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. This week the news from Iraq continues to be grim. U.S. Commander Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez says three to six American soldiers are being killed every week by attacks ever more lethal and sophisticated. Meanwhile the mood of ordinary Iraqis is at least intermittently hostile. CNN reported that a crowd of angry, unemployed men threw rocks and set vehicles on fire Wednesday when they were turned away from a police station where they had hoped to apply for jobs. But is that a fair summary of the situation?
BOB GARFIELD:Last week we talked to Congressman Jim Marshall who had recently completed a three day tour of Iraq and found that the coverage coming out of Baghdad was far more dismal than the reality he perceived on the ground. Dexter Filkins has been covering Iraq for the New York Times for the last six months. Right now he's in Florida for a little R&R before heading back to Baghdad. He says that the criticism that good news is going unreported is unjust.
DEXTER FILKINS:I get e-mails from time to time from people giving the same complaint. You know, why don't you write about this and why don't you write about that. And I remember one that stuck in my mind was why don't you write about the fact that all 200 hospitals are open and running across Iraq? That's a wonderful, positive development. That's true. The hospitals are open. If you've been in a hospital in Iraq, however, the reality is far different. One, one should not picture a hospital in the United States. A typical hospital in Iraq is a nightmarish place where they don't have electricity yet. Where there's people sleeping on the floors; where the emergency rooms at night are flooded with people who have been shot and maimed in the chaos that breaks out after curfew. And that's what I see, so it, it's just a more complicated picture.
BOB GARFIELD:So if you send a reporter to what is nominally a good news story, a reporter's instincts will be to find all that is not right and to report the story in full; not just the-- the happy headline.
DEXTER FILKINS:Exactly. I mean part of the, the challenge that the media faces in Iraq is that the really intense and violent area of the country is the center part of the country and it's the area around Baghdad, and that's where everyone is; it's where the seat of government is. It's where the Americans are headquartered. So most of the press tends to be there. That's where things are really, really bad. And so, frankly, you need to get out of there every now and then and see how the rest of the country is doing. This was a couple of months ago now, but I was in the southern part of the country in a town called Diwaniya that was being occupied by the American Marines, and it was, it was so different from Baghdad that I was just floored. I got off a helicopter and, you know, the Marines and the locals were hugging each other and chatting and taking pictures together, and I remember I had walked into a little graduation ceremony of a medical school, and some of the Marines had taught classes there and helped administer the exams, and it was completely different atmosphere, and literally as I was driving back to Baghdad, the UN headquarters was car-bombed, and I think, you know, 23 people had been killed. And so I actually wrote a story about that --that kind of the yin and the yang that you see every day there. And I think that does need to be reported -- I mean that even with all these terrible things going on, there's a lot of normalcy across Iraq.
BOB GARFIELD:One of the suggestions that Congressman Marshall had, and also former Pentagon spokesperson Tori Clark who has gone to work for CNN this week, is the return of the embed program. They say that when reporters were traveling around with U.S. military units that there was much more diversity of coverage and an opportunity to get out of Baghdad and see the bigger picture. Does that make any sense to you?
DEXTER FILKINS:It seems to me that the real point they're trying to make is that the press isn't seeing things through the eyes of American soldiers any more, and I don't think that's true. We have plenty of access to American soldiers.
BOB GARFIELD:I've read most of your stories coming from Iraq, and you know, I'd have to say that they express a, you know, an overall pessimistic view of where things stand at this moment.
DEXTER FILKINS:There's been a lot of progress made by the United States government in trying to set up a new government there, but it's an incredibly vast and complicated enterprise. I mean may--maybe you have to go to Iraq and see how big the country is and how many areas of everyday life that the American military has to involve itself in to make this thing work, and it has to involve itself in areas that 19, 20 year-old soldiers have never been asked to do before. And they're doing the best they can, and they're a great bunch of guys. I think it's a very troubled enterprise, but it's still moving forward.
BOB GARFIELD:Well then I have to ask you, is it possible that, at least in his observation that the, the reporting doesn't quite track with what successes there have been, that Congressman Marshall's right?
DEXTER FILKINS:No, I don't think so. I mean I, I think I've certainly tried to portray the American effort there in as accurate a way that, that I can; that includes when they get things right. I think what is probably the most troubling single factor for the American effort there is the attitudes of the Iraqi people, and I can give you an example that I found absolutely chilling. I, I got a phone call on my satellite phone the other day from one of my Iraqi translators who said I was just near Faluja, which is a town west of Baghdad, and he said you know, get over here right away -- they, some guys have just set off a bomb, and they blew up a truck, and I think one of the American soldiers has been killed. I, I, I drove over there very quickly, and I found the scene where there was a truck that was on fire and it was unclear what had happened to the Americans. As it later turned out he survived, but on both sides of the scene where the bomb had gone off, there were big crowds of Iraqis cheering what they thought was the death of an American soldier. They were cheering. And this was not, you know, Al Qaeda fanatics. I mean these were parents with children. There were Iraqi police officers who had been trained by the Americans cheering the, the --what they thought was the death of American soldier. When you see something like that, it's difficult to come away with any other view than that the Americans have a long, long way to go.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Dexter, thanks very much.
DEXTER FILKINS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Dexter Filkins covers Iraq for the New York Times. He's headed back there after a brief respite in sunny Miami.