Injury Highlights Woodruff's Role as Reporter
It has been a wrenching time for people at ABC News. Revered anchor Peter Jennings died less than a year ago. Elizabeth Vargas of ABC's 20/20 and weekend anchor and reporter Bob Woodruff were named as a team to replace him. They just started weeks ago and Woodruff soon headed to the Middle East.
Now, Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt are recovering from surgery at an American military hospital in Germany.
They suffered serious wounds to the head and upper body in a roadside bombing as they traveled with an Iraqi army convoy Sunday.
In taking the new position, Woodruff sought to define his role as an anchor who also happens to be a reporter -- the kind who sometimes puts himself in harm's way.
ABC's Good Morning America played a clip of Woodruff Monday recounting the advice he received from Jennings.
"Something Peter said to me many times over the years is, 'Be careful of wanting to go into a position like this, of anchoring, because it's going to take away from the greatest thing you want to do' -- which is reporting in the field," Woodruff said.
Woodruff was a lawyer in his late 20s when he caught the bug for reporting while in Beijing in 1989. During the Tiananmen Square protests, he helped CBS News as a translator. He later worked in local television in this country. After joining ABC News, Woodruff reported from Kosovo, Pakistan, North Korea and Iraq.
ABC News chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz says anchors need to have that kind of experience.
"Today's anchor handles breaking news," Raddatz says. "They do that live. If they don't know what they're talking about, the viewer will know. These are not people reading scripts."
But such reporting entails dangerous work. Iraqi insurgents do not consider journalists to be non-combatants. Instead, reporters are often targets.
Jill Carroll, a freelancer for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted in Iraq by militants who are demanding the release of prisoners. A new videotape broadcast Monday on Al Jazeera shows a weeping Carroll pleading for their release.
Martha Raddatz has been to Iraq nine times for ABC. She says there's an additional peril for her network and its broadcast competitors.
"It's very, very tough for television. It's tough to hide," Raddatz says. "When you have a cameraman and you have a soundman, you pretty obviously stand out in those areas."
The Paris-based journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says 79 media professionals have been killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Joe Galloway, the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers, says that the conflict in Iraq is unlike any other he's seen -- and he's covered wars for 41 years.
Galloway had been back from Iraq about a week when he heard of the bombing that injured Woodruff and Vogt.
"I thought it could have been any of us," Galloway says. "You go down the road in Iraq – any road -- you're at that risk."
But Galloway says the risk they took was understandable.
"Those two gentlemen from ABC were standing in the rear hatch of armored vehicles," he says. "It's the only way you can see anything."
Yet some critics have accused television anchors of hot-dogging when they dropped into trouble zones -- because they seem to be turning themselves into the story. Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather was known for heading to dangerous spots, whether approaching hurricanes or wars. MSNBC tried to make Ashleigh Banfield into a star by sending her to Central Asia for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. She washed out.
But former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite says anchors need to get into the field so they can understand the stories they present.
"There's a difference between that and showboating," Cronkite says. "There's definitely [some] showboating. Usually it's obvious, to us journalists anyway -- whether it's obvious to the public, I don't know."
On Good Morning America Monday, ABC News President David Westin said Woodruff sought to spend more time in Iraq because he was a reporter at heart.
"We all know Bob, so you know that Bob always wanted to go. Wherever the story was he's always been the first to volunteer and the first to go there," Westin said. "He'd been to Iraq several times. He actually was anxious to get back because it had been a while since he had been there."
Westin says the network carefully weighs the risks to its reporters and crews every day -- and that Woodruff was aware of them.
Veteran cameraman Doug Vogt has covered many wars. Network officials said he was in better shape than Woodruff. In an interview broadcast on ABC News' Web site Monday afternoon, Woodruff's brother said the anchor has shown improvement during his treatment in Germany.
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