A Man's Life
REPORTS OF ATTACKS AGAINST JOURNALISTS in Afghanistan and kidnappings
in Pakistan took me jarringly back to some of the more harrowing moments
Ive experienced inand out ofwar zones. I have seen my
share of blood and death. Ive heard the bullets ping off the walls
near my head, and Ive spotted the odd sniper looking directly my
But the fascinating thing about these episodes is that they only seem
terrifying in retrospect.
One of the more inexplicable facts about journalists is that regard for
ones safety is almost always a secondary consideration. Thats
not because we scribes are heroes, but because we have a kind of tunnel
vision. We see only the story in front of us and feel the need and responsibility
to report it. It is a kind of out-of-body experience.
PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE BUSINESS often ask me to name the scariest place from
which Ive reported. I reply without hesitation: Sarajevo, 1992-93.
My first ride from the airport to the Sarajevo Holiday Inn was a fitting
introduction. The bulletproof vests wed been promised were waiting
for usat the hotel. Our driver slumped low in the front seat, his
head barely showing through the windshield as he floored the accelerator
and our tires screeched through streets littered with exposed electrical
wires, abandoned cars, and other debris torn from buildings by the regular
Serb bombardment. He knew snipers were about. He knew headshots were a
favorite way to pass the time. The wounded people we saw lying in the
streets attested to that.
The hotel lacked much of one sidethe side favored by the drunken
Chetniks [Serb militiamen] lobbing mortar rounds indiscriminately into
town. There was no electricity in the building for much of the day, so
the elevator seldom ran. That was just as well. When the elevator worked,
its interior light was visible to snipers at every floor when the doors
opened. This prospect of being such an inviting target kept most of us
in the stairwells.
Shelling was constant. During the day you heard the woomph
of the mortars and their thunderous impact from our office in the battered
Bosnian television station. Returning to the hotel from the station at
night, we watched the tracers from rifle fire running horizontally across
the street we barreled down. Failure to alter your route could be fatal
a CNN car that braved the tracers one night drove into the crosshairs
and a camerawoman had half her face blown off.
Another night at dinner the shells were landing in the parking lot and
the devoted hotel staff urged us to head for the shelters. But many guests
stayed in the dining room, singing On the Street Where You Live
at the top of their lungs.
IF ANYTHING, THE SHELLING AND SNIPER FIRE made most of us more determined
to get the story out. We were gathering ample evidence of the carnage
the Serbs were causing.
One day it was a marketplace full of the bodies of shoppers victimized
at midday as they ventured out for food. Another day there was the bloody
aftermath from the pediatric ward of the local hospital, specifically
targeted by the militiamen.
It was during this period that a friend of mine, an ABCNEWS producer
I am certain he shared our belief that it cant happen to
me. I learned then that it could.
Daves wife, Sally, worked in the ABC Washington bureau, so his
death was really like a death in the family. A few days after he died,
we placed a note for Dave in the Western Wall of the Second Temple in
Jerusalem. Many of us around the globe paused to remember him. Then we
moved on to the next dispatch. That may seem heartless, but a journalist
has a responsibility to keep going.
MY FIRST SON, DANNY, was born near the time of Daves death. My
wife and I have had three more children since, and there is no question
that their existence might have tempered my zest for the battlefield in
later years. Theres an old saying that journalism is a young
mans game. And so it may be. But I have a lasting memory of
one night in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn. I walked by our workspace where
a satellite telephone had been set up. With local telephone service long
dead and cell phones unresponsive in the Balkans, the sat phone was the
only way to communicate with the outside world. A man was leaning over
the phone when I passed bya fellow scribe speaking with his hand
cupped over the mouthpiece so as not to be overheard. But I heard him.
As the mortar rounds pounded nearby, he was saying good night to his children.
In Gaza and the West Bank I was caught in the midst of countless battles
between rock-throwing prostesters and the Israeli army. There was shooting
there, too. Rubber bullets, plastic bullets, and real bullets. The Israelis
were not terribly happy with our coverage and tried to limit our mobility.
