Home from Iraq
Home from Iraq
Journalist urges Americans to search for truth, freedom'
This article is adapted from a speech given by photojournalist Molly Bingham at Western Kentucky University last month. Bingham, a Louisville native, was detained in 2003 by Iraqi security forces and held in Abu Ghraib prison from March 25 to April 2, 2003. Eighteen days after her release, she returned to Iraq to pursue stories for The New York Times, The Guardian of London and others. Taking a short break during the summer of 2003, Bingham had the idea of working on a story to explore who was involved in the nascent resistance that was becoming apparent throughout Iraq. She scanned the papers that summer, looking for an article that would show some journalist had reported the story, had gone deeper to find out the source of the new violence. No one had. So in August 2003, Bingham returned with British journalist Steve Connors and spent the next 10 months reporting the story of the Iraqi resistance. Her account was published in Vanity Fair magazine in July 2004; Connors shot a documentary film on the subject. This speech was a challenge to journalists, and Americans, to speak up and be sure their comments, questions and thoughts are heard, and that the First Amendment is celebrated in all its strengths. Bingham began her career as a photo intern for The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times.
We spent 10 months in Iraq, working on a story, understanding who the people are who are fighting, why they fight, what their fundamental beliefs are, when they started, what kinds of backgrounds they come from, what education, jobs they have. Were they former military, are they Iraqi or foreign? Are they part of al-Qaida? What we came up with is a story in itself, and one that Vanity Fair ran in July 2004 with my text and pictures. [My colleague Steve Connors] shot a documentary film that is still waiting to find a home. But the basic point for this discussion is that we both thought it was really journalistically important to understand who it was who was resisting the presence of the foreign troops. If you didn't understand that, how could you report what was clearly becoming an "ongoing conflict?" And if you were reading the news in America, or Europe, how could you understand the full context of what was unfolding if what motivates the "other side" of the conflict is not understood, or even discussed?
Just the process of working on that story has revealed many things to me about my own country. I'd like to share some of them with you:
Lesson One: Many journalists in Iraq could not, or would not, check their nationality or their own perspective at the door.
One of the hardest things about working on this story for me personally, and as a journalist, was to set my "American self" and perspective aside. It was an ongoing challenge to listen open-mindedly to a group of people whose foundation of belief is significantly different from mine, and one I found I often strongly disagreed with.
But going in to report a story with a pile of prejudices is no way to do a story justice, or to do it fairly, and that constant necessity to bite my tongue, wipe the smirk off my face or continue to listen through a racial or religious diatribe that I found appalling was a skill I had to practice. We would never walk in to cover a union problem or political event without seeking to understand the perspective from both, or the many sides of the story that exist. Why should we as journalists do it in Iraq?...