Panel addresses Pearl death, reporting dangers

Cokie and Steve Roberts joined panelists at Monday night’s Kalb Report to discuss how foreign news coverage has changed following the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl last month.

Cokie Roberts, host of ABC’s “This Week,” and Steve Roberts, a GW Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs, addressed about 300 audience members with Committee to Protect Journalists Director Ann Cooper, columnist E.J. Dionne Jr., CBS correspondent Peter Maer and Associated Press deputy international editor Nicholas Tatro.

Panelists agreed that not much could have been done to
prevent Pearl’s kidnapping and murder.

“(The terrorists’) goal from the start was to kill an American reporter,” said Maer, who covers the White House for CBS radio news. “There’s nothing in the world that could have been done to save Daniel Pearl’s life.”

Tatro explained how the AP attempts to protect its journalists abroad.

“We tell reporters overseas to use common sense guidelines – not to go anywhere alone, to stay in frequent contact with their managers,” he said.

Cokie Roberts said journalists, especially women, face danger whenever they are on the job.

“It is important to understand that reporters are in danger all day, every day, even in the country they live in,” she said.

When moderator Marvin Kalb brought up the possibility that religion might have played a role in Pearl’s murder, Cooper responded, “we don’t know why they took (Pearl) specifically, and we don’t know why they killed him.”

“Was the point that he was American, a journalist or Jewish?” she asked. “Some say that he was targeted because he worked for the Wall Street Journal.”

Maer said it seemed Pearl’s abductors “certainly took advantage of” the fact that Pearl was Jewish from a videotape that showed the brutal nature of the killing.

“It was not necessarily that he was Jewish, but that he wanted a little more of the glamour,” Cokie Roberts said. “He was willing to take risks.”

The U.S. government has increased media restrictions overseas since Pearl’s death.

Panelists added that the White House has limited the media’s ability to report on the war in Afghanistan from the beginning.

“The rules have become very restrictive,” said Steve Roberts, a former New York Times reporter and U.S. News and World Report editor. “It makes risk-taking more necessary when you do not have access to the battle fields. It makes the job more dangerous.”

Roberts suggested that the government might be partially to blame for Pearl’s death.

U.S. government restrictions directly affect war coverage from Afghanistan because they delay the arrival of facts, said Maer, recounting that it once took 12 hours for news of a downed American helicopter in Afghanistan to reach the American press.

“That’s a lifetime in my book,” Maer said.

Many of Roberts’ senior seminar students attended the forum.

“We have talked about how important access is and about the horrors that happened,” senior Josh Schoenberg said. “I always enjoy what (Roberts) has to say in class.”

GW freshman Evan Wertheim said he was disappointed in the panel’s discussion on the role religion played in Pearl’s death.

“Pearl was targeted for a multitude of reasons, one of which was because he was Jewish,” Wertheim said. “I wish the media would report and discuss more on this.”

The forum, at the National Press Club, was the 26th program produced since Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, began the series in 1994.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.