When News Happens Right Behind You

June 21, 2004 Baghdad 

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The most interesting live shots are when something dramatic is happening right behind you. There is nothing like it. Not only do you get excited but you sense the channel gets excited, that you have something no one else does. It is then that all the rules are broken: no scripts, no cut-ins, no commercials — you just ride the wave as long as you can.

The first time this happened to me at Fox it took me by surprise. I was sitting with cameraman Slim Fagen on the roof of a dirt house in Bagram, Afghanistan. We were living with a group of Afghan Northern Alliance soldiers. After a month of watching U.S. warplanes, one afternoon the Afghan fighters figured it was safe enough to leave the fort and march ahead. Fagen followed them with the camera, which transformed the two hundred Afghans we were living with into...NORTHERN ALLIANCE ON THE MARCH...THEY HAVE JOINED THE FIGHT...MARCHING ON KABUL. Fagen knew better than I did that it was in fact big news, and he stayed on them with his camera and told me to keep talking. Eventually I pulled up a chair, since I was out of frame, and just watched them march...and pull out their one tank...and talk...for the next twenty minutes. Everything else stopped. There is really nothing like talking on live television when something is developing right in front of you. It is improvisation, but draws on all your preparation and experience.

Next after that is when news develops while you are on the air. Yesterday, terrorists kidnapped a South Korean and threatened to cut off his head. Suddenly there is news, dramatic video and no one else, so you can get thrown questions for 15 minutes, unexpected questions live on TV. You have to think on your feet and if you don't have an answer sometimes, like a boxer, you have to clinch, to say something to give yourself a chance to think. Often later that day you will come up with the perfectly formulated answer, but you can't do it later that day. This is also extremely challenging.  [ed. WATCH Steve's report]

It takes some discipline to guard your emotions. I find it is possible to talk yourself into a state. When they bombed the U.N. building here in Iraq you could hear women scream in the darkness on the videotape. When I began to describe that I had to breathe a little bit because I thought I was going to start to cry. The same thing happened in Karbala a few weeks ago. There was a big firefight going on behind me, stuff blowing up, and I was talking about how the sergeant of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle told his number two what to do in case he got killed — his quiet, workman heroism.  When I started talking about it I almost started crying, which would have been pretty ridiculous in the middle of a firefight.

Other news can disgust you, and it is hard to hide the disgust while you talk about it. I was on the roof of a hotel in Karachi, Pakistan about two o'clock in the morning when news came that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed. Not only killed, but he had his throat cut and the murder was filmed, put on the Internet and onto CD-ROMs. This really disgusted me — the cold mix of high technology and barbarism — and it was hard to hide that disgust on TV. I thought back to it when the news hit about the South Korean. When they played the videotape of him and his kidnappers I could not see it, but through the earpiece in my left ear I could hear him scream for his life. It is a tough thing to hear a man scream for his life, and I heard it several times in my ear while trying to answer questions. It was like a man was screaming for help and I was trying to rationally answer questions about the situation in Iraq, talking over him...I could feel myself start to get angry.

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.