The deaths of four journalists covering the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan underscore the danger war correspondents face daily, said a West Virginia University journalism professor who covered the Vietnam War.
“I think the issue here is, every day somewhere in the world journalists risk their lives in staying the course to give the public a true picture of war and its effects,”saidGeorge Esper, who is the Ogden Newspapers Visiting Professor in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.
The bodies of the slain journalists in Afghanistan were recovered and identified Tuesday (Nov. 20), a day after their convoy was ambushed in a narrow mountain pass on the road to the country’s capital, Kabul. The journalists were Australian television cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari, both of the Reuters news agency; Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera; and Julio Fuentes of the Spanish daily El Mundo.
Esper was an Associated Press correspondent for more than 40 years and covered the Vietnam War from 1965-75. He has written The Eyewitness History of the Vietnam War, a book that tells the human side of the war. He joined the School of Journalism faculty in January 2000 as the first person to hold the Shott Chair in Journalism.
More than 60 journalists died covering the Vietnam War, and some were executed, Esper said.
The situation in Afghanistan, however, may be more dangerous for war correspondents, he added.
“In Vietnam, you could travel with a large troop contingent, which helped safety-wise,”he said.”You cant do that in Afghanistan because there is no large U.S. troop contingent. I think theres more of a danger when you travel in small units or by yourself.”