BoomerCafé™ co-founder and editor Greg Dobbs has been a journalist all of his career at ABC News. As a foreign correspondent, he respects both the importance and risks of getting a story so that all of us might know and understand what’s happening in our world. It is in that context that Greg shares this column he wrote for Denver’s Rocky Mountain News.
You really ought to see the new movie A Mighty Heart. I just did. It’s the story of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who was taken hostage by Islamic militants in Pakistan, and eventually beheaded.
The acting is good and the story is compelling, but the most important reason to see this movie is, maybe then you’ll appreciate journalists and what they do a little more than you appreciate them today.
Pearl was just out to get the story. But to get it, he had to venture alone into a dangerous part of Karachi for a rendezvous with a dangerous man from a terrorist cell. He never came home. Like anyone who does that kind of work, Danny Pearl knew the risks but took them anyway. For the money? He could have made more by going to law school. The fame? A reporter’s byline, like yesterday’s news, is only fit for wrapping fish. His audience’s admiration? Hardly, because the audience rarely knows what reporters go through to get the stories they report.
Sure, a thirst for adventure probably is part of any foreign correspondent’s makeup, because anyone without it wouldn’t endure the hardships and the risks. But from my experience, having lived Pearl’s kind of life for much of my own career, the main motivation for the Danny Pearls of the world is to provide for the American people what they are guaranteed in the Constitution: the right to know. It is a privilege — and reporters are a breed — that too many Americans take for granted.
Covering cataclysmic events for almost a quarter century with ABC News, I had the luck to beat the odds that finally killed Pearl. Once during the anarchy of Beirut’s civil war, a shady man I was meeting was kidnapped at machinegun-point from the seat beside me; he was dragged away screaming for his life, and given the reason for our meeting, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be next. In Tehran during the revolution, I had a fellow reporter shot dead right next to me while pinned down covering a street battle; had the Iranian soldier beaded in on me instead of my colleague, it would have been my coffin flying out on a chartered jet instead of his. As it was, for several hours I was the one reported killed.
In my younger days, I saw myself as brave, but nowadays I see another applicable adjective: reckless. Reckless, with a wife and two sons at home, to put my life at risk. But if someone doesn’t report the news, our right to know will be moot. So journalists still try. Yet it gets harder and harder. Earlier this year, while making a television documentary for HDNet about the Palestinians’ political problems, I was in the West Bank and trying to get into Gaza to interview the then-prime minister Ismail Haniya. The camera crew and I would go in with our own armed security — it is a scary traverse from southern Israel through an unguarded no-man’s land — but I had insisted on additional protection: six men from the prime minister’s own forces. They had agreed, until the day before we were supposed to go, when a Palestinian colleague got a call from the Prime Minister’s office saying, “Don’t come. We cannot guarantee your security.” He then went on to say, “We cannot even guarantee his security anymore” (meaning, Haniya’s).
So, being older and smarter, I didn’t press it and we didn’t go. More’s the pity, because a key part of what I wanted to include in the documentary wasn’t there. And that’s the point of this column: in Iraq today, like Gaza, a key part of what reporters want to present often isn’t there. Why not? Because too much of the country — even just Baghdad — is too dangerous to traverse.
And yet lots of Americans complain, “They’re not telling us the whole story.” No, they’re not, because thanks to the upshot of the war so far, they can’t. Maybe Americans who still think this war is worthwhile are right and there are plenty of stories about Iraqis welcoming our troops and about U.S. soldiers doing humanitarian work that don’t get covered. But isn’t it fair to conclude that if it’s often too dangerous to get out and see certain sections of the country, then the big story is how perilous it is in parts of Iraq, not how safe it is in other parts? Danny Pearl died simply trying to tell a story. Others with a mighty heart are still trying, whether you appreciate it or not.
Category: Boomer Lifestyle