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Helen Thomas Profiled; Bob Woodruff's Injuries and Changes in Journalist Security; Roger Cohen on Reporting on World Affairs

Aired March 2, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
We begin in Iraq, where a little more than a year ago, ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff nearly died while reporting from the frontlines of the war. A roadside bomb blew up near the tank he was riding in and broke open his skull. It echoed the dangers of reporting from the region.

In a moment, getting the news from Iraq and the dangers for both Western and local journalists.

First, Anderson Cooper on Bob Woodruff's long road to recovery.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: And it's been great for me just over this time to recover to some way that I have.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST "360" (voice-over): Bob Woodruff on the set of "World News Tonight," just 13 months after an attack that changed his life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My co-anchor Bob Woodruff and camera man Doug Vote were on assignment in Iraq.

COOPER: It was January 29th last year. Woodruff and camera man Doug Vote were embedded with the 4th Infantry. They were riding in the lead vehicle of a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy, both wearing helmets and body armor. They were standing in the open back hatch, when the vehicle tripped a roadside bomb.

Woodruff and Vote, who was less seriously injured, were air lifted to a field hospital in Balad. And Woodruff went into surgery just 37 minutes after the explosion. Afterwards, he was air lifted to a military hospital in Germany. That's where his wife, Lee, saw him for the first time. She described that experience to Oprah Winfrey.

LEE WOODRUFF, BOB WOODRUFF'S WIFE: The left side of his face looked like a monster. It looked like a Frankenstein experiment. And in order to relieve the swelling in his brain, they immediately, the military doctors, know to cut the skull. So his brain was swollen out of his head.

COOPER: This is a CT scan of his skull. The dots on the right show rocks embedded in his face and neck. The explosion damaged the part of the brain that controls speech. Woodruff was in a coma for 36 days.

When he woke up, he couldn't remember his brother's name or the fact that he had twin five-year old girls. Ironically, Woodruff explained on "Good Morning America" the accident allowed him to spend more time with those twins and his two other children.

B. WOODRUFF: If there's anything lucky in this past year, aside from the fact that I've recovered to the extent that I have, that I had so much more time to spend with my kids. And that has been an absolutely gift.


B. WOODRUFF: Belt girl.


B. WOODRUFF: Bet bow.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bout. No, you're confusing. Belt.



B. WOODRUFF: Buckle.




B. WOODRUFF: Buckle. Belt buckle. You taught me.

COOPER: Lee, his wife of nearly 20 years, was by his side throughout the ordeal. She says there was only one thing that mattered to her.

L. WOODRUFF: I just want to know will he still love me?

COOPER: In their just released book called "In an Instant," Lee describes what happened when Bob woke up.

"When I pushed open the door to Bob's room, he was sitting up in bed, a giant smile on his face, and when he saw me he lifted his arms toward heaven. "Hey, sweetie," Bob said lovingly, with a little note of surprise. "Where have you been?"

After months of difficult recovery, Woodruff returned to the ABC Newsroom on June 13th, 2006. And on "Good Morning America" more than a year after the attack, Woodruff said he's ready to get back to work.

B. WOODRUFF: I want to get back to journalism. You know.


B. WOODRUFF: Any form, whatever I can do.

COOPER: Anderson Cooper, CNN.


SWEENEY: Bob Woodruff's experience highlights the vulnerability of those who report from war zones. So what's changed for news organizations who report from Iraq? And how does it differ for Iraqi journalists?

Joining me in the studios, Jim Shutto, the senior foreign correspondent with ABC News, Mina Al-Orabi from the Alshard Alawsat newspaper, and in our Baghdad bureau, chief foreign correspondent with CBS News, Lara Logan.

Jim Sciutto, first of all with ABC News, was there any change of policy on the part of ABC News in regards to Iraq after Bob Woodruff was injured?

JIM SCIUTTO, ABC SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly there was a very severe reassessment of security standards, how we approach going on embeds. We took a breath and stopped. And it was an organization disgusted at the highest levels, but also bringing all of us into what, what we felt comfortable with and what made sense going forward.

But then we decided, certainly elevated security, and also made it just a little bit tougher to go - not tougher to go on embeds, but we thought more carefully about doing it. But many reporters have gone back on embeds since then. I think that the overriding concern was that this is a very important story. The foreign news story perhaps of our generation. Very important to cover it. We want to cover it safely.

But to truly cover it, we have to be there. And sometimes we have to take risks. But I know that as an organization, it felt good to feel that process of reassessment going on, because you knew that security was the number one concern.

