Iraq journalist deaths match number killed during Vietnam War

Richard Pyle
Associated Press
May 31, 2006

With the deaths of two CBS television crew members from a car bomb in Baghdad, the casualty toll among journalists in Iraq has risen to 71 — the same number that were killed or presumed dead during the Vietnam War, the deadliest ever for the media until now.

Both counts are unofficial, but based on careful compilations. The Vietnam list, maintained by The Associated Press Saigon bureau during the war, covers the years 1965-75, and includes 34 lost in Cambodia, 33 in Vietnam and four in Laos.

The Iraqi list regarded as the most reliable, from April 2003 to the present, is kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. It shows that CBS cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42, killed in Baghdad by a suicide car bomb on Monday, were the 70th and 71st journalists to die in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has no Vietnam press casualty list of its own but relies on the AP’s version, said Abi Wright, spokeswoman for the committee.

Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director, said that while foreign media deaths get a lot of attention, three-fourths of those killed have been Iraqis, who are encountering the same dangers whether they work for local media or western media. And the organization says another 26 people have died while working in non-newsgathering roles as office assistants, drivers, interpreters and the like.

“It is a reflection of how dangerous this situation is and also that in some cases, journalists are being targeted by the insurgents because of the work they do,” Cooper said.

Other media-related organizations also keep journalist casualty lists, which vary from one to another. The Freedom Forum, a Washington-based journalism advocacy group, lists 63 journalists killed in Vietnam, and 77 killed in Iraq.

For both the AP and CPJ lists, the basic criterion is that the individuals died as a direct result of hostile action, not accidents or illness. Beyond that, comparisons are difficult, due to the differing nature of the wars. In Vietnam, most of the journalists were killed in combat or military air crashes, or vanished in embattled areas and were never found, thus presumed dead. CPJ’s Iraqi list includes at least 23 journalists who were murdered, presumably because of their editorial activities.

Many of the Iraqi journalists killed were working for local newspapers or television outlets, as well as foreign news organizations.

Among journalists from 15 countries who died during the Vietnam War, 20 were Americans, the most of any nationality. France and Japan followed with 14 each. At least a dozen nationalities have been among Iraq’s victims.

In Iraq, only two of the media casualties to date were Americans–Atlantic magazine editor and Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, who died in 2003 when his Army Humvee came under fire and rolled into a canal, and Steve Vincent, a New York-based freelance writer who was murdered near the port city of Basra in 2005.

The Vietnam casualties range from the first combat death, an American freelancer in 1965, to the last, a French photographer killed the day before Saigon fell to communist forces in April, 1975. The list is conservative in that it does not include a dozen or more Cambodian freelancers _ as many as 20 by one estimate _ who vanished during the communist Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975, after hostilities ended. Some are assumed to have perished in the “killing fields” afterward.

Despite their high-profile exposure to danger in combat, only two TV cameramen were killed in Vietnam _ both ABC employees, at the same place on the same day in 1972. Three others were among nine media victims of a Cambodian ambush two years earlier.

With the latest deaths, the Iraq toll includes 10 cameramen and at least three sound technicians. The death tolls for Vietnam and Iraq each exceed the 67 correspondents killed covering Allied forces in World War II and 18 killed in the 1950-53 Korean War. Comparable figures for other sides in these wars either do not exist, or are unclear as to the civilian or military status of those killed.