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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Journalist ‘not optimistic’ about Middle East

By Ryan Shelton

When he was in power, Saddam Hussein threw extravagant birthday parties every year and invited foreign journalists, such as Ethan Bronner, to watch the “poets” of Iraq sing verses of praise to their dictator. These events were some of the only times American journalists were openly welcomed to Iraq.

Bronner, the deputy foreign editor at The New York Times, spoke to crowds at the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday about unrest in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and The Times‘ responsibility to report on global conflicts and inform the American public.

“A lot of college students must ask themselves, ‘Why do I care if (Muslim) women in Britain are wearing veils when my iPod doesn’t work,'” Bronner said. “Everything this country does has an enormous impact on the rest of the world, and if we simply coast or hang out and look at the beautiful mountains in Utah and don’t make any effort in shaping that impact, I promise you that it will come back to haunt us. Sept. 11 is just an example of how it can do so.”

Bronner started his carrier in journalism in 1980 reporting for Reuters news service in London; Madrid; Brussels, Belgium; and Jerusalem and will return to Israel’s capital in March to serve as The Times’ bureau chief for the Middle East. Israel is one of the only countries in the region that allows foreign journalists easy access and relative journalistic-freedom, unlike its bordering countries, Bronner said, which will sometimes refuse entry to journalists for visiting “occupied Palestine,” aka Israel. And even when journalists are allowed to enter some Middle Eastern countries, a state agent will often chaperon reporters to make sure no one speaks candidly to a correspondent.

“Just getting a visa to get into some of these countries is a monumental challenge,” Bronner said. “If you don’t get into these countries, you can’t write about them, but if you don’t write what you’ve learned, then you’re not doing your job.”

Andrew Spencer, a junior studying engineering, was taken back by the level of dedication foreign correspondents have.

“I guess I’ve always taken it for granted,” he said. “You pick up the paper and glance through it without really thinking about all the work and risk that goes into covering stories in some pretty dangerous places.”

Bronner, who joked that The Times covers the Middle East so much that its name should be changed to The Muslim Times, said that in the wake of the newspaper industry suffering great economic challenges, foreign correspondency is becoming more expensive because of the need for security, especially in Iraq.

Reporting on the war in Iraq is the hardest, yet most important issue The Times covers, Bronner said. The paper employs about 80 Iraqis, many of them reporters, who can walk the streets that are too dangerous for western correspondents. However, being affiliated with an American paper can prove deadly. Two Iraqis working for The Times were murdered in 2007, he said.

“They are a brave and endangered group,” Bronner said.

Jayne Nelson, assistant director of the Hinckley Institute, said that The Times’ credibility and high reader expectation account for why some political science professors require that their students read the publication.

“It’s so important for students to know what’s going on in the rest of the world,” she said.

Bronner, who recently returned form a 12-day tour of the Middle East, said he had never seen it so bad and offered a grim outlook on the future of Iraq and America’s involvement in the war-torn country, predicting that American troops will likely remain in Iraq for the next decade.

“I’m not very optimistic at all,” he said. “Pessimism has been my constant companion.”

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Ethan Bronner, duputy foreign editor for The New York Times, spoke to crowd at the Hincley Institute of Politics.

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