Monday, January 09, 2006

Reporting the Unreported

Today, the Christian Science Monitor went public with news that one of its reporters in Iraq, Jill Carroll, was abducted in Baghdad late Friday (Saturday morning local Mideast time). This gives the green light to a long line of U.S. media outlets and bloggers (yes, this one among them) who for several days had been observing a voluntary embargo on publishing the identity of the kidnapped reporter.

The embargo is said to have been requested by Reporters Without Borders. It was claimed that not publishing Ms. Carroll's name would aid them in negotiating her early release. No one wants anything to interfere with any prospect for saving Jill Carroll, so of course the vast majority of U.S. news outlets remained mum.

Ms. Carroll's sister has a blog, written out of Washington D.C. that also went dark. All that remains of Lady of Arabia, for now, is a Google cache.

Jill Carroll once wrote an affecting article about how she rebounded from a layoff by the financially troubled Wall Street Journal to become a freelance reporter in Baghdad. Although she doesn't say as much, the reader can't help but conclude that Carroll is a very courageous reporter, indeed.

Her last report was published on Thursday, the day before her translator was shot and she was abducted en route to an interview through a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood. Her final report of 2005 noted that things were deteriorating badly in Baghdad:
"Iraqis are saying that 'The purple finger isn't paying off,' in reference to the indelible ink left on a voter's finger."
There might be no reason to question the judgment of U.S. news editors who honored the blackout, except for the curious fact as Editor & Publisher notes that "Numerous foreign news outlets and several leading wire services disclosed the incident -- and in a few cases, the reporter's name." Most who did so published her name on the very day of her kidnapping -- and some of them every day thereafter.

One was USA Today, which pulled the story a few hours later. Readers of the popular blog Eschaton, after a couple of false starts, figured out Ms. Caroll's name on their own Saturday, as you can see by tracking through their 95 comments that afternoon. As Atrios noted when he started the thread, "There aren't exactly an infinite number of female American journalists in Iraq."

Others who openly reported Ms. Carroll's name were mostly newspaper and radio sources throughout Europe and Asia. Several of the latter were easily heard on shortwave right here in Pensacola as well as across the U.S.

Whatever protection anonymity might have provided Ms. Carroll while in the hands of her captors -- and it's not clear why there would be any -- it surely was lost long before today. Most of Europe and much of Asia knew her identity. Only Americans remained blacked out.

Is there a lesson for us in all of this -- or for the journalists upon whom we rely to publish the reality of our shrinking world? It's becoming conceivable that before we realize what's happened, we in the U.S. might not be allowed to say.

Further Amplification Dept.

Speaking of violent acts against journalists, the UK Guardian reports, "American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children." There's more....

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