- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Shepard Smith ducked into a building in Nahariya, Israel on Tuesday after Hezbollah-launched rockets fell nearby, one destroying an apartment building. His live telephone report aired shortly afterward on Fox News Channel.

“At some point, probably, at home for viewers this becomes sort of an everyday event,” he says. “But when rockets are raining on your neighborhood, it is anything but ordinary to be here.”

Six months after ABC News’ Bob Woodruff was seriously hurt by a roadside bomb in Iraq, television networks covering the Mideast violence are again facing the conflict between being on the scene of a major story and keeping high-priced talent safe.

Though it’s clearly dangerous in Israel, the networks say it’s at least more predictable than what’s going on in Iraq.

“Bob is a friend of mine, and his injuries have had more than a chilling effect,” NBC’s Brian Williams says by phone from Haifa, Israel. “We have similar family situations. It’s a factor. On a trip like this, it’s mostly common sense. The company trusts that I’m not going to truly put my life in danger.”

Mr. Williams did, however, briefly duck into a bomb shelter in Haifa Tuesday and waited for the concussion to tell him that an incoming rocket had landed. He also watched Hezbollah rockets being launched and landing from above while in an Israeli helicopter.

ABC News’ Charles Gibson similarly flew in a helicopter over northern Israel on Tuesday. Nothing that the “World News Tonight” anchor has done while in Israel is different from what he would have done before ABC went through the wrenching Woodruff experience, says Paul Slavin, the network’s senior vice president.

The difference now for ABC News is in the level of planning, he says. The risks to correspondents in danger zones are discussed much more specifically and at a higher level in the news division, Mr. Slavin says.

Though correspondents in Israel have to be alert to the danger of random shelling, they don’t have people trying to kill them as in Iraq and Afghanistan, he adds.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous,” Mr. Slavin says. “It’s dangerous, but it’s a danger we are much more familiar with.”

CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi had a near-miss Tuesday in Israel with a missile landing close to her shelter. The network is still recovering from its own tragedy: Two camera crew members were killed and correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously hurt in a car-bomb explosion in Iraq on May 29.

“It’s not as if we haven’t always considered our people’s security,” says Rome Hartman, executive producer of the “CBS Evening News,” “but because [the Dozier bombing] is so fresh and raw, it just reminds us that it has to be one of our main considerations along with the editorial things.”

Fox wanted Mr. Smith close to the action because his field reporting is a strength, says John Stack, Fox News Channel vice president of news gathering. The network has used an Israeli border town close to Lebanon as its base of operations, and Mr. Smith was being driven to an interview when he saw the action on Tuesday.

“There’s a struggle that everyone has at every network,” Mr. Stack says. “You do have your marquee talent, and you do want them out reporting the big story, but you also have the obligation to keep them safe.”

Many of the big-name network talents have established their reputations by showing personal courage and a desire to report from hot spots, says Tony Maddox, senior vice president of international news operations at CNN.

“The worst thing you could possibly do is to restrain and constrain those folks because you’d lose what you hired them for in the first place,” Mr. Maddox says. “They’d be the last persons in the world to want to do it.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper was the first of the American anchors to report from Israel last week.

Nobody in the TV news business can be naive to the value of a star in the danger zone, ducking away from bombs with gunfire in the background, he says.

“You don’t want to overplay that side of the job,” Mr. Anderson says. “The fact that somebody came under fire in a certain location has a certain amount of drama and … audience interest, but in terms of the overall dynamic of the story and what’s going on out there, its relative importance has to be measured quite carefully.”

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