Editor's note: The following is a condensed posting on Brian's thoughts about the incident involving ABC's Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt and the NBC News travel policy regarding reporters and anchors.
Having sampled a small portion of the print and Internet debate that is raging while my colleague Bob Woodruff slowly emerges from a medically-induced coma at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and having declined since last Sunday to comment on the matter, I thought it might be appropriate at this point to comment briefly in this venue.
A lot has been written and said about our jobs. Some have written forcefully and passionately that network anchors have no business putting themselves in positions that involve danger and risk. I would argue that it IS our business. All of us in these jobs, along with the great men and women who came before us, came to these jobs as reporters. It's our professional training. The "desk job" component of our work often happens by accident. We somewhat reluctantly understand that once we become anchors, we must rely on the reporting of our outstanding fleet of correspondents -- on the job, on location every single day -- to be experts on their beats and to provide context on a daily basis. But we still consider ourselves reporters, and we do a better job when we spend time out of the studio and in the world.
I do know that I am a better person and a better journalist today for having seen American soldiers on the job in Iraq. It wouldn't have been possible without traveling there... living with them, eating with them, talking with them, observing them, riding in the claustrophobic, airless, hot confines of the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle with them, flying over the Iraqi countryside at 100 feet, and watching their casual and effortless bravery and cool demeanor while faced with the imminent threat of live fire. Whenever I'm having a bad day, I think of them, in the worst place on earth, doing a job they volunteered for.
Had I not traveled to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, I would never have seen hell on earth, and would not have been able to convey the destruction of the tsunami and its aftermath to our viewers. Had I not been inside the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, I would have been deprived of a meaningful lesson in human dignity. I could also argue that absent my Katrina experience, we would not have a recurring series of reports on Nightly News entitled "The Long Road Back," a group effort of which we're enormously proud. Had I not traveled to Berlin in 1989, I would not have seen the wall come down before my very eyes. Had I not been in Johannesburg in 1994, I would not have been able to congratulate Nelson Mandela on his election victory overnight. These experiences are now a part of my life, my work and my education. I believe the understanding I've gained from them makes me better at what I do for a living.
When a bomb goes off in Israel or Amman... when we hear of gunfire in Ramallah or Baghdad, there's a good chance I can picture the location. That's because I've had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to these and many other places... something I will continue to insist on, despite the awful injuries to Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt of ABC News.
Getting on a plane to report on a story outside New York enriches us as reporters. In our medium, it can often personalize a story that may seem complex, foreign or ephemeral to American viewing audiences. In addition, when we do not have a large presence on a story, we run the risk of under-reporting it, as I believe was the case with the earthquake in Pakistan last year. Traveling to dangerous places brings obvious risks. Those risks need to be managed, and our employers do everything in their power to ensure our safety. The great foreign correspondents of our time (and here I would include people like our own Richard Engel who does such superb work from our Baghdad bureau) take enormous risks every day, and they do it by choice. Those of us who do it on a per-story basis take on measurable but lesser risks, with the obvious advantage of knowing our time there is finite, and afterward we return to the comparatively luxurious confines of our offices, newsrooms, studios and homes.
Bob and Doug's experience caused them great physical harm and great pain. It has brought pain to their wives and children and friends and colleagues. Ask any American military family about the stresses of having loved ones in great danger. This incident has generated a debate about the dangers of such missions, and whether we should ever venture outside the studio as part of our jobs. To that I would point out that in all the hours of television I've anchored from a television studio, I've never reported on anything that has happened in that room. All of the news is happening outside. Some of it far away, in dangerous places. We must continue to report the news, we must continue to take all proper precautions, and we must pray that Bob and Doug make a complete recovery. After all, they were just doing their jobs.