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Reporters cash in on appetites for danger

| Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009

In the goofy, mockumentary film "Bruno," the gay fashionista played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has a burning desire to become famous.

After struggling with his goal, he realizes the fastest means of grabbing the spotlight involves having himself kidnapped, and preferably in one of the world's political hotspots.

I saw "Bruno" just a couple of days before watching TV coverage of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee being released from detention by the North Korean government.

The two reporters for cable TV's Current network were picked up by the North Koreans back on May 17. Though at first it was believed the two were still in South Korean territory when apprehended, Lisa Ling, sister of Laura, said last week that her sister had entered the North while on assignment.

That wasn't much of a surprise to someone who has spent a career working with adventurous journalists. Most journalists, I can say, are motivated by sheer altruism and a need to share interesting and important stories with the world. Well, that and maybe a stab at a Pulitzer.

Which is why the events that followed the reporters' release came as something of a surprise. The Current TV network instantly began running a lengthy tribute to the two women's work, which, I'll wager, will be followed by a sold-out speaking tour, a documentary about their imprisonment and a best-selling book.

Oprah, anyone?

Surely, bringing back reports from the world's more dangerous locales is part of the overall assignment of journalists. Without the risk-takers among us, wars, hurricanes and the insides of North Korean prisons would remain a mystery.

But there's something bothersome about the way journalists who've gotten themselves into trouble on the job so often turn these events into fat bankrolls.

Yes, I too worried about CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier after she was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Yet I somehow feel dismayed by the speaking tour she engaged in after her recovery.

At this point, I imagine that if Satan opens a Ring of Hell here on Earth and holds a news conference declaring it off limits to reporters, the entrance would be swamped by bloggers and folks carrying handy-cams in a matter of seconds.

When the Iraq War began, I remember reporters eager to reach the front lines with their notebooks. Me• I always figured if reporters were interested in covering political unrest, bloodshed, sectarian violence and poor governing, they could skip Baghdad and spend a few weeks covering Northview Heights, Garfield or Beltzhoover.

But then again, nobody's going to get a book deal or speaking tour for that, are they?

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