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Interview: Covering the War from All the Angles

Los Angeles Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller talks about the challenges of covering a war half a world away.

POV: Could you describe how you prepared the Los Angeles Times to cover the war?

Marjorie Miller Marjorie Miller: Our goal at the time was to be in as many places as possible, so we worked very hard to get reporters in Baghdad who would stay there throughout the war. We embedded reporters with the U.S. military. We sent reporters into the north, into the Kurdish areas, on their own. And then we had reporters in Kuwait waiting to go in unilaterally behind the U.S. military. Plus, we kept people in all the surrounding countries. We had about twenty-five people on the story, and of that, I believe we had six embedded reporters.

POV: What differences did you see between reports from embedded and unilateral reporters?

Miller: They were different viewpoints. Not all the embeds were alike, and not all the unilaterals were alike. The problem when you are traveling with troops — well, the problem anywhere — is that you are getting a mosaic piece. You're getting a little piece of the story, and where you are is what you see. And you can't really see beyond that. So what we did with all of these reports is feed the news elements of the story into a larger story, where we could balance the relative importance, and try to balance the relative point of view. I don't think that the unilaterals saw more than the embeds or vice versa. They just saw different things.

POV: Were there occasions when you got conflicting reports? How did you balance the different kinds of stories?

Miller: I wouldn't say [they conflicted]. I would just say they were seeing different things. We try to get the scope of what's going on. They don't necessarily conflict. It could be quiet in Najaf and exploding in Fallujah, or vice versa, during the war or after the war. They don't really contradict each other, they're just different pieces of the story. Having said that, if you look at Fallujah after the war, we definitely feel at a disadvantage when we only have an embed and we don't have someone on the ground able to get into Fallujah to confirm how many people died, who they were, where they died, what's going on, from the other side. So I wouldn't want to have had during the war only embeds, any more than I would have wanted to only have someone in Baghdad covering the regime.

POV: It's commonly said that generals and journalists are always fighting the last war. Reflecting on the LA Times coverage of the war and its aftermath, are there things you wish you'd done differently?

Miller: Well, in some ways I wish that I had had more embeds because it would have given me more people in different places. Having said that, part of what I feel we did, and this contradicts that, is that we threw so many resources up front that we were a little bit tired at the end of the three-week war. Of course, we didn't know when it would start, so we spent ten weeks ahead of that preparing and waiting. Of course, the war never really ended, so we didn't have as many people as I wish we had had to throw at that second period.

POV: Could you tell me a little bit about what the paper's strategy is like now? Are there still embedded LA Times reporters?

Miller: We go in and out of embeds. As it has gotten harder to move around on the ground, we have gone back to embeds to keeping our embeds longer, so that we had an embed the whole time [during the siege of] Fallujah, because we couldn't get there on the ground. I mean, we would have kept it anyway, because of the intensity of the fighting. But, it's much harder to move around now. We're keeping four reporters in Baghdad, who try to get out as often as they can. Plus we're keeping at least one, and sometimes two, embeds, or maybe one of those four will embed in Baghdad, with the Army or the Marines.

Marjorie Miller was a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times for seventeen years. She became the foreign editor in July 2002.





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