COMMENTS: Journalists in Line of Fire

A very light day of news was marred by calamity at ABC. A pair of its staffers, cameraman Alaa Aziz and soundman Saif Yousuf, were murdered on their way home from work at ABC's Baghdad bureau. They were the 103rd and 104th journalists to be killed in Iraq since the United States invaded in 2003. Only ABC itself assigned a correspondent to the deaths--NBC did not mention them even in passing--so they were not the Story of the Day. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was instead, as NBC sent anchor Brian Williams to New Orleans for a progress report. CBS, too, led with a Katrina-related feature, on the toxic living conditions in FEMA's emergency housing trailers.

From Baghdad, Terry McCarthy (no link) paid tribute to his late colleagues: "They went places we foreigners cannot go," he explained, as he showed a montage of their coverage, "a wedding, a site of mass murder, a zoo, a market destroyed by a carbomb." Almost all of the journalists killed in Iraq, 82 out of the 104, have been locals like Aziz and Yousuf. "The American media could not cover this war without the hundreds of Iraqi journalists like them."

In what anchor Charles Gibson called a "real way to pay tribute" to the pair, ABC aired one of the last stories they filed with McCarthy (subscription required). It contrasted the state-of-the-art medical care Iraqi soldiers receive if they happen to be wounded while on patrol with US troops with the alternative: "Iraqi hospitals were once some of the best in the Middle East. Now they are terribly short of skilled doctors and modern equipment." Since the war started, 45,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have been injured. In all there are 20,000 amputees from the war. "The main prosthetic clinic in Baghdad can only make six new limbs a week."

Speaking of war correspondents, CBS anchor Katie Couric introduced an excerpt from That's The Way It Is, the networks' primetime tribute to her predecessor Walter Cronkite upon his 90th birthday. It showed a clip from Conkite's 1968 documentary Report From Vietnam, after seeing which President Lyndon Johnson famously concluded: "If I have lost Walter Cronkite I have lost the American people." Couric aired the concluding soundbite from Cronkite that prompted Johnson's dejection: "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out, then, will be to negotiate--not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."


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