Vantage Point

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

As hard as it is to see people dying in Iraq, Lebanon and Israel, it is still instructive to watch how reporters go about covering such events, often at great personal risk.

Having done some war reporting, I know it's not easy to go into a place where missiles are exploding, bullets are flying and buildings are falling on children, and to pull together a coherent account of what's happening, day after day.

A month into the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, journalists are starting to look haggard. Last night on CNN, correspondent John Roberts told of accompanying Israeli troops into a volatile area of southern Lebanon. His vivid account of the mission showed just how tense and dangerous things can get, and it was obvious how exhausted the soldiers and Roberts himself became. When a few of them had a chance to rest, they fell asleep, Roberts included.

The Israel Defense Forces have allowed very few reporters to view up close the army's incursion into southern Lebanon. They are only just starting a regular embedding process. The IDF is taking a page from the U.S. military, which often lets reporters ride along with troops in Iraq.

But for most reporters in Israel, daily briefings by military brass are the only source of hard details about the conflict.

The other day I called several correspondents in the region. Most said the border area and the troops there have become increasingly unreachable as Israel's incursion into Lebanon has intensified.

"Access has kind of tightened up," said Dion Nissenbaum, Jerusalem bureau chief for the McClatchy newspapers, which include the Fresno, Sacramento and Modesto Bees.

Nissenbaum said reporters had been trying for a week to boost the number of "pools," in which small groups of reporters are allowed access to the fighting as long as they brief other journalists about it afterward. But very few pools have resulted.

"It's frustrating, because it inhibits our ability to find out the truth of what's going on," Nissenbaum said, referring to Israel's claim last week that it had controlled 20 Lebanese villages. He said, "We have no way to verify whether that's true."

National Public Radio correspondent Eric Westervelt said that, because of Israeli checkpoints, he'd had to resort to "creative subterfuge" to get close enough to glimpse some of the fighting across the border. He befriended a woman and persuaded her to allow him to ride in her car through a checkpoint to her house, from where there was a "great view" of Israeli tanks.

"I pretended I was a local," he said. "She flashed her badge and we went through. I didn't like to do it, but I had to get to the fighting."

Ken Ellingwood, a Los Angeles Times correspondent, said from Jerusalem that his two-week stint on the Lebanese border was a frustrating experience.

"I spent many of those days driving the back roads," he said, "trying to find some vantage point into the border towns of Lebanon, where you knew fighting was going on."

Michael Matza, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jerusalem bureau chief for the past five years, said he understood Israel's desire to control what goes out, not least because it is fighting an enemy that seems unusually resilient.

The evidence is that many people in northern Israel are spending much too much time in bomb shelters.

"It's nothing like the wholesale destruction in Lebanon," he said, "but this is really shaking the Israelis up. A big portion of the northern part of the country is vulnerable to missile attacks. It's taking its toll."

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



Nick Madigan