- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

Globe trotter

We realized with a jolt on Thursday that we were headed for a bit of a front-page train wreck.

Staff reporter Sharon Behn was in Baghdad, covering the constitutional referendum in Iraq, which seemed bound to be the top front page story in this morning’s paper.

But today also was the day we had scheduled to run Mrs. Behn’s special report on Venezuela, a comprehensive look at political trends in that country based on a three-week visit last month.

The datelines on those stories — Caracas and Baghdad — tell the reader that the bylined writer was physically in the place when she did the reporting. But that meant we would have one reporter appearing to be in two countries on opposite sides of the globe at the same time.

We don’t like to do that. In fact we make a point not to allow any reporter to have bylines from two different places on the same day. But we couldn’t change the date of the referendum, and our special reports typically involve weeks of reporting and editing; we didn’t have another one ready to go on two days’ notice.

The solution we came up with was pretty simple: We put an italic note at the top of the Venezuela story explaining that it was based on reporting Mrs. Behn had done in the country from Aug. 26 to Sept. 16.

In fact, the more we thought about it, the better we liked it. It rather elegantly gave the well-traveled Mrs. Behn full credit for an enterprising spirit that regularly takes her to the ends of the world in search of stories — at least insofar as our budget permits.

The Caracas dateline doesn’t really do justice to that story. During her three weeks in the country, she and photographer Allison Shelley traveled widely around Venezuela, to cattle ranches, into the jungles and to the violent border region with Colombia.

Her fluency in Spanish and intuitive grasp of the culture — she was born in Peru — helped, I believe, to give the article a depth of understanding that fully justifies the effort we put into it.

Back in Baghdad

But the thought of returning to Baghdad for her fourth visit since the war in 2003 seems to have animated Mrs. Behn even more. The good reporters want to go where the action is, and there is still no bigger story for a foreign news specialist.

The problem is keeping her safe.

Life may be returning to something like normal in some Shi’ite areas and parts of the Kurdish north, but every time one of our correspondents goes back to Baghdad, they tell me security is worse than when last they were there.

Very few Western reporters go into the streets at all any more, apart from the green zone, which is a virtual fortress. Most stay locked up in safe houses and rely on Iraqi employees to tell them what’s happening outside.

Simply getting from the Baghdad airport to the city center is still a life-and-death experience, 2 years after the war.

For security reasons, we don’t even like to say in print how it is done, but perhaps it is safe to say Mrs. Behn sent us a photo of the security team that got her to her safe house. I counted 11 large men with automatic weapons.

Last week’s column spoke of meeting three Iraqi Shi’ites who are among the founders of a new Baghdad think tank. They too talked about the airport road, describing being fired upon from an overpass as they drove the road in a nondescript car.

Mrs. Behn, at least, keeps herself in a well-guarded house and goes out only after well-considered precautions. We worry even more about photographer Maya Alleruzzo, who has been in the country for several weeks embedded with an Iraqi military unit.

Miss Alleruzzo also has been to Iraq several times, and knows how to take care of herself. But that cannot protect her when her unit comes under fire from insurgents as it did on Thursday.

You may have noticed her story and pictures in Friday’s paper.

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

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