Reporters on the Job

TALK TO ME: Iraqis and US troops alike - both largely cut off from the outside world - are finding they share a fondness for the journalists canvassing Baghdad to gauge the city's recovery, says the Monitor's Scott Peterson (page 1).

That common affection, however, may have something to do with technology. Like his colleagues, Scott uses a hand-held Thuraya satellite phone - once forbidden under Saddam Hussein, who didn't cotton to their concealability. Journalists, of course, still used them: "All of us had hidden ones," says Scott. "I stashed mine in the ceiling of my room at the Palestine Hotel, when I had to leave for Britain [at the start of the war]."

Now journalists openly use the devices - and are making lots of instant friends. "Iraqi entrepreneurs are charging $10 per minute to call anywhere," Scott says. "So Iraqis are constantly asking us to call for 'just a minute.' "

It's an easy favor for important sources - and those who can grant important access. "US troops line up to use Thurayas. Access to the palace could be eased by letting the guards make a call. One marine gave me an Iraqi bayonet in exchange for leaving a message on his wife's answering machine in New Jersey."

MISINFORMATION MANAGEMENT: In reporting Tuesday's story on why Syria might not welcome fleeing Iraqi officials (page 7), reporter Nicholas Blanford had occasion to talk to Western diplomats. Soon he found himself lending an ear to their ruminations about a rumor mill in overdrive.

One story Nick heard was that Saddam Hussein and his entourage had booked a hotel in Latakia, on the Mediterranean, where they could enjoy five-star comfort. "It was nonsense," Nick says, "but Western diplomats had to check this out, as well as rumors about who was going to be kicked out and who had managed to get a flight out. Speculation is a constant vein of conversation in Damascus."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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