Monday, January 30, 2006

Weighing the Risks

Our prayers and thoughts go out to ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff, and his videographer, Doug Vogt. As you know, both were seriously wounded in Iraq on Sunday, when the convoy they were riding in was hit by an IED. Both men suffered head wounds, and have been evacuated to a U.S. military medical facility in Germany, where their treatment and recovery will continue.

At the time of the blast, Woodruff and Vogt were embedded with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, and were traveling with a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy. Earlier reports suggested that the ABC journalists had transferred from an armored HUMVEE to an Iraqi vehicle shortly before the IED attack. The Iraqi vehicle--probably an armored personnel carrier--was the lead vehicle in the convoy.

Drudge has a still shot of Woodruff, taken about 30 minutes before the attack. For unknown reasons, Woodruff is not wearing a helmet or body armor in the photograph, although the soldiers with him are wearing protective gear. That seems like a rather odd choice; virtually any location in Iraq is in range of insurgent snipers or mortar fire. However, body armor is also cumbersome and it can create shadows that don't look good on TV. ABC does report that Woodruff and Vogt were wearing helmets and body armor at the time of the attack, and it probably saved their lives. The network also indicates that the two journalists were standing in the hatch of the Iraqi vehicle at the time the IED detonated, filming other vehicles in the convoy. In that position, they would have been exposed to more of the blast and shrapnel from the IED, which may help explain the serious nature of their head wounds.

And, from what I can gather, the IED sounds like a fairly small one; I've seen video from Chechnya that shows a Russian BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle blown apart by a buried IED; in that video, a Russian crew member sitting in the hatch is catapulted more than 30 feet in the air by the force of the blast, killing him instantly and obliterating the armored vehicle. A large IED would have had a similar effect on that Iraqi vehicle, and killed everyone on board.

BTW, this is not an attempt to "blame the victims." From my perspective, Woodruff deserves credit for liberating himself from the anchor chair and covering the war from the front lines. But covering Iraq is a dangerous business; journalists must constantly weigh the need to "get the story" against the risks associated with that task. It's a constant balancing act that requires developing a sense of when to press forward and when to pull back. Watching a Fox News documentary on the liberation of Fallujah last fall, I was impressed with the skill and courage of correspondent Greg Palkot. Mr. Palkot and his crew were embedded with the Marines throughout the Fallujah campaign, and it was evident that they knew how to cover a combat operation, without bringing unnecessary danger to themselves--or their Marine escorts.

I wish Mr. Woodruff and Mr. Vogt a speedy recovery.

No comments: