Farnaz Fassihi tells the story of the Baghdad email update that made its way around the world.
Fassihi: I did… I had no idea. Yeah. That’s one of the strangest things that’s ever happened to me. You know, I often wrote dispatches in e-mails and letters from different war zones, just because I didn’t have time to write to all my friends individually and say what it’s like and I was getting tons of e-mails from people saying “Are you safe? Are you okay? What’s going on in Iraq? How bad is it?” So I would put together, you know, a few paragraphs or maybe a page or two of my impressions then e-mail it to them. And, I think, this is what I did in September 2004, except things were really, really bad in Iraq. Security was deteriorating. Our house had just been bombed and I had to evacuate and, you know, people were getting kidnapped. So, you know, I kind of told it as it was and I told it with a lot of emotion because I thought I was talking to my friends. I didn’t, I wasn’t writing a piece for The Wall Street Journal. And I sent it off and I think about a few days later my inbox had something like 176 e-mails from random people from around the world that I didn’t know, asking me if I had written this e-mail. And so, I was like, what’s going on? How did this, you know, get to different people? And then it was posted on blogs and on websites and printed across the world in different newspapers and became this strange sensation. And people kind of saying, you know, we didn’t know it was this bad in Iraq. We didn’t know that it was this dangerous. And what had happened was, apparently, most of my friends had forwarded the e-mail around and their friends had forwarded it and it just, you know, went all over the place. I think the response that I got from people, the outpouring of emotion and the outpouring of e-mails and letters that I got made me think that maybe there is a personal story to be told about Iraq, and one that was more reflections and impressions rather than just the chronology of what had happened politically and militarily, you know. But, to be honest, I also came under a lot of pressure after that e-mail, you know. There were the, sort of, far left saying, “Oh, the media censors the news,” and, you know, he was praising me for writing what I had thought but also saying, “Oh, how come you don’t say this in your published pieces?” And, the far right saying, “You’re biased and,” you know, “you’re not fit to cover Iraq.” Which, I think, both accusations were untrue. We had been saying that stuff, just in a journalistic, objective way and my published pieces were not biased at all, so… Yeah. So, that in itself was an interesting experience.