Column: A trite ode to the brave

By Se Young Lee

The story of Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter who was abducted at gunpoint Jan. 7, has not ended yet. While a 40-second video released by her captors on Jan. 30 seems to assure relatives, acquaintances, friends, fellow journalists and politicians who have pleaded for her safe return, her future remains uncertain.

The romance of war reporting is one of intoxicating allure for any reporter, myself included. But few have the will to put away the picture frames and notepads at their cubicles into a cardboard box and leave behind the safe, albeit dreary, beige walls of the waste management board meeting room at the risk of shrapnel from roadside bombs and blind bullets.

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Jill Carroll did get a push in the back when she lost her job at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002. But she had the courage to leave everything she knew behind for a chance to become what she always wanted to be, a foreign correspondent. She hurled herself into Iraq after a brief stint in Jordan, against the long odds of making it on her own as a scribe for a hire in a nation that trembles with each explosion and every bullet. And she gamely made her mark in reporting on what will be remembered as one of the greatest moments of history for her generation of reporters.

It is often said that reporters get the front row seats to history. But journalists, in exchange for their tickets, must carry the heavy burden of showing the rest of the world how lives began to change, how the world began to creak at the weight of the gathering days, and why some soared to the heavens while others crashed into the pits of abyss.

Carroll, no doubt, sought to make a name for herself as an intrepid scribe who got the big stories. But she did not lose her humanity. She suffered and shed tears along with the aching nation she learned to call home. She threw herself at her work, trying to help others understand what is happening in Iraq and why. She was dedicated to telling the whole story the right way: with earnestness, devoid of pretension, and most importantly, with love for the story.

People of varying creed, color and culture have come together since Carroll’s kidnapping, united in condemnation the cowardly act, praise of Carroll’s character and professionalism, and calling for her release. This tragedy, ironically, has achieved what was seemingly impossible: getting the Americans, Europeans and Arabs to work toward a common goal. But it took 36 kidnapped journalists, who are not supposed to be the news, to get to this point.

As with many other stories that are unfolding today, the tale of the new Iraq has yet to be finished. And so long as the story goes on, there will be reporters setting foot in Iraq, whether it be for the sense of mission or in pursuit of fame. The words, the pictures and the videos will continue to flow into our living rooms, mailboxes and computers just like before.

The story of Iraq – its pains, triumphs, failures and reckonings – will be long remembered. Many of those who etched the first accounts of the meaningful moments in this saga will find their way back home, back into the arms of their loved ones, and claim the respect and the prestige that is rightfully theirs.

The same cannot be said for the story of Mahmoud Za’al, a TV cameraman for Baghdad TV who was killed on Jan. 24 in Ramadi, and the 78 other journalists who perished in Iraq. Their works may live on, but the names attached to the articles, footages and audio clips will mean nothing to anyone but their loved ones who will mourn their passing.

More lives will be lost as Iraq presses itself toward a true democracy. But journalists will continue to be there to make sure that the stories of its fights and struggles will be told. For all the shame and outrage for those in the ranks that have broken the cardinal codes of trust with the public, others will continue to carry on the mission.

This is a small scribe’s attempt to thank and honor those who have fallen and those who will fall, to let those who have and will take their last breath for refusing to forsake their mission know that their convictions and courage were not wasted.

But I do hope that these feeble words will not have to bear the loss of Jill Carroll.

Se Young Lee is a junior in communications and the director of communications for the Illinois Student Senate. His column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]