By: Joe Strupp
John Donnelly knows that what happened to Daniel Pearl could have happened to him. Donnelly, a veteran foreign correspondent at The Boston Globe, spent several days last week trying to find Pearl in Pakistan and reporting on efforts to release the kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter, but it’s not like any other assignment.
For Donnelly and most reporters working on the story, knowing that they too are vulnerable, keeps tension high. “I try not to think about it,” Donnelly, 42, said during a phone interview from his hotel room in Karachi, Pakistan, just 200 yards from where Pearl was kidnapped. He’s taking extra precautions now such as never going anywhere alone.
Chris Johnson, a foreign correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, who celebrated Thanksgiving with Pearl and other journalists in Islamabad and is now in the Philippines, had planned to return to Pakistan but said the kidnapping gave him second thoughts. “It’s made me think about whether I want to go back there,” he told E&P.
Back at The Wall Street Journal, Byron Calame, a deputy managing editor, told E&P that many in the newsroom do not know exactly what is happening with the Pearl case because such information is being kept under tight control. “It leaves people groping in the dark,” said Calame, who declined to comment on what role the newspaper is playing in the drama. “People have tried to work harder because it takes their mind off it.”
The Pearl kidnapping came just months after employees had to deal with the stress of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which damaged the paper’s lower Manhattan offices, forcing editors and reporters to work from makeshift offices elsewhere. Employees have been reminded that the company offers confidential counseling if needed, Calame said. But no additional counselors have been brought in.
“There is an idea among people that we can’t let the terrorists think they’re getting to us,” Calame said about the newsroom attitude. “We can’t let them think they can affect The Wall Street Journal.”
The journalism community, meanwhile, was in high gear during the second week of captivity for Pearl, 38, who was seized Jan. 23. Focusing attention on Pakistan media outlets which the kidnappers most likely would monitor, groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (IRE) mounted a campaign aimed at showing the terrorists that Pearl is no threat to them and that they are hurting their cause.
“It is important for them to hear so definitively that the journalism community knows this guy is not a spy,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ executive director and a former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio.
A petition drafted by several Middle East correspondents urging Pearl’s release was signed by 57 journalists, including those from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune. CPJ has distributed the petition to dozens of media outlets in Pakistan.
These newspapers and broadcast outlets have received similar pleas from IRE, Society of Professional Journalists, Associated Press Managing Editors, and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. “The kidnapping of an independent journalist will accomplish nothing,” the IRE statement, issued Feb. 5, said. “The kidnapping and threat to kill Pearl only serves to lessen opportunities for fair and in-depth reporting in that region.”
Newspaper editorial pages from The Boston Globe to the Los Angeles Times also weighed in with editorials and columns urging Pearl’s release. At the same time, a Globe editorial stated: “We hope his captors understand that news organizations, like governments, will not be bullied by terrorists.”