'WSJ' Editors Call 'A Mighty Heart' Fair and Accurate

By: Joe Strupp Two top Wall Street Journal editors said "A Mighty Heart," the new film that depicts the brutal kidnapping and murder of Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, gives a fair and accurate portrayal of the paper. The film, starring Angelina Jolie as Pearl's wife, Mariane, opens nationwide on Friday.

"It was an accurate portrayal of the Journal and I think the Journal's people, like [then-foreign editor] John Bussey, who were deeply involved came off well as they should have," said former managing editor Paul Steiger, who said he saw the movie recently in a private showing for Journal staffers. "I think Angelina Jolie captured Mariane very, very well."

Steiger, who stepped down from the managing editor post last month after 16 years, was among those editors closely involved in the effort to find and free Pearl after his 2002 kidnapping in Pakistan. Pearl was later beheaded by kidnappers. Mariane Pearl, at the time, offered much praise, and some criticism, of the Journal's performance.

"I think the Journal comes off very well in the movie, I don't recall any negatives," Steiger added. Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli, who took over for Steiger and was national editor at the time of Pearl's death, also believed the film was fair. "I don't feel that the Journal was portrayed badly in the film," he said. "I think we were treated reasonably. Angelina Jolie did a good job of channeling Mariane."

A former foreign correspondent who worked in the Middle East, Brauchli added that the film "is very evocative of Pakistan, the place and the time."

An October 21, 2003 article in The Washington Post included the following passage, referring to Mariane Pearl: "As she sees it, the Journal has moved on, neglecting to pursue a journalistic investigation into the murders. During the trial of Saeed and three accomplices, the Journal did not send a representative to court. Mariane, nine months pregnant, attended, against the Journal?s advice. The trial was held in a prison.

"Brigitte Trafford, the Journal?s spokeswoman, says management was strongly advised by the consulate in Pakistan to keep a low profile during the trials to avoid the appearance that a powerful Western media outlet was prosecuting the case. Instead, she says, the Journal gave Mariane $10,000 toward legal fees. The lawyer she?d hired, a Pakistani national, charged $70,000.

?'They told me to trust the Pakistani justice system,' Mariane says of the Journal. 'That?s a joke. I was basically left alone [by the Journal]. The first worry was, How are we going to spend as little money as possible? ... Danny was so loyal to them. ... It was pretty vulgar. And I?m not a venal person.?

Byron Calame, a former 40-year Journal reporter and editor who served as deputy managing editor during the Pearl kidnapping, said he is not in a hurry to see the film because of the bad memories it brings back. "It is such a sad thing for me. My main job at the time was as liaison with his parents," Calame, who recently left a job as New York Times public editor, said. "I consider it one of the most trying times of my life. I am leaning toward the idea that I don't want to see it because it is so painful."

Steiger also recalled the painful elements of the tragedy. "We had a reporter who was a terrific person, kidnapped and brutally murdered. It is a thing that years later we still mourn," he said. "The Journal did all it could before and after, but it wasn't enough to save Danny's life.

"I have a mix of memories," Steiger added. "Pride in Danny's professionalism and courage and deep sadness at his death. It's an emotional thing and always will be."

Although he is not portrayed in the movie, Steiger said he talked several times with Michael Winterbottom, the writer/director, about the story, but called it "very limited...We talked to them about filming at the paper, but in the end, they decided to do it somewhere else."


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