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Roadside Bombing Injures ABC News Anchorman Bob Woodruff

January 30, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: Bob Woodruff took over as an anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight just weeks ago, and has been on the road much of that time.

Last night, his co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas, told viewers that Woodruff and his cameraman, in Iraq covering the news, had instead become the news.

ELIZABEH VARGAS: My co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, and cameraman Doug Vogt, were on assignment in Iraq with a military convoy near the restive city of Taji, north of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb exploded.

JEFFREY BROWN: Woodruff, 44, seen here just before the convoy got under way, and Vogt, 46, an award-winning cameraman, had extensive experience in war zones, including Iraq.

When they were hit, the two men were exposed, shooting video from the rear hatch of an Iraqi military mechanized troop carrier. Each sustained head and upper body injuries. They were wearing helmets, ballistic glasses and body armor, which doctors say saved their lives.

Little more than half an hour after the blast, the two were in a field hospital in Baghdad. They were then airlifted to a military trauma ward in Balad, north of the capital, for surgery.

ABC News senior producer Kate Felson was with them in Baghdad.

KATE FELSON: I spoke with both of them. And Doug was conscious and I was able to reassure him that we were getting him care. I spoke to Bob also, and walked with them to the helicopter.

JEFFREY BROWN: After extensive surgeries, Woodruff and Vogt were again transferred; this time to an American military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany. Their conditions have stabilized but are still listed as serious.

According to ABC, Woodruff could be airlifted to the United States as early as tomorrow.

JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now is Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC news. As the network’s national security correspondent, she traveled to Iraq nine times on reporting assignments.

Martha, what’s the latest on the conditions of your two colleagues?

MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, they both remain in serious condition. The good news for us that ABC is that they are both stable and as you mentioned, I believe, they may be transferred to Walter Reed Hospital tomorrow in the United States and — for further treatment.

It is still a very serious situation, something that may take a long time before we really know the outcome but some encouraging signs today. They think the brain swelling has gone down slightly.

This was largely an impact injury, is how I would describe it after talking to some people, not as much the shrapnel wounds but an impact injury from the blast.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit about this particular area and the story that they were working on.

MARTHA RADDATZ: This is not a good area in Iraq. It’s not the most dangerous area in Iraq. But it is certainly an area that has seen a lot of violence. This was the same place that an Apache helicopter was shot down just a couple of weeks ago by a surface-to-air missile.

In fact, I know they had that in mind when they medivaced Doug and Bob out of there yesterday.

Bob was working on a variety of stories while he was in Baghdad. I had communicated with him by e-mail on Friday and he told me was heading into Taji with the Fourth Infantry Division and whether I had any ideas about what to look for and what to do.

He certainly wanted to do the story on the Iraqi security forces. That is a huge push in Iraq. The administration as you’ve heard again and again says as soon as the Iraqi security forces can stand up, U.S. forces can begin to stand down. So he did want to cover the Iraqi security forces and the training of the Iraqi security forces.

I know they have some facilities up in Taji. I’ve been there myself where they are training Iraqi security forces; although, in that particular convoy there were eight vehicles; only two of those vehicles were Iraqi security forces, those big armored vehicles. And there were six U.S. Humvees and Bob and Doug and the other two members of the ABC crew had been in the U.S. vehicles. Then they decided after a second checkpoint, I believe, to get into the Iraqi armored vehicle so they could see the perspective from the Iraqi side.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now what makes this somewhat unusual is to have such a high-level person there, an anchor — for a network anchor. A lot of people will wonder why was Bob Woodruff there?

MARTHA RADDATZ: Well, I will tell you right now. One year ago today I was there with Peter Jennings. And we were both covering the Iraqi elections. So I do not think it is unusual to have an anchor out covering the world.

The name of our broadcast is World News Tonight. I strongly believe that the reason Peter Jennings was such a marvelous anchor is because he had covered the world. He had seen events. He had been there. When he asked me a question about what I’d seen in Iraq, I knew he had been there. I knew he had experienced. That is how you get depth as an anchor.

Today covering the news as an anchor from the desk in New York City, you don’t just read scripts, you don’t just read a TelePrompTer; you react to the news around the world. You have to know about it.

Bob wanted that experience. He’d had some experience, a lot of experience around the world himself, but he wanted to continue that.

Elizabeth Vargas feels the same way, I know, that you have to see and experience those events to gain any depth about what you’re covering.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Martha, just today there was a new video released of Jill Carroll, the reporter who’s been held by insurgents.

There have been dozens of reporters injured or killed in Iraq. Is there a growing sense among reporters that covering the story is just too dangerous?

MARTHA RADDATZ: I think there has always been a careful balance. I think news organizations –print television, radio — look at this very carefully and try to mitigate the risks.

It’s why people where body armor, it’s why they wear helmets. I always embed when I go over there; I always go with the military. It’s because I covered the military.

Other journalists cover Iraqi civilians. Other journalists cover Iraqi security forces. There are a lot of ways to approach this. And there are risks doing it either way.

The risk with the military, you saw with Bob and Doug. The military is a target. Iraqi security forces are a target. If you are not with the military — Jill Carroll was not with the military — you have a much, much higher risk of kidnapping.

It’s a very dangerous place to cover news. I personally feel it’s important to cover news there as national security correspondent for ABC. I could have stayed in the Pentagon and covered the war. I do not think you get an accurate picture.

And we have over 135,000 troops in Iraq still who are there every day, who go back out there every day and do it all again. And I think it’s important to tell their story. I think it’s important to tell the story of the Iraqi people.

So it’s a very tough decision. And I know news organizations grapple with this all the time. But I see no other way to cover a war than to be there.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, thank you very much.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Thank you.