Saturday, April 01, 2006

Questions About Carroll's Captivity
Questions About Carroll's Captivity
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

I spoke to David Bloom days before he died and then covered his memorial service. I wrote about the death of Michael Kelly. I said goodbye to Bob Woodruff before he went to Iraq and got badly injured by a roadside bomb.

In short, death and violence involving the brave journalists who have gone to Iraq is an ever-present part of my beat. And yet, like many people, I was especially floored by the kidnapping of Jill Carroll and greatly relieved by her release yesterday.

Reporters for big news organizations, after all, generally travel with security details, while Carroll is a 28-year-old freelancer who went to Baghdad on her own, became a stringer for the Christian Science Monitor and clearly was bent on understanding Iraqi culture.

This is a courageous young woman.

I must say, though, that I found her first interview yesterday rather odd. Carroll seemed bent on giving her captors a positive review, going on about how well they treated her, how they gave her food and let her go to the bathroom. And they never threatened to hit her. Of course, as we all saw in those chilling videos, they did threaten to kill her. And they shot her Iraqi translator to death.

Why make a terrorist group who put her family and friends through a terrible three-month ordeal sound like they were running a low-budget motel chain?

Now perhaps this is unfair, for there is much we do not know. We don't know why Carroll was kidnapped and why she was abruptly released. She says she doesn't either, but surely she must have gotten some clues about her abductors' outlook and tactics during her 82-day captivity. Maybe she was just shell-shocked right after being let go. Maybe she won't feel comfortable speaking out until she's back on American soil.

As my colleagues in Baghdad point out, when that interview was taped, Carroll was still in the custody of a Sunni political party with ties to the insurgency. It may have just made sense for her to be especially cautious. And they tell me that Carroll did cry -- off camera -- when the subject of her murdered translator came up. Still, people are buzzing because her taped remarks have been played over and over again on television. I hope she'll be able to share a fuller account of her ordeal soon.

Despite the happy ending, Carroll's kidnapping has driven home how dangerous Iraq remains for Western journalists, who admit it's getting increasingly difficult to do their jobs, even as they challenge the administration's claims that they are excessively focused on violence and negative news.

As CBS's Lara Logan told me in a CNN interview this week, "When journalists are free to move around this country, then they will be free to report on everything that's going on. But as long as you're a prisoner of the terrible security situation here, then that's going to be reflected in your coverage . . .

"You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack. Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked . I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country."

Let's be grateful that Jill Carroll didn't wind up the latest victim.

Adding to the mystery:

"In a videotape posted Thursday on the Internet , made before her release, Ms. Carroll denounced the American presence in Iraq and praised the insurgents who were fighting here," says the New York Times .

"In the video, Ms. Carroll smiled, laughed once and gestured in a seemingly relaxed manner, saying she felt guilty about being released while so many Iraqis were still suffering.

"Ms. Carroll, still in captivity but apparently knowing she would be released, denounced what she described as the 'lies' told by the American government and predicted that the insurgents would defeat the Americans in Iraq.

" 'I feel guilty. I also feel that it just shows that the mujahedeen are good people fighting an honorable fight, a good fight. While the Americans are here, the occupying forces, you know, treating the people in a very, very bad way. So I can't be happy totally for my freedom because there are people still suffering in prisons, in very difficult situations.' . . .

"Ms. Carroll's seeming sympathy for her captors suggested either that she was pretending to gain her release or that, after suffering weeks of extreme duress, she had fallen under the sway of her kidnappers."

The Washington Post became part of the story:

"Just after noon Thursday, Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, called The Washington Post's Baghdad bureau to say that Carroll had been released by 'unknown people.' " 'I have sent armored cars to bring her to the [party] headquarters,' he said. 'She requested me to talk to you and inform you directly and will be here within half an hour. Will you come here? She is okay. She is safe. She is more or less scared. I told her to calm down and we would take care of her.' " What a phone call.

Monitor Editor Richard Bergenheim says:

"The chorus of Muslim leaders condemning this kidnapping has been larger and louder than has been heard for some time. We hope that these voices of opposition to this crime will continue on behalf of all hostage victims until this practice stops."

