Alex Massie

Comment is free, facts are extremely expensive

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I agree with Garance that there's lots of interest in Bill Keller's Hugo Young lecture. And like her I was struck by this passage:

The New York Times has six correspondents assigned to Iraq, plus a rotating cast of photographers, plus Pentagon correspondents who regularly travel with the troops. We employ, in addition, about 80 brave Iraqis - many of them handpicked stringers based in towns that are no longer safe for westerners. Sustaining the Baghdad bureau costs several million dollars a year. We take extraordinary precautions to keep our people safe, but two of our Iraqi colleagues have been murdered in cold blood, almost certainly because they worked for an American organisation.

There are lots and lots of places you can go for opinions about the war, but there are few places, and fewer by the day, where you can go to find honest, on-the-scene reporting about what is happening. Here's a statistic that should make your heart sink. When Saddam Hussein fell, there were more than 1,000 western reporters in Iraq. Today, at any given time, there are about 50.

Those who complain about the press's (traitorous!) reluctance to publish the "good news" form Iraq might be advised to remember the cost of reporting any news from Mesopotamia. Whatever else one may think of the NYT, the scale of its commitment to Iraq is impressive and, yes, a public service*.

*Sure, it benefits the Times' bottom line too since this sort of loss-leader is vital for the paper to maintain the reputation that it's worked so hard to earn. All the New That's Fit to Print Except for the  Expensive Stuff doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? But still, the fact that few other papers can make this sort of commitment is a) a reason for the Times to stand-out from the crowd and b) something that makes it all the more important that the Times does spend so much money covering Iraq.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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