On the Road to Baghdad


She was writing on a day when much of the U.S. press had hunkered down for the last-minute stretch to Baghdad—30 miles out, 20 miles out, 10 miles out. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command, had set the tone and made it official: “The dagger is clearly pointed at the heart of the regime right now.”

And sure enough, on the morning of April 3, the headline writers had dutifully followed his cue: Daggers all around. Not a word, however, about Sueb, where everything shook when the missiles came in, everyone expected to be dead, and “overhead fans were plucked from the ceilings like flowers.” Meanwhile, The New York Times correspondent in Egypt had obviously been very busy plowing through the Arabic media and talking to Cairo communications analysts and policy wonks. On April 4, the Times published a story that tried to explain the vast perception gap between the U.S. and Arab press. “Arab Media Portray War as Killing Field,” was the headline. Too many gruesome, inflammatory photos was the conclusion—presumably photos of people like Goldenberg’s poor baklava seller, his wife, mother, sister, nephew, and two sons. Too much obsession with death and gore.

This has been a miserable time for much of the planet. But it’s a great time to be a media critic. If anything, it’s been too easy to criticize coverage of the war in Iraq, since so much of it has been abysmal and predictably so. Given the combination of embedded journalists, glitzy logos, thumping war drums, and the endless cast of military analysts talking strategy we could hardly expect it to be otherwise. But there have also been extraordinary stories—and not just from the usual suspects. They’re the stories that remind us again and again of what this war has unleashed:

And so this easily forgotten neighborhood, part village, part spillover suburb, a dumping ground for Shias too poor to afford homes in Baghdad proper, finds itself in an unwanted—and lethal—position of strategic importance.

“There are bombings—missiles and airplanes—all day long, and all night,” said Walid Hathem, whose home was replaced by a giant crater a few hours before dawn yesterday. “It’s continuous.”