Think Progress rips John Podhoretz for "attacking her mental state" with this comment:

" It's wonderful that she's free, but after watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn't beaten or killed -- while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is -- I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days .

"This is a day that we should celebrate Jill Carroll's courage. She put herself in danger to try to give the world a more accurate picture of Iraq. It is totally inappropriate to assume that her description of how she was treated is motivated by anything other than a desire to tell the truth."

Little Green Footballs drips with disdain: "She says the terrorists treated her well. Her interpreter, murdered during the kidnapping, was not available for comment."

Meanwhile, the GOP's split over immigration seems to be getting worse:

"House conservatives yesterday issued a dire warning to President Bush and Republican leadership that they will pay a devastating political price if they proceed with a guest-worker program or anything resembling amnesty for illegal aliens before securing the borders and enforcing existing immigration laws," says the Washington Times .

" 'They will remember in November,' Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, said of voters nationwide. 'And many of those who have stood with our Republican majority in the last decade are not only angry, many of them plan to be absent from the polls' this year when the entire House and one-third of the Senate is up for re-election."

And guess which Republican is taking it on the chin?

"As he prepares to leave the Senate and position himself for a presidential bid, Bill Frist faces mounting criticism that he has proved an ineffectual majority leader whose legislative agenda increasingly is dictated by his White House ambitions," says the Los Angeles Times .

"Complaints about the patrician Tennessean by fellow Republicans intensified this week, sparked by his decision to force Senate debate on illegal immigration. Some GOP lawmakers say his move spotlighted a squabble within the party over a hot-button issue in an election year."

Frist's Senate, you may recall, passed a pretty weak lobbying bill the other day. Arianna Huffington has her own ideas about lobbying reform and makes "a very simple suggestion, one most Americans can relate to -- and I do mean relate: Let's make it illegal for family members of legislators to work as lobbyists. The last few years have seen a surge in registered lobbyists with blood or marital ties to our nation's leaders. . . .

"To guarantee success they want their All Access Passes to include admission to the bedrooms and kitchen tables of those in power. Which is why a lobbyist's strongest resume-builder is not some relevant degree or work experience, but sharing DNA or a primary residence with a Capitol Hill power player. Among those lobbyists making friends and influencing family members in our nation's capital are Scott Hatch, and Joshua Hastert, the sons of Senator Orrin Hatch and House Speaker Denny Hastert; Abigail and Amy Blunt, the wife and daughter of GOP Whip Roy Blunt; Kimberly Dorgan and Bob Dole, the spouses of Senators Byron Dorgan and Elizabeth Dole; and Phyllis Landrieu, Sen. Mary Landrieu's aunt.

"The silliest symptom of this epidemic of nepotism on the Potomac has got to be the unlikely rise of Chet Lott, the son of erstwhile Majority Leader Trent Lott. Before getting into the lobbying game, Chet worked as a Domino's Pizza franchisee -- world renowned as the perfect training ground for future Washington power brokers. Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Domino's. Now instead of taking orders for extra cheese, he pushes the piping-hot agendas of clients like BellSouth, munitions maker Day & Zimmerman, and the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists."

Of course, it's probably unconstitutional to deprive someone of earning a living. And what do you do about a professional lobbyist who happens to marry a congressman?

Dick Polman offers a history lesson in explaining the importance of the Democrats' new national security plan:

"The goal is: No more jokes about John Kerry's 2004 flip-flop gaffe, 'I voted for it before I voted against it.' No more laughing about how puny Michael Dukakis looked riding around in a tank (1988). No more references to Jimmy Carter's botched attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages, complete with photos of the charred choppers in the desert (1980). No more footage of George McGovern and his peace movement pals (1972). The goal is to get skeptical Americans to skip the past 30 years, and think of today's Democrats as heirs to the tough-guy Democratic traditions of FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK.

