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Is Iraq Too Dangerous for Reporters?; Investigating a Massacre

Aired June 4, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Killing fields. CBS's Kimberly Dozier badly wounded. Her two crewmembers killed by a car bomb in Iraq. The war more deadly to journalists now than all of World War II. Can the media keep covering the bloody conflict without losing more of its bravest members? We'll ask CBS's Allen Pizzey and NBC's Richard Engel.

Investigating a massacre. Why did it take more than two months for "TIME" magazine's report of civilian deaths at Haditha to become big news?

The other war. Blogger Michael Young on why the media aren't getting the full picture in Afghanistan.

Plus, Snow job. The president, the treasury secretary, and a little white lie.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the rising death toll in Iraq for journalists. I'm Howard Kurtz.

It was supposed to be a routine story about how soldiers were spending Memorial Day, but the assignment proved deadly when a car bomb killed a CBS camera man and sound man and an American soldier and badly wounded correspondent Kimberly Dozier. It was the latest evidence, as if any were needed, that Iraq has become a treacherous mission for western journalists, even though those embedded with the U.S. military, as Dozier and her colleagues were.


BOB SCHIEFFER, ANCHOR, "CBS EVENING NEWS": It was a tragic day for those of us at CBS News because we learned that two of our own, cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan, were killed today, and correspondent Kimberly Dozier was critically wounded in Iraq.

KATIE COURIC, NBC NEWS: While it hits home for all of us working in this business, it's a powerful reminder of the heartbreak many military families are experiencing every day.

JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Going out beyond the walls of your compound exposes you to attack, but just being outdoors is dangerous. There could be snipers or mortar rounds or rockets, so we wear our body armor to protect us even on our compound.


KURTZ: Media casualties in Iraq are becoming all too common, from the killing of "Atlantic Monthly" editor Michael Kelly to the wounding of ABC anchor Bob Woodruff, to dozens of kidnappings, attempted kidnappings, drive-by shootings, and close calls. Has the story simply gotten too dangerous for journalists to cover without endangering their lives?

Joining us now in Baghdad, Richard Engel, NBC's Middle East bureau chief; in Rome, CBS correspondent Allen Pizzey. We'll talk to him by phone. And in New York, Jane Arraf, CNN's former Baghdad bureau chief, and now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome.

Allen Pizzey, your colleague, Kimberly Dozier, why did she risk her life to do this kind of dangerous reporting?

ALLEN PIZZEY, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's because it's what she does. I mean, she wanted to tell the story. It was Memorial Day. She wanted to see what soldiers in Iraq were doing on Memorial Day and how they would mark it. It's just another violent day.

I think that they thought probably it's central Baghdad. It's not quite as bad as you might think. It's a short patrol. They just got unlucky.

The trouble in Baghdad is that you don't have any clear zones. Places like Beirut, for example, we knew where the lines were. We knew where the blurred areas were. You could calculate the risk. In Baghdad every car, every person can be a potential bomb. And it's just one of those things they just got really, really unlucky.

KURTZ: Kimberly Dozier now expected to return home to the United States on Tuesday. Do you have an update for us on her condition, Allen?

PIZZEY: Yes. She's still critical, but she's in stable condition. She's taking solid food, which is a good thing. She's talking to her family.

She was going to go back today. The reason she's going back on Tuesday has nothing to do with her medical condition. It's the fact that the planes are full. Which gives you some idea of the kinds of problems that are being experienced, the scale of the injuries that are going on. It's the medical planes that are too full. Somebody had to be bumped for two days. I think that's pretty telling.

But Kimberly, thankfully, is doing very well. Much better than anyone ever thought she would. That's for sure.

KURTZ: That is telling, indeed. Richard Engel, you have been in Iraq longer than any other television correspondent. What flashed through your mind when you heard this terrible news about some of your colleagues?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS MIDDLE EAST BUREAU CHIEF: Well, what flashed through my mind initially was that I had heard the explosion. I had no idea at the time. It was at a very calm neighborhood, an area that's generally considered quite safe, and not very far from where our bureau here is.

And after I heard the news and pieced together the timing, I thought that was horrible. I just heard two of my colleagues being killed. Another person who I know personally being critically injured.

Then I started piecing back as we were trying to put the events together what she'd been doing. Was she doing anything that was particularly outrageous, particularly dangerous? And she wasn't by any means. She was going with the troops in a relatively safe area to try and shed light on what it's like for Memorial Day, and it's something that could have happened to any one of us.

KURTZ: Unfortunately, even the routine becoming quite dangerous in Iraq for western journalists.

Jane Arraf, I want to play a clip of Kimberly Dozier on our program about a year and a half ago talking about her duties in Iraq. Let's take a look.


