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feature: politics & culture
April 19th, 2003

The Price of a War Journalist’s Life

The April 8 Attacks Demand a Reckoning

 
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No doubt a sad page has been turned as a result of U.S. troop actions that led to the death of three journalists last Wednesday . It’s hard not to think that an unspoken and ominous message was delivered to the profession of journalism by way of the U.S. Army.

If I were writing that message as a news headline it would read: “U.S. to Independent Journalists in Iraq: Is That a Target on Your Head?”

What happened April 8?
Are we to believe the tank round fired at the Palestine Hotel?which killed two journalists?and the two missile attacks on the Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi news networks came about as a tragic coincidence?

Three incidents on the same day sounds like two too many.

Or could it be that the U.S. was defending itself from all that fierce and overwhelming firepower that the Iraqis have offered within Baghdad lately?

The truth of what really happened will die a quick death unless there is outrage. But from whom? From the very people whom these journalists seek to inform: you and me.

Shouldn’t the public be outraged at such attacks on a respected profession whose goal is keeping us informed?

The range of reactions
Save for CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour’s apparent outrage at the attacks, there was nary a groundswell of anger among fellow journalists at the networks.

But, hey, why should any of us care, really? After all, we’re winning this war, right?

Consider that journalists are the only defense against truth becoming a casualty of war, and Wednesday’s tragedy becomes no small matter. Unless the truth matters less than the price of a gallon of gas.

The Spanish, who are among the most loyal of the “Coalition of the Willing,” realize that outrage is necessary.

After the attack on the Palestine Hotel hundreds of Spanish journalists laid down their pens and cameras to gather outside the American Embassy to protest the deaths of two of their own. One of them?Jose Couso?was killed by American tank fire when an incoming tank round entered his room as he was filming footage. A Ukrainian journalist was also killed in that attack. U.S. military officials have said that its troops had come under sniper fire from the hotel, although many journalists who are staying at the hotel discounted the sniper story. Even so, the question is?was tank fire the appropriate response?

It was well-known by the U.S. military and everyone else that nearly all the journalists remaining in Baghdad were housed and based at the Palestine Hotel.

Thus, t he message sent on Wednesday to journalists not embedded in coalition military units was clear?stand in the way of the U.S. Army and you will become collateral damage. Tell the story that the military doesn’t want told and you might find a 2,000 lb. bomb overhead. And if you’re embedded with troops, you’d better know when to censor your news judgment or it’s a one-way ticket to Camp Doha and the journalistic doghouse.

And worse, you may find yourself in the throes of self-censorship while taking a hailstorm of enemy fire.

More freedom, fewer casualties
Gone are the glory days of the independent journalist as was seen during the Vietnam War . In that war reporters traveled unhindered and unchecked to interview soldiers and visit combat sites. What they reported on was rarely censored. And only 40 were killed during that war?a war where the U.S. met as stiff enemy resistance as it has ever seen.

So far, 12 journalists have died since the war in Iraq began less than a month ago. Compare that to the 40 journalists who died during the eight year conflict in Vietnam and it’s easy to see that something is terribly wrong.

Journalists, both embedded and non, are risking their lives to tell us “the story” as they see it. It’s dangerous and uncomfortable work, and for most it’s far from lucrative.

Don’t they deserve better than this?

 
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The Author : Edward Ortiz
Edward Ortiz is a journalist and writer from western Massachsetts.
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