The Woodruff Story: Snark Takes a Rest, Anger Doesn’t

Bloggers debate the press coverage of the attack on ABC's anchor and cameraman and the impact their injuries might have on the network.

Considering the blogosphere’s conflicted relationship with what its more rabid members derisively call the “MSM,” it’s not surprising that news of a roadside bomb severely wounding ABC anchor Bob Woodruff would get fingers typing.

Most bloggers simply offered their prayers and their hope that Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, also injured, will recover fully. Snarkiness took a rest for the most part, though the Gawker duo really couldn’t help themselves: “In addition to, you know, all the other deaths in Iraq, our merry little jaunt abroad has taken the lives of Atlantic editor Mike Kelly and NBC correspondent David Bloom, as well as the hand of Time reporter Mike Weiskopf. But now that it’s threatened the life of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff, this shit is serious. If you fuck with our square-jawed anchors, it means war.”

And, predictably, many also want to draw out lessons from the incident.

PunditGuy makes the point that “the war arena is a dangerous place for trained soldiers, and no place for untrained reporters who, in the race to get ratings, put themselves and the troops they cover at risk of serious injury, or worse, death. The ‘story’ must be captured, yes. But not at the risk of one’s life.”

Illustrating the point that Woodruff and Vogt were trying to be safe but that body armor is not foolproof, Chip, a computer contractor in Baghdad who also blogs, posts what he says are photos of Woodruff and Vogt thirty minutes before the blast, pointing out that they are both wearing “the body armor and helmet, which is little protection against a roadside bomb blast. Both received head injuries.”

There are of course those bloggers who are upset that so much attention has been bestowed on Woodruff’s injuries when bombings such as these are now pretty daily fare in Iraq. The appropriately named Bitch Girl writes, “I know the media keeps telling me that I should be very concerned for Bob Woodruff. I’m really not. I don’t wish bad things for him, but I just don’t care about him any more than I care about others in Iraq. None of the television coverage I’ve seen makes any mention of the well-being of others involved in the incident. Are they really so self absorbed that they believe the public should only care about their reporter who was hurt?”

And then there are those who see opportunity in the incident, a way of humanizing the situation in Iraq and bringing the reality of constant violence to Americans who may have been numb to it before. Alternate Brain makes this point, addressing the media, albeit with a great deal of anger: “For three years you’ve been reporting on the casualties as pseudo-TV fiction characters, with your disingenuous false pity for the families. How’s it feel now that two of your own will probably be turnips for the rest of their lives? Are you now going to take a realistic look at the waste of lives in the Chimp’s folly? I hope so, and I hope you start giving the American people the truth about all we’ve lost in that dry hole in the sand.” Making the same observation, but a bit more delicately, Iggert wonders if this “might just be a way of bringing Iraq a little closer to the backyards of those who don’t or have not been able to relate to the war?”

Finally, there are the practical considerations and what the loss, even temporarily, of Woodruff, could mean for ABC News. Last night TVNewser of Mediabistro posed an uncomfortable question from an emailer: “It’s not appropriate to mention, of course, but one of the many dark thoughts is … what if Woodruff comes through just fine, for Lee and the girls and everything else, but his face has been disfigured in some way? There is of course a clause to this effect — they call it the ‘disfigurement clause’ — in most on-air talent contracts … What will ABC do if the talent comes through unscathed, but the image does not?”

As our own Paul Mcleary noted the other day, the security situation reporters find themselves in in Iraq “is almost impossible — and one that could go bad for anyone at any moment, as November’s bombing of the al Hamra hotel and Jill Carroll’s abduction illustrate graphically, and tragically.”

Sadly we can now add Woodruff and Vogt to the list of incidents that prove, all too vividly, the impossibility of safely reporting from that part of the world.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.