Page 17


Anne Garrets shortly after U.S. troops enter Baghdad. Most of them detail the difficulty of reporting: shopping bags full of money to pay for a visa, duct tape and power strips to keep a satellite phone and laptop running, baths in tea-colored water, hair matted by a combination of sand and muck that Garrels calls “Afghan hairspray,” and constant schemes to avoid having her equipment confiscated. Her entries are interspersed with e-mails her husband sent to friends and family documenting “Annie’s” experiences. Unfortunately, they tend to repeat the same anecdotes related by Garrels herself. These commentaries produce a portrait of a woman willing to do whatever it takes to get the story out: “Tonight I did what I had to,” she writes, “I broadcast naked in the dark… My thinking went this way: if I turn off the light in my room it’s harder to see the antenna on the windowsill and from the corridor there will be no light shining under my door. If someone knocks, I can pretend they have woken me up, beg for a few minutes to get dressed, and then perhaps have enough time to dismantle the phone and hide it.” But her bravado seems silly. It’s a catchy title, but why does she actually take off her clothes instead of feigning nudity? To prove her eagerness to expose herself both to danger and humiliation? If Garrels were more disposed to interrogate instead of simply expose her own situation as a foreign correspondent, Naked in Baghdad would have been more interesting book. I wondered how fixers such as Amer could be so vital to Garrels and other foreign correspondents and yet so invisible in terms of the stories produced. How much of what foreign reporters “report” reflects their fixers’ analysis and agendas? Should news organizations give more credit to these people or would that only prevent them from doing their jobs? The answers are complicated. In a police state such as Iraq, fixers serve a dual purpose. First, they provide journalists with access to restricted sites, lead reporters to neighborhoods and contacts that take years to develop, generate story ideas, and interpret events. But they often monitor reporting and steer journalists away from dangerous areas and issues as well. Most walk a fine line between their official government positions and their desires to report the truth. “Amer then gives me a quick lesson on how we are going to work,” Garrels writes. “As long as there are no minders around, he will do what he can within reason to help me.” As an Iraqi with government ties and an American journalist, Amer and Garrels work together in an atmosphere of underlying suspicion. At one point, Garrels asks Amer if he is working as an informant. He asks her if she is CIA. The interrogations come after they have spent weeks working together at great risk to both of their lives. What they were able to accomplish seems more poignant because it was not at the service of blind ideology \(Amer expresses frustration at both the police state of Hussein and the errors of the to illuminate a situation. In an age of embedded wartime reporting, the brave and intimate coverage offered by the combined work of journalists such as Garrels and Amer may provide the American public with our only opportunity to recognize something more than that which appears in our cross-hairs. In that sense, their partnership is a model for what can be accomplished between people from vastly different cultures and conflicting desiresa model from which both U.S. citizens and our government might do well to learn. After a brief stint as a journalist in the early 1990s, Susan Briante moved to Mexico City where she worked as a translator and editor. She now lives in Austin where she is a poet and essayist. 3/12/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27