Reporters on the Job

HERO OR VILLAIN? In the absence of hard information, rumors are flying about Osama bin Laden, says Phil Smucker. He interviewed some 30 Afghans who had just crossed the border into Pakistan. And everyone thinks they know what the real story is (page 7).

While most admired him, "nobody said he was a hero because of the World Trade Center attacks." They don't think he's the one responsible. "But they see him as an Islamic 'holy warrior' and a devout Muslim."

One man crammed in a pickup truck with 15 others said to Phil: "You know that there were no Jews in the World Trade Center, and so we have reason to believe that it was destroyed by the Jews" in order to give a bad name to Muslims.

That vicious - and false - rumor has circled the globe. It has been repeated in newspapers, in broadcasts, and on the Internet. Even a former Pakistani head of intelligence who spoke to Phil mentioned it. "People come up to you on the street here and ask about it," he says.

BACK IN JERUSALEM: The Monitor's Ilene Prusher returned to Jerusalem for the first time in two years, and noticed how one journalistic hub has faded. Beit Agron - a building in the center of Jerusalem that houses various government press offices - used to be where various news organizations had their offices. "You could always find journalists hanging around hopping from office to office, sharing tips and checking out leads with each other. The place had an exciting buzz."

No more. "When I arrived in Israel in 1993, hardly any of us had cellphones, no one had e-mail or Internet accounts, and having a beeper was a luxury. In that atmosphere, journalists depended on each other more, and out-of-town journalists would stop in at Beit Agron to hear what was going on. Nowadays, most foreign journalists work from home, and many other news organizations have moved into better quarters elsewhere."

Cultural snapshot:

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