It's Open Season on Journalists Working in the World's Danger Zones


Almost everybody, it seems, likes to murder prying reporters or just any man or woman with a plastic press pass hanging around their necks.

The ISIS beheadings of hostage freelances James Foley and Steven Sotloff are only the most recent of more than A THOUSAND deliberate killing of journalists since 1992 usually by assassins in the hire of bad regimes seeking revenge for embarrassing disclosures.  In the past year or two the incredibly daring, one-eyed Marie Colvin killed by Assad’s Syrian dictatorship; Anna Politkovskaya assassinated by Putin’s thugs for blowing the gaff on Soviet atrocities in Chechnya,  and Norbert Zongo the weekly editor in Burkina Faso shot and burned to death by the country’s president.

Woodward and Bernstein never had it so good because they did their digging in safe and solid Washington D.C. where they only faced the possibility of Nixon denting their reputation.  But elsewhere in almost any country you name, from South Africa to Israel to our neighbor down south in Mexico the tap-tap-tap sound of your laptop may be accompanied by the tap-tap-tap of an AK47 or a hand grenade tossed into your office.  In Mexico, for example, I’m amazed anything at all gets reported given the slaughter of journalists by the cartels sometimes with government connivance.

The same goes for Gaza, Israel and the Occupied Teritories.  In just this year alone a few of the shot, bombed or beaten to death reporters were freelance Ali Abu Afash, Simone Camilli of AP, Mohammed Nour al-Din al-Deiri and Rami Rayan of Palestine Network, film maker Khaled Reyadh Hamad, and Hamid Shihab –  note the ethnicities.  Doing your job it’s easy to get caught in a crossfire; doing your job it’s also easy to infuriate the Israeli press office or Hamas snooping for “collaborators”.

According to the excellent Committee to Protect Journalists, here’s a hit list of the deadliest countries to work in (numbers indicate how many journalists killed):

Iraq 166, Philippines 76, Syria 68, Algeria 60, Russia 56, Pakistan 54, Somalia 53, Columbia 45, India 32, Mexico 30, Brazil 29, Afghanistan 26, Turkey 21, Sri Lanka 19, Bosnia 19, Tajikistan 17, Rwanda 17, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory 16, Sierra Leone 16, Bangladesh 14.

Except for a short time in Belfast, Northern Ireland during “The Troubles”, where my Kevlar got shredded from both sides (IRA and Ulster Defense Association), I’ve never been a war journalist or properly speaking a “foreign correspondent’.   My heroes haven’t been cowboys but ordinary pen-and-notebook reporters under fire.   It  began years ago when I was a child and the only news you could trust out of Hitler’s Europe came from daring, risk-taking print reporters like William Shirer, Paul and Edgar Mowrer, John Gunther, Dorothy Thompson, Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn – who often had to fight their own publishers to get out the truth.

Foreign-based journalists are incredibly brave if only because they risk their lives not for nation and glory but merely a pressing deadline from a not always sympathetic editor.  (There are a few reporter-lemons like Lara Logan, Judith Miller and Doonesbury’s spotlight hogging Roland Hedley The Third.)

These days I’ve zeroed in a few overseas reporters, mainstream and otherwise, who over time I’ve found reliable and sufficiently “contrary” which is all I really want from a journalist.  My current heroes include the relentless Patrick Cockburn who despite polio covers the fiery, treacherous Middle East with amazing tenacity – and the kind of human sources our CIA chronically ignores.

Of the mainstream TV reporters I’ve come to trust NBC’s Richard Engel who brings home the story despite bullets and shells exploding around him and being kidnapped by Syrian government’s sadistic militia.   Robert Fisk, loathed by the Israelis, has covered almost every fight from Northern Ireland to the Syrian civil war; since he works for a paper with a pay wall I don’t read him much any more, and he may still be suffering from a near-fatal beating by Afghan refugees furious over a U.S. air force bombing.  Another pacifist, Chris Hedges, formerly a terrific NYTimes war reporter, was a fine foreign correspondent under fire but in recent years has switched to chronic doomsaying.

I’m sure you have your own favorites, but mine is a friend and colleague, A.J. (Jack) Langguth, former NYT Saigon bureau chief and one of the great popular historians of war from the Romans (“A Noise of War”) to southeast Asia swamp (“Our Vietnam”) where he was wounded in the field with a damaged diaphragm which eventually helped kill him a few days ago.  His ”Hidden Terrors” is a groundbreaking expose of U.S. connivance with, and training of, Latin American torturers.

As a war reporter, human being and friend he was unobtrusively brave.  I’ve known a number of war correspondents – Mary Holland, Len Doherty, Murray Sayle and others – but Jack had a gift for personal friendship unparalleled in journalism in my experience.  There are probably scores of his former students out there at low-paying drudge journalism jobs who were helped and touched by this big, calm, modest man.   We owe him, and his gallant sisters and brothers in the field, a huge debt.

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