The risk behind the news
WASHINGTON — At the Edward R. Murrow Symposium on the Media at Washington State University, I learned that for $300 a day, a reporter can be trained in survival skills at a country house outside London. Skills such as first aid and when to drop to the ground and when to run for cover.
Americans, generally turned off by media chatter and trivia, should know that in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and other combat areas, news people are risking their lives to keep the public informed. Some 20 journalists have been shot at, trying to penetrate the Israeli blockade of Ramallah and Bethlehem. At least five have been wounded, including an American, Anthony Shadid of The Boston Globe. The murder of Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal by terrorists in Pakistan serves as an emblem for this generation of combat correspondents.
Wars have given us some of our greatest writers: the print reporters of World War I, like Richard Harding Davis and Herbert Bayard Swope; Ernest Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War; the radio reporters of World War II, like Ed Murrow and Howard K. Smith; the TV reporters of the Vietnam War, like Morley Safer, Ted Koppel, and Dan Rather, along with print reporters like Peter Arnett and David Halberstam.
The Gulf War did not give us journalistic heroes, because it was mainly an air war, and military censorship kept reporters away from much of the ground action. There has been some of that in Afghanistan, too, where American forces have tried to keep news people at a distance, in one case threatening to shoot a Washington Post reporter.
This is not like the time of Ed Murrow, who flew on bombing missions over Germany and broadcast from a London rooftop while rockets fell around him. The threat then came only from the enemy. In this day of civil strife and terrorism, the threat can come from anywhere, including nominally friendly troops, who don't always want you to see what they're doing.
At a time when media stories tend to be about celebrity stars and their face-lifts, it's hard to remember that there are still real reporters. I don't know if any Murrows or Hemingways will emerge from this turbulent era, but the idea of combat correspondent is coming back. I thought it worth noting that some in the media are still willing to take risks to inform the public.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.