Foreign Editors: Carroll Kidnapping Shows Need for More Precautions in Baghdad

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By: Joe Strupp

Foreign editors at several major news outlets say Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll’s safe release after nearly three months in captivity will not prompt them to change their approach in Baghdad, or reduce coverage there.

But several newsroom leaders said her abduction, which occurred as she rode in an unarmed vehicle with no secondary security, reinforces the need for such provisions when traveling in the war-ravaged Iraq city.

“We have opted for a high-profile security method, a follow car and an armed guard,” said James Smith, foreign editor at The Boston Globe, which closed its Baghdad bureau last year but continues to send correspondents to the city on a regular basis. “We never go out without a follow car. That began about a year ago.”

Smith, who said a Globe reporter just recently left Baghdad after a two-week stint, stressed that he did not want to criticize Carroll for traveling with less security, but that the kidnapping reinforces such a need. “There is no question that Jill’s kidnapping piles even more concern on the concern we have had for a year,” he said about security.

When asked if her safe release eases worries at all about such dangers, Smith was adamant: “It doesn’t reassure me in the least.”

Ethan Bronner, deputy foreign editor at The New York Times, which has four reporters in Baghdad on average, agreed that Carroll’s situation indicates more than ever the need for a two-car travel approach, with an armed escort. “She was in one soft car, with no chase car,” he said. “We have been very focused on security in a way that the Monitor has not been able to be.”

Bronner said the Carroll kidnapping “has prompted us to re-evaluate things.” But he said the paper has yet to significantly alter its security approach, claiming its current policy appears to be enough. “We have a very, very extensive security approach every time our correspondents go out,” he said. “We make it policy not to talk about it, but they are quite extensive.”

Bronner noted Carroll’s reputation for success in Iraq, in part, because of her ability to blend in with Iraqis. But he said such an approach can also lead to less-protected travel. “There is a school of thought that it is better to go around more as an Iraqi,” Bronner said. “But I think that is going out of style. The armored cars are much more discreet-looking today.”

Carroll, 28, was released last Thursday after a lengthy ordeal that began when she was abducted on a Baghdad street Jan. 7 in an incident in which her translator was killed. A freelancer for the Monitor, she was not traveling with an armed escort or extra security protection when the kidnapping occurred.

Marjorie Miller, foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, which has at least two reporters in Baghdad at all times, stressed the need for extensive security measures that most news organizations use, but that Carroll did not. She said her reporters always travel in armored vehicles, with a second car and an armed guard. “It is quite an operation to go out,” she told E&P Monday. “You need at least four people to go out. That is what makes it so hard for freelancers.”

Miller adds that Carroll’s kidnapping illustrates the need for such security, while her safe release offers no easing of such concerns: “It doesn’t mean that the next person will or won’t survive. It is just as dangerous as it was before, during or after her kidnapping.”

Kerry Luft, foreign editor at the Chicago Tribune, which has one reporter in Iraq, agreed. “It is one incident,” he said of Carroll’s abduction. “It is not indicative of any larger trend. All it tells us is that they decided to let her go.” While he declined to describe his paper’s security approach in Baghdad, Luft said, “We review security all of the time. It is a constant concern.”

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, also declined to say what her organization’s security measures are in Iraq. But she said “our feeling is that it is important to have a fair amount of control and back-up,” adding that “Iraq is a hellishly awful place and there are places [there] we won’t go.”

With at least 60 staffers in Iraq at all times, including about 10 reporters, AP’s Carroll said the kidnapping and release “brought attention to an issue that has been front and center for us since we have been in Iraq.”

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