The New York Times, quoting ABC News, reports that the son of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-Gadaffi, Seif Islam el-Gadaffi, has said that the four NYT journalists missing in Libya since Tuesday are in state custody and will be released in Tripoli Friday.
Obviously very welcome news for those who appreciate what these reporters do and who desire freedom of the press around the world.
Four New York Times colleagues remain missing in Libya. They disappeared early Tuesday, March 15th while covering the heavy fighting. Judging by the personal character of one of them, photographer Lynsey Addario, I have a strong sense that they are okay, riding out their ordeal with level heads, probably even facilitating their own quick release.
I’ve known Lynsey since 2000, when I was posted to Mexico for National Public Radio. We traveled on a few stories together and crossed paths on others. She is a striking combination of fighter and jokester, steel and silliness. It has served her well and often. During the Iraq War in 2004 she was kidnapped by insurgents at Falluja. Later, she told me that she thought she and a colleague were goners, that their kidnappers planned to kill them. But she convinced them that they were not spies for anyone, and they were set free. She continued covering the siege. That’s her steel side.
As she told me this story she was laughing. Not arrogantly, or naively, but with nothing less than a deep, intelligent sense of the absurd. It was the sort of laugh I’ve heard often from her, a laugh that says, isn’t this world completely, utterly insane?
Yesterday, a parent at my children’s school called all reporters insane. It came up after she asked me what the photo was that I was staring at on my telephone. It’s the last known photo of a friend of mine in Libya, I said. You’re crazy, she said. All of you. I don’t know, I said. Journalists come in all colors, and some take more risks than others. And Lynsey, as a photographer, often must take more. I told the parent a story by way of illustration.
In 2002 Lynsey and I were in Caracas, both of us covering national protests against that self-anointed Bolivarian revolutionary and president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. It was night and we were out on a public square watching two big crowds taunt each other. Between them was a line of police with shotguns and tear-gas launchers.
When the bottles and rocks and tear-gas canisters began to fly, and the crowds converged, I ran for cover like a rabbit trying to cross an interstate. Almost immediately I found myself trapped in one corner of the square, barely able to breathe. I leapt a metal railing as something like an M-80 exploded in the air right behind me. I fell several feet to the ground and lay dazed in a ditch as Chavez supporters leapt over me in their advance against their president’s detractors. When I could finally stand I limped away as fast as I could, following a panicked crowd down an alley. I was going to content myself with recording the action from around a safe corner.
From the corner I looked back. There, in the center of the square, I could see the line of police slowly retreating, firing more gas, as volleys of rocks rained on them. And in line with them, between two cops, stood Lynsey, crouched slightly, back-peddling in formation, camera to eye, her flash just another flash amidst the gunpowder and fireworks. Then I lost sight of her.
The next day, on the street, she recounted the night’s action in all its hair-raising detail. And she was laughing again. With that healthy sense of the absurd. There wasn’t the tiniest bit of fear in her voice.
And this is what I thought: some reporters depend on their quaking legs to save them, others on their helmets and bullet-proof kevlar vests. Lynsey’s armor is her courage.