SWEENEY: Lara Logan in Baghdad, as we come to you, we can hear the sounds of sirens in the background. Let me ask you. How easy or difficult is it for you to get out and about to cover the story there?

LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I think everybody realizes that it's difficult to get out and about, but when - the art of being a journalist is finding ways around that. And you can do it if you really want to, if you have a good network here that you rely on. You can find ways.

I mean, I think one of the - there's a misconception that because it's difficult to get around in Baghdad, that no foreign journalists ever go anywhere, that they never leave their hotels, and that therefore, they're not really covering the story.

And that's not true at all. There are certainly ways. I go to Sadr City whenever I can. Every few months, I go back there for a visit. You can either - of course, you can move with American troops anywhere. You don't only want to get their perspective.

So we make other plans and other arrangements to move around the city with Iraqis. And I mean, it's part of being a journalist is to adapt to your situation and find ways to tell the story, no matter how difficult it might be.

SWEENEY: We'll come back to that point in a moment, but I'd like to turn to Mina now in the studio. You are an Iraqi journalist. And you've been unable to return to Iraq, partly because you didn't want to go, because you didn't think it was safe enough?

MINA AL-ORABI, JOURNALIST, ALSHARQ ALAWSAT: Absolutely. I mean, I'd love to go back tomorrow. I'd jump at the chance, not only to report, but also to see my family and see my friends. But you're right, it is so dangerous. And it's very dangerous for Iraqis, who are not known, but who, you know, can endanger their relatives.

And if I go back and I stay in a house with my uncle or my cousins, I can actually get them endangered after I leave. So it's that responsibility not only for my own personal safety, but those around me.

SWEENEY: And how much of this story do you think that you hear from family and friends isn't getting out there in the international arena?

AL-ORABI: So much of the story isn't getting out. So many stories. On a personal level, whether it's just the deaths. I mean, you hear of a suicide bombing, and that's it, it's over. What about those that are injured? The hospitals are dealing. The shortages, everything.

I mean, people have stopped talking about things like electricity and petrol and fuel shortages only because the death and mayhem on the streets are so huge, but there's a day to day suffering that really isn't getting out there because we're so busy reacting to the day to day news that doesn't stop in Iraq.

SWEENEY: Lara Logan in Baghdad, there is a reliance, of course, by the networks and newspapers on local Iraqi journalists. How dangerous has it become for them in recent times?

LOGAN: Well, it's extremely dangerous for them. I mean, most of our employees don't say that they work for CBS News unless they're talking to foreigners. They will normally say they work for someone like al Jazeera, an Arab network, so that they don't put themselves in extra danger.

But you know, they're smart. And they find ways around it. They know which areas they can't go into. And I mean, the main part about operating in a situation like this, whether you're Iraqi or you're a foreigner, is to listen, and to try and make sure that you have the best possible intelligence from the ground.

And then there's an element of luck involved in all of this. The violence can be completely random. So you can never safeguard yourself against all of it.

But I mean, for our Iraqi journalists, I mean, there's been fighting on Haifa Street recently. It's been very dangerous there. And wherever we can, we've gone down Haifa Street, either on our own, or with the Americans. We've found ways around it. And we have a good network that tells us when it's not a good time to go.

So I mean, our Iraqi journalists know that it's dangerous, but it's not the first country in the world where it's been dangerous for local journalists.

SWEENEY: Right. Let me turn to Jim Sciutto here, because I want to raise something, an article that was written by a journalist in the independent newspaper here in Britain recently, that said the targeting, an increased targeting of Iraqi journalists in Iraq, was actually helping the White House because the allegation being that the counter insurgency isn't going that well, and there aren't any local journalists around, or very many of them around to get the story out. What's your take on that?

SCIUTTO: Well, I think both sides may claim victory there. Certainly the White House has claimed that because journalists supposedly don't go out to other parts of the country, where things are going swimmingly well, that Americans aren't getting the full story, which is something that we've always taken issue with because one, as Lara says, we are actually going out to a far greater degree than I think people know.

One thing that will always happen to me when I come back from Iraq is people will say, so you stay inside the Green Zone. And I say actually, we're not based inside the Green Zone. I don't know if a single journalist who actually lives inside the Green Zone. That's for the government, the Iraqi, the American, the military. We have compounds, but those are outside. So they're separate.

I think there are misconceptions. The Iraqis certainly face a far greater risk than we do, partly because they don't have the advantages we do. They don't have big budgets, security firms protecting them. So that's an advantage. And that's why you see them much more likely to die than Westerners do.

