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Surviving a Car Bombing; China's Oympic Showcase

Aired June 20, 2008 - 20:30:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Hello, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
This week, from reporting to becoming the story. Journalist Kim Dozier tells us about her toughest assignment, her own comeback from a car bombing in Iraq. And later, China's great showcase ahead of the Beijing Olympics. We speak to Chinese reporters about the country's media climate. It's the day dedicated to remembering those killed in conflict, May 29th, Memorial Day in the U.S. In 2006, that day changed the life of CBS news correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

It's when she went from reporting to becoming the story. Dozier was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq when a car bomb hit the patrol she was traveling with. The explosion almost killed her. It did claim the lives of cameraman Paul Douglas and operator James Brolin, as well as a U.S. Army captain and an Iraqi translator.

Dozier suffered serious injuries in the attack and has seen a long road to recovery, one that involved multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy.

Kimberly Dozier's new book, "Breathing the Fire" reconstructs her path from the bombing to her comeback. This week, Kimberly Dozier accepted a Peabody Award for her CBS Sunday morning story about two female veterans who lost limbs in Iraq.

To speak about her own experience and recovery, Kimberly Dozier joins me from Washington. It's very hard to believe looking at you now that the pictures in your book two years ago was the same person.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is a testament to the surgeons who literally put me back together, rebuilt my legs, got the shrapnel out of my brain, and put more than 2,000 stitches into my leg to put the grafts on. The car bomb literally blew through my legs. And thanks to the fact that this was further on in the war, and the surgeons had a lot of experience with these types of injuries, they knew how to put it back together.

SWEENEY: It made big news at the time, but if we could just roll back to that moment, that morning, Memorial Day, when you were out covering a story. What took place?

DOZIER: We were going with the Fourth Infantry Division Patrol. Captain Alex Funkhouser was our guide. And his translator Sam and he were both killed by the initial force of the blast. That was not supposed to be that sort of patrol. We were going to a safe neighborhood, the Corada (ph), to check out where roadside bomb had gone off the day before.

And he wanted to talk to Iraqis on the street and ask them what they'd seen. He thought they knew who the bombers were. So we were outside of our humvees. We essentially walked into an ambush towards a 500 pound car bomb. The insurgents were watching from an outpost above. They waited 'til we were within 20 feet of it. And they used a cell phone, triggered the bomb. And it blew through the entire patrol.

SWEENEY: You write of how one of your U.S. Army companions that morning had had a strange feeling when you got to that particular street that something didn't feel right. Did you have a similar feeling at all?

DOZIER: I was - actually my guard was down. Once we got there, and got out of the humvees, the part that you always fear going out with U.S. patrols was riding in the vehicles, because you felt like you were a roadside bomb magnet.

Now that said, the night before this embed, like any embed, I was always apprehensive. I could never sleep very well, because every morning, when you'd wake up in Baghdad, and this is why I call the book "Breathing the Fire," you'd hear explosions. And you'd go out on your hotel balcony and look across the city and try to figure out was that a car bomb far away? Or was that a mortar close up?

So we knew any time we were going out with U.S. patrols, we were taking our lives into our hands.

SWEENEY: Your cameraman and your soundman were killed. And you believe your life was saved because you allowed them to go forward to a tea stand to get a shot of an Iraqi man sipping a cup of tea and to talk to him. Had you not let them get the shot, you might have well ended up in the same way as they did.

DOZIER: Well, I was about 20 feet back. Captain Funkhouser was striding toward the tea stand because he saw his translator Sam was already there. He wanted to talk to Iraqis. And Paul and James were up ahead, already getting shots. Turns out they were actually shooting Staff Sergeant Nathan Reed, the head of the patrol who was worried about the security situation. He was the one who had the funny feeling. Paul was actually filming him when the car bomb went off.

SWEENEY: I certainly remember where I was when I heard what had happened to you and your colleagues. You write in the book of how this made such big news, partly because it-there was a certain public fatigue in the U.S. to yet another car bomb, yet another American soldier being killed. And you also write in your book, and I'm quoting here, "although women journalists and women soldiers have been in and on the battlefield for at least a couple of decades, the public hasn't caught up with us yet." What do you mean by that?

