When the horrible news broke that ABC's World News Tonight co-anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt had been severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, I couldn't help thinking back to a night almost three years ago.
I was half-asleep, watching ER, when the phone rang. “Hey, Max. Sorry I'm calling you so late.” It was NBC News' David Bloom. He was rolling with the Third Infantry Division in Iraq in an M88 Armored Recovery Vehicle, retrofitted as a mobile studio and dubbed the Bloom-mobile. But he sounded as clear as if he was phoning from 30 Rock.
I got to know Bloom after he left his gig as NBC's White House correspondent to join Weekend Today as a co-host. With his GQ looks and boundless energy, he had been a go-to guy on big stories. Bloom's name was bandied about as a potential successor to Tom Brokaw on the NBC Nightly News. Now ensconced at Today, he talked about how he “wanted to have more of a personal life” with his wife and kids.
“What changed?” I asked him that night long ago. “This is the story of a lifetime,” he said. “The sacrifice our troops are making is so enormous; I needed to be here to report on what they're up against.”
The next day, April 2, 2003, Bloom, 39, died of a pulmonary embolism, possibly due to the long hours spent in the severely cramped conditions of the Army vehicle.
On the night we spoke, the passion and conviction in Bloom's voice was palpable. Anybody who has experienced it knows that being at the heart of history-making events is addictive—a pure rush. But in an industry that prizes cosmetics, anchors and correspondents with Hollywood looks too often feel the need to parachute into harm's way to prove they're more than just pretty faces.
Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying. I share the dismay that many at ABC News feel about the New York Times headline from its Jan. 30 report—“Field Reports Were a Ratings Strategy”—implying that Woodruff wasn't on the ground in Iraq for any sound journalistic reason, only to pump numbers. Adding insult to injury. Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote the next day that Woodruff “had neither the fame nor the stature to report anything truly groundbreaking about the Iraq conflict.” Understandably, ABC News president David Westin shot back in a Feb. 5 letter to the editor that the tone of the Times' coverage “demeans what two brave men did for the right reasons.”
Fact is, Woodruff does have the stuff to do “groundbreaking” reporting from Iraq. He proved it from the field repeatedly, including first-rate reports from the Southeast Asian tsunami and its aftermath, and likewise after Hurricane Katrina.
Still, I can't help but wonder: Was Woodruff motivated by the same need shared by so many of his brethren, including his late pal Bloom, to establish himself as the real deal, beyond great cheekbones and a terrific head of hair?
According to ABC spokesman, Vogt is making strides toward recovery. But after having part of his skull removed to relieve pressure on his brain, Woodruff remains heavily sedated in a Bethesda, Md., hospital and faces at least six months of recuperation.
A true newsman and good guy, Woodruff and his family have my compassion and wishes for the speediest and fullest recovery. But there's a cautionary tale in this tragedy for all who endanger themselves to report the big story.
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