By: Joe Strupp
Since word broke in Baghdad Saturday that freelancer Jill Carroll had been abducted, the push to find her has spanned official agencies, from the U.S. embassy to the Iraqi police, as well as her current employer, the Christian Science Monitor.
But along with those efforts to find the missing woman, who was kidnapped during an incident in which her translator was killed, a second mobilization has occurred among Carroll’s colleagues, starting just after she was seized. For many of them, outside news coverage took a back seat for two days while they worked together to seek any possible clue to retrieving their friend.
“We are [still] doing everything we can,” Ellen Knickmeyer, a Washington Post reporter who has spent the past year in Baghdad, told E&P today. “The first days were spent just making sure that investigators had an accurate report of what happened and all of the contacts they could use.”
Knickmeyer, who called Carroll a friend to many reporters, said a least 10 U.S. and Iraqi journalists spent a great deal of time on the search over the weekend, both calling sources for tips and going out into the neighborhoods where she was last seen. Monitor reporter Scott Peterson then arrived in Baghdad to lead the search effort from the paper’s bureau there, devoting most of his time to the pursuit. A second Monitor staffer is expected to arrive Friday to help.
Knickmeyer stressed that the reporters are careful not to interfere with official government efforts, adding “we have passed on anything we think is credible, but don?t want to say what.”
She said the reporters also have been gathering statements of support from people in Baghdad who know Carroll to “show she is a good reporter and empathetic to Iraqi people.” Knickmeyer added that “she is deeply involved in covering the Iraqi’s part of the [war] story.”
Having written for several U.S. news outlets, such as The Washington Post, as well as Jordanian and Italian news organizations, Carroll has drawn a lot of support and gratitude from reporters in the city for her willingness to dig up stories about the war’s local impact. “People are sad,” Knickmeyer said. “We like Jill and not having her around us is sad.”
So instead of waiting and worrying, Knickmeyer said the group of reporters tracked down any possible sources who may have seen the kidnapping or may be hearing word of who did the deed or where she is held. “I went by the neighborhood where she disappeared to look at how the security was,” she said.
The Post reporter declined to comment on who might have taken Carroll, or why, noting that such abductions have a variety of reasons: from mistaken beliefs that a reporter is a spy to being a random act aimed at any westerner on the street. “Some people we talk to have ideas about what may have happened, but no conclusions,” she said.
Knickmeyer, 42, said the abduction is another sign of how dangerous the situation has gotten for reporters in the past year. “We go out and talk to Iraqis every day, but there are areas of the city we can’t go to without security,” she said. “It is worse now than when I came here last January.” She said the violence was turned up a notch after the new government took over last April. “There was a surge, daily bombings,” she noted.
She also defended the news blackout in which most major U.S. news outlets, including the Post, did not report on Carroll’s abduction for two days at the request of the Monitor. “That is standard with kidnappings,” she said. “More often it is that we don’t hear about it for days. When it happens in the journalist community, it gets out quickly and we try to keep people from being hurt by the fact that they are a journalist.”
Knickmeyer said similar blackouts have occurred for non-journalists held captive. “The military has asked us to do the same thing if it involves others, like contractors,” she said. “We weigh it case by case.”