Reviews of "A Mighty Heart" -- the cinematic rendering of the tragic kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- inevitably touched on the heroism of journalists, who bravely follow stories into the brutal, shadowy world of terrorists or the dangerous frontlines of a war zone.
Ever since 9/11, life has grown far more perilous for Western journalists, as they report stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots in the Middle East in the midst of the so-called "war on terror." The latest casualty is Alan Johnston of the BBC, who has been kidnapped by Palestinian militants.
While the level media attention given to the plight of Western correspondents is well-deserved, it is also tragically lopsided. Consider, for example, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff. A casualty of a roadside bomb in Iraq, Woodruff's injuries and long road to recovery became fodder for a much-publicized book and documentary. There was much talk of Woodruff's undoubted journalistic and personal courage.
If you look at the statistics released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, you realize that Woodruff lucky to survive in a country where more reporters have died since 2003 than anywhere else in the world. But he was also an anomaly, hardly representative of who really pays the price for press freedom in Iraq. According to the CPJ, of the
108 journalists killed in Iraq on duty, 86 were Iraqi,twelve were European, and eight were from other countries. The number of American journalists killed in Iraq: two.
This isn't to take anything away from the heroism of a Woodruff or a Danny Pearl, but to acknowledge that much of our own knowledge of the war relies on the indomitable courage of Iraqi journalists, who do much of the actual on-the-ground reporting for Western media outlets at a time when western reporters are "virtually under house arrest," as Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi put it in a 2004 email. The 86 dead Iraqis, for example, include five employees of The Associated Press, The most recent victim being Said M. Fakhry, 26, an AP Television News cameraman shot dead May 31 in his Baghdad neighborhood. And even when foreign correspondents are kidnapped by militants, the Iraqi journalists accompanying them are almost always killed immediately -- even terrorists know that the life of an Iraqi has no collateral value in Mideast politics.
According to AP, things are getting worse by the day: "More than a dozen other Iraqi media employees have disappeared -- apparent victims of kidnap gangs and sectarian death squads."
The lives of of these journalists don't merit a major book deal, network news special, or a Hollywood flick, but it doesn't make their work any less valuable for us Americans. At a 2005 conference, I was introduced to Huda Ahmed, who received recognition for her extraordinary bravery from her employer, Knight Ridder. I asked her why she chose to do this kind of work, whose risks far outweighed the apparent rewards. "For my country," she said. That's the kind of patriotism we can all learn from.