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[casi-analysis] casi-news digest, Vol 1 #149 - 1 msg

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Today's Topics:

   1. Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent (ppg)


Message: 1
From: "ppg" <>
To: <>
Subject: Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent
Date: Mon, 4 Oct 2004 12:53:26 -0400  Los Angeles Times

(Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent has been
told she is relieved   **** until after November election)

October 2, 2004

At the core of the relentless partisan assault on the American news media's
tradition that good journalism can and should be unbiased, is a campaign to
obliterate the distinction between the public and the private.

The notion here is that because journalists, like other human beings, have
thoughts and opinions about the world around them, those sentiments must
ultimately contaminate their journalism. According to this argument, no
amount of training, no adherence to principle, no form of self-discipline is
sufficient to guarantee unbiased, dispassionate reporting.

Facts may be facts, in other words, but they still have been selected by a
biased mind. The only remedy is to admit that everything we call journalism
is the continuation of opinion by other means. What's required is that our
media stop the hypocrisy of pretending to inform and wade into the argument
with all biases blazing.

That's the backdrop for this week's ambiguous case of Farnaz Fassihi, the
Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent, currently reporting from
Baghdad. The Journal's news columns are justifiably admired for their
dispassion and clarity. Fassihi's reportage is no exception. Over the course
of her assignment in Iraq, the 31-year-old Iranian-born, American-educated
correspondent has been in the habit of sending monthly e-mails to some of
her friends - keeping in touch, letting them know how she's doing. Private
correspondence, in other words.

This week, one of her lengthy note's recipients took it upon himself or
herself to circulate Fassihi's e-mail to others. Within days, it had spread
across the Web, a painfully bleak and clearly heartfelt appraisal of the
Iraqi morass:

"Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under
virtual house arrest," she wrote. "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

"Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those
reasons. I am housebound. 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 anything 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 . "

What 'turning point'?

Fassihi went on to write, "It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point'
exactly began.. Was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated
pockets in the Sunni Triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite Present
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."

Iraqi officials have stopped releasing civilian casualty figures, she wrote,
because the "numbers are so shocking." The insurgency, Fassihi wrote, "is
growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various
elements within it - Baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda - are
cooperating and coordinating.. One could argue that Iraq is already lost
beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if
anything 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

There is more, equally pained, equally persuasive.

Splashing this sort of stuff around the Internet is bound to cause talk, and
a good bit of it occurred in the Journal's newsroom. Wednesday, two of the
paper's staff members - both of whom asked not to be identified - said they
had been told that Fassihi would not be allowed to write about Iraq for the
paper until after the election, presumably because unauthorized publication
of her private correspondence somehow called into question the fairness of
her journalism.

In point of fact, no one has questioned the content of Fassihi's reporting
nor alleged that it has been in any way biased.

Was reporter sanctioned?

So was Fassihi told not to write about Iraq by WSJ editors until after Nov.
2? It seemed an easy matter to resolve, though - as it turns out - very
little in this uneasy moment yields to easy resolution.

Paul Steiger, the Journal's managing editor, was unavailable by phone
Thursday, but his spokesman, Robert Christie, accepted a question on his
behalf and agreed to put it to the editor: Had Fassihi's e-mail been the
subject of discussion among her editors and had they decided that its
dissemination should prevent her from writing about Iraq until after Nov. 2?

Christie forwarded Steiger's response by e-mail: "Ms. Fassihi is coming out
of Iraq shortly on a long planned vacation. That vacation was planned to,
and will, extend past the election."

A follow-up question seemed in order and was sent to Steiger, through
Christie, by e-mail: "If this correspondent wishes to write about Iraq for
the Wall Street Journal, is she free to do so?"

Steiger's reply, via his spokesman, was this: "She is going on a
long-scheduled vacation outside Iraq and has no plans to work during that

Fair-minded readers can make of that what they will.

The Wall Street Journal is one of the world's great newspapers, vigorously
and intelligently reported, rigorously edited and impeccable in its division
between news and opinion. Farnaz Fassihi is an admirable correspondent who
certainly has earned - and perhaps, as her note suggests, needs - a long

Still, it's impossible to come away from all this without thinking that,
like so many American journalists and news organizations, the Journal and
its staff are feeling around for what used to be familiar boundaries,
wondering whether they're still there and - if so - precisely where.

End of casi-news Digest

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