Journalists part of community conversation on Iraq

07/30/07 Dawn Morgan
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About 200 Tampa Bay residents braved an afternoon downpour Saturday to attend a community conversation on the Iraq war at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg.

The theatre-in-the-round style discussion that featured ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent Martha Raddatz and Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

Bob Steele is the Nelson Poynter scholar for journalism values at the Poynter Institute, the non-profit media education center that owns the St. Petersburg Times. Steele sets up events at Poynter, including Saturday's community conversation.

Raddatz and Chandrasekaran both recently wrote books inspired by stories they uncovered during the their time in Iraq early in the war.

Chandrasekaran 's book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City, " tells of life inside the heavily protected Green Zone, the place where non-military government administrators stay while in Iraq.

Raddatz's book, "The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family," chronicles a 2004 battle in Sadr City, an impoverished slum in Baghdad that is home to more than 2-million people. Before that battle in March, just one soldier had been killed there within the last year. That night eight soldiers from the 1st Calvary division died. The battle signaled the beginning of the insurgency and a turning point in the war.

Over the next year, 168 more from the first Calvary died.

The authors discussed their books along with a broad range of war-related topics with five community panelists.

Trent Morse, a junior at Hillsborough High School, was one of two teen panelists who had attended Poynters' high school journalism program this year. Morse was first on the panel to pose a question to Raddatz and Chandrasekaran.

Trent: Why did you focus on the families and not policy?

Raddatz: I just wanted people to feel what it was like to be on the ground, and in one of these military communities. When you get notification, send off your husband or child and think you're sending them off to peace keeping missions, and four days later, they're killed or wounded."

Chandrasekaran: I choose to go in a different direction, and to understand why the policymakers, who decided to confront Al Sadr, why these civilians sitting in the relative safety of the Green Zone, decided to confront Sadr without properly communicating to the military, and without having a military contingency plan, without letting the First Cav know that in their area of operation there could be a potentially violent blow back to a decree signed by the American administrator sitting in his air conditioned office across the Tigris River.

Tampa Bay residents Jan and Dave Herzig of St. Pete came out to hear the conversation. Dave is a self-professed political junkie, but he's also a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. They're the parents of Capt. Brian Herzig, whom Raddatz met while in Sadr City.

Their son is mentioned in Chapter 21 of Raddatz's book. Brian was the commander of the company Casey Sheehan was a part of and he was with Casey the night he died.

Raddatz declined to answer when asked if she thinks the Iraq situation will improve with the next American presidential election. But the ABC News correspondent didn't hesitate to show how she felt about the majority of Americans who are out of touch with the war.

"It breaks my heart that so few Americans are connected to this war. And I believe in the beginning the administration wanted us to all go shopping and all continue to go to Disneyland and it backfired because Americans now don't really understand the complexities of this war."

Raddatz, who became a White House reporter two years ago, still reports from Iraq every 5-6 months. In a few weeks, she'll return for her 14th trip.

The next Poynter event, scheduled for the fall, is still in the planning stages and is likely to focus on the 2008 presidential election.

For more information:

Poynter Institute for Media Studies

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Martha Raddatz

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