Into The Abyss: Journalists in Iraq


For its forty-fifth anniversary the Columbia Journalism Review published an oral history of the war in Iraq as seen through the eyes of some fifty journalists who covered it. The result is a unique and compelling narrative about the conflict itself and about the learning curve of the reporters and photographers who have covered what is clearly the most significant and difficult story of our time.

“About five hundred people turned on us instantly and surged. I remember an old man saying, ‘Kill them! Kill them! Kill them!'” — Dexter Filkins, The New York Times

In conjunction with this special November issue, the magazine presented an evening of conversation with some of those reporters at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

“If you look back at how things were reported in that first year, it was pretty close to the way the U.S. government wanted it to be presented, which was, “It’s not so bad. It’s coming along. We’ve got a few criminals but we’re handling it.” — Patrick Graham, Freelance writer

These journalists worked in Iraq under circumstances that nearly defy belief. They have studied what Iraqis call “the situation” closely, some of them for four years or more, and they know things we should all know.

“The foreign press corps, maybe a group of about twenty or thirty people who go to Iraq regularly, know more about Iraq than anybody. More than the people stuck inside the Green Zone. More than the military behind their barbed wire.” — Anne Barnard, The Boston Globe


At the panel discussion, five journalists discussed their experiences with the war. They included:

  • Deborah Amos: Foreign correspondent for NPR and ABC News. Author of Lines in the Sand: Desert Storm and Remaking of the Arab World, a memoir of her experience covering the Gulf War 1991.
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Washington Post assistant managing editor, former Baghdad bureau chef, and author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, about the occupation and the disconnect between the occupiers and the Iraqis.
  • Ali Fadhil: A physician and translator. He has collaborated with journalists from The Financial Times, Time, The Guardian, People, The Observer, The New Yorker and NPR. Fadhil is currently working on an Iraq film that will be aired on PBS Frontline next year.
  • Patrick Graham: Canadian freelance journalist who spent a year with the Iraqi resistance in Fallujah. His work has appeared in The London Observer, Harpers and other publications. Previously he was a foreign reporter for The National Post.
  • Chris Hondros: A prizewinning photojournalist whose work has appeared on the covers of magazines such as Newsweek and The Economist, and on the front pages of most major American newspapers.


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5 thoughts on “Into The Abyss: Journalists in Iraq”

  1. What I would have like to see them discuss are charges from the left of being too conservative in their reporting and charges from the right of being too liberal.

    Otherwise a great and enlightening discussion.

  2. I found the positions and comments so close to me own over the past 4 years that I had to try to force myself to be sceptical. I didn’t succeed. This, and your program on the Israel Lobby were masterpieces of informative and civil discussions – not arguments – on complicated issues.

  3. 1) From what I heard at the end : debate 2 1/2 or 3 years late
    2) big media “journalists” are storietellers (and piece makers), and at the right time they publishh a book. (also too late, but I knew and it sells due to contacts)
    3) Concerned about image (and salary), and to slow to search the correct words. (more candor with canadian)
    4)Good example for students wishing for a good career
    5) Bad for a democracy as the role of the media makes the difference with a dictatorship. (minister of truth?)
    6) Lack of background: Iran/Irak (us support and Kurd), Kuwait(real story, plus shia ), embargo, then bad guy with wmd and bad friends.
    7) Big “democracy” with “free press” invades (destroys) and liberates the people. Over half a millon dead, destruction, social collapse, etc. More than a million in exile.
    8)What happened, Why, When, Who, Where questions, seem to be out of range of “journalists”
    9) If that thers job, some people could save money and write stories werever. As they do not care and they do not feel ashamed. Proving that a dictatorship with the freedom and democacracy disguise can destroy a country at will.

  4. In times of deceipt any truth is revolutionary.

    Question: who seeks truth in democracy? who publishes it?

    “The enormous gap between what US leaders do in the world and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominant political mythology.” : Michael Parenti political scientist, author

    “A slave is he who cannot speak his thoughts.”: Euripides

    “Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” : Anne Louise Germaine de Stael – (1766-1817) French author

    “Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. ” : Thomas Paine Common Sense, January 1776

  5. To Mr. Ali Fadhil:

    I would like to talk with you. I want to tell you, firstly, that I am sort of disabled because I agreed to take a drug for what was considered a psychiatric illness. The drug had a bad effect instead of a good one.

    I can explain all of what I want to talk about on the phone. You can call me, or give me a way to reach you by phone because it will be much faster for me to explain myself on the telephone.

    I will say that I was wondering about getting Iraqi citizens out of the country on an emergency basis, and to do that by convincing the American public to get them out instead of staying there.

    I thought about inviting the Schools of Journalism to talk at the local public libraries, and the local colleges and then organizing the Holocaust Centers, and the peace centers around to country to have public discussions concerning citizens that are endangered around the world.

    My problem is that I have taken on a disability due to the psychiatric medication, so I haven’t been able to review all the material presented to me on dvd, and the link channel,and commercial stations, and the newspapers because the drug made me sick.

    I wanted to review the facts for myself before getting in touch with a journalist. But I can’t, so I decided to talk to you without that much review of the information. I have not even listened to these reports on the web from NYU yet.

    I live in New Jersey, and have already inquired to the local library a little bit, about inviting the Rutgers Journalism School to talk about coverage of the war. They are interested but not actively stating that they are asking Rutgers. Maybe you could give me an answer about this matter.

    Thank you,
    Lisa Rosenblum

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