Curley, AP Journalists, Discuss Current Iraq Issues: Some 'Very Bad News'

By: E&P Staff Three veteran Associated Press journalists joined AP President and CEO Tom Curley on Monday in analyzing the Iraq war. ?Fighting for the News: From the Battlefield and on the Homefront? was the title of their discussion, moderated by Curley at a Manhattan hotel before members and guests of the Foreign Press Center.

AP summarized the event in a release, reprinted below.


Monday's event was timed to the release of a new history of the AP, "Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else," written by a team of former and current reporters of the cooperative and published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Baghdad-based Steven R. Hurst, AP?s Iraq Chief of Bureau, who flew to New York for the gathering, said: ?It?s hard to give a very positive report of what?s going on in Baghdad right now for a number of reasons. I think, first and foremost, the United States puts a great deal of hope that the so-called troop surge would start having an effect. Immediately after it was announced, there was a significant drop in violence, in February and March, but that lasted a very short time. Now, we?ve seen a number of people being killed there, which is sadly the Baghdad story right now.?

Hurst added, ?The death toll among Americans, of course, while very small compared to that of the Iraqis who have been suffering through this, is increasing. It?s very bad news for the surge, because I?m wondering what it?s going to do politically inside the United States in terms of maintaining that surge, whether you agree with it or not.?

New York-based Senior Deputy International Editor Steven Komarow, who recently spent time with Hurst in Baghdad, also focused on the attention being paid to the troop surge, saying it?s clear that ?the American public has bought into the surge as a turning point in this war. I think it weighs heavily on folks who are there [in Iraq] and also folks back at the Pentagon in Washington and clearly the political class, as well. So this has been a huge challenge for us in reporting the story. Steve [Hurst] and his folks are working hard and risking their lives to get details of what is actually going on on the ground and that?s the center of an entire universe of stories we coordinate here in New York.?

Komarow added: ?One has to wonder, if the surge does not work out, then what happens next? How does the American public sort through that??

Curley observed, ?It seems to me that the [presidential] candidates in the election are doing their best to play dodgeball over Iraq.?

Washington-based enterprise reporter Nancy Benac agreed and added, ?We do a series on the candidates called ?On the Issues? ? It?s a moving target. You can?t just say where they stand on Iraq and be done with it, because check back a week later, and they?ve changed.?

?It?s not clear that the United States has the political will to stay with this much longer,? Curley said, before asking the panelists what happens next.

Hurst responded: ?I hope that what happens next doesn?t happen until after there is a long period of examination of the ethical question that needs to be answered, and, that is, there is a situation in Iraq today -- leave aside how it got that way -- for which the United States bears some, if not a lot of responsibility. My guess -- and, I think, it?s a guess, perhaps a prediction, held by a lot of people who are more expert than me -- is that when the United States goes, if it goes too quickly from Iraq, that there will be a great deal of killing and a lot of bloodshed.?

Hurst added: ?I think clearly, though, that when the United States begins to leave, if there hasn?t been some sort of miraculous turnaround there -- there?s no sign of that -- that there is going to be a lot of violence. A lot of violence. You?ll probably end up with a much more radical style Shiite-led government in at least part of Iraq, if it isn?t partitioned completely ? It?s probably an outcome that had the American public known about, going into it, there would have been a lot less fervor and support for the war.?

During the question-and-answer session, when a member of the audience inquired about the AP?s operation in Baghdad, Curley replied, ?We?re not going to discuss the absolute specifics of our security but we are located two buildings from The New York Times. We?re all in the same compound. We have similar security around ourselves. We also have additional joy in that the road outside our compound is about to be reopened. It?s been closed. It turns out that we all are living in what was Baghdad?s SoHo back in the day, and it was the part of Baghdad where Saddam?s, some of the elite ministers and family members lived. So it was a desirable area and there was a lot of street life. The government wants to reopen that area. So we are reinforcing security in that area.?

?AP has lost six people in the coverage of Iraq,? Curley added.

Referring to AP photographer Bilal Hussein, he noted, ?We have one held by the U.S. military without being charged.?

?As far as the organizations over there, we have, I?m sure, the most people,? Curley said. ?A number of our people have been tailed and singled out and assassinated. And you almost never know all the circumstances that led to the killings.?

Curley said, ?Getting the story is obviously much more complicated and we are always frustrated by the limits.?

Hurst said: ?There?s been a lot of sometimes muted, sometimes not so muted criticism of the coverage of the war because of the necessary ability of the people to get out and look at it as much as in past wars, simply because of the fact that we?ve become targets, like we have bull?s eyes painted on our foreheads ? I don?t look like an Iraqi. I can?t hide that.?

At the same time, Hurst said, he felt ?great gratification? when AP?s monthly tally of the killings in Iraq during May, ?collected independently through our network of stringers and reporters,? was close to the total released by the Iraqi government.

As Hurst put it, ?I think it does show that we can?t see everything, we can?t smell the story as we should, we can?t taste it as we should, we can?t get out and get all of the emotion that we should be getting because we simply can?t. But in terms of measurement, I think we?re doing a pretty good job.?

?Getting the story is a process that takes time,? Curley said. ?I think this story has moved a lot faster than the Vietnam War story, for better or worse.?

Curley added: ?In Vietnam, it took three days for the video and many of the photographs to become public. Some photographs did get out sooner than that but a lot had to be shipped to process. Obviously, now, all the news organizations have spent tens of millions of dollars to get instant reporting from the battlefield. What is different is that the journalists in Vietnam had almost instant access and they weren?t required to be embedded in a certain way. They?d just show up at a place and hop on a helicopter and fly to a battle and fly back and go where they needed to go. That access has long since passed. But in terms of the Internet leveling the playing field, in terms of certain aspects of the technology, it surely has [changed], but we don?t have the access to what?s going on in the field that we had back then. There?s no question about that.

?Our bureau was open and still functioning when the North Vietnamese came in when they got to Saigon [in 1975]. They shared some stale pound cake and Coca-Cola in that bureau before the circuits were cut. We don?t think that would happen in these circumstances.?


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