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Baghdad bureau chief discusses war during Q&A with veteran press corps reporter Helen Thomas

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 507-8911

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The challenge of reporting on the war in Iraq was the central topic of an interview led Friday by White House press corps veteran Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers. Thomas spoke with Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, during a morning session Friday at the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference.

“She has shown you how you have to be really courageous to cover a war,” Thomas said, after Fadel received a standing ovation for her remarks. “You’ve seen a hero.”

Fadel, first assigned to Iraq in June 2005, was hired to run the bureau after she had traveled to work there three times. Her job has become increasingly difficult as the war has gone on, she said during the hour-long discussion, because the Iraqi government is releasing less and less information.

“It’s like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle every day. It’s impossible,” Fadel said. “It’s difficult and frustrating and sometimes you feel like, ‘Why am I here?’”

As a young woman, Fadel said she has to take precautions to work safely. But being a woman is also an advantage because it is dangerous for men to move about freely.

With a small foreign press corps of about 30 journalists in Baghdad, the staff gets tired and beat down by not only reporting the story of the war, but living it, she said. Danger is always present and can interfere with her work and that of her staff.

“They risk their lives every day, because it’s not safe for Iraqis,” she said. “They’re getting killed to tell the story of their nation.”

To tell the story, it is important to understand what is happening from the perspective of both the Iraqis and the soldiers, Fadel said. The best way to do this is to go out and get the story from the regular people who are living in the war.

“You try to push the boundaries,” Fadel said. “If we stopped quoting regular people, that’s when it’s over.”

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For further information about SPJ, please visit


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