Responsible Journalism?

Linda Sharp - Author - Columnist - Media Guest - Event Speaker

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Responsible Journalism? Family vs. The Big Story

I was asked recently, as a writer, would I go to Iraq to cover the war if the opportunity presented itself? Would I jump at the chance to embed myself in a tank and run straight to the front lines to report the war as it happens? Would I consider it a great career move?

My answer was an unequivocal NO times three. 

Forget the fact that my writing forte is editorial, not reportorial in nature. Ignore that I missed the deadline to volunteer and train for embed status. And turn a blind eye to the fact that a sandstorm and my hairdo just do not have anything in common.

My reason is more basic, goes to the heart of and perhaps redefines, the words "responsible journalism"

I am a parent. And there would be nothing responsible in this journalist running to Iraq and away from the three children who need me more than does "the story".

Over the past week we have lost three talented, prolific, longtime journalists who had traveled to Iraq to "get the story" and bring it into our living rooms. Two Americans, Michael Kelly, well known, well regarded, editor-at-large of the Atlantic Monthly died when the Humvee in which he was traveling fell into a canal, and high profile, respected reporter/weekend anchor for NBC's Today Show, David Bloom, of a pulmonary embolism while covering the front lines with the 3rd Infantry Division. And most recently, respected Al Jazeera newsman, Tareq Ayoub, lost his life when two coalition bombs struck the building in Baghdad where he was preparing to broadcast from the roof. 

Three men for whom journalism ran in their blood. Three men who were known within their field and throughout the world as straight forward, reliable newsmen. Three men who were dedicated to getting the story firsthand and reporting it first rate. Three men who embraced the opportunity to go straight to the heart of the beast, in order to keep the international public informed and involved.

Three men who were fathers.

Between them they leave behind three wives and six young children. The wives will find some level of comfort in the platitudes of "he died doing what he loved", "he was never more alive than when he was ‘on the story'". These will remain empty words, with no meaning for the children whose only understanding is that their fathers are never coming home again.

When a person becomes a parent, they in turn become much more cognizant of their own mortality. The frivolousness of youth is cast off in the face of a tiny person whose every breath depends on them. Life is taken randomly enough in the form of accidental death, that certain activities should be crossed of the list simply because of the potential for harm or worse. Sky diving, bungee jumping and race car driving come directly to mind. To that list add live combat reporting.

While colleagues will wax rhapsodic about how much these gentlemen "loved their wives, adored their children, were "in love" with their families", and I have no doubt they did and were, it runs in contradiction to truths proudly quoted by Tim Russert about David Bloom, "You couldn't keep him away from a story. He begged to be able to go to Iraq.", and by Ibrahim Salehi, a close friend of Ayoub's, "He was eager to go to Baghdad to cover the war. Friends had urged him not to go, but he refused to listen to us."

Iraq is dangerous and frightening enough for the military troops for whom the deployment is mandatory. However, they enlist knowing the risks of combat, the consequences of mortar fire, the possibility that if sent into battle, they may not return. Iraq is a volunteer assignment for the six hundred reporters embedded within these brave fighting men and women. Do they accurately comprehend the danger, or are they perhaps blinded by the opportunity to prove their journalistic grit by being covered in realistic grit while reporting from the front lines? Perhaps Michael Kelly's own comment offers much in the way of an answer, "There is some element of danger, but you're surrounded by an Army, literally, who is going to try very hard to keep you out of danger."

Forgive me, but doesn't the Army have enough to do simply fighting this war?

There is no argument that the journalists have done an outstanding job in utilizing modern technology to bring this war into our homes around the clock. (David Bloom actually created the advanced Bloom-mobile in order to have an edge over the competition.) It is to their credit that citizens around the globe have a much more accurate picture of combat and it's devastating effects on the civilian population, and in turn a much more impassioned, informed opinion of this war.

Maybe, just maybe that will be of some comfort to, and a source of pride for, the children of Tareq Ayoub, Michael Kelly and David Bloom someday when they are old enough to actually read the stories their fathers reported.

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