Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Farnaz Fassihi, part 2

Remember my post about an article from Farnaz Fassihi giving a frank assessment of the situation in Baghdad? Well, it turns out Fassahi is taking some heat at the Wall Street Journal about that piece.

Here is a bit of back story, from Tim Rutten's article "Regarding the Media" in the Los Angeles Times on 10/2:

That's the backdrop for this week's ambiguous case of Farnaz Fassihi, the Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent, currently reporting from Baghdad. The Journal's news columns are justifiably admired for their dispassion and clarity. Fassihi's reportage is no exception. Over the course of her assignment in Iraq, the 31-year-old Iranian-born, American-educated correspondent has been in the habit of sending monthly e-mails to some of her friends — keeping in touch, letting them know how she's doing. Private correspondence, in other words.

This week, one of her lengthy note's recipients took it upon himself or herself to circulate Fassihi's e-mail to others. Within days, it had spread across the Web, a painfully bleak and clearly heartfelt appraisal of the Iraqi morass....

Now, however:

Splashing this sort of stuff around the Internet is bound to cause talk, and a good bit of it occurred in the Journal's newsroom. Wednesday, two of the paper's staff members — both of whom asked not to be identified — said they had been told that Fassihi would not be allowed to write about Iraq for the paper until after the election, presumably because unauthorized publication of her private correspondence somehow called into question the fairness of her journalism.

In point of fact, no one has questioned the content of Fassihi's reporting nor alleged that it has been in any way biased.

Rutten goes on to probe whether this break is an attempt to quiet or punish Fassihi:

Paul Steiger, the Journal's managing editor, was unavailable by phone Thursday, but his spokesman, Robert Christie, accepted a question on his behalf and agreed to put it to the editor: Had Fassihi's e-mail been the subject of discussion among her editors and had they decided that its dissemination should prevent her from writing about Iraq until after Nov. 2?

Christie forwarded Steiger's response by e-mail: "Ms. Fassihi is coming out of Iraq shortly on a long planned vacation. That vacation was planned to, and will, extend past the election."

A follow-up question seemed in order and was sent to Steiger, through Christie, by e-mail: "If this correspondent wishes to write about Iraq for the Wall Street Journal, is she free to do so?"

Steiger's reply, via his spokesman, was this: "She is going on a long-scheduled vacation outside Iraq and has no plans to work during that time."

Fair-minded readers can make of that what they will.

Is this a newspaper's attempt at maintaining unbiased reporting--the quality of Fassihi's stories, by the way, does not seem to have been compromised by her situation--or just another example of the kind of media control we have been reading about?

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