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Two journalists fill in picture of Iraq

The veteran reporters discuss their books and experiences with nearly 200 at a forum.

By STEPHANIE GARRY, Times Staff Writer
Published July 29, 2007


At the center of circles of rapt faces, two foreign correspondents shared their experiences of informing the public about a war that's 16 time zones and a world away.

In their daily reporting in Iraq, Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor for the Washington Post, felt a duty to reveal the bigger picture.

The result was two books on Iraq, Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City and Raddatz's The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family.

"It breaks my heart that so few Americans are connected to this war," Raddatz said. "It really does."

The authors talked about their work before an audience of nearly 200 people Saturday afternoon in St. Petersburg at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. Poynter president Karen Brown Dunlap said the institute has held two community conversations a year since 2005.

Raddatz and Chandrasekaran described the "roulette wheel" of working in a dangerous country, dealing with a president who looks to reporters for insight on Iraq and the struggle to be a watchdog in a post-Sept. 11 climate of classified information.

The journalists covered the same war, but they took different approaches in telling its story.

Raddatz wanted to give Americans a feel for what war is like on the ground. Chandrasekaran discovered that inexperienced civilians -- "the loyal and the willing" -- were running the war from inside the lush Green Zone of Baghdad.

In answering what's next for the country, the two painted a dim picture of abandoning the nation to civil war or staying there for years more.

"It is not going to be victory," Raddatz said.

Deedee West, 56, of St. Petersburg, said she was impressed by the session, which was the first she attended.

"We all bear a responsibility to understand what is going on in our democracy," West said.

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374.