EXCLUSIVE: Abduction of American Reporter in Iraq Blacked Out By U.S. News Outlets

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By: Joe Strupp

The abduction of a Christian Science Monitor reporter in Iraq on Saturday was not disclosed by major U.S. media outlets for nearly two days after the Monitor requested that the incident, and the reporter’s name and affiliation, be withheld. A translator was killed in the incident and the reporter, now identified by the Monitor as Jill Carroll, is still being held.

Numerous foreign news outlets and several leading wire services disclosed the incident — and in a few cases, the reporter’s name. Such stories did not appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other U.S. papers and their Web sites.

The Associated Press ran at least one story out of Baghdad, but without the newspaper or reporter’s name, and it did not appear in any major newspapers Sunday or Monday. The AP held off all further reports at the request of the Monitor, which did not release the information until this afternoon. Jay Jostyn, a Monitor spokesman, told E&P it acted now — sending an email to news organizations after 2:30 p.m. and with a story on its Web site at 3 P.M. — because the story had by now circulated via 40 to 50 outlets abroad.

The Monitor revealed that the reporter, Carroll, is a stringer for the paper who has written many stories for the newspaper for about a year, the last four or five months reporting from Iraq.

“We have been advised that the less that is said, the better,” Jostyn told E&P this morning, before a Monitor story about the abduction was posted. “We need to be sensitive to that.”

Jostyn said the request for a news blackout was made in an effort to protect her safety. The Monitor’s own story about the abduction, and a related editor’s note, did not mention the news blackout. It mentioned that her family had urged her captors to release her. “We just felt it [the blackout] is not something we wanted to publicize,” he added.

Several editors at major news outlets earlier today said they were glad to oblige and hoped their efforts would help win Carroll’s release.

Marjorie Miller, foreign editor at the Los Angeles Times, said she was contacted on Saturday after one of her Baghdad correspondents was asked by the Monitor to hold off on a story about the abduction. She said she reviewed the matter with Managing Editor Doug Frantz and the story never ran. “If the feeling of the organization is that it will endanger the life of the victim, we don’t want to do anything that will endanger the life of the victim,” she told E&P. “They asked us not to do it for the purpose of negotiations.”

“I am doing everything I possibly can not to endanger a reporter’s life and we are trying to gauge what to do,” said David Hoffman, assistant managing editor for foreign at the Washington Post, who declined to comment specifically on the requested blackout. “We are trying not to endanger a reporter.”

A Google search reveals that USA Today’s Web site apparently carried an AP story about the abduction on Saturday — and then killed the link.

In a story that it moved after 3 p.m. today, the AP stated, “After initial reports of the kidnapping on Saturday, The Associated Press and other news organizations honored a request from the newspaper in Boston and a journalists’ group in Baghdad for a news blackout. The request was made to give authorities an opportunity to resolve the incident during the early hours after the abduction.”

Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor, said the news service had posted a story about the kidnapping Saturday, which did not include the name of the reporter or her employer because they might not have been known at the time. (That story, and others, identified the victim as a female American.) The AP was then contacted through its Baghdad bureau and asked not to post any further stories.

“When somebody approaches us and says we might be able to affect some change, we entertain the request and comply if we are able,” she told E&P. “It has been not uncommon in the past for news organizations and other companies to make requests to hold off reporting for a short time if they think it would help recover a kidnapped individual.”

The Los Angles Times’ Miller also indicated such requests have occurred before, on an ad-hoc basis, and the paper is now “figuring out” a policy on how to respond.

A spokesperson at the New York Times did not immediately confirm or deny that the paper had been contacted, but was looking into the matter. Foreign editors at The Boston Globe, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal could not be reached Monday.

Jill Carroll’s ties to a paper with “Christian” in the title was also a likely concern when dealing with Islamic fundamentalists, noted one editor who had agreed not to publish a story on the incident. “That could put her life more in danger,” the editor said.

“Jill is an established journalist who has been reporting from the Middle East for Jordanian, Italian, and other news organizations over the past three years,” the Monitor reported in a story to be published on Tuesday. “In recent months, The Monitor has tapped into her professionalism, energy, and fair reporting on the Iraq scene. It was her drive to gather direct and accurate views from political leaders that took her into western Baghdad’s Adil neighborhood on Saturday morning.”

E&P Online, not aware of any request to withhold coverage, on Sunday published online a story about the abduction, without mentioning the reporter’s name or affiliation, based on accounts from AP, UPI, Reuters, AFP and several British newspapers.

***

The Monitor’s story, published on its Web site today:

Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist currently on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted by unknown gunmen in Baghdad Saturday morning. Her Iraqi interpreter was killed during the kidnapping.

“I saw a group of people coming as if they had come from the sky,” recalled Ms. Carroll’s driver, who survived the attack. “One guy attracted my attention. He jumped in front of me screaming, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ with his left hand up and a pistol in his right hand.”

One of the kidnappers pulled the driver from the car, jumped in, and drove away with several others huddled around Carroll and her interpreter, said the driver, who asked not to be identified. “They didn’t give me any time to even put the car in neutral,” he recounted.

The body of the interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, 32, was later found in the same neighborhood. He had been shot twice in the head, law enforcement officials said. There has been no word yet on Carroll’s whereabouts.

The kidnapping occurred within 300 yards of the office of Adnan al-Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni politician, whom Carroll had been intending to interview at 10 a.m. Saturday local time, the driver said.

Mr. Dulaimi, however, turned out not to be at his office, and after 25 minutes, Carroll and her interpreter left. Their car was stopped as she drove away. “It was very obvious this was by design,” said the driver. “The whole operation took no more than a quarter of a minute. It was very highly organized. It was a setup, a perfect ambush.”

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, which is under investigation by Iraqi and US officials.

Richard Bergenheim, editor of the Monitor, appealed to Carroll’s abductors to let her go immediately. “Jill’s ability to help others understand the issues facing all groups in Iraq has been invaluable. We are urgently seeking information about Ms. Carroll and are pursuing every avenue to secure her release,” he said.

Carroll’s relatives also pleaded for her release, urging her captors to “consider the work she has done to reveal the truth about the Iraq war.”

Carroll, who has been working in Iraq since October 2003, has been contributing articles regularly since last February to The Christian Science Monitor, according to World News Editor David Clark Scott. “She has proved an insightful, resourceful, and courageous reporter,” he said. “But Jill is not the kind of person to take undue risks.”

When five or six men, including a large, mustachioed man with short hair waving a Glock handgun, stopped Carroll’s car, the driver said he thought the men were from Dulaimi’s security detail, so he slowed down.

On his knees on the ground, after having been pulled roughly from the driver’s seat, he turned to see his car, a red Toyota Cressida, accelerating away “with a lot of heads inside.” Carroll and Enwiyah were clearly alive at that point, he said.

One remaining kidnapper, standing calmly in the middle of the road as the others left, told him to “get away, bastard.”

“He spoke to me as a father to a boy [but] in a very dirty way, like a traitor,” the driver said.

It was then, he said, that the kidnapper shot once at him, the only time a firearm was used during the kidnapping. “When he shot at me [and missed], I understood this was an abduction. I jumped behind an electrical pole and then ran down an alley,” he recalled, before seeking shelter at a joint Iraqi-US Army base.

Since arriving in Baghdad, Carroll has worked for the Italian news agency ANSA, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other US dailies, as well as the Monitor. She had previously worked as a reporter for The Jordan Times in Amman after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.





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