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Accounts of the Gulf War

Monday, April 21, 2003 at 3:31 PM

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Journalists all over the world are still debating an article that ran in the New York Times last week. In the article, CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan admitted to withholding stories of torture and brutality by Saddam Hussein. Jordan says the silence was necessary in order to protect the lives of staffers working in CNN's Baghdad bureau. Media groups have criticized Jordan's decision to keep quiet, saying it was more of a business move to allow the network's Iraqi headquarters to stay open. One local woman disagrees. Now a master gardener in Cuyahoga County, Cookie Krizmanich worked with Jordan when he was head of CNN's international desk. After years of covering war zones and natural disasters, she shares a different point of view. ideastream's Renita Jablonski reports.

If Cookie Krizmanich ever writes a book, she already knows what the title would be.

Cookie Krizmanich: “When Going to a War Zone Remember to Pack the White Silk Scarf.”

Krizmanich worked as a video editor for CNN during the late 80’s and early 90’s. She never went on assignment without her six-foot long, white, silk aviator scarf .

Cookie Krizmanich: And the reason why I had it was a camera man always needs something white to balance their camera on in order make sure that the colors are correct, and then if you went to someplace where it was cold you could use it like a babushka, wrap it around your head, it would keep your head warm but it was still thin enough that you can do audio which is part of what I did.

Krizmanich never had to use the scarf as a surrender flag but she admits it was another reason why she always kept it handy, just in case.

Cookie Krizmanich: In the morning will assess damage but I want out as soon as possible. I think this is killing my family and friends and I don’t want them to suffer because of me. And then the next time I wrote was January 20th.

Krizmanich sifts through old journals sitting in her airy Brooklyn Heights home. There are photographs on the walls of people from all over the world. During her time with CNN she saw the reality of war many times. Her first was in Afghanistan when the Soviets were pulling out. Her last, Croatia. She was also in Iraq in 1991 when the first Gulf War started.

Cookie Krizmanich: At 2:10 am, no choice, the attacks started. Thursday morning after being locked in a bomb shelter and kept until daybreak, packed up my suitcase in the room and moved into the office, no power, no water. Bombing continues throughout the day. Message from Eason saying leave hotel, not on list. It’s not on the list last night, on the list tonight, unconfirmed. Chills down spine. Go to bomb shelter, safest place.

At that time Eason Jordan was head of the international desk at CNN. He communicated with Krizmanich and the rest of the staff in Baghdad by using forewire. It’s a small box with two lines of audio out, and two lines of audio in, like a telephone wire, only on a speaker. It’s the way CNN provided live reports when the U.S. attacked Baghdad on January 16th, 1991. Krizmanich assisted Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw as they made their broadcasts to Atlanta. As clear as her memories are of that first day of the war, it’s not the fire in the sky she thinks of most, but rather, the faces.

Cookie Krizmanich: The pictures of Kareem and Jasim that I gave you, who were our drivers, these were people that I stayed around with for four months. Same thing with the people that were my friends at the television station, these were people that I had feelings for and I’m going to do whatever I could to protect them and not put them in any danger because I’m doing my job.

And that’s why Krizmanich says she understands exactly why Eason Jordan decided not to report on certain episodes of brutality by the Hussein regime.

Cookie Krizmanich: As journalists there are things that we see and there are things that for whatever reason we feel that we can’t report. We have a moral conscience to tell a story but not at all costs and certainly not if those costs involve human life. Let’s take the things that Eason here did not report, or that CNN did not report and let’s say he did, we did report them at CNN and these people were killed and the New York Times found out about that and, tortured and killed, and their whole families and all that, what would the story be written then?

For the most part, Krizmanich has kept her television off as the current conflict in Iraq has unfolded. Her life is very different than it was 12 years ago. As a master gardener for Cuyahoga County, she provides horticultural education to individuals and community groups. She’s also the head buyer for the garden department at Home Depot. She says her experiences as a journalist left her to feel that most people don’t understand what they’re watching on TV.

Cookie Krizmanich: I think that we need to make people aware of yeah, when you’re standing on your high horse and saying that we should, we now need to conquer the rest of the world, let’s show you the realities of that conquering is and imagine that that’s your brother or your father that’s laying there like that, this is what it really means.

She says that regardless of the media outlet, those realities are never fully presented.

Cookie Krizmanich: We need to show how awful that looks, to see, you know, their arms and legs in unnatural positions, and to see the flies buzzing around faces and stuff. People, don’t, this isn’t something that Americans see.

When she retires, Krizmanich plans to move to the coast of Croatia. She wants to grow lavender and rosemary and sell them to tourists, and sit on a porch and just talk to people - maybe even write her book, “When Going to a War Zone, Remember to Pack the White Silk Scarf.”

Cookie Krizmanich: It also worked well in places where there was a lot of death, that you could wrap it around your face so you don’t have to smell the stench.

In Brooklyn Heights, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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