Two weeks ago, news outlets aired story after story about the deaths of those 33 students at Virginia Tech, and rightly so. It was an unthinkable tragedy in which the victims could have had no inkling that they were in harm's way.
That cannot be said for the journalists covering the Iraq war. They knowingly risk their lives to tell one of the most important stories there is.
How we are doing in Iraq, what the soldiers are going through, and what leaders are saying and doing will help define this nation far into the future. The view from the Pentagon is often very different from that of the boots on the ground, and the only way to get that latter view is from journalists and their support staffs willing to risk their safety to get it.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the 100th journalist has died while telling the story of that conflict (that is the number atop this page). Thirty-two journalists were killed in 2006—the trend is sadly going up—more than in any previous year, with seven deaths so far this year.
Since the beginning of the war in March 2003, more journalists have been killed in action covering Iraq than in Vietnam, the first Iraq war, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Somalia—combined. The committee counts reprisal killings or the deaths of journalists caught in the crossfire, both enemy and, sadly, U.S. fire.
Reporters and editors make up the majority of the dead, numbering 62, followed by photographers and camera operators (25), producers (seven) and technicians. Most of the dead are Iraqi journalists, although a growing number of Iraqis are reporting for Western news organizations.
What's it like to report from the maelstrom, where every byline is a target for terrorists?
“I worry about threatening letters or a bomb planted at my family's doorstep,” said Bassam Sebti, a reporter for The Washington Post, in a first-person account published last year by the committee. “In 2004, a colleague had to flee Iraq after a bomb shattered windows and destroyed parts of his home. As a reaction, I've created my own security measures. When I am home, for example, my parents don't answer any nighttime knocks on the door. Instead, I check who is there, in case it is someone with a gun. (For more of Sebti's sobering account, click on the link in the online version of this Editorial.)
Not counted are journalists killed in accidents, including plane or car crashes, unless they were the result of hostile action. Also not on the list but in the hearts and prayers of the journalistic community are the 37 support workers killed helping journalists tell the story. They include tech support, drivers, interpreters and security staff.
The list also does not count those wounded, whose lives will be forever changed by their service to their country. We are thinking particularly of ABC's Bob Woodruff and CBS' Kimberly Dozier.
In an age when idols are measured by the amount of mousse in their Mohawk, it's good to remember who the real idols should be.