- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

The abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has inspired protective reactions among fellow journalists who laud his character, mourn his circumstances and weigh the equities of risking all for the sake of a story.
"The very nature of this event is emotional, the coverage very personal," said Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "When a Western journalist and political demands are involved, it feeds into a larger story with enormous press attention."
The New York-based group has monitored brutality against the press corps for over two decades, counting former Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson himself abducted by Islamic extremists in 1985 as honorary chairman. The group tracks the murders: Last year, 37 journalists were killed on the job, after 24 were killed in 2000, 34 in 1999 and 24 in 1998.
If the "captors want to get their political message to the public, they should release him immediately so that he can convey their concerns to the world," the committee states on its Web site (www.cpj.org).
Indeed, the fragile relationship between fringe groups and media has gotten "more distant and tense" in recent months, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Militants are reluctant to engage the press. "What's the point?" asked one anonymous contact. "These journalists talk to us and then they go off and write whatever they want."
Some critics say journalists have no business being in or near a war zone and impede military, diplomatic and clandestine efforts alike. The public, however, backs a free press. A Newsweek poll released yesterday found that only 24 percent thought journalists should leave Pakistan.
"The most essential characteristic for correspondents is courage," noted a Los Angeles Times editorial yesterday. They know "that a newspaper cannot and would not exchange prisoners for a journalist, that the U.S. government would not negotiate such a deal."
"In his ready acceptance of risk in pursuit of bringing some clarity to chaos, surely there is honor," observed the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Still, the story caused TV networks to violate one of the most basic journalism tenets. After receiving bogus e-mails that Mr. Pearl was dead, CNN, FOX, ABC, MSNBC and others went public with the information Sunday before confirming its source.
All retracted the story less than an hour afterward, with ABC calling their decision to air the misinformation "extremely regrettable."
Though there is no new hard information on the case, emotional underpinnings multiply. Mr. Pearl has become "Danny" in news and editorials which demand his release Muhammed Ali, Yusaf Islam better known as the 1970s singer "Cat Stevens" and Louis Farrakhan have asked the Pakistani kidnappers to release the reporter.
Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger's message to the kidnappers has been paired with text from the bogus e-mails which called Mr. Pearl "Mr. Danny." Mr. Pearl's pregnant wife has been on camera, along with photos of her husband chained and at gunpoint.
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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