DOZIER: Well, you know, I kept getting told when I was putting my book - giving it to various publishers, why don't you make this a woman's memoir about how now women are covering wars? And you're one of the first ones to do it. I kind of looked at him and said do you know how many of us are out there? We've been there for 20 years. Christiane Amanpour was one of my first examples. She's one of the reasons I kept not taking, you know, no for an answer and pushing ahead, because I kept seeing her in all of these war zones.

So we are out there. And one of the reasons that I guess I wouldn't make this a woman's memoir is because I wanted people just to catch up with the fact that this is how it is. That said, when this happened on Memorial Day, you hadn't had a women injured in such a high profile way like that before a correspondent. And it was a slow news day back in the States. Holidays always are. So I think that's partly why there was such a focus on what happened to us. We lost Paul and James. No network had lost so many people in one day.

All that said, a lot of the people in the military community were very upset that Captain Funkhouser's name of course didn't come up. They said oh, is the media not reporting it because the media doesn't care. His name was held for 24 hours because it had to be by congressional law. You've got to notify the family of the military person first and give it 24 hours.

Then again, the good thing was it made people stop and pay attention to the losses in that war, both to U.S. troops, to Iraqi civilians that this kept happening. And it reminded people in a fresh way to pay attention.

SWEENEY: And how would you assess the public's appetite in the U.S. now for this war?

DOZIER: Oh, it's very hard to get the story out. National news coverage of Iraq, whether it be on television or in newspapers has dwindled to something like less than three percent of the coverage. Now I know we have this amazing historic election happening here. And we've got a lot of foreign reporters here in this country covering it.

But what happens in Iraq and what happens in Afghanistan, what I try to remind people here, the rest of the world is still paying deep, close attention to this. And they will judge us by the legacy we leave behind in those countries. I would like Americans to pay closer attention because we need the information to make the decisions about the next administration we choose, and the next policy they're going to pursue because the rest of the world is watching us.

SWEENEY: If we could go back to the aftermath of your particular car bombing experience, you went through months and months of operations, surgeries, and rehabilitation too detailed to go into in this interview. But essentially, one of the points that you drive...

DOZIER: Gross.

SWEENEY: One of the points you drive home in the book is that people - the reaction of other people to you, that people were either shocked, but mainly also felt that they knew more than you did about what you were going through.

DOZIER: A lot of people think if you've been through some major trauma like this, that you're going to be permanently scarred in the head and the heart as well as your body. And they make assumptions that you must be going through flashbacks. You must still be plagued by nightmares.

And you must still be in pain in all sorts of different ways. And I got to say when you're a trauma survivor, and you fought so hard to get back to health, but also to put away the painful memories. That's one of the reasons that I wrote the book. It's grief processing, just taking all the pain out of memories by writing it down.

And you want that to be acknowledged or understood. I guess someone coming across you, it's like you come across someone who's been in tragedy and you don't know what to say. So some of these assumptions are a way of them reaching out to you, but they can really tick you off, I got to say.

Like no, I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine.

SWEENEY: Yes, I can imagine, but I suppose that you had your own difficulties to go through in terms of dealing with the death of Paul and James, your cameraman and your sound operator and their families, who saw you still alive and their loved ones dead?

DOZIER: Absolutely. The first year was the toughest, especially those first weeks and months in the hospital bed. And that - it was a pain I could not escape. I'd wake up in the morning. And the reality of it, the memories of where I was, why I was there, and that Paul and James were gone would always come rushing in and crush me.

You wake up in tears. And a lot of people on that hallway at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the nurses would tell me we're in the same state, you know, soldiers, Marines, airmen who'd lost their battle buddies in the field and realize that they were still alive. And you start asking yourself why. So there was a very long road to travel to heal and to get beyond the grief and the guilt of surviving when others didn't.

You want to take the blame because then, you were somehow in control of it, and you could keep a tragedy like that from happening again.

SWEENEY: Do you think...

DOZIER: It took a long time to accept.

SWEENEY: Do you think that you have come to terms with it all, including the fact that some people perhaps unconsciously, colleagues and family of those lost ones, blame you in some way rightly or wrongly?

DOZIER: I realized that the process of dealing with grief involves some blame. I blamed myself. Other people will blame me. It's part of getting through it. If they need to blame me, you know, I understand. And for as long as they need to, OK. The bombers were apparently killed that night. They are nameless, faceless people. I'm still standing here on two feet. I'm still talking to you. So if that's part of their process, it helps them get through it, fine. I'm OK with that.