SWEENEY: Finally, Mina, if I could turn to you. How does your newspaper cover this story with Iraqi journalists? Do you publicize their names or not?

AL-ORABI: We do publicize their names at times, but there have been stories where we've chosen not to publicize their names. Very rarely, but it does happen, only to safeguard them as much as we possibly can.

I mean, we speak to them on the phone daily, but there are times that they - I mean most of the time, they can't even go to our main office. And we'll write from home or go to an Internet caf‚ and so forth and keep moving, rather than be seen having a daily routine, which is not just for journalists. But most people that work here don't want to be seen to be having daily routines, which makes it easier to be kidnapped off the streets.

SWEENEY: All right, we have to leave it there. We're out of time. But thank you very much, my guests here in the studio. Lara Logan in Baghdad, thanks indeed.

Still to come on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, it is a tough job, but someone has to do it. Writing on world affairs. What motivates the columnist Roger Cohen? Sure, that's next.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. He has an impressive C.V., a career in journalism that spans more than three decades. Roger Cohen started as a freelance writer in Paris in 1977. Since then, he's built an impressive resume, which includes working as a foreign correspondent with Reuters, "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times". And now, he's a columnist with "The International Herald Tribune."

Roger Cohen has covered events around the globe and has been internationally recognized for his work. He's also written three books on Bosnia, on the life of Gulf War Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, and on the second World War.

I spoke to Roger Cohen and asked him first what inspired him to go into journalism.

ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Well, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I did know that I enjoyed writing. And I enjoyed traveling. And I was very curious about the world.

And when I finished - I started at Oxford University. And then I went off to Paris, where I knew I could get by teaching English. And I started freelancing for various magazines. And one thing led to another, as it does in life. And I ended up as a journalist.

It wasn't something I, you know, decided very young I must be a journalist. This is what I want to do. Absolutely. But as I started doing it, I became more passionate about wanting to do it. And that's how it ended up. Yes.

SWEENEY: And recently, you had a column which talked about Jimmy Carter's book about the Middle East, which has gained a lot of criticism.


SWEENEY: But you then raised the issue about what is viewed as America's unequivocal support for Israel in terms of no criticism whatsoever. What brought you to write that article?

COHEN: Well, I read the book. Carter has been criticized very widely for his book, particularly for using the term `apartheid' for what happened in the West Bank. He's tried to argue that he didn't mean it as a racist term. I don't think that you can take race out of apartheid any more than you can take Jewish out of Zionism.

So I think in that sense, maybe it wasn't a perfectly accurate description. But I think Carter was onto something very important. And the reason I wrote the column is I think that the United States has to redefine its position in the Middle East.

I think the unequivocal, as you said, support of Israel has made - and the equivalency that has grown up between Palestinian equals terrorists after 9/11. I think it's made it very difficult to move forward.

The U.S. has to be able to push and encourage on both sides. And Carter argues in the book that Israel has pursued in the West Bank policies of colonization, which have led to an unacceptable humiliation of the vast (INAUDIBLE) of the Palestinian people, and that they're wall barrier trends, whatever you want to call it, has amounted in some ways to a land grab in the West Bank. And I think that is objectively true.

So I wrote the column because I do believe that all of this is very corrosive to Israel, a state in whose existence and thriving I personally believe passionately. I don't think in the long term this is good for Israel. I think a two state solution would be an extremely important breakthrough on many, many fronts.

It's elusive. This has been going on almost 60 years. It's very, very difficult.


COHEN: Yes, I think it's extremely difficult because I think the 70 to 80 percent on either side, who are reasonable, always get pushed to the side by the zealots on both sides. And on the Palestinian side, you have a group, Hamas, which is not prepared to formally state that accepts the existence of Israel.

And now this is a problem.

SWEENEY: And what you're saying is America has a role to play here?

COHEN: I do think so. I think United States has a role to play in trying to bring Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, you know, help him in his internal conflict, help him get the Palestinians to a position where serious negotiations. And begin to - Israel and the United States have to help. I mean, they have to not be in a position of finding a way it often seems to me of saying, look, there's no interlockage there. We can't do anything. There's no way to talk. It's too easy. And it's been going on too long.

SWEENEY: Let's move on, if we may.


SWEENEY: .to other areas in the Middle East. Your views on Iran, I mean, I know you covered the World Cup and you wrote several columns about.

COHEN: Yes, yes.

SWEENEY: .the facility of Iran staying in the World Cup.


SWEENEY: Ahmadinejad coming to Germany. And what is your take now on what is happening between Iran and the rest of the international community?

