“There’s nothing new here. There might be some weapons left over from ’91, but there’s nothing else here.” So went my last conversation with Boston Globe reporter Elizabeth Neuffer when she called from Iraq a few days before her death 10 years ago today. Those words are haunting, not just because she was right, but because she was drowned out by those louder reporters who believed what they didn’t see, who were led by those who wanted a war, and who didn’t question the motives of their sources.
Before she even left for Iraq, Elizabeth was writing furiously about how uncertain the reporting was and how there was no reason to be in Iraq. She had covered the first Iraq war, so knew the lay of the land. In the most ironic gesture, she promised her family she would not to go until the war was over; “Mission Accomplished” became the reason she could go. As we know the mission was hardly accomplished, nor was it even the right mission.
Ten years ago today, the Boston Globe’s experienced war reporter, Elizabeth Neuffer died in Iraq. Perhaps we can give her death new meaning now as we are being whipped into another frenzy, with red lines in the sand about possible chemical weapon use in Syria, Iran’s involvement and possibly Russia’s. Politicians like when things are murky, and it gives them cover. In addition, we are still in a bit of an emotional state because of the bombing in Boston. But emotions have no place in reporting. Moreover, as we learned from that recent experience, most reporting that was instantaneous was also just plain wrong. So not making another huge mistake would be the way to respect the dead.
If we are to honor those journalists who were killed in war, we need to know they are put in harm’s way for the right reasons. While journalism has changed dramatically in the time Elizabeth has been gone, Neuffer no doubt would still be beating every tree, looking for the truth before she rushed to any conclusions. More careful reporting like Elizabeth’s could have made a difference. She paid the price for massive journalistic piling on. With fewer sources for news now, and more immediacy, grave mistakes are much more likely as speed trumps accuracy. In addition to all the newspaper cutbacks, no one has been on a beat long enough to know what’s really going on inside Syria.
So if we are to honor Elizabeth Neuffer and others, cooler heads must prevail. Stop, think, dig, dig deeper and keep digging, before you reach any conclusions and always question the motives of your sources.