KIMBERLY DOZIER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I feel like I'm doing everything by remote, whereas when I first got here, say, a year ago, I could drive into the streets, go into a neighborhood, talk to Iraqis, ask what they thought about something.

The last time I tried to do that, to go to someone's home and sit down with that man and say, "Are you thinking about leaving Iraq or staying," the moment he saw me, blonde hair and my two armored vehicles, which are low-key regular vehicles, but they still have armored, and my security guys, he turned white.


KURTZ: Jane Arraf, what was the last time you saw Kimberly Dozier?

ARRAF: Actually, the last time I saw Kimberly, she gave me a ride back from the airport in Baghdad. It was the summer of last summer, and we were both trying to catch a flight. They closed the airport because of sandstorms. So I got a ride with her in their vehicle.

And as we were driving down that airport road, behind an Iraqi police convoy that we were caught up in, which was the worst possible place to be, gunfire started. So we were both crouched on the bottom on the floor of the car, trying to avoid the gunfire. And then we got back, and it was all sort of, yes, we got held up in traffic.

It's really hard to explain to people who haven't been there what Iraq is like. That the most bizarre things pass for normal.

KURTZ: Allen Pizzey, have you reported from Somalia and Kosovo and Lebanon, and the first Gulf War you covered, as well. Is the security situation in Iraq now different? How different is it, and how much has it curtailed your ability to do basic reporting?

PIZZEY: Howard, it's different than any place I've ever been. I've been covering wars for 31 years. There are no safe areas. Everywhere you are, in traffic, the guy next to you, could be a car bomb. The checkpoints could be car bombs. As Jane said, you don't want to be near the military. It's just totally unsafe to cover.

And we are so restricted because, as Kimberly noted in that clip from 18 months ago, you can't go and talk to people. People do not want you near them. They don't want you in their homes. They don't want to be seen talking to reporters. They're afraid even to come where we are, because they think they may be seen going into the places where they live. They're afraid to have their face on television.

It's just -- it's becoming not impossible, but it is so difficult as to be trying in the extreme. Quite apart from the danger that we face, that everyone faces, not just journalists, but everyone in Iraq, civilians, soldiers, the lot. It's very, very frustrating not to be able to do your job the way you want to. So we do it as well as we can, and hope for the best.

And one gets awfully fed up with hearing commentators who sit on their back side in the states and say that we're not doing our job properly. You don't think so, come and join us.

KURTZ: Richard Engel, the conditions that Allen Pizzey just described, how much does that impair your ability to do your job, and does it lead to a focus on, you know, administration officials would say too heavy a focus on the violence in Iraq because it's very difficult to get out and cover, you know, what many ordinary Iraqis are doing?

ENGEL: I think it's -- no, I wouldn't say that it is too difficult to go out and cover what ordinary Iraqis are doing. I was just last week at an Iraqi's home. I had to go in through the back door, but I stayed several hours. I was out this morning talking to Iraqi journalists. I was on a military base yesterday.

So we still do get out, and this perception that all the reporters in Baghdad are holed up in the Green Zone, I often -- people tell me that. "Oh, so you live in the Green Zone." They ask me when I meet them. He we don't live in the Green Zone. As far as I know, very, very few journalists actually live in the Green Zone. The vast majority live in what the people inside the Green Zone call the Red Zone. They won't even come here. So to get military officials or embassy officials to come where we are is almost impossible.

So we very definitely are more connected to the Iraqi street, certainly not as connected as we would like, but definitely more connected than certain people who work for the U.S. military, for the embassy are, and I think that's an important distinction. And if we lose that, then I really think it would be pointless for us to be here.

But as it is right now, we are still able, in a limited way, to get out and do some reporting, and if you look at the amount of coverage, I think this coverage if you read the newspapers and read the magazines, and watch the television coverage, there certainly is a lot of information on Iraq and about the conflict that is getting out there.

KURTZ: Right. But in terms of the toll on you personally, when you see something happen to a Kimberly Dozier, to a Bob Woodruff, to the people that you know or have worked with or presumably you have some relationship with, it kind of raises the question for me, why do you stay there? You've been there for three long and bloody years. Doesn't this weigh on your mind?

ENGEL: It certainly does. It weighs on your mind. It weighs on your conscience. It chips away at your ability to feel and to empathize. I mean, just today I was reading reports that eight Iraqi heads were found severed in fruit baskets in Baquba with a note saying that this was revenge for a killing of Shiites that had happened two years ago. When I heard it, I've heard so many reports like this, I didn't even bat an eye.

As Jane was saying earlier, when you're in a car and you are cowering behind another vehicle that's pointing guns at you, it's not even something that you would tell other people about because it happens so frequently.

