NEW YORK (AP) – The serious injuries suffered by ABC “World News Tonight” anchor Bob Woodruff, a graduate of the University Law School, and a television cameraman yesterday were a reminder of the danger hundreds of journalists work through every day as they tell the story of the Iraq war.
The family of Christian Science Monitor freelance reporter Jill Carroll, who grew up in Ann Arbor, knows it all too well as they await news of the young woman, kidnapped at gunpoint Jan. 7.
Woodruff, a Michigan native, and Doug Vogt were riding in an Iraqi military vehicle yesterday so they could better understand the war from the perspective of the Iraqi forces when an improvised explosive device blew up near their convoy of U.S. and Iraqi troops north of Baghdad.
Both men were wearing body armor and helmets, but they suffered serious head injuries and were in stable condition following surgery at a U.S. military hospital; Woodruff also has broken bones. They were expected to be evacuated to medical facilities in Germany, said ABC News President David Westin.
The next few days will be critical, he said.
“Obviously, this is very tough news for all of us here at ABC,” said “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos. “It gives us a taste of what so many military families are going through every day.”
Dozens of journalists have been injured, killed or kidnapped in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
David Bloom of NBC News was covering the war on April 6, 2003, when he died from an apparent blood clot while traveling south of Baghdad. His family and the Woodruffs were known to be close, and when NBC News executives had to tell Bloom’s widow that her husband had died, they made sure Woodruff’s wife, Lee, was there to offer support.
When Woodruff and Vogt’s convoy was attacked, the two were standing in the hatch of an Iraqi mechanized vehicle. Experts say the Iraqi vehicles aren’t as secure as U.S. military vehicles, and Iraqi security forces have been frequent targets of insurgents during the war – a danger colleagues said Woodruff and Vogt understood.
Their ABC News colleague, Martha Raddatz, said they were traveling that way to better understand how Iraqi forces face the war.
“I have worked with Doug Vogt so many times,” Raddatz said of the cameraman, a three-time Emmy winner. “He is no hot dog. Bob Woodruff would not take risks . They are both very careful.”
Vogt has traveled before with a convoy attacked by an explosive device, and he wasn’t injured, ABC said.
“Wars are not fought on the training ground, nor can they be covered from a TV studio,” CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer said Sunday, setting aside his weekly “Face the Nation” commentary for a report on the incident. “They are not reality shows, they are reality. Young men and women have to fight them, and correspondents have to cover them if we are to understand what they are about.”
Woodruff took over as “World News Tonight” co-anchor with Elizabeth Vargas this month, replacing the late Peter Jennings.
Westin has said he wants two people on the job, in part because one of the anchors will usually be on the road covering stories while the other is studio-bound. In just four weeks, Woodruff has been to Iran, Iraq, Israel twice and California to interview the founders of Google. Technology makes it easier to anchor a broadcast from remote sites than it was even a few years ago.
CNN is also quick to send anchor Anderson Cooper to the scene of stories.
“I seem to see journalists getting more and more involved in dangerous situations, from Anderson Cooper and Al Roker getting blown down in Katrina, to a young journalist from the Christian Science Monitor being held hostage, to a main network anchor getting seriously injured,” said Jeff Alan, news director at KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore., and author of “Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News.” “When do news managers making these assignments say `enough is enough’?”
But any responsible journalist who wants to report on what is going on somewhere needs to be there, said CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who was blown 12 feet in the air but escaped with minor injuries when a military convoy she was traveling with in Afghanistan was attacked in 2003.
“If you really want to cover the story, if you believe in what you’re doing, you have absolutely no choice,” Logan told The Associated Press. “If you want to be safe, don’t go to Iraq.”
The area where Woodruff and Vogt were injured is considered particularly dangerous because it was the site of one of Saddam Hussein’s munitions dumps; many of the explosives are believed to have gotten into the hands of insurgents, she said.
CNN international correspondent Michael Holmes, speaking from Iraq during the network’s “Reliable Sources” yesterday, said he often felt more endangered while traveling in a military convoy than he did while roaming the streets on his own.
Journalists rely a great deal on Iraqi staff who take many risks working for them, but they still must get out of protected zones to report, he said.
“It’s just part of the business,” Holmes said. “It’s a close-knit group here. There’s only about 70 or so Western journalists here, and it’s a very tight family.”
NBC News anchor Brian Williams said Sunday that the danger of the job is toughest on the families of those journalists. He said he’s been in touch with Woodruff’s family and is praying for his recovery.
Woodruff, 44, has four children and lives in the New York area. Vogt, 46, lives in France and has three children.