Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


From Saigon to Baghdad

By Shawn Healy
Last evening, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, in partnership with the Associated Press, conducted a program at the museum titled "From Saigon to Baghdad: The Associated Press, War, and the Right to Know." The program was centered around the release of a new book about the AP, Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else. This book is the first about the news cooperative in more than 67 years, and the first produced primarily for public consumption.

The event consisted of a panel discussion led by former copyboy, reporter, editor, and President and CEO of the Chicago Tribune Jack Fuller. A Pulitzer Prize winner himself, Fuller presided over a prestigious panel of distinguished reporters including George Esper (retired, professor at West Virginia University), Steve Komarow (editor, AP), and Colin McMahon (editor, Chicago Tribune). The panel focused on reporting during times of war, specifically in the combat zone. The context was the parallels and distinct differences between the Vietnam War and the current conflict in Iraq.

Esper spoke of complete access to combat zones as a reporter in Vietnam. Komarow said that current journalists are less dependent on the military for information nowadays given technological breakthroughs. Access itself is now more limited. For instance, reporters in Iraq must undergo biometric exams in order to obtain a press pass! McMahon even recognized a changing landscape during the course of the current war. As Iraq became more dangerous, reporters need to engage in advance planning to travel anywhere, and access is therefore perpetually threatened.

The panel drifted to the topic of embedding reporters within combat units. Fuller suggested that the practice is controversial because it is difficult to see outside the perspective of the unit. Komarow echoed this concern, claiming the practice is useful from the standpoint of seeing what is actually happening on the ground, but masks the larger picture. McMahon claims that embedded coverage must be balanced with multiple perspectives, a difficult proposition for medium to small newspapers.

The panel also assessed the impact of the Internet on war coverage. McMahon said that the 24-hour news cycle makes all reporters more conscious of what's happening around them and this spurs better coverage by individual reporters. Komarow is concerned about the ease of posting stories in the Digitial Age, and as an editor, is constantly attempting to slow down the process to ensure accuracy. Esper contends that bloggers are not journalists given the number of unverified stories, and lamented about the fact that mainstream journalists are forced to the react to their claims, true or false.

The program ended with audience questions, from the media's responsibility for the lead-up to the Iraq War to reporters' concerns for the lives of American soldiers in the field, and concluding with assessing the impact of media consolidation on war coverage. I left with greater respect for the AP and reporters on the battlefield in general. At a time when most papers are cutting back or discarding international reporting altogether, the AP has actually bulked up their foreign bureaus and is filling the void. Moreover, reporters continually enter hostile environments to inform Americans back home about the international exploits of our nation. Every day, the AP, and these foreign correspondents, do all of us a great service.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at