BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Something like major combat is under way again in Iraq. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces there, spoke of a turning point in what he called "the war." The New York Times cited aides to Sanchez who said the choice of the word "war" was, quote, "part of a conscious effort by senior military officers to inject realism into debates in Washington." Meanwhile, hostility between the military and the media in Iraq is also mounting, with increasing incidents of verbal and physical abuse, detentions and confiscation of equipment. On Wednesday the president of the Associated Press Managing Editors sent Pentagon officers a protest letter, urging them to, quote, "immediately take steps to end such confrontations." NPR's Deborah Amos has recently returned from Iraq, and she joins us now. Welcome to the show.
DEBORAH AMOS: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you heard about how the Coalition Provisional Authority officials tried to block NBC's Jim Miklashevski from filming the October 26th attack on the Al Rashid Hotel where Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, were you surprised?
DEBORAH AMOS: Not at all. A day later there was a bombing on the Red Cross Headquarters and four police stations, and that afternoon -- we always have a briefing every day, whether it's on the record or off the record -- there is an official that's made available to reporters just about every day -- and when reporters wanted to know in each individual police station how many died, we were told that that was too morbid a question, and we weren't given those details. It took a while to ferret them out. I mean the thing about Iraq is you can always find out, but it was interesting to watch them try to put a positive spin on a horrible day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: With regard to that attack on the Al Rashid Hotel, how did the coalition authorities try to explain it to the press?
DEBORAH AMOS:They went out of their way to tell us that it was no big deal. Militarily, that may be true. One lieutenant colonel lost his life in that hotel, and there were injuries. But, I mean think about it -- this was an attack on the symbol of American power in Baghdad, and they almost hit one of the architects of the war in Baghdad. The military briefers that day said well, the - it was just a science project carried out in a garage, and we all said later, that's hard to know whether that's the good news or the bad news -- that if anybody in Baghdad can build a Katyusha rocket launcher in their garage, then the American military is in a bit of trouble. Now they also told us that this was absolutely -- it had nothing to do with Paul Wolfowitz staying in the hotel. Except earlier in the day there was an attack on a Blackhawk helicopter, and that happened in the town of Tikrit, a place that Paul Wolfowitz had been in that day. So the message was: we know where you are. Those rockets at the Al Rashid Hotel walked up the building and landed, the last ones, just a few rooms down from where he was staying.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's quite a coincidence.
DEBORAH AMOS:It is in those officials' blood, it is their job to put the best face on a bad situation, and every once in a while you just can't do it any more.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tell me how it works operationally on the ground. How do you U.S. authorities try to control what you write?
DEBORAH AMOS:For example, when I first went there in May and June, you can go just about anywhere and talk to just about anybody. Now that's a little harder. You can't go to hospitals without permission from the civilian authorities there. You can get around it. You find an Iraqi guard. You make a plea -you can get in. But officially you're not allowed into the hospitals, and you're not allowed into the morgues. It used to be that you could go to any Iraqi police station and interview the chief of police at that station. You can't do that any more without direct permission from the CPA. There is a different atmosphere now about particular information, and those briefings that I told you about that we get maybe 4 or 5 times a week, they always open with some--chiding. "I saw some of you yesterday wrote that we're having a guerrilla war here. I'd like to say that this is not a guerrilla war." So, you know, every day we get a report card on what we said the day before, and we all are aware of what that can mean. I cannot tell you that there are reporters that are blackballed for any kind of negative writing, but I know that every day they are reading and listening to what we're putting out, and you know, somebody gets a scolding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The president has famously said that he doesn't read the papers, that he gets all the information he needs from his advisors. How does that information flow work? Is he getting all the information that he needs?
DEBORAH AMOS: I can tell you a particular example of an economist working in the CPA, which is the provisional authority in Baghdad, and he said that it was almost impossible to pass bad news up. If he was asked to write a report, his supervisor would edit that report before it went up the chain; that the idea of the good news story is not just one that the administration is pushing on journalists --it's also an internal idea. And I think that that is a little bit more dangerous. If you can't tell your supervisor, if you've been asked to write a report about a particular subject, if he won't pass it on, that in fact is not good news for people who are trying to get an accurate picture and rebuild the country. Now the internet changes things a little bit because what he said he did is he just started emailing it around Washington, because he also felt that this was a very, very bad trend.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And with this week's admission that the war is still going on and not just a mop up operation, how do you think that'll change reporting conditions?
DEBORAH AMOS: I don't think it will change reporting conditions in any significant way. I think that General Sanchez's use of the word "reality" -- it will add reality to the discussions in Washington -- is the most important thing he said. I think that it is now time back in Washington for a dose of reality to look seriously at who the opposition is. Even Sanchez said that we've arrested 20 that we thought were Al Qaeda, but we can't prove it. They don't have cards in their pockets. That so much of this opposition is from Iraq.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. NPR's Deborah Amos has recently returned from reporting Baghdad and she'll be going back in a couple of months.