Recent events have offered a fresh reminder of how dangerous covering a war zone can be.
As of late last week, Fox correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig remained captive. They were kidnapped by the Holy Jihad Brigades in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 14. “Our concern for the safety and well-being of our colleagues grows every day they are missing,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It is the “every day” part that is so troubling.
We were moved by the words of Anita McNaught, Wiig’s wife, written to the brigade. “Olaf my husband and Steve his colleague are not powerful men,” she wrote. “They have only one strength here in Gaza, and this is to take the voices of the Palestinian people to the outside world. They can only do this if they are free.”
Ken Centanni, who is Steve’s brother, echoed that thought: “Our brother and his colleague are in Gaza to report your story. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Simple. Eloquent. True. Journalists are the messengers by which grievances get aired and addressed. They are—especially in wartime—how a world learns about itself.
But this war is even more dangerous for journalists than others have been. A press pass is not even a partial shield. Media have become more attractive targets for the kidnappings because the 24-hour news cycle is a world stage. Jill Carroll’s harrowing experience taught us that news breakers too often become news makers.
There would be serious consequences if nobody was willing to put the pursuit of news before his or her own safety. Governments and terrorists would tell their own stories. Our government has already shown itself willing to buy good news about Iraq. Our enemies, past and present, are famous for creating their own vile fictions.
That’s why war correspondents command our respect. We can also respect the inner conflict about whether to enter this particular theater of war. In reversing an earlier decision, a London tribunal last week found that ABC does not force its journalists to cover war zones. “At ABC News, we have always adhered to the inviolable principle that coverage of news stories involving personal risk is strictly voluntary,” said ABC News President David Westin in a statement.
War reporters are an all-volunteer corps who leave families and friends, don flak jackets, and put themselves on the line. For a B&C story on Iraq-war coverage three months ago, one network vet declared, “It’s a privilege to be able to see these extreme situations. That can open your eyes and let you see the world in a different way. I wouldn’t want any other job.”
We hope that, by the time the ink dries on this page, both Fox journalists have been given the freedom and privilege to return to theirs.