, “knowing that the likelihood of what they report getting on the air is low.”
There are three large compounds that house many of the American journalists still working in Baghdad.
“It’s almost like little castles,” said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has reported in Baghdad since the beginning of the war.
All three are in what’s called the Red Zone, outside of the protective checkpoints that define the city’s Green Zone.
NBC is in one of the three “castles,” along with some other American media outlets.
“We happen to live right next to The Washington Post, USA Today, L.A. Times and Time magazine,” said Mr. Engel. “We are all in one compound. It’s a hotel surrounded by some houses. We’ve put around some perimeter security. Iraqis live within that compound as well.
“We’re quite close. It’s a media center. We live together. They’ll come over to our place for a barbecue. Or I’ll go over to The Washington Post for a drink or a barbecue. It’s very easy. We can walk. There are no security restrictions.”
But he doesn’t socialize much with journalists outside of his “castle.”
“You have to move through the badlands from one to another,” Mr. Engel said. (To avoid targeting by suicide bombers and kidnappers, the locations of all three are generally not made public; but each is at least a mile from the next.) “I go out every day reporting. But it’s not really worth it to go and organize security and take risks to go on a social call to visit people at CNN or Fox.”
Jamie Tarabay, formerly chief of the NPR bureau, lived “across the badlands” from Mr. Engel. “We have a garden where we live,” she said. “We have barbecues every now and then. CNN. ABC. Fox. CBS. Every now and then there’s a block get-together, especially in the summer. It’s nice. Because you’re all alone. But you’re alone together. It’s nice to be able to share your frustrations and chill out and relax.”
“We’re in an undisclosed location,” said Fox News’ Courtney Kealy of Castle Number Two. “We refer to it as the concrete media village. I refer to my place as an armed fortress, which it is. We have nice brief respites where we can visit each other, and have barbecues, within somebody’s compound.”
“We’re not in the Green Zone. We never have been. The vast majority of the press has not been. If we are accused of hotel journalism, fair enough. But when we lived in the hotel, we were under siege just like the rest of the city was. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, yawn, I want to order room service because I don’t want to go outside.’ We have a really great gym. We have a massive amount of DVDs and books. And there is a local Iraqi guy that made us a pool table, which is great. But … a card game, or watching TV, or sitting outside and having a barbecue is pretty much the relaxation you get—with hopefully a couple times at the gym, because you literally aren’t going anywhere else. The irony of this war is that you gain weight.”
“In a limited way, yes, if you’re in one of these enclaves, you can hang out with the people there a little bit,” said The Times’ Mr. Glanz. He was sitting at an outdoor table at the bistro Le Monde in Morningside Heights. He’d been in New York for two weeks and would be here for a few more. Fifty-one years old, his hair is graying; he drank two café au laits and fielded a phone call from a neck specialist.
“But you can’t move from place to place. … I used to go shopping in Baghdad, and I used to go to restaurants. Then at a certain point we started asking ourselves, O.K., if I’m out with my friend Dexter Filkins and a bomb goes off—as it did one night with The Washington Post a few years ago—and let’s say Dexter gets killed. So I’m going to go back to Dexter’s parents, let’s say, and say, ‘In the line of duty, Dexter was killed.’ And they’ll say, ‘What was he doing?’ And I’ll say we were out having kebab at a restaurant. And they’ll say, ‘My son died while you’re bureau chief because you were at a restaurant?’
“You can’t do that anymore. You can’t do that. I can’t say that he was out there carrying out the mission of reporting, and we didn’t realize there was this presence, there was an unfortunate incident where there was this person there and he came from around the corner, and blah blah. I’m the one who has to call the wife, the brother, the sister, the father, the mother, and say, you know, ‘Your son or daughter is dead.’ I’m the one who will have to explain what was going on at the time. … If I let someone go into harm’s way for no journalistic reason, I’ll never be able to justify it.”
THE WAR AT HOME
“I flew out on like the 16th of December,” said Jamie Tarabay of her exit as
the NPR’s Baghdad bureau chief near the end of 2007. “And on the 18th, I was in New York trying on my wedding dress. In January, we got married. Then we went to Paris for a bit.