A Rare Warning To Journalists

Charles Wolfson is a CBS News reporter covering the State Department.
It is not that unusual for the State Department to caution American citizens against travel to various parts of the world.

The State Department's website currently lists 30 different official travel warnings to caution Americans about the possible dangers which await them. The list is constantly changing and travel warnings are issued because of ongoing wars, fear of violence from public demonstrations and even from weather-related events such as hurricanes and tsunamis.

However it was certainly unusual when spokesman Sean McCormack took the time to advise members of the State Department Correspondents' Association that the State department felt the most prudent advice for journalists covering the ongoing violence in Gaza was to not go there or, if already in the area, to leave.

Reminding the Washington-based diplomatic correspondents that the BBC's Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza three months ago, McCormack said there was no specific information about plans to kidnap any more journalists, but given the current security situation involving fighting between Hamas and Fatah factions of the Palestinians the Department in Washington and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which handles American diplomatic interests in Gaza and the West Bank, advised American journalists not to travel to Gaza or, if there, to leave immediately. McCormack also asked that the cautionary reccomendation be passed on to our headquarters.

It was an interesting and an unusual step, especially since there already is an existing travel warning (Januray 17, 2007) advising all Americans "to remain mindful of security factors when considering travel to Israel and Jerusalem..." and the same warning "urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to the West Bank and to avoid travel to the Gaza Strip." It specifically states the warning applies "to all Americans, including journalists and aid workers."

Yes, Gaza is a dangerous place. But the fighting there is a story which will be covered, although many media organizations have long since turned to local stringers based in Gaza to report for them. What the latest advice from the State department boils down to is that any American who gets into trouble in Gaza will pretty much be on his/her own. U.S. officials have not been permitted to travel to Gaza since an American convoy was ambushed in October, 2003.