So it certainly does weigh on you, and you build up a certain immunity to it, and I think over time we are going to have some lingering psychological effects from this conflict.

But why do we do it? I think the small group of reporters that remains here and consistently come here are doing it because they enjoy it. They like being at the forefront of the news, being part of an important story, being able to bring back the events to people back home.

I think that I'm very lucky to have this job. I love it, and I think I'm one of the few people who can say that about their careers, that they get up every morning and really are interested and excited to try and bring the story to people.

KURTZ: Right. Jane Arraf, now that you're removed from the situation that you were in for so many years...

ARRAF: Temporarily, Howard.

KURTZ: All right. I've got to ask you, the fundamental question, is it worth it? Is it worth it in terms of the journalistic mission if people are constantly getting wounded and killed trying to do their reporting jobs?

ARRAF: You know, I think if you look at a single story -- and we've had two of our staff killed, local staff. And you say was that story worth it? No, of course. No story is worth getting killed.

But if you look at what we're doing overall, what we're trying to do, which is explain to people what it is to be at war, what it is to be in the middle of the shifts of history, then, yes. You have to think it is worth it, despite the dangers.

And I think it is sinking home to many of us that at that it's an equation between is the danger worth what you're actually getting? And I think Richard described it really well. There is still a value to being there. Even if you can't get out that much, you can still put things in context. I think when we tell ourselves that, no, it's not worth it and there's still a war going, then we should be very, very concerned.

KURTZ: All right. Well, obviously it's important to you, because you're planning on going back.

Allen Pizzey, the fact that journalists are getting killed, getting wounded, getting involved in these close calls, does that influence the way they view the war in Iraq. And I'm glad that we can see you. We got our satellite problem fixed. Does that perhaps color their reporting of the security situation there?

PIZZEY: No, I don't think so. I think it makes us more aware of what's happening to the people we're trying to report on. You know, they make a big deal when journalists get killed, and, frankly, quite rightly so. But it's the big -- the big deal about it is that, hey, now you know. We're faces. We're people you understand. We're names you can understand. We're trying to tell you these people die every day in Iraq, and when journalists die, I think it brings it more home.

None of us want to die. As Jane said, you don't want to be the story. You can't tell the story if you are dead. But I think why we do it is so that no one can say we didn't know. No politician, no voter can say, "Oh, gee, we didn't know it was so bad." Yes, you did because we told you, because our colleagues died trying to tell you.

And when we die, when journalists die, it affects us all. As Richard said, it probably makes us somewhat psychotic. But I think it is an important thing to do, and I don't think it makes us -- it makes us think twice, but I don't think it stops any of us from doing it.

KURTZ: Right. Let me just jump in. I have got about half a minute in this segment. You told me a couple of weeks ago that some of the awful things that you witnessed you put on your NBC blog. Is that because it's not suitable for television, or is it just a way of letting out some of the tensions that you live with?

ENGEL: Well, some of the more grotesque details are not suitable for television and are probably best left to the imagination after you write them in print. But it's also cathartic. It's also a way for me to release some of the terrible images that have accumulated all of the times that I've sat down and watched beheading videos. And these are memories that I don't want to keep inside and that I hope I will leave here in Baghdad once this mission is finished. KURTZ: All right. We're going to continue this conversation in a moment. When we come back, the alleged shooting of unarmed civilians in Haditha has become this week's major story. Why did it take so long for the media to follow-up? More with our guests in a moment.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

The outlines of the story were first disclosed by "TIME" magazine back in March. American soldiers under investigation for allegedly killing a group of unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in the town of Haditha.

But despite the disturbing echoes of Vietnam's My Lai massacre, the allegations all but vanished from the media for many weeks. Only now, amid talk of a cover up, has the probe of what happened at Haditha exploded into a major story.


RUSS MITCHELL, CBS NEWS: The U.S. Military is facing a growing public relations nightmare this evening as investigations of the Haditha killings in Iraq go on.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It seems to me the U.S. Military has got a real credibility problem here.

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, MSNBC'S "THE COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN": We have already had to learn the name Haditha, to commit it to memory alongside other names of places of places of which we did not know, other places about which we wish we were not ashamed, like Abu Ghraib and My Lai.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": This Haditha thing is going to be used by the anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war press to define the whole campaign.


KURTZ: The new issues of "TIME" and "Newsweek" both out this morning with cover stories on the Haditha tragedy.

Allen Pizzey, when you first heard about these allegations, was there perhaps a reluctance to report on anything as horrifying as American soldiers allegedly shooting innocent women and children?

PIZZEY: No, I don't think so. Certainly one is horrified, and wishes you didn't have to do it, but I think we learned a long time ago from My Lai that you have to do it. It has to be there. We -- our job is to hold up that mirror, and one doesn't want to do it, but you have to.

