A Higher Purpose

CBS News soundman James Brolan (center, left), 42, seen here with on the job in Iraq sometime in the past year, was killed May 29, 2006, by a Baghdad bomb that killed his fellow CBS journalist, cameraman Paul Douglas (not shown), and critically injured CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier (not shown).
CBS/U.S. Army
Thirty-three people died in Iraq today, and scores were injured, which for most of us is just another grim statistic in an endless war to which we have become anaesthetized.
Except that today, three of those cruel statistics were my friends, and while every such violent death should sadden, and every innocent victim's story deserves to be told, of course they do not, and are not.

What makes the deaths of Paul Douglas and James Brolan and the dreadful wounds suffered by Kimberly Dozier worthy of more than a mention is not merely that they were colleagues, companions and friends, but that they died and were hurt trying to make sense of all the other deaths and maimings which have no names, no stories about which we care, even if we ought to do so.

By the very nature of their job as a camera crew, Paul and James took more risks than other journalists. A 20-plus pound camera on your shoulder makes you obvious, and vulnerable. For one thing you are blind on one side, and staring mostly ahead of you on the other, although good cameramen like Paul shot with one eye in the view finder watching the shot and the other somehow roving about for danger, or a better image.

He would rely on James to watch his back, but a soundman is also burdened with a mixer around his neck, dials to monitor, and a microphone to point, because no one wants silent movies.

Kimberly was beside them because while she could have remained in the protection of the Humvee and merely taken notes, it was in her nature, being a good reporter, to be where the crew was, to see and hear and smell what they did in order to better match the words she would later write to the pictures they took.

Reporters and camera crews who place themselves in harm's way do it out of choice, and while that may seem irrational, it is, with rare exception, done with due consideration to the risks involved.

Paul, James and Kimberly were not thrill seekers, "cowboys" or war junkies. They were two good men and a good woman doing a job they liked, and which they believed served a higher purpose. None of us who cover wars are so vain as to think we can change the world. But we believe we can make a difference. If we do our jobs well, the excuse "we didn't know" cannot be used to justify inaction or indifference in the face or evil or suffering or injustice. You did know, because people like Paul and James and Kimberly and so many others who have died and been injured told you.

In most places, they would have known the danger was there, smelled it with a sixth, or maybe a seventh or eighth, sense that camera crews and correspondents who have survived in war zones develop.

But an IED (improvised explosive device) can be anywhere in Baghdad, and you cannot sense everything. And for journalists who cover wars, luck is like a blind trust fund; you can make withdrawals, but not deposits, and you have no idea how much is left.

So what kind of people are they?

It is said if many people that they were "larger than life," and in most cases, it's a nice thought, but a cliché. But to say that of Paul Douglas is to understate the case.

He was physically huge, black, shaven-headed and had a booming voice that could silence a room with a syllable, a combination that by its mere description would seem to be intimidating in the extreme, unless you knew his smile.

It was as big as his heart, and his courage, which is another way of saying enormous.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com