- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

Danger is open to interpretation among journalists.

For cowboy-hatted Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera accused by some of pretending he was under fire to enhance a live dispatch from Afghanistan danger is a dramatic tool.

For Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, it is very real, and full of the most unpleasant, unglamorous implications. Sixteen days after Mr. Pearl's disappearance, his fate has inspired much emotional coverage and more than a few broadcast gaffes.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, rife with disposable content and overeager packaging, is a single news story worth such substantial risk?

"I believe there are stories of such magnitude and importance to life and country that someone could risk their life to get them," journalist Sebastian Junger said yesterday. He has reported from Bosnia-Herzegovena, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan for the National Geographic and Vanity Fair magazine, among others, and has indeed ducked gunfire.

"But it's a difficult decision to make. There are no typical indicators; you can't predict what will happen," Mr. Junger said. "I've done things which put me in mortal danger without any warning signs. No shells in the air. It just happened."

The author of "The Perfect Storm" and a new book called "Fire" also followed the Northern Alliance during the fall of Kabul last fall.

"I thought we'd all be wiped out, that it was the biggest mistake of my life," Mr. Junger said. "It turned out to be just fine."

Pakistani officials have come forward with some breaks in Mr. Pearl's case. Print and broadcast reports yesterday said he is being kept in "inhumane" conditions, perhaps "lured" to his ambush by Sheik Omar Saeed, a young, London-born Islamic militant described as "a nice bloke and very respectful" by a former British tutor.

"Daniel Pearl's story couldn't have been more important," said Mr. Junger. "But sometimes people overlook the risk. This is not a journalist's flaw. Everybody does it."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists offers no recommended protocols for journalists in potentially unsafe circumstances, though the group has a newsletter called "Dangerous Assignments" and maintains a list of "The 10 Worst Enemies of the Press."

"The best decision is made by the journalist in the field," said CPJ spokesman Joel Simon. "We don't issue guidelines. But there are some stories worth considerable risk."

The group tracks the murders, assaults, imprisonment and censorship of journalists worldwide; last year, 37 were killed, up from 24 in 2000. The CPJ has logged more than 600 documented cases of assaults on journalists last year alone.

"When journalists succeed with their story despite the danger, the public is generally very pleased," Mr. Simon said. "There is a demand for it, these stories."

But he cites a difference in risks faced by Western journalists and their counterparts elsewhere.

"What about a reporter in Columbia or Sri Lanka?" Mr. Simon asked. "They are just doing their jobs. And if they find information which puts them in danger, most of the time they don't get the chance to make that decision to back out, or decide that the story is not worth it."

Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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