And that will bring opprobrium down on journalists for reporting, perhaps, that American soldiers did the wrong thing. I think at the end of the day reporting it is the right thing to do, and I don't think there's any hesitation in doing it, no.

KURTZ: Richard Engel, everybody covered the initial report after "TIME" came out with these allegations. And then the story just kind of faded for awhile before roaring back in recent week to 10 days. Why the gap? Why wasn't this immediately a topic of the nightly news and the front pages and questions being asked of administration officials and all of that?

ENGEL: Well, we consistently covered it out of here in Iraq, and then subsequent investigations. Right now according to a U.S. military source, there are at least seven criminal investigations underway into alleged wrongful deaths by American troops against Iraqi -- Iraqi civilians. So it is a subject we have consistently been covering from here.

I think what brought this to attention, however, was when it became -- the U.S. press, the U.S. media in the last several weeks took this and exploded it and ran with it. It has been fairly consistent with the reporting out of Iraq, but it just seems very recently that somebody took the ball with it and has really put it on the front page back in the states.

KURTZ: And that, of course, information based, in part, on leaks about the ongoing military investigation of what actually happened at Haditha.

Jane Arraf, will critics of the media now say, "Oh, the press is just playing up this one isolated incident in an effort to discredit the war"?

ARRAF: This issue is so polarized, as you know, Howard. I've been going around the country talking to people about Iraq for the last few months, and they tend to assume that, yes, the press is really out to get the military and the administration. Not all of them, but it does feed into that.

But one thing I have to say, having been embedded for most of last year with the Marines in Haditha and in other places and with the U.S. Army, is that it's really hard to overemphasize how opaque it is in Anbar. You don't get information. You really have to be there to know what's going on, and even then it's a lot of work.

KURTZ: Allen Pizzey, I want to play a clip from retired General Barry McCaffrey on "NBC Nightly News" the other night, talking about the pressures on American soldiers in this war. Let's take a look.


GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: It looks like a squad snapped and deliberately murdered a couple dozen people over the space of several hours. A sad footnote to the horror of war.


KURTZ: In reporting on this and other allegations, other alleged atrocities, I should say, is it also your job, the media's job, to report on the constant pressure that young American men and women in uniform face, because the danger, as you noted earlier in the program, is all around?

PIZZEY: Oh, I think, absolutely. If you consider how much pressure these young men and women are under, that everything is -- they could die at any second. They're seeing their friends killed. They don't know who the enemy is. They don't speak the language. They don't understand the culture.

It's drilled into them. Force protection. Force protection. Force protection. Surprising to me that more of them don't make a mistake.

You know, as terrible as Haditha is, I think you have to recognize is, what, 140,000 men and women under arms out there just in the U.S. forces alone, and this is a small incident. That doesn't make it any less horrible or any less reprehensible. That doesn't mean it should not be reported. That doesn't mean it should not be punished.

But I think it is our job to explain how these things happen. These people are under incredible pressures. They're not probably trained to deal with them. They're trained -- Marines are trained to assault. They're not trained to be police.

KURTZ: Right.

PIZZEY: I think this should be reported all the way back to the top. Who put them there in the first place? Who does the training? All of these things have to come into the story, I think.

KURTZ: Richard Engel, did you find that your editors and producers back in New York were asking for more stories about Haditha recently, as this heated up as potentially an American political issue?

ENGEL: I don't know if there was any political connection. Certainly this is -- the Haditha incident and subsequent investigations are major news, and have potentially very significant news values. So we have been covering it very intensely over the last several weeks.

I don't know if it was because of the -- any kind of political pressure. But certainly the -- it is becoming a polarizing event in the United States.

And to go back to what Allen was saying, I completely agree. You have to understand the context that these soldiers and particularly the Marines are operating under. They're in Anbar province, which has been one of the most difficult places to operate, very unfriendly.

And a lot of these Marines are on their second and third tours. And not only do they come back to the same situation. Sometimes they're returning, and they're finding it worse than when they left. And that can be incredibly frustrating. They come back. All their hard work, their buddies who died in the previous tours. Sometimes they can feel that it was -- that it was all for nothing.

KURTZ: Right.

PIZZEY: And that's according to sources in the U.S. military I spoke to, and they say that particularly is very frustrating.

KURTZ: Right. Jane Arraf, we've got just a few seconds. Is Haditha in danger of becoming a symbol of this war, much like My Lai became during the Vietnam era?

ARRAF: I think the terrible thing about Haditha is it fits into every stereotype that Iraqis have about the U.S. military. Unless they've had contact with the military and have had good experiences, and many of them have, they tend to think that the Marines and the army are out there running amok. And that's one of the things that we've been hearing from the Iraqi prime minister, and it's very disturbing.

KURTZ: All right. Jane Arraf, Richard Engel in Baghdad, Allen Pizzey in Rome. Thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up later on CNN, Jamie McIntyre goes "On the Story" over the Haditha investigations. That's "On the Story", 1 p.m. Eastern.

And just ahead, a sportscaster draws a foul for cheering on the home team, and Wen Ho Lee wins some big bucks from major news organizations. Our media roundup just ahead.


KURTZ: Checking now in the world of media news, five major news organizations whose reporters were held in contempt of court in a case involving been Wen Ho Lee have reached a financial settlement with the former Los Alamos nuclear scientist.

The reporters had refused to reveal their sources in reporting on Lee when he was the focus of an espionage investigation that ended with him pleading guilty to a single count of illegally downloading classified information.

On Friday the "New York Times", "Washington Post", "Los Angeles Times", Associated Press, and ABC reluctantly agreed to pay Lee $750,000, quote, "to protect our confidential sources, to protect our journalists from further sanction and possible imprisonment, and to protect our news organizations from potential exposure."

One of the reporters involved was ABC's Pierre Thomas, who worked for CNN at the time of the Lee inquiry. CNN says it paid more than $1 million for Thomas's defense but refused to join the settlement because, quote, "We had a philosophical disagreement over whether it was appropriate to pay money to Wen Ho Lee or anyone to get out from under a subpoena."

Karl Zinsmeister, who's just been tapped as President Bush's new policy advisor, has an unusual approach to journalism. Zinsmeister wasn't all that happy about a profile of him that appeared in the "New Times" of Syracuse, New York. So he engaged in a little creative editing. That is, he changed some quotes and posted the altered, which is to say fabricated version, on the web site of the magazine he edits, the "American Enterprise".

Zinsmeister watered down such quotes as, "People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings." Cheating, shifty. That's a good description of what Zinsmeister did.

After the "New York Sun" broke the story, Zinsmeister told the "Washington Post" that his conduct was foolish. No argument there.

A Chicago sports reporter took rooting for the home team to a whole new level last week. WMAQ's Ryan Baker initially told his bosses that his part-time job as an in-arena host for the WNBA's new Chicago Sky would be to introduce contests and promotions during the game. No problem, said the station.

At the home opener, which Baker, by the way, was covering for WMAQ, he donned a Sky hat and T-shirt, and a videotape later surfaced showing him leading the crowd in cheers during time-outs, apparently, part of his official Sky duties.

A WMAQ vice president said Baker crossed the line in becoming an advocate for the team and grounded him from further Chicago Sky duty.

Coming up in the next half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, with rising casualties in Iraq and sinking poll numbers, is the president having a terrible year, or are the media just making it seem that way? Katrina Vanden Heuvel squares off with Torie Clarke.

And later, we'll talk to a blogger just back from Afghanistan who says the media are missing the story there. All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning. I'm Betty Nguyen in Atlanta. Now for the stories in the news today.

Sectarian gangs and drive-by shootings. Today in Baghdad, four employees of a telecommunications company were killed in a drive-by. And Iraqi police found 20 bodies, all shot and all showing signs of torture. Elsewhere, gunmen stopped two minibus and a car and killed all 20 passengers.

Now to Iran. Iran threatens a -- to disrupt oil shipments in the gulf. The Ayatollah Khamenei is warning the United States to behave or else. You can expect trouble. Iran is in the standoff with the west over its pursuit of nuclear technology.

Well, some survivors of the recent earthquake in Indonesia have actually been living in chicken coups. That has aide workers worried about the spread of bird flu. So far at least 37 Indonesians have died of bird flu.

We're going to have more headlines in just about 30 minutes from now. RELIABLE SOURCES continues right after this break.



Day after day the news from Iraq is consistently negative. Car bombs, roadside explosions and now disturbing allegations about the role of U.S. troops in the death of Iraqi civilians.

President Bush's popularity is inextricably linked to developments in Iraq. His poll numbers have been low for months. Some Republicans are criticizing him on other issues, such as immigration, and the press seems to be constantly beating him up. Are the media accurately reflecting an administration that's lost its way or just piling on an embattled president?

Joining us now here in Washington, Torie Clarke, former spokeswoman for the Pentagon, now a CNN political analyst. And in New York Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of "The Nation."

Torie Clarke, first the question about the car bomb that wounded CBS's Kimberly Dozier, killed two of her crewmembers. You're sort of godmother of the embedding program. You helped push it when you were at the Pentagon. Did you ever imagine it would be so hazardous to journalists who were traveling along with the troops?