"By releasing the somewhat sketchy agenda, 'Real Security: Protecting America and Restoring Our Leadership in the World,' Senate and House Democratic leaders are clearly trying to avoid the party's fatal errors of 2002 -- when, in the midst of congressional elections being staged in the shadow of 9/11, and with President Bush prepping the case for war in Iraq, Democrats basically tried to change the subject and run instead on domestic issues. They paid dearly on election day."

At Public Eye, Brian Montopoli questions the stance of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who told Time's Michael Ware that he should not have spent time reporting with Iraqi insurgents:

"Hewitt says he's 'fascinated by the question of whether or not it's ever good journalism to consort with the enemy in search of interesting stories,' and to explore said question, he compares Ware's reporting to that of a theoretical World War II reporter who has been given access to the Nazis. Hewitt seems to believe that exploring the true nature of enemies like the Nazis, or the jihadists, is absurd and unnecessary, since he's quite comfortable, as he said above in reference to the jihadists, that they're evil. And, really, what more do you need to know? But Ware sees things differently:

" I mean, imagine, okay, we know what we know about the German regime, or the Nazi party. We are inundated with their propaganda. We're listening to their chatter. We're getting their side of the story. Could you imagine having an objective view, go in and come out, and say this is what [it] really looks like? This is what it really feels like? This is what people in their quiet moments behind closed doors will actually tell you? Now imagine the value of that . . . .

"Hewitt's fear seems to be that because of his exposure to the enemy, Ware will report propaganda that ends up being harmful to America's cause. But while many of Ware's stories have painted the war in a negative light, it's hard to believe that's because al-Zarqawi is whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Consider the fact that when Ware came into possession of an audio tape of Zarqawi that showed division between Zarqawi and a leading Iraqi Sunni organization, he printed its contents -- Zarqawi's 'dirty laundry,' as he put it. And he earned a death threat for his trouble."

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum jumps in as well:

"Look at it this way: if the Western media had pulled out of Moscow during the Cold War we would have spent several decades thinking that the GUM department store was a treasure trove of consumer goodies instead of the cheerless and barren place it really was. In other words, of course it's a good idea to have someone providing us with a pro-Western view of what our enemies are doing -- especially when enemy propaganda is already available 24/7 just by watching al-Jazeera or surfing the web or reading non-American newspapers. You'd think a guy who broadcasts on the radio, extols the virtues of the blogosphere, and supposedly understands the global nature of the war on terrorism could figure that out."

Naive fellow that I am, I thought Bush was saying nice things about Andy Card when the chief of staff stepped down, but the New Republic's Ryan Lizza begs to differ:

"It was no surprise . . . that Bush concluded the problem was Card's inability to get information to him promptly. Hours after the Oval Office photo-op where Bush celebrated Card's service and announced his resignation, the president gave an interview to CNN in which he gently knifed Card in the back. One of his 'most important needs,' Bush said, 'is to make sure I get information in a timely fashion so I can make decisions.' The dig at Card made it clear that the White House intends to use him as a scapegoat for all of Bush's current ills."

Well, we'll see.

Washington Post Radio made its debut in D.C. yesterday -- I'm lending my mellifluous voice at 8:10 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. -- and it's an interesting work in progress. Some early reviews:

Media Bistro :

"So far, it's an awful lot of news. News, news, news. It's not nearly as polished as NPR's voice -- the station sounds a lot more like lunchroom chatter from a bunch of print journalists. Nevertheless, there's a lot of promise in the reporting and it's sure to give C-SPAN a run for its money for the wonkiness outlet in Washington."

DCRTV : "Good-sounding station. Lots of news and talk. Solid journalism. Sounds like what you'd get if you took what public radio talkers WAMU or WETA-FM do and throw in a bit more local content, some ads, and lots and lots of plugs for the Washington Post. If I was 88.5 or 90.9 I'd be a bit worried. . . . My guess is that the Post and [corporate partner] Bonneville will need to perform some heavy-duty tweaking if they want to attract the under-35 set, which advertisers crave. I wouldn't put a lot of stock in a newspaper-backed long-form radio news talker in any other American market, but in wonk-infested DC it might just work."

Finally, here's the Boston Herald photo of Antonin Scalia making that defiant Sicilian gesture. We link, you decide.