Thursday, August 17, 2006

Safari shirt? Check. Flak jacket? Check. Faux bronzer, Ray-Bans, camo pants, boots, laptop? Check.

Where there’s a war, there are war correspondents. And during the past four weeks, with round-the-clock coverage of the skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah, various faces have emerged as marquee players — not only appearing on the daily news, but blogging on the various Internet sites and producing in-depth specials.

People such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper (now in London for the foiled bombing plot), John Roberts and Brig. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, NBC’s Richard Engel, CBS’ Lara Logan and, of course, the nightly news anchormen, including NBC’s Brian Williams and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, have dropped in and out of the war zones.

“They look very crisp coming off the plane,” said Mrs. Griffin, 37, a veteran reporter who was calling from Jerusalem. With all their sartorial on-air Audie Murphy gear, “It does look a little silly. I only wear a flak jacket when I know I need it.”

Insiders refer to the newbies as “Katyusha catchers,” ducking and weaving while sirens wail and their modern epaulets unravel, putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a good live shot. “They’re literally trying to get struck on air,” Mrs. Griffin said.

Sometimes the fresh-on-the-ground correspondents can’t tell one boom from another.

During one stand-up report from Israel, the correspondent yelled, “We’ve got incoming!” and ducked for cover.

His cameraman remained calm. “Dude,” he said under his breath, “That’s an F-16. It’s outgoing.”

Making your name while reporting a big story has become a surefire way to ascend the career ladder. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and Peter Arnett became world-famous in the early 1990s for their coverage of the Persian Gulf War. Ashleigh Banfield was a little-known reporter for MSNBC in New York when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center occurred on September 11. She won an Emmy for her work.

Certainly, there is jealousy and sniping among the pack covering Israel vs. Hezbollah, but for the most part, the journalists say they are too tired to do anything but work. “It’s beyond exhausting,” Mrs. Griffin said. “And there’s no end in sight.”

Still, it’s what they want.

“I’ve always had the drive and desire to be at the center of a big story,” said Mr. Roberts in an e-mail message. “That’s why I got into this business.”

Then there’s Gen. Marks, a 53-year-old retired Army general and military consultant for CNN, who was hired a year ago. He made “no more” than 50 appearances in all of last year, compared with the same number in the recent weeks since the conflict started.

With his chiseled features and close-cropped hair, he often wears gold-buttoned jackets and made-for-TV ties, which his daughters pick out for him to wear.

“They don’t trust their dad,” he said. “I have to get ‘clearance’ before I leave the house.”

He uses a “Google Earth” digital map that he says is the same device the military uses when assessing a military situation. He has no fan clubs yet, as blossomed for “Scud Stud” Arthur Kent of Persian Gulf War fame, but there’s still time for him.

But for Lara Logan of CBS, a comely blonde, that time is now.

The 35-year-old South African-born correspondent has her own fan Web site, was named chief foreign correspondent in February and contributes to “60 Minutes.”

Technology also has changed the way Americans receive the news from overseas. With digital cameras and laptops, even average citizens can become war correspondents — like the fellow who snapped a burning building on his cell-phone camera, which was replayed on CNN that night.

“We’re looking at what people are putting on their blogs,” said Abbi Tatton, who, among other things, monitors blogs for CNN’s “The Situation Room.” “In this conflict, you’re seeing the most coverage because of the number of cameras people have. It’s turned into a place for war reporting.”

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