- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Being there

There are a lot of qualities that endear reporters to their editors, though seldom are they all found in the same person.

Some are wonderful writers, with not only a mastery of the English language but also a knack for telling a story in a way that is compelling and makes sense.

Others may be less talented writers, but are great at developing sources, wheedling information from reluctant officials and otherwise finding out things that our readers will want to know.

Still others have a gift for being in the right place at the right time, so that it seems as if news breaks around them.

This often looks like luck, but any “lucky reporter” would take offense at the description, and with some justice. When it happens consistently, there has to be something else at work, a sixth sense the old-timers used to describe as “a nose for news.”

One of those reporters is Paul Martin, a London-based free-lancer who travels widely in the Middle East and, more recently, Iraq.

Mr. Martin had been one of our most energetic contributors during the war and remained in the country longer than most for the dramatic first months of the reconstruction effort.

Wearied by the heat and difficult conditions, and finding less of a market for his stories, he finally went home to London in July just as the news from Iraq settled into a dull and depressing pattern of ambushes and attacks killing one or two American soldiers at a time.

I’m not sure what made him decide to go back to Baghdad a week ago, but his timing — from a news point of view — could hardly have been better.

He arrived back in the Iraqi capital in the middle of last week, just days ahead of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and the sudden surge of violence that accompanied Mr. Wolfowitz’s visit.

A hospital visit

Mr. Martin had about two slow days before it got busy.

First he sent us a story on a press conference with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior commander in country, who warned — prophetically as it turned out — that things could get worse before they got better, and raising the prospect of new and even more vicious attacks.

A day later he filed on an opinion poll that had been carried out in seven Iraqi cities, showing a majority of Iraqis supported the American presence in their country.

Then came the Oct. 26 attack on the Al Rasheed Hotel, home to numerous top coalition officials as well as members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Mr. Martin was staying at another hotel, but got to the scene quickly enough to get the quotes when a shaken but defiant Mr. Wolfowitz — who had been sleeping there — emerged to tell reporters the United States would not give in to terrorists.

He also got to a nearby park in time to talk to security guards who had seen the attackers wheel a rocket launcher disguised as a generator into the park, drop the side panel and race off just before the launcher fired eight to 10 rockets into the hotel.

Mr. Martin’s luck held up the following day when suicide attackers spread mayhem at three Baghdad police stations and the local headquarters of the Red Cross. The man assigned to attack a fourth police station had failed to detonate his charge and was gravely wounded by security guards as he tried to flee.

As chance would have it, Mr. Martin was at a hospital hoping to speak to survivors when police brought in the failed bomber for treatment. Doctors allowed him to hover nearby as security officials tried to interrogate him, even as the doctors stabilized his wounds.

Mr. Martin came up with several exclusive details for his story as a result, including the fact that the man had told the interrogators he was from Yemen, even though he was carrying a Syrian passport.

Pretty lucky.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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