An Activist Grandma, 'Embedded' in Iraq
LIANE HANSEN, host:
When the U.S. military wants to let journalists, activists and filmmakers see what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan from a soldier's point of view, they are what is called "embedded." Embeds live eat and, at times, see combat. The latest addition to those who were allowed to experience the war firsthand is a 60-something grandmother and blogger.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the story.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Republican Senator John McCain may have been anticipating a hostile press corps when he visited Baghdad last week. But he could not have been expecting 64-year-old, self-described hippie blogger, Jane Stillwater. She asked the first question at his press conference. She begins by comparing U.S. soldiers to the Light Brigade.
Ms. JANE STILLWATER (Embed and Blogger): They're - you know, the cannons to the left of them, as Alfred Lloyd Tennyson said, cannons to the right of them, and somebody had blundered. The original premise of this war was a blunder. And what I want you to know is, if you guys are planning on attacking Iran - and I just - what do you have to say to that? Would that be another - that sounds like another blunder.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I have no response. Is there a question?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A few days later, Stillwater is waiting inside the Green Zone to begin her embed with U.S. forces.
Ms. STILLWATER: The Green Zone is amazing. It's - I mean, everywhere you look, you might as well be in Fort Ord, California. It's so - I have yet to meet an Iraqi. I haven't seen anything this exotic or different.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stillwater is anti-war and anti-Bush, and she's been blogging about that from her Berkeley kitchen for years. After 9/11, she decided to become a Muslim and went to Saudi Arabia on the hajj. She's also been to Afghanistan on a tour with the California-based organization, Global Exchange. Finally, the time had come, she thought, to go to Iraq.
Ms. STILLWATER: This is where the stories are. And, you know, if you want to find out how the war is going, you have to go there because if you read the regular newspapers, you don't know.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stillwater says getting approval from the U.S. military to come here was the hardest part. Lieutenant Barry Johnson, the former head of press credentialing for the U.S. forces in Iraq, denied her request repeatedly, saying her work was, quote, "opinion-based rather than factual reporting." She then involved her local representative in her quest, and finally, the military relented.
Major Armando Hernandez oversees the embed program in Iraq now.
Major ARMANDO HERNANDEZ (Head, Iraqi Embed Program): I think many people might consider Jane an unusual request, but we recognize that bloggers are - is a new means of keeping people informed. So we went ahead and allowed her to come in.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once Stillwater had approval, she still had to get the resources. She scrimped and saved to get her ticket to Kuwait. Stillwater didn't have a bulletproof vest or helmet, usually a requirement in order to embed, so she set up a fund on her Web site for donations from the public.
Ms. STILLWATER: I tried to get Kevlar and I couldn't afford it. And I went on eBay and I tried to get cheap Kevlar. Guess what? No such thing as cheap Kevlar.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stillwater then goes off on a tangent. She does this a lot as she talks.
Ms. STILLWATER: In the meantime, I'm borrowing Army-issued Kevlar, and I have something to say about that. That stuff is heavy. It's really heavy. It weighs 40 pounds, and the troops have to carry around 40 pounds of Kevlar. It's insane. And what I have to say is they need to spend $200 billion developing some form of Kevlar that weighs 15 pounds.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's not the only nontraditional journalist who's been allowed in Iraq since the war began. Hollywood agent turned conservative filmmaker Pat Dollard, profiled in the March edition of Vanity Fair, has made several trips to this country. It details his adventures in theater, among them holding up an Iraqi pharmacy to get liquid Valium to get high.
Other bloggers, too, have made the trip over. Conservative Michele Malkin has been embedded. Michael Yon has been in Iraq with the troops for over a year. Stillwater thinks she may be the first liberal blogger, though, to be let in the embed program. She's never been to Iraq before and she'll only be in country for a few weeks. So I asked her:
A lot of people have been criticized who come here from the conservative side of things. They're accused of having come here without a lot of knowledge and using their presuppositions about this war to inform the commentary that they then release to the public. What's so different about you?
Ms. STILLWATER: I'm not sure. Oh now, I have to think about that. I just was in the interest of truth in reporting, because I think that I tell the truth.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stillwater has spent her first week in Iraq in the heavily protected Green Zone, the complicated war outside its gates still beyond her grasp.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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