From L.A. to Baghdad

As hell broke loose in the streets of Los Angeles during the 1992 riots, hundreds of people fled for safety. John Mitchell of the Los Angeles Times ran towards the chaos, eventually winning a Pulitzer prize with other members of the Times staff for their reporting on the riots following the not-guilty verdicts in the Rodney King case.

Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske witnessed and reported on chaos from the other side of the world. As she reported in Iraq, wearing the locally appropriate abaya and headscarf, she was thrown into an unstable country at war during the peak of the surge-a hectic time when Saddam Hussein had been found and captured, eventually to be executed.

Both reporters brought the two journalistically prime worlds together to Santa Monica College students yesterday at the "From L.A. to Baghdad: Journalism as Transformative Literature" in the SMC Studio Stage.

As witnesses to history, both professional reporters explained the interconnection between enormously historic events and the event's relationship to the average person.

"My job has been giving a voice to the voiceless," said Mitchell. "During my coverage of the Rodney King riots, I helped a Vietnamese woman who didn't speak English. She stumbled out of her car after being hit by a rock, and I took her to... the emergency room."

When he was at the hospital, he saw a crowd of wounded victims-each with a story of their own. By running towards the scene, Mitchell uncovered hundreds of untold stories of average people affected by the event.

When reporting on an Iraqi jail, Hennessy-Fiske uncovered inhumane conditions that the prisoners were subjected to.

"I took a calculated risk by going into the jail," she said. "I talked to prisoners, which was very risky. I found that [the prisoners] had no medical treatment. The bathroom was just a hole in the ground."

After running the story of the living conditions of the prisoners, they were moved to another prison.

"[The prisoner situation] taught me that U.S. and Iraqi powers in Iraq are mixed and complicated," she said. "Because of this, many more questions were uncovered-were all prisoners guilty? How do you establish a justice system in a country at war?"

Hennessy-Fiske quickly learned of the role of both the Iraqi woman and civilian. She became comfortable with the abaya, which was to always be worn in public because of the societal role of the average Middle Eastern woman.

"It was common to see helicopters fly over your hotel," she said. "But [many of the cities] were safer than many people thought. There are trees, apartment buildings, and people doing normal daily events. You don't get the idea that life has stopped. I was never shot at... that I know of," she said with a straight face.