Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Speaking the Language

Today's Washington Post has more on Jill Carroll -- and, as a possibly inadvertent aside, the chronically sad state of Western journalism in Iraq:
With violence roiling Iraq, a sizable number of foreign reporters largely restrict themselves to armored cars shuttling between hotels and the American-controlled Green Zone. They cover American officials and the isolated authorities of the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
This, emphatically, has not been the case with Ms. Carroll's coverage:
Unlike most Western reporters in Baghdad, Carroll spoke Arabic well enough to easily talk to ordinary Iraqi people and interview Iraqi officials. She had picked up the language while working as a business reporter in Jordan... .

"In this poorly understood region, where so much is at stake, important stories are lost everyday because the foreign press corps doesn't speak Arabic," Carroll [once] wrote. "Journalism is a public service and readers are best-served if I and the people I am writing about speak the same language."

Although things may be slowly improving, at least with newspaper coverage, it is still true that one of the many subjects badly covered by American journalists in Iraq remains their own poor communication skills. As Tom Engelhardt wrote recently:
American reporters may be almost as crippled by not being Arabic-speakers as by the dangers of Iraq. It remains an amazing fact that an American occupation which began largely without Arabic-speakers... has since been covered in our press mainly by reporters who can't communicate directly with the people they're covering.
Can you imagine what press coverage of Pensacola would be like if "most" reporters here didn't speak English, talked mainly to military base officers, and "largely restricted themselves" to a room at the Motel 6?


Wayne's Mom said...

While you make a good point about some American journalists, there is available a valuable compendium of firsthand information through military blogs like Mudville Gazette, Blackfive and Michael Yon Online.

Eddie L. said...

But wait! Most reporters in Pensacola CAN'T speak or write English.