BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week the Pentagon announced when and where hundreds of reporters would be "imbedded" -- their term -- with troops in the battlefield if there's war in Iraq. It was about this time last year, as the U.S. waged war in Afghanistan, that we learned Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl had been murdered in Pakistan. For veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson, Pearl's death marked a terrible shift for people in his line of work. "There was a time," he observed recently in the New York Times magazine, "when war reporters were mostly spared the carnage because both sides wanted their stories told. But in the last 15 years as warring factions began to prey more and more on civilians, it no longer served them to have massacres reported to the outside world."
SCOTT ANDERSON: When you're slaughtering civilians, you don't want the outside world to report on that, so you as a journalist coming into an area like that, are in much greater risk.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Give me a contrast from your own experience from a time before this shift and a time after.
SCOTT ANDERSON:I was in El Salvador in the early 1980s. El Salvador, of course, was a horrific war, but journalists who were stationed there were able to cross between battle lines rather freely just by - in black tape - marking on their cars "TV" or "Prensa" - Press.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They would shoot around the cars.
SCOTT ANDERSON:At times they would shoot around the cars. There were cases of film crews on a battlefield just with a TV camera waving a white flag, and they were able to sort of wander across the battlefield. Eight years later in the Bosnia war, journalists started doing the same thing -- of taping their cars with the same, TV or Press, and what they discovered in Bosnia was that the Serbs were deliberately targeting those cars. And so what the journalists had done was to put bull's eyes on themselves. So where in Salvador in 1982-'84 certainly the, the guerrillas there saw the outside media as their way to tell the rest of the world of what they were fighting for. What you saw in Bosnia in 1992 was the last thing we want is for journalists to be in these areas and see what we're doing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So they didn't want journalists to tell their stories, but is there something about the way journalism has been practiced in the last 15 years that's contributed to that?
SCOTT ANDERSON: Well for one thing the world has gotten very much smaller. There is no such thing any more as domestic media or domestic coverage -- with the internet, with satellite TV, the whole world knows what's happening everywhere and they know how it's being reported.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So if they see a banner on CNN that says "America strikes back" they naturally I guess identify the reporters sitting in front of that banner with that position.
SCOTT ANDERSON: That's right. And the main area I cover is the Middle East, and 15 years ago, even people who were quote "Anti-American" -- there, there might be the insinuation that they thought I was part of the Zionist conspiracy or, you know, an agent of the American government. What's happened now is that that's sort of a starting point given in their minds; that's an assumption on their part. And I think with Danny Pearl's murder-- I think why it was such a haunting and, and watershed event was you've seen this evolution from journalists being seen as neutral to them being targeted when they came across their path like in places like Bosnia, and what you had with Danny Pearl for the first time was a journalist being deliberately set up -- like hunting down journalists.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You wrote in the New York Times piece that the Wall Street Journal had announced that it wasn't going to be sending any of its reporters to Baghdad if there were a war in Iraq. What happens to war coverage if major news outlets decide to pull out of covering the conflicts?
SCOTT ANDERSON: Well what happens is what has already happened in places like Algeria and Chechnya. Algeria has been the site of one of the bloodiest wars of the past 20, 30 years; over a hundred thousand people have been killed in Algeria. No one knows about it, because over 60 journalists have been killed in Algeria --mostly local journalists. Both sides have taken turns murdering journalists to ensure the story doesn't get told. Chechnya, tiny little country, I think 16 or 17 journalists have been killed in an area the size of Connecticut, mostly by Russian soldiers. So-- what that does is it ensures that Chechnya's sort of off the radar. So the Russians can then characterize the conflict there however they want to. And you know I, I think if you think back on, on Desert Storm, there was so little reporting from Baghdad and, and a lot of things that happened during that war, because there weren't journalists there to report it, are, are kind of lost in the ether. You know one thing that really struck me was Timothy McVeigh. He was in this unit where they went in with armored shovels, right after the bombing, and one of -- his job was to go into the, the berms where the Iraqis - troops were - and basically bury them alive. This was an official part of the, you know, the first wave of the American Army going into Kuwait. I'd never heard that until--!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I've never heard that story.
SCOTT ANDERSON:Yeah! But it was a policy. Apparently it had been reported somewhere in kind of a small, obscure place, but because you didn't have journalists up at the front-- it's like - wow! You know - our - we have an official policy of like burying people alive. Remarkable!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well obviously if we have a war in Iraq, it certainly won't be off the radar. During the last Gulf War we all know they corralled journalists into little rooms and fed them videotapes, and those went out to the public and that's how we knew that war. Now, in what appears to be a concession, the Pentagon is allowing reporters to "embed," that's the expression, with troops in the field. They receive some training so they won't become a liability to the war effort -and I suppose the idea is to allow reporters a freer access to the war zone and allow them to report more freely.
SCOTT ANDERSON: Freer access on one side of the story. And I think that what the Pentagon would like is that the whole coverage if we go to war in Iraq consists of journalists talking to soldiers in the field who, like, miss their wives and miss their kids but you know we're here to do our patriotic duty and-- and not hear anything about what's happening on the other side.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So over time a different strategy developed for dealing with the press or, or a variety of strategies?
SCOTT ANDERSON:What has developed is media handling strategies from the very crude in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia which is where you kill them -- to the much more sophisticated of what the American military does which is to co-opt them. You need to control the media one way or the other.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
SCOTT ANDERSON: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Scott Anderson has covered conflicts for the New York Times magazine and is author of The Man Who Tried to Save the World about an American relief worker who disappeared in Chechnya. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, an Arab news channel with a Scottish accent. Also a state house that took license with license plates.