TORIE CLARKE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Of the long list of things -- we had a briefing deck as we were trying to build that program. We had a long list of things called things that could go wrong. And No. 1 on the lists was journalists could get killed or captured. Both of which, very sadly, have happened. It's tragic. It's absolutely tragic.

But I think -- I was listening to the show -- the earlier part of the show. I think it's so important that they are there, trying to tell these stories. So I think it is a sacrifice worth making.

KURTZ: Katrina vanden Heuvel, you're a long-time opponent of this war, and the coverage, I think, indisputably has turned very negative in the last year. What do you think accounts for the change?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, "THE NATION": Well, let me just step back. I mean, Allen Pizzey and Richard Engel talked about the need to put what happened in Haditha into context, and the context is you have men, women coming back for second, third tours of duty unfathomable stress and horror.

But you know, when that Marine commandant went to Iraq, Howard, to brief the troops, to give them a refresher course on rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention. He should go to Washington D.C. and give that same lesson to an administration which at the end of the day is guilty because they have been hell bent on torture and violating the Geneva Convention.

And that is a reporting connect-the-dots story that I think needs to be told, because those who are guiltiest of misleading a nation into war are the ones who get away even with the responsibility of the unit commanders. KURTZ: Do you think the story is being told now and do you think it was not being told earlier?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I think -- I went back, Howard, last night and Googled "Al Hamdaniyah," another word we are going to learn about, sadly. It is another town in Iraq.

Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder wrote in March of this year about an Iraqi police chief who alleged that 11 civilians, a 75-year-old woman, a 6-month-old child, had been shot point-blank.

These are horrors of war, of occupation, the brutality of war that define all occupations. At the end -- so I think we're going to learn more. I think Haditha is going to be just one of a number of internal investigations that may have been covered up. That the media and commending those who remain in Iraq in this brutal area, as Allen Pizzey said, there are no safe areas. Who will continue to expose what needs to be exposed, what is being done in our name of the daily indignation -- humiliation of occupation and the killings that -- so...

CLARKE: One of the problems with how these sorts of things get covered -- let's just talk about Haditha -- is because people make connections that don't exist. And they use this incredibly inflammatory rhetoric that doesn't do anybody any good.

What happened at Haditha is under a very, very serious investigation. It sounds awful. But people are saying, "Oh, it's because the war was wrong, we shouldn't have gone there, and the stress."

Well, there are 130,000 some odd soldiers and Marines and others over there performing every single day under the same pressures, the same stresses. They don't commit these kinds of atrocities. So to say this is somehow because of blanket policies by the administration, A, is ludicrous on the face of it, and, B, not helpful at all.

People are using anything that happens in Iraq, critics of the administration use anything that happens in Iraq as a platform for their criticism of the war.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Torie, the country has turned against the war. I think the hardening of opposition to the war is the backdrop against which Bush's poll numbers are plummeting.

I hope what happens is that we learn -- we open up the story, if we can, in Iraq to understand, also -- Donald Rumsfeld once said contentiously, we don't do body counts of civilians. So reporters have had to go to a web site and have had to go, for example, to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to get those counts. In 2004 it was reported that close to 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in -- in this war.

So I hope that the reporting will open up, sadly, the nature of an occupation which cross points -- aerial bombardment, another story which has not been reported adequately in the media -- kills civilians.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here. Let me jump kin here.

VANDEN HEUVEL: The collateral damage, that awful word.

KURTZ: I want to broaden this a little bit, and then we'll come back with Haditha. Do you agree with President Bush and your old boss, Don Rumsfeld, that the media focused too heavily on suicide attacks and car bombs and the daily death toll? And if that was even once true, hasn't violence increasingly become the story in Iraq?

CLARKE: Oh, I think it's become almost the only story we hear about. I...

KURTZ: But the administration doesn't like that.

CLARKE: I have a different take on things. It's not that the coverage is all bad. If you have the luxury, as I do, or part of the responsibility to read lots of newspapers and lots of -- watch a lot of the coverage on television, go online, then you can find some of those other stories about the political progress in Iraq, which, whatever you want to say about it, has been extraordinary. Or the fact that the Iraqi security forces are taking on more and more responsibility. You can find them, but they tend to be buried or they tend to be at off times.

My problem with the coverage is not that it's all negative. It's the prioritization and that the overwhelming focus is on just the horrible things.

And I would give you one example. End of last year right around the holidays, the "Washington Post" had a really interesting, smart article about Army recruiting. The conventional wisdom is that Army recruiting was terrible and nobody is signing up. And the story said the Army recruiting was actually improving, despite the concerns and the problems with the war. Army recruiting was improving.

