- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 9, 2005

London’s ordeal

The carnage in London on Thursday was little worse than what passes for an average day in Baghdad of late, yet it made banner headlines everywhere and ate up pages of newsprint in this and other papers. Why?

Simply put, news is the unexpected and, tragically, we have come to expect daily suicide bombs in Iraq. In London, such attacks were most emphatically not expected, at least on this particular day when the city had just been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games and world leaders were gathered a little ways to the north in Scotland. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Thursday was going to be a very busy day at the office.

The London attacks, like those of September 11, 2001, occurred very conveniently for us at the start of the working day, so there was plenty of time to get organized.

As at most newspapers, many of our reporters in Washington are assigned to specific “beats” and know enough to get on the job without waiting for instructions from an editor.

By the time I arrived at work, the national desk’s Homeland Security and Justice Department reporters, Audrey Hudson and Jerry Seper, were already in close contact with their sources, ready to follow developments through the day. The metro desk’s transportation reporter, Matthew Cella, was at Metro headquarters to find out what precautions were being taken with local subways and buses.

In Britain, national desk reporter James Lakely was in Gleneagles, Scotland, with President Bush, monitoring the public statements of the Group of Eight leaders and standing by to pitch in as needed.

Our regular London stringer, Al Webb, had been siphoning up details from a variety of official and unofficial sources as they became available, correctly expecting that we would ask him to write the main lead. And roving stringer Paul Martin, who happened to be at his home base in London and hates more than anything to be left out of a big story, was at the scene of one of the worst attacks, gathering quotes from witnesses and survivors.

Getting organized

We editors, meanwhile, feel obliged to get involved if only to justify our paychecks, and we got our chance at our regular 11 a.m. news meeting.

Managing Editor Fran Coombs had decided to devote a big part of the front section to the story, which was just as well, since several more reporters and editors were itching to participate.

Apart from the stories already under way, we decided there should be an item that examined the reaction of British Muslims to the atrocities — both the great majority of moderate Muslims and the handful of radicals who preach hatred in the mosques. That assignment went to Mr. Martin, who has written in the past on the subject, with input from summer intern Seth Rosen, who also had experience interviewing radical Islamists in London.

The foreign desk also would piece together from wire agencies a story on the remarkable resolve and efficiency with which the British seemed to be responding to the crisis. Intern Nada Amin, who reads Arabic, would comb the Internet for claims of responsibility.

Mr. Lakely, in Gleneagles, was asked for a story on the united stance taken by the G-8 leaders in response to the attacks, as well as his regular coverage of the summit proceedings. National security reporter Bill Gertz and Pentagon reporter Rowan Scarborough would tap their sources for what they could learn about who perpetrated the attack and how they had managed to avoid detection. Guy Taylor would look into London’s extraordinary array of public surveillance cameras and what clues they might provide.

There was much more. The metro and photo desks swung into action covering the reaction of local security forces to the possibility of a companion attack in Washington. The business desk began exploring security on American rail lines and the impact of the attacks on British tourism and the markets.

Marvelously, it all seemed to come together as planned, on deadline, and without any obvious errors. A lot of people had reason to take pride in our Friday morning paper.

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

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