Get Your Hood On

War Reporting Is Risky Business

Newsday editors have already supplied "hazmat" suits to staffers who plan to cover the war in Iraq, and now they are looking after the safety of reporters and photographers in the homeland. In preparation for a domestic terrorist attack, Newsday has ordered hazmat suits and "escape hoods," which the company will issue to select U.S.-based employees, according to a staff memo dated March 5.

The memo, signed by Lonnie Isabel, Bob Keane, and Mary Ann Skinner, functioned as an update from a committee of Newsday editors who have been "meeting to develop plans to deal with possible terrorist attacks." Among the threats they anticipate are "the use of chemical, biological or radiological weapons."

Aside from "the usual common sense," the memo suggests two guiding principles for covering domestic terror: (1) "No employee will be sent into harm's way . . . against his or her wishes," and (2) "If an employee does go into a potentially harmful situation, it will only be after all risks have been weighed and [precautions taken]."

The memo offers specific tips for employees assigned to work at "potential high target locations" in New York and Washington. Before heading out to cover a suspected terrorist attack, reporters and photographers should call their assigning editors, though supervisors realize that could be "contrary to a reporter's instinct." And then this: Don't leave home without your hazmat suit and escape hood.

According to the memo, "Escape hoods are meant to do exactly what the name suggests, provide protection to allow a person to escape from a terrorist situation safely. Escape hoods are one-size-fits-all and are equipped with a high-efficiency particulate filter and activated carbon that the manufacturer explains will 'combat aerosols, gases, and vapors.' While the hoods are relatively simple to use . . . training will be provided." According to one employee, the escape hood functions like a gas mask, but looks more like the hood of a space suit.


Don't Murder Me

The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Donald Rumsfeld on March 6, asking him to protect the safety of journalists covering Gulf War II—and that means both the "embedded" ones who are guests of the U.S. troops and the "nonembedded" ones who are going to Iraq without an escort. CPJ acting director Joel Simon stressed the importance of allowing all war journalists to move and report without interference, but he also asked that when the U.S. attacks, steps be taken to ensure that no media facilities are targeted and no journalists are killed.

"While we are worried about possible threats from Iraqi authorities," Simon wrote, "we also fear that foreign reporters working in Baghdad could be endangered by U.S. air strikes." The letter recalled Uncle Sam's track record, which includes bombing a Yugoslav state TV station in 1999 and bombing the offices of Al-Jazeera in Kabul in 2001. (The U.S. called the latter an accident, even though Al-Jazeera had been operating out of the same location for many months prior to the attack.)

CPJ has found the administration's recent statements less than reassuring. For example, U.S. officials have made no offers to assist unescorted journalists, but they have said that any "nonembed" who turns up in a potential military theater will be treated "like any other civilian . . . found on the battlefield."

According to CPJ senior program coordinator Joel Campagna, the U.S. government's recent warning to reporters to get out of Baghdad "does not absolve the Pentagon from taking measures to ensure that journalists are not harmed." Campagna, who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan, said that most major news organizations plan to divide their coverage between "embeds" and "nonembeds," adding that the current Baghdad locations of many "nonembeds" are well-known, including certain hotels, the Ministry of Information building, and the offices of Al-Jazeera. Campagna said CPJ will try to keep the U.S. government informed about the locations of journalists in Iraq, even if it means passing on the coordinates of their foxholes. But for all the precautions, no one is discounting the possibility that journalists may die in Iraq if they show up in places they don't have permission to go.


Voices of Dissent

With 600-plus reporters now "embedded" with U.S. troops, one might wonder how many others have been assigned to the anti-war beat. Perhaps anticipating that question, CNN has deputized a duo to pursue anti-war coverage. "We'll cover every significant anti-war development that happens," said New York-based producer Rose Arce, who is working the dissent beat with urban affairs correspondent Maria Hinojosa.

To cover the worldwide rallies on February 15, CNN dispatched about 20 on-air correspondents and reporters and three times that many crew and staff. Last week, in addition to myriad war correspondents, CNN had Sheila MacVicar reporting in Syria, where civilians remained unconvinced by U.S. war arguments; Jim Bitterman at the Vatican, where the pope dubbed the war morally unjustified; and Hinojosa at the University of Pennsylvania, where she talked to a high school student who had skipped class to attend an anti-war protest.

PS: For info on a network that has preempted its regular programming for anti-war coverage, see www.freespeech.org.


Show Time

Before the theater strike began last week, The Wall Street Journal announced plans to launch a new theater page on March 14, as part of its Weekend Journal section. The page will showcase the Zagat Theater Survey along with reviews and features about shows that appear on and Off-Broadway. With that range, predicts survey-meister Tim Zagat, the page will attract "the advertising of virtually everyone in the theater."

For Zagat, the Theater Survey is the latest in a series of spin-offs from the restaurant guide that begat his empire. The survey is up and running at www.zagat.com, where participants rate shows by acting, story line, and production values. Zagat says he worked up a prototype a few years ago, but lacked a platform until he approached the Journal this past winter.

A Journal spokesperson confirmed that editors expect the theater page to "attract a new class of advertiser." As for whether the strike will delay the launch, she said, "We're evaluating the situation on a daily basis."


cc@villagevoice.com

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