Feb. 21 — What a weird war. So far, one American soldier has been killed during hostile fire, one CIA agent—and 9 journalists, the latest being Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Beyond the human tragedy—Pearl leaves a pregnant wife—the consequences of his death are serious for both journalism and U.S.-Pakistani relations.
WAR REPORTING HAS always been hazardous, but never more so than now, when the frontiers of combat are so indistinct. Pearl was not actually a war correspondent; he was a roving Paris-based reporter of uncommon talent—among the very best of the new generation—loved for his modest but fun nature, and respected for a witty writing style and a sharp eye for the off-beat stories that make the Journal so good. He declined an assignment in Afghanistan as too dangerous, but thought Pakistan would be safe enough.
The fact that he was wrong has sent chills through newsrooms around the world, and not just because he was so well-liked personally. War correspondents are a particular breed who bring particular skills to their courageous coverage; writers like Pearl bring different skills and a different set of eyes. Now, we’ll get fewer of the latter such efforts from places like Pakistan and lose that fresh perspective. The most seasoned war correspondents—and bravest young reporters—will still go. But writers with Pearl’s background will be inclined to stay away. That is a serious loss for readers everywhere.
The implications of Pearl’s death for Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf are also considerable. The whole premise of his relationship with the U.S.—which has embraced him despite his coup d’etat—is that he can control the radical elements within Pakistan. But now we know he can’t. Not only couldn’t his government save Pearl, it couldn’t figure out what happened to him for weeks. If it knew and didn’t tell us, that’s even worse.
Daniel Pearl was such a fine person and fine reporter that his many friends will try to create some permanent memorial for him. Perhaps the greatest way to honor his memory is to resolve to continue reporting the story he was working on—the biggest story of our times.
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2013 Newsweek, Inc.