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American Journalism Review
Free at Last  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   April/May 2006

Free at Last   

Kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll is released in Iraq. Posted March 30, 2006

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


An incredible feeling of relief.

That's the only way to describe the wonderful news that kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll has been freed.

One can only imagine what went through Carroll's mind during her 82 days in captivity, what terrors gripped the 28-year-old reporter, alone, with no idea where she was or what fate awaited her. Tormented by periodic threats that she would be executed if various kidnappers' demands weren't meant, only a confirmed optimist could have been confident that this chilling saga would have a happy ending.

Thanks goodness it did.

While any kidnapping is a horrible event, the kidnapping of Jill Carroll had a special resonance for journalists. Because Carroll was doing precisely what journalists do. There was a major story, and she had to be there to chronicle it, no matter the danger.

It's a choice that is virtually impossible to explain to any sensible, rational person not in the business. Why would you put yourself in harm's way, to do what, cover a story?

Reporting on war is inherently risky. But in the past year covering the turbulence in Iraq hell, just being in Iraq has become unimaginably perilous.

Yet Carroll was there to bear witness, because there was an important story to be told. And she was going to tell it.

And she was going to tell it right.

Here's how she put it in a piece she wrote in AJR's February/March 2005 issue about freelancers in Iraq:

"Covering the war gives journalists an opportunity to recall the noblest tenets of their profession and fulfill the public service role of journalism.

"The sense that I could do more good in the Middle East than in the U.S. drove me to move to Jordan six months before the war to learn as much about the region as possible before the fighting began. All I ever wanted to be was a foreign correspondent, so when I was laid off from my reporting assistant job at the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, it seemed the right time to try to make it happen. There was bound to be plenty of parachute journalism once the war started, and I didn't want to be a part of that."

So Carroll learned Arabic, and she learned about Iraq, and she learned about the Middle East.

As the danger has escalated, Western journalists have found it harder and harder to travel freely, to mingle with the locals so that they can portray life in Iraq. But Carroll was determined. She wore an abaya, a traditional one-piece Islamic garment that also covered her head, rather than Western garb so that she could better pursue the stories of ordinary Iraqis. Not that that was enough to prevent her from being snatched from the streets.

And now she has been freed, and it's hard to imagine better news.

Jill Carroll, we salute you.

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