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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Our Town: 'Is that our Danny?' Our Town: 'Is that our Danny?' (February 27, 2002)

by Don Kazak

There is always distance between us and what we read in the newspaper or watch on the evening news.

These are usually events happening far away, which don't touch us.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks touched many, and shocked, angered or numbed the nation, but for most there was still a distance. As much as I felt for what happened, it was other people, somewhere else.

And then I heard about Wall Street Journal Danny Pearl being captured by a radical Islamist group. He had been a reporter for the Journal for 12 years. It was a big, international news story -- but it touched me deeply and personally, along with others at the Weekly and at Stanford University.

Pearl was based in Pakistan and had traveled to Karachi, which is kind of the Wild West of Pakistan, to interview radical Islamists.

Then there was the photo of him sitting head bowed, hands tied, with a gun to his head.

Like many of the rest of rest of us, I have a hard time putting a label on what is right or wrong. Maybe I've covered too many stories for too many years.

The Weekly has employed editorial interns for many years. They are basically low-paid college help to get some newspaper experience as part of their education. These have been mostly terrific kids, bright and eager.

We've had so many interns over the years that they kind of blur together for me.

But I remember Danny, Stanford class of 1985. He had a bright smile and was obviously very talented. He's one of those I distinctly remember, and I recoiled at the image of him with a gun to his head.

I was the editor of the Weekly when Pearl was an intern, and when the news broke about his capture Carol Blitzer, an editor then and now, asked me, "Is that our Danny?"

Carol later received an e-mail from Kathleen Donnelly, a former Weekly reporter and Mercury News writer, now living in Seattle, which confirmed: That is our Danny.

He was so good-natured when he was here that it is hard to envision him as a hard-edged hard-news reporter. But that's what he has been and what he has been doing, chasing a difficult story in a dangerous place.

Eight journalists have already been killed trying to cover the mess in Afghanistan, because they wanted to "get the story."

I have a lavish photo book, "Requiem," about the Vietnam War, the war of my youth, the war I marched against. In it are the photos of photographers who died covering the wars in Southeast Asia, 135 of them.

I don't know if I would have had the courage to do what Danny Pearl was doing. But I sense the desire to get the story. He wanted to know -- which is what drives all good journalists.

He and his wife were expecting their first child when he was kidnapped, adding to the pathos. Now that baby will grow up without ever knowing his or her father.

As a reporter, it has been bred deep within me not ever to take sides. I'm just a reporter, trying to make sense of what I see and hear for our readers. But no one can make sense of his death.

Now, it turns out he was killed not just because he was an American reporter, but because he was also a Jew.

Sometimes I think people who ignore what's going on the world around them have an easier time, because they don't have to feel for what is happening. But some things touch even the people once removed, reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV. This was one of those times.

When the World Trade Center towers collapsed, it was a tragedy for thousands of people and their families, friends, co-workers, all of us. There is still one photo which haunts me, taken on the fly by a Magnum photographer who didn't see what he shot until he looked at his film later.

In the photo, there are dozens of people outside the windows of the upper floors of one of the World Trade Center towers, fires billowing below them. They were there, looking out of the building, and they all died.

That was impersonal, because it was just people in the photo, none of whom I knew.

And then there was the photo of Danny Pearl with a gun to his head, killed for trying to get the story.

Don Kazak is a senior staff writer for the Weekly. E-mail him at dkazak@paweekly.com.




 

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