Off the Media: Fixers, Like Bilal Hussein, In a Fix

hussein.jpgA lot of Iraq this week on “On the Media.” What sticks out to us is the story about “fixers,” meaning the natives in foreign lands who do everything a foreign correspondent can’t — because the corro can’t speak the language, doesn’t know how to do simple stuff there like rent a car or get a room or buy supplies, or, in the case of Iraq, might get killed or kidnapped because he’s a Westerner.

Fixers are often the reason a reporter gets a story — in fact, sometimes are the real reporters. When you see a byline in a newspaper or magazine from a dangerous foreign land, be it Iraq or Afghanistan, the Sudan or Mindanao, chances are an unnamed local has risked his neck to help out.

Jon Alter of Newsweek was looking into the topic some 15 years ago in Asia, but we’re not sure he ever did a story. What we do know is that the AP’s Bilal Hussein (pictured), who had been a fixer in Iraq, then became a photographer, is still in U.S. custody for unclear reasons the AP finds suspect. He has not been charged, though the Pentagon last week stood by his detention.

When we bumped into AP chief Tom Curley on a train to Washington earlier this month, he was on his way to an Aspen Institute conference on homeland security, where, he tells us today, he got “no traction” from the assembled power players, including senators and CIA officials. Members of Congress are still telling him “they will inquire” but have not taken real action, it seems.

“We remain concerned for his life,” Curley reports, because Hussein is Sunni and the majority of people he’s in jail with are Shiite, an opposing strain of Islam — the religious flashpoint in what many are calling the civil war.