That story was buried, buried in the newspaper. So you say to yourself, gosh, maybe it was a big news day, and they just couldn't find room for this further up in the newspaper. Front page of the "Washington Post" was a huge story about the fact that there are so many mansions in this area now, people are buying exceptionally large Christmas trees. There was a huge story.

KURTZ: All right, Katrina, I want to give you a chance to respond to some criticism story of "The Nation" published just the other day.

First, let me read something from your magazine, "The Nation", which said that "Enough details have emerged from survivors and military personnel to conclude that in the town of Haditha last November, members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment perpetrated a massacre."

It goes on to say, "Whatever the responsibility of the unit commanders in Haditha, it is George W. Bush as commander in chief who has sent the clear message that human rights abuses -- abuses and violations of the international law are justified in the war of terror."

Now here is Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard", writing: "The inquiry into the events of Haditha last November 19 is ongoing, but 'The Nation's' editors already know what happened: a U.S. 'war crime', a military 'massacre', a 'cover-up'! The anti-American left can barely be bothered to conceal its glee."

Your response?

VANDEN HEUVEL: What is clear, as I said earlier, is that war crimes -- criminal leadership contribute to war crimes. This investigation is underway, and we will learn about it.

But I want to -- I want to come back for a moment to the idea of political progress, if I could. Torie Clarke mentioned that.

I think the media has been very fair, Torie, at every stage of the game saying a turning point in Iraq has been achieved: elections, a new government. A story that stuck with me was last week's "Washington Post", where this new government cannot fill the three most crucial positions in it, the defense ministry, the interior.

Yet, what they are haggling about is the need for each member of parliament to have two armored cars, costing perhaps $50,000 a piece. That to me is a sign that it is time for an American army, which is essentially, as Mir Rosen (ph) reported in the "Washington Post", a militia in this anarchic occupation to leave.

KURTZ: All right. I need -- let me jump in here.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And so -- I would say that the investigation is underway. And I -- I do stand by the fact earlier that George W. Bush and this administration has sent a signal...

KURTZ: OK. I've got to cut you off there because I'm really running out of time. "U.S. News" cover says "How Low Can He Go?", referring to the president.

Has the Bush administration, which has gotten pretty bad coverage for the last year on all kinds of issues, including Iraq, gotten a raw deal from the press, or was that an accurate reflection of an administration that's had a pretty tough year?

CLARKE: I think you look -- there's a poll done recently. Peer (ph) worked with the poll, I believe, with the Pew Organization, and it talked about the respect people have for various institutions. The military quite high. The administration lower. Congress lower. The media, the bottom of the pile.

And I think institutions in general have come under a lot of fire from a lot of people out there, including the media, ironically.

So I think, A, is he having a tough time? Absolutely. B, does he personally care about the polls? No, which is a good thing. C, I think it's a reflection of the increasingly antagonistic relationship officials have with the media.

KURTZ: Katrina, I've got 30 seconds for you to respond to the last year of coverage in Bush in general.

VANDEN HEUVEL: The larger issue, Howard, is that the Bush administration is waging a war on the media. This past week, as you know, John Ashcroft's former spokesman, no civil libertarian, said that he has never seen such reckless abuse riding roughshod over journalists' rights.

We have an attorney general who wants to indict the "New York Times" and make an 89-year-old statute, the espionage act, into an official secrets act in this country.

We need a legitimate, free, critical minded press to expose, to propose, and to report what is not in the mainstream media, which should be.

KURTZ: All right. Some strong opinions here this morning. Katrina vanden Heuvel, Torie Clarke, thanks very much for joining us.

CLARKE: Thanks, Howard.


KURTZ: As Iraq continues to dominate the headlines, another battle seen by few reporters rages on in Afghanistan. We'll talk to blogger Michael Yon about what he says the media aren't telling you, next.


KURTZ: The Iraq war obviously continues to dominate the news, but what about America's other war in Afghanistan?

Anti-U.S. riots in the capital city of Kabul this past week left 14 people dead, over 100 wounded, and generated some fresh headlines. By and large, though, the 23,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan have largely disappeared from newspapers and television screens.

Michael Yon, a Green Beret turned independent blogger who recently returned from Afghanistan, says the media are missing the real story there. We spoke to him before the outbreak of this week's violence.


KURTZ: Welcome.


KURTZ: Your trip to Afghanistan has convinced you that the press isn't really capturing what's happening in Afghanistan in terms of the level of danger. Explain. YON: Well, as with Iraq, there's not -- there's not a lot of journalists actually on the ground in either of these places, and so it is easy to miss it. Also, as in Iraq, it's very difficult to travel around without, you know, getting hurt or killed or kidnapped. And in Afghanistan, in particular, the level of violence is increasing at a very rapid rate.

