Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Christian Science Monitor editor reflects on colleague’s captivity

June 20, 2006

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As two American servicemen remain missing and feared captured in Iraq, friends and families back home wait and hope.

For reporters and editors at the Christian Science Monitor, the feeling is all too familiar.

David Scott, the Monitor's world editor, was on the newspaper's front lines when Iraqi kidnappers snatched reporter and co-worker Jill Carroll.

"There were definitely highs and lows," Scott said. "But we knew she'd be back."

Her captors held Carroll for weeks. During the abduction, her interpreter, Allan Enwiya, was killed on a Baghdad street.

But Scott was there 82 days later when Carroll walked into the Monitor newsroom in Boston, back on safe ground.

Monday, at the Journal-World's Convergence Live in Kansas conference, Scott took a moment to reflect on his experience at home when Carroll sat in a cell thousands of miles away.

For a select group of Monitor editors and reporters, the news of Carroll's abduction took over their lives.

"It can tax an organization," he said.

Suddenly, the group had to decide the right course of action. They are reporters, after all, with an instinct to report the news.

"We had to decide how to handle this," Scott said.

Keeping profile low

Carroll's kidnapping had to be kept quiet, the group decided. The higher the target's profile, the more they are worth to organizations making political demands, such as al-Qaida in Iraq.

"That's the worst thing that could happen," Scott said. "Political demands are very difficult to meet."

Most other news organizations were supportive, Scott said, as they understood the news was not worth the price of a life.

Plus, the Monitor staff couldn't be sure what Carroll had told her kidnappers. She could have given them a false name, a false profession. By broadcasting that a Monitor reporter had been kidnapped, they could have told her abductors that she had been lying to them.

So, for the first few weeks, Scott and other reporters did what they knew to do: Learn as much about the situation as possible, interviewing sources, contacting other news organizations to find out what they had learned.

The emotion hadn't yet set in.

"We sort of went to work, you know?" Scott said.

Getting the message out

To get the message out, the Monitor staff brought in Carroll's family to decide the right tone, the right tenor, of what they would ask of her abductors.

Scott remembered the first time he spoke to Carroll's mother. He expected to hear a woman in emotional distress. Instead, he found a rock.

"I know she's smarter than those guys are," Scott recalled her saying.

The weeks that followed were a waiting period, Scott said. The family had gotten their message out, plus the Monitor did what they could to shape Carroll's image in the Arab world, releasing her most important stories and getting comments from her sources and co-workers in Iraq.

Scott said that for a time, most of the newsroom's information came from editor Richard Bergenheim's daily briefings. Days passed. Weeks.

Then, while in the shower one morning, Scott's phone rang. It was a Monitor reporter on the phone from Iraq. Scott's wife explained that he couldn't talk, but the reporter insisted.

"We heard that Jill's out," Scott recalled. "After that, I just spread the word."

Revisions to policy

Now, months later, Scott said that Carroll was doing well - although, in ways, struggling with Enwiya's death and the sudden attention her situation brought her.

And, in ways, the Monitor has changed as well.

Carroll was, in essence, a freelancer, someone who worked with the Monitor closely but wasn't on the newspaper's staff.

Since her abduction, the Monitor has adopted new policies. No more freelancers in Baghdad who are not embedded with troops, Scott said. The danger there is too great.

"We just can't take the risk," he said.

But for the industry in general, Scott believed other news organizations who send correspondents into war zones found the information sobering.

He said that Carroll herself couldn't believe reporters were still there.

But Scott said that at the Monitor, they were accustomed to the idea of their reporters being in danger. They don't like it, but the news is the news, and reporters have to be there.

Scott said he knew that Carroll's situation could have ended badly. But he always held out hope that Carroll would again walk through the newsroom doors.

"We had planned for that day," he said.

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