April 14, 2003
NEW YORK -- An armed guard protecting a CNN crew engaged in a brief gunfight with Iraqi forces while speeding through a checkpoint near Tikrit on Sunday. Two people in the CNN convoy were slightly injured.
Correspondent Brent Sadler said the seven-vehicle CNN convoy decided to leave Tikrit, one of the last strongholds of Saddam Hussein loyalists, because they could feel "hostility rising."
They were fired upon with automatic weapons just outside of Tikrit, he said. An Iraqi Kurd guard traveling with the CNN crew returned fire.
On Sunday, CNN repeatedly ran video that showed the roadside passing by from the car's perspective, then the camera being pointed to the sky as its operator ducked for cover.
"These shots weren't intended to scare us," Sadler later said. "They were intended to kill us."
The guard was grazed by a bullet, CNN spokesman Matthew Furman said. A CNN producer was hit by shattered glass.
While not passing judgment on what happened, media ethics expert Bob Steele said news organizations must consider the possibility that such an incident can heighten the risk for all journalists that they will be considered a hostile force in a time of war.
"It may be a justifiable risk," said Steele, director of the ethics program for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which holds the controlling stock in the St. Petersburg Times. "But it's a risk that must be considered on the front-end before a dangerous situation takes place and potential consequences play out."
CNN supports what its guard did, Furman said. The network noted that Sadler was in a convoy clearly marked as containing journalists and that the Iraqis fired first.
Joel Campagna, Mideast program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, couldn't recall another incident in which a reporter's guard had to fire his weapon.
"Journalists pose the question of whether they should sacrifice their security for the perception of neutrality. I don't know the answer to that," he said.
Most journalists adhere to Geneva Conventions rules that reporters not openly carry weapons in war zones, but several news organizations have hired armed guards for protection in dangerous areas.
In all, 10 employees of news organizations have been killed in combat situations in Iraq since the war began March 19.