In all our criticism of the way The News & Observer and all the mainstream media swallowed the Bush Administration’s lies about the war in Iraq, we have never given proper due to N&O reporter Jay Price and photographer Chuck Liddy, who were embedded with the 82nd Airborne during the war and risked life and limb last month to go back to Baghdad and see how bad it really was. Well, it was pretty awful, and they did a good job conveying that.

Most striking was their work in the days before and after a bomb attack on Fort Bragg soldiers they were traveling with in the chaotic Sunni triangle, west of Baghdad. In their first days there, Price captured the strain of soldiers who’d only been home six months after a tour in Afghanistan, and the danger they faced. He described the tension of their first patrol, the difficulties of local leaders, and a local official’s view of when the turmoil would end: “When the country is all Iraqi.”

Then on Sept. 14, a bomb went off under a Humvee and killed one soldier and injured three others on their third day there. Liddy shot the wreckage, with a burnt boot in the foreground. That photo made not only The N&O, but a two-page spread in Time magazine highlighting the story, “Mission Not Accomplished.”

Price went on to highlight the work being done by Triangle-based RTI International, which has a $167 million contract to help create local governments. And he waited until he got back to write a story I haven’t seen anywhere else: The way U.S. soldiers, who rarely talked to locals, called them “hajjis” (a Muslim term of respect) the way Germans were called “krauts” in World War II and the Vietnamese were called “gooks. ”

“It makes it easier to kill these people and not feel bad about it,” N.C. State professor John Balaban, a Vietnam expert, told Price. Powerful stuff.

And then there was the Peterson trial. Reporters didn’t miss interviewing a single person on Main Street that day–but beyond the lawyers and the Peterson clan, the ones we really wanted to hear from were the jurors. Channel 11’s Sonya Pfeiffer blew her chance with a letter to the jurors the station “accidentally” mailed early. WRAL got some of ’em that night, as did The Herald-Sun for the next day’s paper (The N&O did not). Interesting that jurors dispensed with the Ratliff case first thing, and that several jurors were ready to convict from the start. Chuck Liddy again distinguished himself with a magnificent panorama of the entire courtroom just as Peterson was handcuffed, taken with a remote-controlled camera hung from the ceiling.

And The Independent came in for some criticism last week from leaders of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People who didn’t think we should have posed together the three candidates we endorsed for City Council–two of whom they and the People’s Alliance had endorsed, and one they hadn’t. “I think it was a slap in the face of the Durham Committee and the People’s Alliance to do that,” County Commissioner Joe Bowser told The Herald-Sun.

For the record, we asked the three to pose together, and it didn’t occur to us that readers might think they were supporting each other. And it apparently didn’t occur to the candidates, either.