I had the opportunity today, along with a small group of fellow grad students, to meet NPR reporter Anne Garrels. Garrels has become famous over the last couple of years for being one of the 16 American journalists to remain in Baghdad during the war. Her sometimes harrowing reports from the Palestine Hotel seared her voice into the memories of many Americans. She’s been back to Baghdad since that initial period, and she’ll be going back again soon. She exudes an interesting mix of enthusiasm and fatalism about reporting in such a precarious situation — there was much mention of kidnappings and beheadings. She is quite pessimistic about the situation in Iraq, and she seemed genuinely astonished by the way she has seen the Americans handle the reconstruction. The logistics of reporting in that part of the world were perhaps the most fascinating part of the conversation. There is seemingly endless second- guessing about at what point it becomes too dangerous for reporters to be there, and in the meantime much of the time and budget seems to be taken up by solving security issues. There was, in the room, an almost palpable sense of concern for Garrels’ well-being. Certainly she is more than capable of handling the situation, but even so, after meeting her in person, we began to worry about her impending return to Iraq. After her time was up in the classroom we all sort of followed her out of the building — she had kept up the conversation even though it was time for her to go — and outside where she smoked a cigarette and we huddled around her, telling her about ourselves. When she was done, she wished us all good luck, and we all wished her good luck back, and we meant it.
Side notes: Garrels mentioned that Anthony Shadid, the Washington Post reporter who won the Pulitzer for his Iraq coverage, is working on a book. She said that his deep understanding of the situation over there should make the book very good. She also mentioned the Committee to Protect Journalists, of which she is a director. The website keeps track of journalists who have been killed in the line of duty, underscoring what is at stake for journalists who put themselves in dangerous situations. Finally, I should mention her book, which, after meeting Garrels, I would really like to read. Have a look: Naked in Baghdad