Interviewing Soldiers Wounded in Iraq

By: Seth Porges

In the past few weeks, as U.S. military casualties have mounted in Iraq, several newspapers, along with E&P, have advocated greater attention to the sorely injured. But how easy is it to talk with soldiers and doctors at the major American hospital housing the wounded?

Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the chief recovery zone for troops injured in the war, now receives about 20 press requests a day, according to Public Affairs Officer Beverly Chidel.

“Some of them are repeat requests,” Chidel said. “Everybody wants something right now and we’re trying to get everybody taken care of. [The media] should expect it to take a couple weeks [for press requests to go through.]”

As of Nov. 10, 1,832 troops injured in Iraq have passed through Walter Reed, with about 40 currently in care at the medical center.

Walter Reed allows the press to interview patients who have signed a consent form. Doctors interviewed about a patient’s status must sign a separate form.

Although the press has increased coverage of injured troops in recent weeks, Chidel said that press requests at Walter Reed have been pretty steady since July, after The Washington Post ran a series on troops injured in Iraq.

In addition to major outlets such as CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, many smaller organizations also request interviews.

“We’ve also got a lot of the soldiers’ hometown newspapers and TV stations very interested in how they’re doing,” Chidel said. “We’ve got many of those requests.”

While any member of the press is permitted to make an interview request, there are certain rules governing freelancers. “They have to have a committed contract with a regular news organization,” Chidel said. “Not just a freelancer who wants to do something and then sell their stuff.”

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