Flintoff discusses reportage from Iraq to packed house

By Herschel Nachlis

Journalists are high value targets, explained National Public Radio’s Corey Flintoff on Monday to a crowd of over 500 who assembled at Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel. “If you are kidnapped, the first thing they do is Google you to see how valuable you are,” he added early in a talk titled “Reporting the War: Corey Flintoff’s Experience in Baghdad.”

Flintoff, who studied English Literature at Berkeley and earned a Masters in English at the University of Chicago, called the war in Iraq “the compelling story of our time,” and labeled it the “defining point of the history of Islam and the West.”
Describing the difficulties reporters face, Flintoff explained that “the freedom that reporters have had has steadily eroded.”

“It’s almost like captivity,” he added, describing the compound NPR shares with ABC, which has 40 Iraqi guards.

“It’s totally impossible for a Westerner to go out on the street in Baghdad,” he said, citing both danger and omnipresent fear facing outsiders in a country where “every piece of garbage on the side of the road looks like a bomb.”

Conveying a sense of the Iraqi public consciousness was the focus of a good portion of Flintoff’s talk, as well as of a number of audience questions.

“Uniformly, everyone says that they want the United States to leave, [but also] that the U.S. can’t leave yet,” Flintoff said.

“People believe we’re there to drain away the oil,” and that, “if the United States really wanted to accomplish the mission, it could do it in a day…they believe in the ultimate power of the United States,” he said.

Asked by an audience member if he thought the war was unwinnable, Flintoff said that although he had formed an opinion of his own, as a news reporter he was not willing to compromise his objectivity by sharing that opinion in a public forum.

Nonetheless, one left with an image of a situation both exigent and futile. The Iraqi populace is “generally pretty demoralized,” Flintoff said, adding that most people in the country feel that “a civil war is under way.”

Flintoff was on campus as a speaker in the Broadcast Journalist Series, co-sponsored by Macalester, Minnesota Public Radio and the law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

Flintoff’s voice has been heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered” for nearly 15 years. He formerly worked at Alaska Public Radio and won the 1989 Corporation for Public Broadcasting Award for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.