KURTZ: You particularly objected to a "Wall Street Journal" piece that said that business is thriving there, and let me quote: "Even though writers of a certain ideological stripe whined that because Afghanistan isn't Switzerland, it's yet another sign that the U.S. can't get anything right."

What bothered you about that piece?

YON: Well, first of all, I greatly respect the "Wall Street Journal", and I think the United States gets a lot of things very right. But I did think that that article went way over bounds, and it was just wrong in telling people that Afghanistan is a safe business environment.

While I was there, a driver of a friend was murdered. Another of his employees was wounded. Then another employee was wounded in another suicide attack. All these things happened while I was there.

KURTZ: Right.

YON: And so the violence is extreme in some areas, and suicide cells clearly are stepping up. This was previously unknown in Afghanistan. It's leaving the Afghanis scratching their heads. You know, where are these cells coming from? But once you see suicide attacks starting to take place, it's indicative that there's actually cells there. These aren't random people that just go into a workplace and shoot the place up.

When you see a car bomb occur -- for instance, one that happened recently, which barely missed a friend of mine -- we were out together. You know, I said I guarantee you another one is going to happen here shortly, because that did not happen in a vacuum. Sure enough, I think, six days later, another one detonated, and that one wounded one of his employees and also wounded three British soldiers.

KURTZ: Now, let me jump in here. The "New York Times" recently ran a front page story saying the Taliban threat in the south of Afghanistan is growing stronger. But by and large, there are very few western journalists in that country, despite the dangers you just described, despite the presence of a couple of tens of thousands of American troops. Why do you think that is?

YON: You know, I read that "New York Times" story twice, and I had just read it just an hour ago. It was actually an excellent story, and I highly recommend people read it. It was accurate.

But, again, it's very dangerous for journalists to travel down there. I was unembedded and so without any protection from any kind of forces, but that did allow me to get out and talk with farmers, and to go and talk with a lot of Afghan people and businesspeople. There are a lot of people there actually making money. The "Wall Street Journal" article was not entirely inaccurate. I mean, she -- the author was correct. People are definitely making money in Afghanistan.

KURTZ: I also -- I also want to ask you about Iraq, where you have been as well, and where administration officials and other critics make the opposite complaint that reporters focus too much on the daily violence there, and it makes things seem worse than they really are. You thoughts?

YON: It -- that does occur. There are some excellent writers there, by the way, such as Dexter Filkins from the "New York Times" or Rich Oppel from the "New York Times", Tony Castaneda. These guys are getting it right. Some of the writers over there definitely are getting right.

But very few people write much about, for instance, the tremendous success in north Iraq above the green line, where the Kurds are just taking their freedom and running with it. We found that if you give the Kurds the chance for peace, they'll take it and make the best of it.

KURTZ: All right.

YON: And other areas of Iraq are not dangerous. But, you know, of course, in that Arab-Sunni middle area there, it's extremely dangerous.

KURTZ: Michael Yon, I've got about half a minute.

You're a former Green Beret who decided to get into this blogging and writing business. You almost went broke doing it. How do you get the money to keep writing and traveling and blogging?

YON: Well, it's very expensive, as you can imagine. But I started in about August of 2005 accepting support, and that has helped me tremendously. Also, I've just started selling some photos and that's also helping because my photos sell very briskly, so there's no -- it doesn't look like I'm going to have to stop from lack of cash.

KURTZ: All right. We'll keep an eye on your Web site. Michael Yon, thanks very much for joining us.

YON: Thank you.


KURTZ: And it's one of Michael Yon's Iraq photos that sparked a dispute this week between him and "Shock" magazine, a new tabloid featuring plenty of shocking photography and exclamation points.

Yon took this picture in Mosul of a U.S. soldier cradling an Iraqi child after an explosion, and it ended up on the cover of "Shock" magazine's debut issue without Yon's permission. Yon called this a blatant infringement of his copyright and said he was disgusted with how "Shock" used the photo under the headline "War is still hell! Jarring Proof that Iraq is the New Vietnam."

"Shock" said it legitimately got the picture from the photo agency Polaris Images but has now agreed to pay Yon a licensing fee and to make a contribution to a military charity.

Still to come, was it a little white lie? President Bush's misleading comment to reporters, right up next.


KURTZ: How far should presidents be able to go in misleading reporters, especially when national security is involved?

A few weeks back President Bush was asked about those persistent rumors, fanned by the press, of course, that he was going to dump Treasury Secretary John Snow.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has not talked to me about resignation. I think is he doing a fine job.


KURTZ: We now know that at the time the president had already offered Snow's job to Goldman Sachs chief Henry Paulson. So was Bush just engaging in a little diplomatic fudging to avoid embarrassing Snow? Maybe. But whatever that answer was, it was not the truth.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES." I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.


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