It's easy to forget that not only are journalists the public's eyes and ears but, in many places around the world, our brethren have targets on their backs.
Since the beginning of the second Iraq War in 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 57 journalists have been killed there, a body count rapidly approaching the number that was lost during the Vietnam War—which lasted for two decades.
U.S. journalists have enough problems with America's enemies (Daniel Pearl is testament to that) without having to worry about its own soldiers and allies. Unfortunately, says CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper, Iraqi and U.S soldiers have recently sent “warning shots” whistling past reporters when they approached the only media checkpoint for access to the International Zone in Baghdad.
Cooper has complained to George Casey, the commanding general of the Multi-National Force, about incidents involving reporters for National Public Radio and The Wall Street Journal. In both cases, sentries could not or would not tell reporters how far from the checkpoint they needed to stop before being considered a threat. But without that basic communication, obviously, a terrible accident could occur.
Cooper sent her letter Oct. 14 and hasn't heard back. A week isn't much time measured in “military bureaucracy” years, but when lives are at stake, it's an eternity.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also has yet to respond to a Sept. 28 letter in which CPJ expressed concern about the detainment of Iraqi journalists.
The group says it can document at least seven times this year that reporters, photographers and camera operators were detained for substantial periods by U.S. forces without charges being filed.
Most of those held were Iraqi journalists, who have been reporting the war for U.S. news organizations (including CBS News and The Associated Press) because American journalists are, of course, sitting ducks for Iraqi insurgents.
It's an odd coincidence that this watchdog group would be asking for safeguards to protect journalists on foreign soil at the same time that, in this country, journalists are fighting for a national shield law that would protect those who need to keep sources confidential.
A national shield law is necessary even if, as it appears, jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller's recent version of events surrounding the Valerie Plame leak are a morass of bad judgments by her and the so-called newspaper of record.
We fear that, after several years of high-profile gaffes by the Fourth Estate, neither the majority of the public nor certain parts of the government are particularly concerned about defending reporters at home or abroad. If that is true, we fear the worst for so many of our colleagues who are fighting to get out the truth.