Shrapnel and Nightmares

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Tonight on CBS, you'll be able to see what it takes to cover the Iraq war, and the awful toll it can take.

Flashpoint, an hour-long documentary set to air at 10 p.m., looks at the devastating effects of a single car bomb in Baghdad on Memorial Day a year ago. Two CBS News crew members were killed, along with an Army officer and his interpreter.

Correspondent Kimberly Dozier was badly injured.

A cynic might wonder whether the documentary is an attempt by CBS to generate ratings based on sympathy for Dozier, who is shown fighting for her life and, later, going through a tortured recovery.

But I don't think cynicism has a place here.

Granted, the opening scene of Flashpoint, showing a largely recovered Dozier walking pensively amid the white tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery, Katie Couric at her side, suggests the kind of maudlin cliche that often fills such tributes to the fallen.

But the tone shifts abruptly when the footage turns to the site of the bombing.

From there, Flashpoint unfolds as an engrossing recounting not only of the horrific detonation and its effects on Dozier's crew and the Army unit that was escorting them, but of the agonizing, minute-by-minute efforts to save the reporter and several wounded soldiers.

Their slow recovery, over months of surgeries and therapy, and their difficulty in dealing with survivor's guilt become the central themes of the documentary.

One hundred and four journalists have been killed on duty in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It's "the most dangerous conflict for journalists since the Vietnam War," says Ann Cooper, the committee's executive director. CPJ keeps a separate tally of media support workers, such as interpreters, assistants, guides and drivers, who have been killed in Iraq. That number stands at 39.

In addition, 48 journalists have been kidnapped there. Anyone who believes the canard that journalists in Iraq have been cowed into doing their reporting from the Green Zone should listen to Dozier in tonight's documentary.

The 40-year-old reporter, whose father survived the assault on Iwo Jima during World War II, credits as her savior a soldier who applied tourniquets to her shattered legs. Her heart stopped twice as medics fought to revive her.

Over the past year, Dozier has endured about 25 operations to repair her legs, build a new eardrum and mend the damage to her head, into which a chunk of shrapnel had embedded itself. She tells Couric that trying to take her first few steps with the aid of a walker was "devastating and depressing." But, she says, seeing soldiers cope with amputations of limbs made her realize they "had a lot more to get through" than she did.

In that vein, the most moving aspects of Flashpoint are interviews with the widows of the CBS cameraman, Paul Douglas, and the Army officer, Capt. James A. Funkhouser Jr., each of whom left two daughters. Dozier visits both widows, their meetings streaked with sadness, as well as the surgeons who worked on her and the Iowa soldier who she says saved her life.

But the one face that lingers is that of Sgt. Justin Farrar, one of the most badly injured soldiers, whose physical wounds cannot compare with the guilt he feels over not having been able to shield Funkhouser, his commanding officer.

Similarly, Kate Rydell, a CBS producer in Iraq that fateful day, says she is tormented by her belief that she led soundman James Brolan to his death when she pushed for him to be included on the mission with Dozier and Douglas.

"I should have just let Paul and Kimberly go," she says, "and maybe James would be here today."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan