Monday, May 29, 2006

Iraq War Claims More Journalists' Lives

For months now, experts have been saying the conflict in Iraq is the most dangerous for journalists in recent memory. The media industry got another stark reminder Monday when news broke that two CBS journalists had been killed by a roadside bomb, while another was seriously injured.

CBS photographer Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed, along with a U.S. solider and an Iraqi translator who were examining an Iraqi checkpoint when the bomb went off. CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier was also seriously injured in the blast. The network paid tribute to all three during its newscast Monday, noting that Britisher Douglas -- the first person of African descent to die covering Iraq -- was good natured and disarming, while Brolan, a former soldier in the British army, had a gift for making others laugh.

Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather told a story on CBS' web site about Douglas rushing to place his body between Rather and an incoming mortar while on assignment in Sarajevo -- fortunately, the ordinance was a dud.

"Paul Douglas and James Brolan were not your average pros," Rather wrote Monday. "They were among the best in the world at what they did, and among the bravest. Kimberly Dozier still is, as she fights for life. They proved their mettle and their professionalism time after time, in one dangerous dateline after another."

The Commitee to Protect Journalists has long cited the war in Iraq as particularly dangerous for journalists, citing 69 journalists' deaths (not including Douglas and Brolan) compared to 66 journalists killed in Vietnam, 68 killed in World War II and 17 killed in the Korean War. The committee also cites 26 support staff killed.

Many of those killed have been Iraqi journalists, either working for Western news outlets or their own news organizations. While they can travel through the country without the same fear of kidnapping that western journalists face, they are still target for assasination for the news they report.

It particularly difficult at times like this to accept those who insist journalists in Iraq are willfully ignoring or downplaying positive news to damage President Bush or the GOP or some other nonsensical hypothesis. I've done several stories on the dangers of reporting from this particular war zone, and the journalists I've interviewed have always seemed courageous, conscientuous and dedicated. Even as noted colleagues fall victim to kidnapping, bombings and shootings, these folks have put themselves in the lion's mouth again and again to bring the nation important information on a crucial military operation.

And on Monday, CBS and the entire media industry, were reminded how dear the cost can be.

Reporter Writes Letter, Gets Fired and Becomes Story Subject

It is the First Commandment for journalists in today's media drenched environment: Thou shalt not embarrass the institution for which you are employed.

That was a lesson, apparently, George Tanber didn't heed before sending a letter to the Pulitzer Prize committee anonymously claiming one of the Toledo Blade newspaper's prime investigative pieces was ethically flawed.

After revealing his authorship of the letter, Tanber was suspended, then fired, then made the subject of a 3,200-word story dissecting the issue and what he did. So gossipy it should have been a soap opera script, the Blade's expose revealed a host of new details, including:

Tanber's history of insubordination at the paper, from placing firecrackers in people's cigarettes to resisting efforts to edit his work until he was removed from stories.

Tanber's correct allegations about former Blade political writer Fritz Wenzel, including Wenzel's accepting freelance work with the Zogby polling company while writing about their polls, his son accepting jobs with the Ohio GOP organization while Wenzel was a political reporter and Wenzel receiving a $60,000 job from a GOP legislator days after resigning the paper to form his own consulting firm.

Tanber's efforts to get other journalists to challenge the Blade's journalism, communicating with reporters using aliases and multiple email accounts.

It is a brutal excavation of a troubled employee's surprisingly thourough efforts to discredit his employer. And although it may at times play like a hit piece designed to justify the newspaper's decision to fire Tanber, the slime oozing from these situations greases everyone involved.


  • At 11:29 AM, May 30, 2006, formerly mr anonymous said…

    re the blade situation:

    the question that arises is: what is it about newspaper orgs that makes some of their employees so contemptuous? in hating the newspaper which literally feeds them, are they also expressing self-hatred?

    is it all about the universal cry sooner or later sent up by small cogs in large wheels?

    is it brought on by feelings of helplessness against larger insitutions, resentment of perceived mistreatment, the frustration of feeling smarter than superiors?

    is any news org looking at itself as the cause of these many periodic flameouts, or is it just easier to blame it on crazy individuals?

  • At 2:37 PM, May 30, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Those of us who have been in the newspaper game a while know it is a tough business. People can get ground up who don't deserve it, and talented folks can be marginalized because they don't know how to play the office politics game or made the mistake of angering the wrong person.

    But I think many of you know that's the story in lots of workplaces, not just newspaper newsrooms. I think it is notable, however, because we all expect news outlets to achieve a higher standard.

    If we're going to spend our days nailing other businesses and institutions for their shortcomings, we do need to be willing to address our own problems fully and fairly. Some days we handle that better than others.

    But I think the question of whether the institution is at fault or the individual depends on circumstance. Some individuals have very good reasons for hating the newspaper where they work.

    But I think this Toledo guy's dissatisfaction rises to the level of psychological dysfunction...


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