A Heavy Toll


Beginning this week, at the top of this page, we will keep tab of the journalists killed covering the war in Iraq.

It’s a “feature” we’d like to discontinue as quickly as possible. We started out with a “71” there, but another journalist was killed this week, and a suspected death was confirmed, so that number is now 73 and, sadly, counting.

As B&C’s cover story points out this week, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more journalists have been killed during the Iraq war than in any other in modern times—WWII and Vietnam not excluded. And the men and women covering the war don’t enjoy whatever modest protection that being a member of the media had during other wars.

Indeed, as a group of them told us last week, they are often isolated in their compounds, both afraid to leave and determined to report.

Reality intrudes. Last week in the British newspaper The Guardian, a reporter wrote, “It is important for TV networks to tell their viewers that backdrops for their TV correspondents are just the periphery of their compounds, a choice angle that misses the blast wall.”

Tragically, some have learned the hard way.

In January, new ABC News anchorman Bob Woodruff was critically injured by a roadside bomb. Last week, CBS cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed, and correspondent Kimberly Dozier severely injured. But TV journalists tough it out.

According to the respected Tyndall Report, CBS has been comparatively aggressive in covering the Iraq war on its newscast. During the first five months of 2006, The CBS Evening News devoted 275 minutes to all aspects of the Iraq story (versus ABC’s 223 and NBC’s 204). Significantly, Lara Logan’s battlefield-combat coverage from Ramadi makes up almost all of the difference (128 minutes, versus ABC’s 74 and NBC’s 71).

But reporting, for minutes or seconds, is dangerous, because many Iraqis see the foreign press as just an extension of the presence of meddling foreigners. And the insurgents who create the improvised explosive devices don’t really care who is ripped to shreds.

Is there any good news in all this? A little. The CPJ says the U.S. military—after about seven months of prodding, letters, e-mails and phone calls—has made checkpoints safer for journalists, including clearer drop-off and pick-up areas at the Green Zone and barricades to make journalists less vulnerable. But there still needs to be a better accounting of the circumstances surrounding journalists killed by U.S. fire and an end put to the detention of journalists without formal charges.

We’re mindful that the 73 journalists—plus another 26 media support staff—that the CPJ says have been killed in Iraq are only part of the story. As of this writing, since 2003, 2,471 American soldiers have been killed and 17,869 injured.

There have also been 4,857 Iraqi security officers and civilian deaths since the beginning of this year, as tallied by the Iraq Coalition Casualties Count Web site.

Those are sad, stunning numbers, painful but necessary to recite. And necessary for journalists to report.