COHEN: Well, I think - look, I don't think that a military strike on Iran would be a good option at this point. I don't think, unlike some, that the Bush administration with its recent moves in Iraq, in demonstrating the role of Iranians in arming Shi'ites there, is preparing a case to attack Iran. Why? I think the U.S. is very, very stretched in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And I also think the danger of Iran producing a deliverable nuclear system weapon of some kind is some way down the road sufficiently for the path of negotiation and diplomacy to be pursued further.

A tremendous breakthrough would be some kind of American engagement with Iran. I think it would be the equivalent of Nixon to China in terms of its global resonance.

However, it's very difficult. And I think we have to remember that Ahmadinejad relies, for a large part, of his support on vitriolic anti- Americanism, anti-Semitism. And I think - I'm not convinced that even if the U.S. dropped every condition, even if it said, look, you don't even have to suspend the enrichment, we're ready to come to the table, I'm not sure they'd do it because once they're at the table, then that galvanizing element that, you know, he always has Ahmadinejad at his disposal would be gone. It's a very delicate dance.

SWEENEY: Making the transition from being a foreign correspondent to a columnist, there are those who really resent the idea of somebody putting their views forward to the public. They do not regard it as a conversation. How do you regard your role as a columnist?

COHEN: Well, I do regard it as a conversation. I think - I try to reply to every e-mail. Sometimes it's impossible, but I do think that - actually, I don't agree with what you said. I think people more and more read columnists. They get information so easily, whether on their cell phone or whatever. And you know, the world's very complicated. I think they want thoughtful people. I hope I'm one, to you know, try to put forward a point of view.

And then they respond. And it's much easier to respond these days. We have a much more democratic citizen journalist kind of world. I think it's a good thing.

It's hard sometimes to distinguish between, you know, what value to put on all the commentary that's out there, because you go to a blog, a website, anywhere, and you know, everybody shouting.

I think papers like "The Herald Tribune", "The Times," serious newspapers that commit resources to putting people on the ground, so they can see what they're writing about before they write about it, I still think they play an important role.

SWEENEY: Roger Cohen, thank you very much.

COHEN: Thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can shout from any place.


SWEENEY: She's put presidents in the hot seat. Now a veteran White House reporter is set to lose hers. Is Helen Thomas taking this sitting down? Stay with us.


SWEENEY: She has a reputation for being a tough as nails correspondent. Helen Thomas, the grand dame of the White House press corps, won't be firing off from the frontline any more. The veteran reporter is being moved to the second row.

Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From celebs in courtside seats, to the front row at fashion shows, editors may hide behind sunglasses, but Helen Thomas isn't hiding on the front row of history.

HELEN THOMAS, HEARST COLUMNIST: My question is why did you really want to go to war?

MOOS: It's not as if she didn't warn the president against calling on her.

THOMAS: You're going to be sorry.


MOOS: And often, they were.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to say - excuse me for second, please. Excuse me for a second. Helen, excuse me.

MOOS: She's used to putting them on the hot seat, but now it's her seat that's hot. The legendary reporter turned columnist is losing her front row perch. The White House briefing room is closed for renovations, but when it reopens, Helen will be relegated to the second row.

(on camera): So who would have a nerve to bump Helen Thomas from the front row? Why, actually, it's us. CNN and FOX News, both the networks want to move up. And the only way for that to happen is for Helen to move back.

(voice-over): Since CNN has seniority, we would probably have gotten a front row seat anyway. But for FOX to also get one, Helen had to move. After more than three decades in the front row, is Helen livid?

THOMAS: What I'd like to know is why am I the story? There's a war going on.

MOOS: And she doesn't mean a war over her seat.

THOMAS: Are all these stories untrue?

BUSH: Let me finish, let - ma'am - let me - ma'am, please let me finish the question.

I can't thank the president enough for his hospitality. He didn't need to do this.

THOMAS: Yes, he did.

MOOS: She's used to challenging authority, not seating charts.

THOMAS: I don't belong there in the front row. I can shout from any place.

MOOS: One of Helen's books might need a new title, "Second Row at the White House." The White House Correspondents Association determines the seating. And it's president declares, "We love her and we'll take care of her."

She's the only person to have a plaque with her name attached to her seat. President Bush once said of sparring with Helen.

BUSH: It's kind of like dancing together, isn't it?

MOOS: She's danced with nine different presidents and made a cameo and a funny video Bill Clinton made for a press dinner.


THOMAS: Are you still here?

MOOS: She'll still be here probably causing a row from two rows away. This cookie.

THOMAS: Yes, I have my cookie down here.

MOOS: .doesn't crumble.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SWEENEY: And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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