Reporters on the Job

Absentee Voter: What does it take to cast a ballot in the US elections while working in Iraq? Quite a bit, if you have become a moving target in recent weeks, like staff writer Scott Peterson. Months ago he dutifully applied to vote absentee, in Moscow, but Scott's home state of Washington didn't send ballots out until mid-October. By then, Scott was in Baghdad.

"I arranged to have it sent to Jordan, where I was supposed to begin a week-long holiday with my family this week," he says. But just hours after the ballot left, Scott found out that he would be staying in Iraq, to embed with US marines.

The Jordan holiday was canceled. Scott called FedEx, to see if they could reroute the package to Baghdad. No chance, they said. Scott called the hotel in Jordan, which promised to send it to Baghdad. Later that night, Scott went to the FedEx website and found the package was listed as "returned to sender."

"That's when I almost gave up," says Scott. "Then came an e-mail from the US Embassy here, saying they could provide American journalists with a federal write-in ballot," says Scott. The next morning a colleague from The Washington Post was making a visit to the Green Zone, and gave Scott a lift in his armored car and escort.

"Every vote counts," says Scott. "As a reporter, we see this again and again in the countries we cover." He filled out the ballot Sunday, and gave it to FedEx at his Baghdad hotel, finally fulfilling his civic duty.

The final irony? Half an hour after Scott handed his ballot to the FedEx rep, he got a call in his room. It was the FedEx man again: The package with is original ballot had just arrived.

How to Help: The poverty in Africa is so pervasive, journalists often find it hard to maintain their professional detachment. While reporting today's story, correspondent Mike Crawley spent so many days with Liberian refugee Joe Geetoe (page 1), that it was even harder not to cross that ethical line. "He really opened up to me, and was generous with his time. I felt that I ought to do something, yet it's my policy not to give things to contacts," says Mike. "Such gifts can influence or distort the story; The source may say what he thinks the reporter wants to hear rather than the truth. Then I realized that one of the best ways I could help him was simply to tell his story in the hopes that those who read it will help him find his family. I also suggested that he contact the Red Cross, which can help trace refugee families."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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