texasmonthly.com: When did the idea to do a special issue on the Iraq war first come up?
Christopher Keyes: Ever since combat operation began in March of 2003, we’ve been looking for ways to cover the war. The main problem has always been that the war is really a national story more than it is a Texas story, and so the trick has been to identify story lines that allow us to offer a perspective that is uniquely Texan. Oftentimes, that’s just not possible. The lack of weapons of mass destruction, for example, is not a Texas story. Neither, really, was the capture of Saddam Hussein. But gradually, other stories began to emerge. Senior editor Michael Hall wrote about injured soldiers at Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio; writer-at-large Cecilia Ballí wrote about the death of Hector Perez, a soldier from Corpus Christi; senior editor Pamela Colloff wrote about life at Fort Hood, and associate editor Katy Vine wrote about Brandon Hughey, a kid from San Angelo who deserted to Canada. And as the war continued, we discovered that we had a large number of new war-related ideas coming in. We felt that putting them all together in the March issue, the third anniversary of the war, would have a lot of impact.
texasmonthly.com: The magazine has done many special issues in the past. How was this one different as far as conceptualizing and planning?
CK: Our special issues in the past have dealt with music or crime or single cities, such as Dallas and Houston. But I don’t think we had ever produced a special issue that centered on such a polarizing topic. We were very conscious of that going in. We were adamant that we wanted to create an issue that was neither pro-war nor anti-war, but simply an issue that explored the war through a Texas lens. I think we achieved that. We wanted to honor the soldiers who had died, but not editorialize their deaths. Therefore, in our fallen heroes piece, we included only basic information with a photograph. And throughout the issue, there are voices both for and against the war, whether it is the protesters in Crawford or a soldier on the ground who is proud of his mission.
texasmonthly.com: Was this an idea that was supported by a majority of the staff?
CK: Yes. Absolutely. I think most of us got into this business because of that ideal notion of a journalist’s role: to inform the public. And most of us viewed this as a tremendous opportunity to do that, particularly at a time when many newspapers and the nightly news are cutting back on their coverage of the Iraq war.
texasmonthly.com: How did you choose the stories in the issue?
CK: First and foremost, on merit. Ideas that had a unique and compelling narrative were ultimately going to find their way into the issue. But we also made an attempt to find stories that told how the war has affected every kind of Texan: soldiers in action, retired soldiers, soldiers who have been killed, citizens who believe in the war, citizens who are protesting the war, children who have parents in the war, parents who have a child or children in the war, recruiters, legislators. If you look at the issue, you’ll find that we accomplished that, and by doing so, I think we were able to show that the effects of the Iraq war are universal.
texasmonthly.com: What do you like best about this issue?
CK: I wouldn’t characterize it as “like,” but what I am most proud of is the story on our fallen heroes. A tremendous amount of effort went into putting that list together, making sure every detail was correct, doing our best to make sure that we didn’t miss a single Texan, and tracking down a photograph of every one of them. I think it is a beautiful tribute to our fallen soldiers, and I hope it is perceived that way.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this issue?
CK: Probably the inevitable sadness of the subject matter.
texasmonthly.com: In general, are special issues big sellers on the newsstand?
CK: No, and there’s quite a good chance this won’t be either, I suppose. But as the stories in the issue prove, the war and the military have a huge constituency in Texas. We expect that we will get a lot of readers who have a connection to the military but who have never read the magazine before, and may never read it again. But we didn’t go into making this issue thinking it was going to be a best-seller.