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Posted by on Aug 28, 2006 in At TMV | 2 comments

Journalists Covering War: “The War Tourists” (UPDATED)

Yesterday two kidnapped Fox News reporters were released. And, in that context, the must read of the day IS HERE. “The War Tourists” by Boston Herald City Editor Jules Crittendon. This must read will give you a better idea of the press covering the Iraq war, Middle East and other conflicts. It must be read IN FULL but here’s a small part of it:

My buddy Sig is back in Iraq, in Ramadi.He wrote about hearing AK fire, followed by mortars … a need to hunker down at that point … and the crack of M4s on the roof.He liked the familiar feel of adrenalin in his veins again.Sig has been counseled for post-traumatic stress, but he still goes back. I remember when Sig and I spent two days in a hotel room in D.C., drinking bourbon and just talking at each other non-stop, all of it pouring out.

I remember that feeling Sig described in his email from Ramadi, when I got over my own dread and discovered that I loved combat, even with its moments of uncertainty and terror. Then, when two newsmen I knew were dead, the horrible feeling that I would be dead soon too and that my children would be weeping like theirs were.Four other newsmen died in the next two days, but I didn’t.I got to come home.

Home is where the rage comes out. Home is where you remember a dead kid and fight back tears. Home is where you find yourself wishing you could be back in the most horrible of places. Then someone ends up brain-damaged, or someone is taken hostage and you see her pleading for her life on video, and you wonder what kind of person you must be to still want to be there.

There, to bear witness to the fire from which no one can avert his eyes. To get some ink in that rag on your doorstep, some pictures on your idiot box, some fodder for your blog.

Read it all.

UPDATE: A reader emailed me asking for more of my opinion on this…so here it is:

Too often in American politics when people (on the right and left) don’t like something they start blasting “that mainstream media” as if it’s composed of editors gleefully rubbing the palms of their hands just itching to stick it to a candidate or a value that the angry reader (on the left or right) holds dear. And they talk about the incompetent, biased reporters who have such a cushy job.

Of course, many times the unbiased reporting they yearn for would unquestionably favor their candidates, their values and either ignore or discredit the candidates and values of those who disagree with them.

In fact, anyone who has dealt with (or worked with) reporters knows that most of them, in varying ways, often face situations where they may have to take personal risks. It’s because reporters (who are Republicans, Democrats and independents) somehow have it in their heads that news gathering is a vital part of their lives and of the life’s blood of a democracy.

They are often in situations where to do their job effectively they have to put their emotions in check.

Here’s an example. On July 18, 1984 James Huberty walked into a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA. and shot to death 21 men, women and children and wounded 19 others. I was one of many San Diego Union reporters called into to cover parts of the story.

Then I was also drafted to sit at a desk and work with a legendary editor who sat there, went through all new information, coordinated and checked everyone’s editing work, gave out new assignments, asked the tough questions, looked for “holes” in parts of the story and assigned reporters to make calls to fill them, followed up on the progress of needed interviews, etc. We had to work overtime (the Union was then a Newspaper Guild union paper) and reporters covering all kinds of beats were roped into this story to get every tidbit on it that could possibly be collected…and FAST. She was on the phone, in meetings with higher-ups who wanted to monitor the progress of the story, and visiting her sub-editors. She was “on” nonstop.

The details that emerged about the deaths were sickening. And I never forgot what she told me after when I asked her how she could do it — and how she was able to hold up as well as she did.

She told me she never forgot the horror of the story but she focused on the task at hand which was comprehensive news gathering and presentation for readers “and when it was all over and I was home, that’s when it all hit me and I fell apart.”

In my time overseas, I also had to make choices to put myself into risky positions to cover a story. I knew reporters who did this all the time whether it was covering a smallpox epidemic, interviewing drug traffickers in remote places, going into dangerous area totally alone (in the days before cell phones when reporters only had beepers).

So when bloggers sit on their butts at home and sneeringly write about those evil, dumb reporters who must be taking paychecks from the RNC or the DNC (choose one according to your own bias) it’s invariably ironic — since about 90 percent of blogging in its current state consists of people who have something to say reading and quoting the work OF REPORTERS who were in the field, then expressing a view or criticizing the original reporting that reporters and editors produced.

The reality is this: reporters put their safety on the line more than people may realize and many of them may wonder at the time why they do it. But they do it. And, oftentimes, they walk around for years afterward with little scars from covering some of these stories and seeing some truly terrible things.

But you’ll never know. They won’t tell you that.

They move on to the next assignment where they might be at risk again to get a story and see some things that they wish they didn’t.

All you’ll see is the story the reporters and their editors worked to assemble and package. Because it’s their job. Not their hobby.

OTHER RESOURCES:

Google page on journalists killed in the line of duty.

Google page on bloggers killed in the line of duty.

Ed Morrissey has some thoughts on this column, too.

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