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03-24-06, 08:42 AM #1
Hemmer dashes to front with Marines in Iraq
Hemmer dashes to front with Marines in Iraq
By Rick Bird
Post staff reporter
Delhi native Bill Hemmer has always been known as a reporter who likes to hit the road. He's at it again this week, anchoring his "Fox News Live" (noon weekdays) from Camp Fallujah with a unique insider's look at the Marine base 40 miles east of Baghdad.
Ever since Hemmer joined Fox News last August, leaving a nearly 10-year gig with CNN, he has wanted to return to Iraq.
Hemmer said he had been pitching to his bosses and to the Pentagon an "up and close" report.
In a phone interview Wednesday from Iraq, Hemmer said: "The initial agenda was this - I had not seen an American news operation report live from these bases to any great extent other than Camp Victory, which is near the airport in Baghdad. I was curious how they are doing, how are they living."
Hemmer's reporting has been solid in its behind-the-scenes look at the military base. Hemmer said there has been virtually no censorship, with Fox cameras Wednesday even allowed into an operating room as a medical team tried worked to save the life of an insurgent shot twice by Marines.
Viewers have met a remarkable retired Texas policeman who volunteered to help train Iraqi police forces, living with them, not at a U.S. base. And Hemmer has given us what we don't usually see in reporting in this complicated war - a little whimsy. He toured a base barbershop run by Turks, who have introduced Marines to the unique Turkish practice of singeing off ear hair with a small flaming torch.
"I know it is hard to do humor reports in this setting," Hemmer said. "But we wanted to try."
Hemmer has shown that living conditions aren't bad at the base, despite the difficulty of the Marines' mission.
"I was surprised to find they have hot water here, that they have toilets that flush. I was shocked to see the dining facilities. The facilities they have for these guys after they are out in the dessert, this really is as an oasis for them, and they need it for what they do."
Hemmer said this is a very different Iraq from the last time he was there, in late 2003. As a reporter for CNN, he arrived in time to report on the capture of Saddam Hussein. Then, he just drove in.
"We drove from Amman, Jordan, into Baghdad over a highway that runs for eight hours. If you were to make that same drive today, you would be putting your life on the line. We flew into the airport and immediately had to arrange for an escort before we could leave the airport grounds. Everything in Iraq in the past 26 months has changed."
With the near death of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, Hemmer acknowledges he had doubts about making this trip. He is not so macho as to simply say "someone has to do the job."
"Anyone who does not admit to at least thinking about it with some level of apprehension is most likely lying," he said. "I felt, through the contacts we had, the Pentagon and the way we laid out the assignments, I was reassured as much as one can be that we were taking care of our own priorities.... We had two priorities: Number one, stay safe. Number two, do the best job we could."
Hemmer is mindful of criticism of the news media that the good news out of Iraq - the progress being made - is not covered. He said he came with no agenda, acknowledging he can't be an expert after just five days in the country. Hemmer did sense even the concept of "progress" is hard to judge in the tumultuous climate.
"How do you measure progress? That's a difficult thing to do in Iraq today. It is an extremely complicated situation," he said. "I know what the Marines say is this: If you give us support, over time, we will win. The question now is how much time will America give them."
Hemmer could perhaps be sitting in the White House now instead of Iraq, if he stayed with CNN. Some reports said he was offered the White House correspondent job. Hemmer won't comment on his CNN departure, but suggests such an assignment was not what he wanted. After all, he likes to hit the road.
"I can read the newspaper every day, but it's impossible for me to understand this war and conflict unless I am here."
Hemmer, 41, is a graduate of Elder High School and Miami University. He got his start in news and sports at WCPO-TV (Channel 9) in the early '90s.
He took a leave of absence from that job to backpack around the world, writing a series about his travels for The Post.
Hemmer knows road trips can be dangerous, saying he counts Woodruff as a friend and colleague.
"I have thought about Bob Woodruff every day since late January. He is not on just my mind but on the minds of our whole crew. We know there is danger. We know there are risks. But we also understand ways to minimize that risk."
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