Thursday, May 13, 2004

WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Friends and neighbors of hometown businessman Nicholas Berg said yesterday his beheading by Islamists in Iraq has been underplayed by journalists, who are devoting more attention to the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal.

“This is typical of journalism,” said Bruce Hauser, a next-door neighbor and longtime friend of the Berg family. “Bad news is hot when it’s hot. Now it seems like 72 hours after we learn about [Mr. Berg’s] death, we’ve gone from the front page to page 3 or page 7.”

Other residents of this well-maintained Philadelphia suburb shared Mr. Hauser’s opinion, just two days after an Islamist Web site posted a video of the beheading.

“I’m very disappointed and dismayed by the current level of coverage [of Mr. Berg’s slaying],” said Scott Eckerd, 39, as he picked up his two children from the St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church School on the outskirts of West Chester, about 34 miles west of Philadelphia.

Mr. Eckerd acknowledged that the prison-abuse scandal was an ugly episode in U.S. history but said the atrocities committed against Americans deserve at least equal attention.

“I’m troubled by how the media and our politicians are focused on the [Abu Ghraib] prison,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Berg and the four contractors executed in Fallujah [last month] are receiving a proper focus.”

Mr. Berg, 26, went to Iraq in March seeking work for his company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service, which specialized in building communication towers, according to the Daily Local News. Friends described him as somebody interested in bringing technology to Third World countries.

He attended B. Reed Henderson High School and several colleges, including Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, where he studied physics and construction design.

His killers said the beheading was in retaliation for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Berg was in custody in Iraq for 13 days. He disappeared April 9, and his body was found Saturday in Baghdad.

“I think the press should be much more aggressive in its investigation into” what happened to Mr. Berg, said Ed Dunlap, who lives a couple of houses away from the Berg family.

The 6-minute video of Mr. Berg’s death shows five hooded terrorists chanting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.” Among them is a man claiming to be Abu Musab Zarqawi, who uses a knife to cut off Mr. Berg’s head, then shows it to a camera.

Zarqawi, 37, is thought to be associated with Osama bin Laden and is wanted in connection with the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan in 2002 and other terrorist-related activities, including bombings in Iraq and plotting deadly attacks in Europe.

“Everything is back to the way the Iraq prisoners were treated,” Mr Hauser said. “I think the real story is Nick Berg. He wasn’t just killed; he was beheaded.”

Justin Fowler, the general manager of Kildare’s Irish Pub, called the dearth of reporting about Mr. Berg’s killing a “travesty.”

“They’ve been covering the prison story for how long now?” asked Mr. Fowler, 35.

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