SWEENEY: And today, in June 2008, you're still with CBS. What does the future hold for you, travels in the Middle East again or not?

DOZIER: Oh, my poor bosses. I do have a home in the Middle East. And I've been asking to get back to it and get back to Middle East coverage since last year. But there's less of an appetite for foreign news coverage. And there's a lot to do over at the Pentagon and the State Department and the White House here.

So in the meantime, until they let me go back, I'm looking at what's happening over there from my post here.

SWEENEY: Well, at least you're there to be able to it. Thank you very much indeed. Kimberly Dozier for joining us, sharing your thoughts and your book, "Breathing the Fire."

DOZIER: Great to talk to you.

SWEENEY: Journalists continued to be casualties of the Iraq conflict. This week, gunmen killed an anchor for state TV's Ninevah Channel. Police say Muhadeen Abdul Hamed was shot dead in a drive by shooting outside his eastern Mosul home.

That attack came after United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon dedicated a glass and steel sculpture to news workers who have been killed while doing their jobs.


BAN-KI MOON, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Those whom other journalists can only stop the free flow of information, they kill the ability of millions of people to help their stories told.

These fallen heroes are lost, but they will never be forgotten.


SWEENEY: The 10 meter high structure on the roof of the BBC's central London offices will beam light for 30 minutes each evening.

Now with the Olympics just around the corner, China is facing media scrutiny like never before. Will it be able to tame thousands of journalists about to descend upon Beijing? We'll get the view from two Chinese reporters.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. In seven weeks, the world will be watching China with an estimated 30,000 journalists expected to cover the Summer Olympic Games. Preparations were already attracting widespread coverage, though some news outlets say they're running into difficulties despite a law designed to give reporters greater freedom.

China and its relationship with the media have been heavily scrutinized recently. Disruptions to the Olympic torch relay and protests in Tibet attracted negative coverage, while there was a more positive tone to the handling of the recent earthquake.

This week, that relationship was the focus of a China Now cultural event held in London. Well, we want to get the view of Chinese journalists about the country's media. And for that, we turn to Jenny Zhong, editor and presenter with Phoenix satellite TV, a private network broadcasting in China. Also with us is Nan Lin, journalist for the London based EU Chinese Journal.

Thank you both very much for joining us. Jenny Zhong, first of all, the perception of China in the Western media, in your opinion is it fair?

JENNY ZHONG, PRESENTER, PHOENIX SATELLITE TV: Well, the torch relay, the coverage, I didn't think it was fair. And I think the Western media, they didn't set out to offend Chinese people. But in reality, they did to a certain extent.

SWEENEY: Was it the Chinese government or the Chinese people?

ZHONG: I think it's a very interesting question. Actually, it's both Chinese government and the Chinese people.

SWEENEY: They're one in the same?

ZHONG: I wouldn't say they're the same. But in this regard, in the Olympics, and this issue, I think they're the same. They're very united.

SWEENEY: Why do you think the press coverage was so unfair in your opinion?

ZHONG: I think, first of all, they take the Tibet riots as a bad news. You know, bad news is always good story to the Western journalists nowadays. So they kind of take it, they sex it up, and they blow it out of proportion.

SWEENEY: But we're hearing about thousands of people being detained. I mean, how much coverage of - in China is there about Tibet?

ZHONG: But at the same time, I was there when the torch arrived in London. And I saw thousands of Chinese students, thousands of Chinese overseas people. They come to London, try to celebrate, to celebrate the torch and celebrate the achievements of China, but there's no shots from the Western media. There are barely two shots. Their coverage dedicated to them. So I think it's unfair.

SWEENEY: Nan Lin, let me ask you this. Seven weeks, the world's going to be watching China, the Olympics. A lot of work gone into this in Beijing.


SWEENEY: And yet, Tibet is still one of the issues that's burning.

LIN: Yes.

SWEENEY: Let me ask you, how much of an interest and an appetite in China is there for there for the Tibet story?

LIN: I think for China, 2008 is the Olympic year. And it's a great opportunity for China to show the...


LIN: show the image, the more the image.


LIN: Yes. And with the recent earthquake, the Chinese people, I think they need (INAUDIBLE) a bit. So right now, Olympic is the key area for Chinese media to focus on.

SWEENEY: Has there traditionally been any focus on Tibet at all in Chinese state media?

LIN: I think it's quite sensitive. You have to be careful when you deal with it.