The Palestinians were not terribly happy with the coverage either and
often lobbed rocks at us as if we were combatants.
There was a day in Hebron on the West Bank when a small group of us huddled
against a garbage can and listened to the ricochet of bullets as the Army
fired away at demonstrators behind us. Clouds of tear gas, the effects
of which were dissipated a bit by the onions the villagers threw to us,
followed the salvo. The onions were for your eyes, believe it or not.
My cameraman, an Israeli, was shot in the forehead with a plastic bullet
from the guns of his own army. Twice. He survived and continued working.
Once we were confronted with an angry mob of Jewish settlers who would
have physically attacked us had it not been for the intervention of the
same army that was so hostile on other occasions. At the time, none of
this seemed particularly reckless. It was something you had to do.
But I recall being surprised to find that I was unable to purchase life
insurance because of the job I was doing. I suppose I should have thought
about that for a bit, but I didnt.
Nor did I think much about our odd behavior during the Gulf
War. I was stationed in Israel for that conflict, too. Whenever the Scuds
were launched from Iraq, the air raid sirens would scream across the country
and send people trampling each other for shelters. But the reporters ran
up to the roof to get a better view of the incoming missiles. It would
have done us no good at all to be holed up with a bunch of civilians avoiding
the attack. Who would report it if not us? Put that way, there was no
hesitation on our part as we threw open the rooftop doors and took up
This is not to say that only journalists have tunnel vision in times
of crisis. During those scud attacks, the late, great violinist Isaac
Stern was performing in Tel Aviv. As Stern and the orchestra launched
into their program, the sirens sounded. The orchestra took that as a cue
to hurry off stage. All but Stern. He donned a gas mask and played on.
And he played on before a packed house of Israelis who also sat still
with their masks on and enjoyed an incomparable moment.
Was it frightening? Again, not truly. Actually, it was exhilarating.
And it was my job.
THESE ARE EXPERIENCES MANY OF MY COLLEAGUES can identify with. I'm sure
the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl must have felt
similarly, with the the same it cant happen to me feeling
and the same determination to recount the horrors of war. It may provoke
a lot of head-shaking by those not in the business. But in our fraternity
of reporters it prompts a lot of knowing nods. May Danny Pearl's unborn
child understand one day that his father was a fine example of a craftsman
doing his job.
Sure there are charlatans in journalism who go into places like Afghanistan
because they think of it as a self-promotional vehicle. But they are in
Most reporters are in the business because they see it as a noble calling,
and each has his or her own personal reasons. For me, living in Israel,
where memories of the Holocaust are so clear, had its impact. Id
interviewed many Jews from Eastern Europe whod survived Hitler.
Their stories both awed me and left me with a responsibility not to let
genocide go unreported. The work of Edward R. Murrow and William Shirer
covering World War Two also affected me deeply, and reporting the wars
was my chance to do something in that vein. Finally, I knew my father
would have approved. He would have told me to keep my head down for sure.
But he would have seen covering war as an obligation of a professional
Information is vital to democracy. An uninformed electorate can take
a nation in dangerous directions. Those who ask why someone would risk
his life for a story should ask themselves if they really prefer to live
in ignorance. People who hate the news media and reporters are often paradoxically
the most determined viewers and readers. Would they prefer a vacuumone
that could be filled by a latter day Milosevic, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein?
I vote for information. Watching the committed journalists who are my
colleagues search for that elusive truth in news events is often an inspiring
thing. A lovely thing, worthy of praise.
Dean Reynolds is National Correspondent for ABCNEWS. From 1986 until
May 1995, Reynolds was ABCNEWS chief correspondent in Tel Aviv, providing
coverage of the Palestinian uprising, Iraqs invasion of Kuwait,
and the Gulf War. His work in Israel earned Reynolds three Emmy Awards.