- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

Casablanca calling

It was May 18, 2003, a day after terrorists had detonated bombs at a hotel and four other sites around the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

The attacks had killed more than 40 people and closely resembled another set of attacks in Saudi Arabia four days earlier. We had used the Associated Press report on the night of the bombings, but it was still a huge story and we wanted to do something more for the following day.

The phone rang and a woman on the other end identified herself as Jennifer Joan Lee, a friend of an old professional acquaintance of mine. She had just arrived in Casablanca, she said, and she wondered if we would like her to file.

As Rick says to Louis in the movie version of Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Miss Lee filed a couple of more stories from Morocco and continued to “string” for us after her return to Paris, filing on the tense U.S.-French diplomatic relationship, a heat wave that killed some 15,000 people and growing tensions over immigration from North Africa.

Last fall, she filed daily for more than two weeks on a wave of riots by mainly Muslim immigrants from North Africa that shook the French capital — writing not only for us but for other newspaper clients as well.

She was back in some of those same streets two weeks ago, this time covering French students and other youths whose sometimes violent protests were aimed at a new law that will make it easier to hire — and fire — newcomers to the work force.

And last week we got another bit of news from Miss Lee: She is moving to London to accept a full-time staff job with the Bloomberg news agency and will no longer be available to write for us.

The Afghan war

That’s the way it goes with stringers. They turn up when we least expect them and they leave us just as unexpectedly.

John Bradley got in touch with us one day from Saudi Arabia, where he was working as the editor of the English-language Arab News. Over the next three years he provided us with some of the most insightful coverage I have seen from that closely guarded society, then he announced one day he was moving to Singapore.

Mr. Bradley got back in touch recently to say he would be spending a few weeks in Iran and wondering whether we could use some copy. He ended up sending us three articles including one — suggesting the Iranian elites were dissatisfied with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — that was subsequently followed by both the New York Times and The Washington Post.

One of my favorite stringer stories involves John Jennings, a former Washington Times staffer and one-time AP reporter in Afghanistan who left the journalism business to pursue another career.

As soon as it became apparent that American forces would be going to war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Mr. Jennings got in touch to say he was heading off to try to make his way into Afghanistan and cover the war.

We didn’t hear from him again for about two months, a period during which U.S. and Northern Alliance troops steadily pushed back Taliban forces and began closing in on the capital, Kabul.

On the eve of the final assault on the city, we got a call from Mr. Jennings. After exhausting his funds and suffering many setbacks, he had managed to hook up with the Northern Alliance troops and gotten hired as a translator for a British Broadcasting Corp. crew, which had let him use their satellite phone.

The next day he was providing us with on-the-scene color as the lead column of coalition forces rumbled into Kabul.

As for Paris, we are going to be well covered. We have just made arrangements with another fine freelancer, Elizabeth Bryant, who until recently was impressing us with her coverage from Paris for United Press International.

• David W. Jones is the foreign editor for The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected].


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