ABC's Woodruff May Come Home Soon

With "World News Tonight" anchor Bob Woodruff showing improvement Monday, a reeling ABC News division was coming to grips with what his injuries mean for the future of the recently revamped newscast and its ratings prospects.

Woodruff, seriously hurt Sunday by a roadside bomb in Iraq along with cameraman Doug Vogt, was being treated at a military base in Germany and may be transferred to the United States as soon as Tuesday, ABC News President David Westin said.

According to sources inside ABC News and the military, Woodruff's brain is badly bruised in two places and military physicians removed part of his skull to relieve the swelling, reports CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts. The explosion broke his collar bone, shoulder and at least a few ribs.

Woodruff briefly opened his eyes Monday and responded to stimuli to his hands and feet, the network said.

"He's a strong guy and he's going to make it," his brother, David, told ABC's "World News Tonight" from outside the hospital. "I think he's going to do well."

Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas have been "World News Tonight" co-anchors for only a month, new on-air standard-bearers for a news organization severely shaken by the cancer death of Peter Jennings last August.

They were appointed to duties that included an afternoon Webcast, live West Coast feeds of the evening news and frequent travel to story locations, a job Westin said was too big for just one person. Westin remains committed to his strategy for the newscast, a spokesman said.

"We're just 24 hours from this tragic incident," spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. "We're figuring out exactly what we're going to do. And when we're ready to say exactly what that is, we'll be letting everyone know."

With Woodruff relatively little-known to the newswatching public, some analysts suggest viewers curious about the story could provide a short-term boost to a broadcast second in the ratings to NBC's "Nightly News."

"I have no idea if it will be a lasting difference," said Jim Murphy, who recently stepped down as executive producer of the CBS Evening News. "This doesn't happen much in American journalism, that a big star gets hurt like this. I just hope he's going to be well."

While NBC continues to dominate the evening-news ratings, the Vargas-Woodruff team was too new to tell if viewers would embrace them. CBS is still waiting to see whether Katie Couric is interested in jumping to its broadcast; her potential impact adds more mystery to the competition.

ABC's Westin was taking a long-term view, hoping viewers would appreciate jet-setting anchors and betting that their experiences now would pay big dividends in 10 or 15 years, said Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies the broadcast news divisions.

"This is someone who cares about what the future of his organization will look like and who will represent it," Tyndall said. "He can't go back on this plan."


Experts say it's too early to predict Woodruff's future as a news anchor.

Woodruff's brother, David,

with saving his life. If Woodruff hadn't been wearing body armor, he likely would have been killed, said Col. Bryan Gamble, commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

"Bob obviously arrived here in fairly serious condition but he stabilized very well here," David Woodruff told ABC News. "Every hour that's gone by he's shown improvement or hasn't gotten any worse and they say that's good news."

It wasn't immediately clear whether shrapnel had penetrated Woodruff's brain or if he was suffering from a concussive injury, said former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, a Woodruff family friend.

"The doctors had told them once they arrived that the brain swelling had gone down. In Bob's case, that had been a big concern. Yesterday they had to operate and remove part of the skull cap to relieve some of the swelling," Brokaw said on NBC'S "Today" show.

Woodruff and Vogt were in a lightly armored Iraqi personnel carrier traveling in a convoy with American troops outside Baghdad, reports Pitts. They were standing in a rear hatch – exposed – videotaping a report when the attack happened.

Vogt's injuries were less serious, ABC said. Woodruff also had a broken collarbone and broken ribs, Brokaw said.

With traumatic brain injuries, doctors can't really tell what is going to happen during the first 24 or 48 hours, said Dr. Maurizio Miglietta, chief of surgical critical care at the New York University Medical Center/Bellevue.

"Sometimes it takes days or weeks to figure out what the long-term consequences are going to be," Miglietta said.

Woodruff, 44, and Vogt, a 46-year-old award-winning cameraman, were embedded with the 4th Infantry Division and traveling in a convoy with U.S. and Iraqi troops near Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad when the device exploded. An Iraqi solder also was hurt.

The attacks on journalists bring constant media attention around the world to the insurgents, says CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, just back from Iraq herself.

Westin, speaking Monday on "Good Morning America," said the risks news personnel face are assessed every day in a country where there were 221 attacks by explosive devices last week alone. But it's important to cover the news, he said.

"We all know there are substantial risks," Westin said. "At the same time, what we do is report the news. We report the stories such as Iraq, and it's a dilemma we struggle with all along because frankly, we don't get to report as much in Iraq as we'd like to because of security."

Pitts reports that for journalists, Iraq has become the deadliest war ever – 61 killed in just under 4 years, compared to 66 killed in the 20 years of Vietnam.

The number of wounded is unknown, but 35 journalists have been kidnapped and two are currently missing.