Woodruff Injury Highlights Dangers for Reporters

Host Steve Inskeep talks to the Baghdad bureau chief of The Times of London, James Hider, about the challenges faced by journalists covering the war in Iraq. ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff and an ABC cameraman were wounded Sunday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad. Around 60 media workers have been killed since the U.S. invasion began.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's the latest information we have about ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff. He's now at a military hospital in Germany along with his cameraman, Doug Vogt. Both were wounded yesterday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad. Their condition has been described as serious but stable, with shrapnel wounds and head injuries.

Now, before this reporting trip, Bob Woodruff spoke at a panel discussion about why a news anchor should see the news in person.

Mr. BOB WOODRUFF (ABC News Anchor): I think the viewers demand it, in many ways. I think the model now is anchor/reporter, and I think you're going to see a lot more of that. As a viewer myself, I like to see that.

INSKEEP: The ABC crew is not the only one to experience the hazards of telling the story in Iraq. American journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped this month, and this morning we've called a journalist who has spent two and a half years in Iraq. James Hider reports for the London Times. He's been wounded and even briefly held by armed men during his time in Iraq.

And he's on the line from Baghdad. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMES HIDER (Reporter and Baghdad Bureau Chief, London Times): Thank you.

INSKEEP: When you heard the news about the ABC crew and what happened to them, what went through your mind?

Mr. HIDER: Well, I was up in the same area, in Taji, on Saturday. It's just north of Baghdad, and it's an extremely dangerous area. It's well known to be an insurgent stronghold, but the Americans have to keep on patrolling up there because it keeps the road north up to Mosul open. And that whole instance just reminded me of when I was wounded in Fallujah in November, 2004.

I was with the Army when they went into Fallujah in one of the first units that went in there. And we were basically stopped near a school in one of the areas of heaviest fighting, and we got out of the vehicles, we were in Bradleys, and when we were standing around discussing the situation with one of the commanders, an RPG went off close to us and a piece of shrapnel went through my left arm.

INSKEEP: This is rocket-propelled grenade, this is an explosive going off?

Mr. HIDER: Yeah, exactly. There was machine gun fire, there were RPG's going off all around us and I was hit in the arm. It was an extremely shocking experience when that happens because, to a certain extent, we all think it will never happen to us and, of course, when you are hit, you have no idea what the extent is. There was blood pouring out from my arm, but the thing is, at that point, you feel like there should be a time out, that the whole thing should stop, but of course, it doesn't. You have to be medivac'd, somebody put an IV drip in my arm, we had to run out through the school.

I had a couple of American soldiers escorting me and all the time the battle was going on around us. So it was an extremely harrowing experience, so I'm sure for Bob and his cameraman it was a much worse experience, but I can imagine what it was like to be there at the time.

INSKEEP: From the information that we have, were Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, the cameraman, doing anything unusual?

Mr. HIDER: No, this is what all journalists would do. They were in a Soviet-made armored personnel carrier, so if they'd been down under the hatches they might have been okay. I think one of the Iraqi soldiers with them was wounded, but any journalist wouldn't want to be stuck not seeing anything in the back of an APC. You'd want to stick your head out and see what's going on. Obviously, the cameraman had to be filming, otherwise, the whole exercise would have been pointless. So, it's something we've all done and we would all do in that situation, I think.

INSKEEP: Seems like a terrible challenge to get any facts in Iraq right now, a terrible risk anyway. If you are with U.S. and Iraqi forces, you're a target for a roadside bomb and if you're away from them, you're a target for kidnapping.

Mr. HIDER: Well, for journalists there is a sort of hierarchy of horrors, if you like. It's become generally accepted that the most terrifying thing that can happen to you is to be kidnapped because then you're on your own. You're taken off. You're in somebody else's power. You're not sure if you're going to be murdered, if you're going to be beheaded on television. Then there's the fear of car bombs which people tend to be a bit more blasé about, but there's also other dangers. If you're traveling around incognito in an Iraqi car, you're trying to keep a low profile so nobody notices you're there, but then of course, to the security contractors driving around in their armored vehicles with their guns poking out the windows, you look like an Iraqi, so they're pushing through the traffic. Quite often they shoot at people.

There have been plenty of incidents of innocent Iraqis just driving too close, not seeing the security contractors and being shot, so that's another danger. And of course, if you look like an Iraqi car, you have to keep away from the American patrols themselves because they will shoot at you if you get too close as well. So the dangers do come from every direction.

INSKEEP: You said kidnapping is the worst fear and we mentioned that you, yourself, have been briefly held by armed men.

Mr. HIDER: Yes, I was taken out of my car at gunpoint by members of the Mahti Army in a battle Sadr City in northern Baghdad in 2004, which was a very scary experience as well because you're not ever clear who's actually taking you hostage. I was lucky there were Shiite gunmen and the Mahti Army does have a vague hierarchy of structure that people can talk to, they can open negotiations fairly quickly.

They thought at the time, because there was a battle going on in that part of town, that I was an American spy, and after a few hours of talking to them I managed to convince them that I was a reporter and I was extremely lucky there because my Iraqi translator and driver both risked their lives to come with me and I think it's worth mentioning that Jill Carroll's translator was shot dead. So, the Iraqi staff make our work possible and they do risk their lives for us to help us function.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to James Hider. He's a correspondent for the London Times in Baghdad. Thank you.

Mr. HIDER: Thanks.

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