Chivers on war reporting: ‘You’re not there to take over patrol’

War reporters and photographers from The New York Times and the Associated Press talked at an ASNE 2012 conference panel Monday about the dangers of working in war zones.

Moderator Susan Bennett posed questions to (left-to-right) C.J. Chivers, Rodrigo Abd and Tyler Hicks.

In one lengthy exchange, Times correspondent C.J. Chivers described his predicament as a journalist who had also served as a Marine infantry officer during the Gulf War. His military experience sometimes leads him to disagree with the tactics of the unit he is embedded with.

In one case, a patrol unit in Iraq decided to take a left before a canal, with buildings on the other side that he thought could house an enemy ambush.

I thought they should scoot over the bridge and walk the other side of the canal. ... If they got shot from, I wanted it to be on their side of the canal so they could sweep the building ... If we were on the other side we could fight.

I didn't say anything. It's not my job. You're there to watch, to observe and to be a journalist. You're not there to take over patrol. You start influencing where a patrol goes, and someone gets hurt, from that minute forward you own that casualty. It's on your soul.

I almost said to him, 'Man, you might want to scoot over to the other side of the bridge there.' But I didn't. We turned left, walked down the road, got shot at from the building and a guy got shot through the spine. I hadn't said anything.

Now, I didn't see anything. It's not like I was withholding information from the patrol. I just had a hunch. You have a lot of hunches that don't pan out. Every time you have a hunch you can't interfere with the patrol. Of course not. But this is where it hurts. I think about that patrol ... every week. It's been five or six years.

The hour-plus session drew a standing ovation from a crowd thankful for the insights shared by Chivers and Tyler Hicks (who was with Anthony Shadid when he died in Syria), and AP photographer Rodrigo Abd. C-SPAN aired the session live, and the replay is online.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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