It’s sadly appropriate that the war in Iraq — that ongoing bloodbath whose very reality so often proves maddeningly elusive to capture — has produced disagreement about how many journalists have died while putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story. Part of the problem (which should sound familiar to those who followed the comical “Is a blogger a journalist?” battle last year) appears to be the way we define who is a journalist and who isn’t.
With the abduction of Christian Science Monitor writer Jill Carroll and the severe injuries suffered by ABC’s Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt last month, the danger faced by western reporters in Iraq has found renewed focus from pundits — some of whom don’t seem to have done all their homework in reporting the story.
A case in point is former CNN executive Eason Jordan, who wrote a piece on Monday for the International Herald Tribune taking the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to task for not publishing a full list of journalists and media assistants killed since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Jordan wrote that CPJ’s tally of 61 journalists killed “is misunderstood and incomplete because it excludes dozens of journalists and news organization employees killed or who otherwise died on assignment in Iraq.” That’s a serious charge. The only problem is that Jordan — and not for the first time — didn’t perform his due diligence before uttering (or, in this case, writing) an incendiary public statement.
While CPJ did publish the figure of 61 journalists killed — 42 of whom were Iraqis — it also publishes a second list of 23 additional “media workers” who have died since March 2003, which brings its total up to 84. Still, CPJ doesn’t include all reporters who have died in Iraq. As it states on its Web site, it only includes a journalist or a “media worker” on its list if he or she:
[D]ied as a result of a hostile action — such as reprisal for his or her work, or crossfire while carrying out a dangerous assignment. CPJ does not include journalists killed in accidents, such as car or plane crashes, unless the crash was caused by aggressive human action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire). Nor does CPJ include journalists who died of health ailments.
Another respected organization, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), counts 79 “journalist” fatalities since the start of the war.
But Jordan thinks that neither CPJ nor RWB goes far enough. To his reckoning, the number is even higher — 101 — thanks to the calculations of the International News Safety Institute (INSI).
The differences lie in the way these groups tally the casualty counts, and in Iraq — where the line between “media workers” and journalists is often blurred — it’s not always so easy to define where one begins and the other ends. Consider the way each of these organizations compiles its final figures.
Reporters Without Borders, in arriving at its count of 79, says that 56 journalists and 23 “media assistants” have been killed since March 2003. Like CPJ, it includes media assistants such as drivers, translators and sound engineers.
The International News Safety Institute, whom Jordan quotesoffers , a more expansive reading of who should be included on the list. On its Web site, INSI explains, “We will track and record all staff and freelance casualties during coverage-related activities — print, photo and video journalists as well as essential support staff such as drivers, fixers and translators … our casualty list includes all causes of death, whether deliberate, accidental or health-related.” And it is by that count that INSI arrives at 101 media deaths.