Reporter faults war coverage

Anchorage journalist brings tales of war to Juneau World Affairs Council

Posted: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Dahr Jamail, a freelance journalist from Anchorage, has spent much of the last two years in Iraq doing the work he says the mainstream media won't.

He said Tuesday, during a lecture to the Juneau World Affairs Council, that reporters in the mainstream media, such as the New York Times, have failed to provide America with the kind of honest coverage it deserves - the kind that tells both sides of the story.

He said mainstream media outlets not only have failed to show the devastation of the war and its effects on Iraqis, but also its effects on U.S. troops.

Jamail started off as a freelance journalist at the Anchorage Press in the fall of 2000. He continued with his writing over the next couple of years, submitting pieces to small publications. But as the U.S. government headed into war in the winter of 2003, Jamail said he became outraged at the lack of coverage by the U.S. media.

"The coverage here versus the coverage in foreign countries, like Germany or France or even the U.K., was so different," he said. "And then the invasion happened and I continued to see that disparity with the occupation, so I just headed over."

During his two trips to Iraq since 2003, he has covered stories such as the U.S. occupation of Fallujah and the torture of Iraqi detainees.

Although he has been used as a source for The New York Times, Jamail said he is under no illusion that his writing will be printed in mainstream media outlets.

"I have literally sent stories to big newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, which I felt were big stories, and literally have had them write me back and say 'This is not news,' " he said.

But he said they will cite stories written by Jamail and others publishing primarily on the Internet.

Months after he wrote the story for a news Web site, Jamail said he was cited by the New York Times in June in a story on a Baathist detainee who was allegedly tortured and beaten by U.S. soldiers in July 2003.

Jamail said the Iraqi was taken by U.S. forces and later returned to his family in a coma. He said the medical report said the detainee had a heart attack. "But what the medical report didn't mention at all was why did he have electrical burn marks on the bottom of his feet and his penis; why did he have bruises up and down his legs and arms and why was the back of his head bludgeoned?"

Ian Fisher of the New York Times picked up the story five months later, citing Jamail as a source.

"The whole point of the story is this stuff has been going on since almost the beginning of the occupation," Jamail said, noting, "It's not news to Iraqis."

Jamail self-financed his first of two trips to Baghdad in November 2003 and shortly thereafter began selling his stories to a variety of news organizations, such as The Nation magazine, British Broadcasting Corp. and the alternative Internet news Web site The New Standard.

Working as a freelance journalist is much easier than operating under the auspices of the mainstream press. Jamail said working with just an interpreter allows him to blend in and interview average Iraqis in their homes, while most of mainstream reporters imbed with the military.

"A lot of them will even go around wearing black jackets and carrying weapons," he said. "Literally, BBC's reporters now are allowed to carry pistols."

Jamail said the second trip in April was covered through fund raising, but added it was "pretty touch and go."

Jamail said he plans to head back to Iraq during the third week in October.

"I say I'm hoping (to go) because it's so volatile," he said. "One week my translator is saying it's OK to come and the next week he's saying don't come, so I'll have to get some kind of flexible air ticket."

Jamail will speak again at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9, at Smith Hall at Chapel by the Lake.

•Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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