SWEENEY: All right. Jenny, let me ask you, the recent earthquake saw a change in the Chinese government's relationship with the media. Not only for international journalists, but also for Chinese journalists. There are some who say the genie's been let out of the bottle now, and that there is no going back in terms of press freedoms. What are your thoughts on that?

ZHONG: Actually, I was very happy to see this transformation of the Chinese media landscape. And I think earthquake provides opportunity for the Chinese media to do that, because we didn't - we are allowed, you know, access to the disaster areas. We're allowed to in a broadcast first hand news to the Chinese household.

SWEENEY: Whereas before, you might not have been allowed access. Generally...


SWEENEY: ...can you travel anywhere?

ZHONG: Forty years ago, when there was Tong Shen (ph) and earthquake, basically, there was non coverage whatsoever. So you can already see this is a very positive step forward.

SWEENEY: Are Chinese journalists in general allowed to travel freely throughout the country?

ZHONG: We are, we are.

SWEENEY: Unless something happens?

ZHONG: Unless something happens, yes. Something might be very sensitive.

But then again, I don't believe there's any complete media freedom anywhere, you know, in the world. You know, some other western governments, they also have their own agendas. They have their spin doctors, you know.

SWEENEY: Yes. There's focus on that for maybe another topic, but now we're just dealing with China and it's relationship with the media.

ZHONG: Right. Yes.

SWEENEY: Nan, what do you attribute this apparent opening of media freedoms in China, no matter how great or small?

LIN: Right. I think there are definitely restrictions. In general, it's getting loose now.

SWEENEY: Because?

LIN: Because it - on my age, how can you stop people getting news from Internet, online radio, online newspaper? How can you stop it? And the Chinese leader, they know it. They know if they do it, the only result is damaging their own images. So I think it's getting opener. And especially, if you see the online debate in China, it's - I think it's playing a more and more important rules.

SWEENEY: When you mention the online debate, I mean, you have Western media has been the target, certain Western journalists have been the target of online criticism from Chinese people. Is that something that's going to happen to the 30,000 or so international journalists who are descending on Beijing for the Olympics in seven weeks time if for some reason the coverage isn't what certain Chinese people expect?

ZHONG: I think Chinese people needs to also to mature as well, to learn how to take criticisms and to be rational if it's constructive criticism. Chinese people should listen and should learn and should improve.

So I think something like in - on the Internet, some petitions and some debates probably are not so rational, but I think Chinese people were learning and grow.

SWEENEY: Nan, after the Olympics, the apparent opening of press freedoms in China, will they be rolled back or are they here to stay?

LIN: I don't think they will take back, because once you are getting out, how can you stop it?

SWEENEY: There we leave it. Nan Lin, Jenny Zhong, thank you both very much indeed for joining us.

ZHONG: Thank you.

LIN: Thank you.

SWEENEY: It's almost two years since journalist Ana Politkovskya was shot dead in Moscow. Now Russian investigators say they've laid formal charges in connection with the killing. Why her colleagues are saying the murder is far from being resolved.


SWEENEY: Welcome back. Russia's investigative committee says formal charges have been filed against three men in connection with the killing of prominent journalist Ana Politkovskya. A fierce critic of the Kremlin, 48- year old Politkovskya was shot dead in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. Politkovskya's colleagues at Novaya Gazetta newspapers say the investigation has been undermined.


SERGEY SOKOLOV, CHIEF EDITOR, NOVAYA GAZETTA (through translator): There are lots of strange things in this case, which are connected not with the work of investigators, but with the situation around the case. There has been a lot of information leaking through high rank security officials, as well as judicial officials, which is unacceptable. We assure that these information leaks are connected with the fact that the killer could leave Russia, and that several people are not brought to justice regarding the murder case of Ana Politkovskya.


SWEENEY: Officials last month named another man, Rista Mahmodov (ph) as the suspected shooter. He remains at large. Investigators say the probe against him continues.

Before we go, generations of politicians, renowned journalists, and friends paid their respects on Wednesday to Tim Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief, who died from a heart attack while at work on June 13th. As host of the long running Sunday morning political show "Meet the Press," Tim Russert was regarded as an icon in the news business. U.S. President George W. Bush described him as a tough and hard working newsman. Tim Russert was 58.

And that's all for this edition of the program. You can watch it again on our website, 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.