Reporter Catches Bullet
August 21, 2008 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Turkish journalists were caught in a war zone while on the job. The Turkish team was in between the town of Gori and breakaway South Ossetia where Georgian and Russian forces have collided. The video is from the inside of the car being shot at with automatic weapons.
posted by Surfin' Bird (49 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. As someone with a currently unused degree in journalism, that shit had me riveted. It makes me feel like kind of a sissy for not pursuing that particular career in the good ol' US of A.
posted by GoingToShopping at 3:25 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, cool. I'd seen part of that - the shooting - but not so much of the whole escapade, with a partial translation. Considering how close they all came to death they handled it very calmly.
I wonder if they got the Range Rover back?
posted by Flashman at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2008

A less intense incident from last week: Georgian reporter shot on camera.
posted by Knappster at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2008

He lost vision in one of his eyes. When one of them started waving a monopod around, I thought they'd all die.
posted by stavrogin at 3:38 PM on August 21, 2008

This takes me back to when the war broke out between the Guthrie Theater and a visiting Broadway production that had taken up encampment in the Hennepin Theater District. I was covering Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- the David Esbjornson version, with Patrick Stewart as George -- and gunfire broke out in the three-quarter thrust theater. Now, I'm not ashamed to tell you that I was scared. Really scared. But, god damn it, I was a theater critic for City Pages, and this is what we trained for. I made my way to the orchestra pit and dropped into it, camera in hand, and started taking pictures. Several elderly patrons were caught in the crossfire, and I caught their desperate, and, sadly, doomed attempt at escape. It wasn't until hours later, when I had already returned to the office and finished my review, that I discovered I had been shot.

By the way, I found the play well-performed but the staging uninspired, and, while Patrick Stewart was quite good in the role, his appearance in the play reeked of the sort of stunt casting the Guthrie was notorious for at that time. He almost redeemed himself by being magnificent in battle, though. He was armed only with a bowie knife and a .22 pistol, but he managed to kill six Broadway actors on his own before the battle was over.

Wait, who am I kidding? I'm proud of the work I have done as an arts reporter, but I'm not even in the same profession, much less class, as these men.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:41 PM on August 21, 2008 [20 favorites]

Back up back up back up back up.
posted by basicchannel at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2008

Holy living fuck.
posted by Damn That Television at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

They were amazingly calm under such pressure, and mostly concerned about each other. It's the kind of reaction I think most of us would hope to have in such a terrifying situation. Right now, though, I'm just hoping I'll never find myself in a position where that will be tested...

It's the sound that makes it so chilling, I think. It doesn't' sound anything like what I imagine automatic fire would sound like (since that's mostly colored by crappy movies), instead it's just a very sharp and precise sound.

I remember thinking the same thing watching some of the early embedded videos from the Iraq war, but it's easy to forget when it's not something that you see every day.
posted by gemmy at 4:02 PM on August 21, 2008

There's an amazing bit of reportage by Bill Vollmann from a piece he did for SPIN on the war in the former Yugoslavia. He and his cohort's rented car (two other reporters, as I recall) drive over a landmine. The other guys die immediately, but for some reason Vollmann wasn't even scratched. As he was figuring out what had just happened, he hears people approaching, and figures it must be the folks that laid the mine. He plays dead, as the soldiers inspect the car, guns out, and then move on.

I do not recall how on earth he made it back to wherever he was staying, but I first read the piece on initial publication while in the airport waiting for my then-girlfriend to get off of a plane.

Vollmann's flat, factual tone and lack of shading in the narrative leading up to the mine meant that the event took me entirely by surprise and my response to reading that paragraph was to jerk up in my seat and suddenly burst into tears, quite as though I were a toddler that some unkind person had startled with a popped balloon.

Years later I met the guy who had originally scored the photography assignment but fell ill and passed it on to a friend. How did I meet him? Telling the story above at a party here in Seattle. Small, violent, fucking world.
posted by mwhybark at 4:05 PM on August 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


You know. The thing you have that LOOKS LIKE A GUN BARREL. Do not stick it out the window!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, no warning shots at what is obviously a unarmored civilian vehicle. Classy.

How could they not identify which military picked them up. This is fishy.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:10 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, no warning shots at what is obviously a unarmored civilian vehicle. Classy.

Dude, it's unfortunate that a lot of modern war is being fought with Toyotas, not Shermans. I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often, to be honest. And Russian draftees aren't exactly known for their discretion.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:20 PM on August 21, 2008

Fine, but this isnt downtown Baghdad. This war was fought with T-90s and T-72s and not by IED laden Honda Passports.
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:35 PM on August 21, 2008

Fine, but this isnt downtown Baghdad.

No, but I bet a lot of Russians were/are expecting Chechen War Part II: The Embiggening. And they've all seen the video on
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:39 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

damn dirty ape: Don't forget the paramilitaries. I'm sure they employ technicals.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:42 PM on August 21, 2008

Clack! Clack! Clack!

I was not sure at all that what I was hearing was what I was hearing until the little hole popped up in the windscreen. Then holy shit, when I understood it, Clack! that is the sound of the technical approach to make-you-die.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2008

I was covering "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf"...

Ah, yes. As I recall, your scathing review focussed almost entirely on the director's myriad spelling errors, which were scattered throughout the production like bullets from an automatic weapon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:03 PM on August 21, 2008

That's awful. The guns sounded like popcorn and the whole time I was just thinking shit shit shit shit. Ugh. What in the world is wrong with people?
posted by Tulipdog at 5:08 PM on August 21, 2008

It was surprising that they yelled press in English. Is that standard practice?
posted by Pants! at 5:09 PM on August 21, 2008

From what I've seen of the Georgian conflict, much of the reprehensible stuff (like targeting civilian vehicles and killing journalists, as in this case) isn't any different from what I saw in Sarajevo, where attacks were carried out by trained armies with heavy weaponry, not "IED laden Honda Passports" or whatever the equivalent would have been.

I'm an accidental scholar of war, but from what I've gathered from firsthand knowledge and readings of other wars which have occurred in the period since Vietnam (which ended the year I was born), it's a rare military campaign in which civilians are not targeted and in which tactics which are obviously terroristic in nature aren't used.

I'm no fan of the military in general, and I find America's engagement in overseas conflict in my lifetime to be pretty disturbing . . . but unlike many armed forces, I do get the sense that there is some remnant of "honor" which is the norm for the US, though exceptions to it abound. There are plenty of reasons for this - the volunteer nature of the military being a big one, but in any case, this is not the norm, even in a country with extensive military traditions, such as Russia.

Most wars are fought by factions which are more than happy to slaughter civilians, rape, rob, plunder and generally pay no heed at all to any sort of moral conduct, let alone the tenets of the Geneva Convention. I wasn't surprised by the coolness of the Turkish journalists, nor the calm approach described in William Vollmann's account of his Bosnian experience. War wears down your nerves within hours - it's simply impossible to maintain the level of hysteria and adrenalin you have at the start of fighting. That calm, cool fell must come across in a dramatic fashion, but more often than not it's simply the after-effects of a shattered nervous system.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:10 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It was surprising that they yelled press in English. Is that standard practice?

In Bosnia it was - or something like "dzornalista," which is a kind of understood Esperanto for the same thing. I think it's simply better to take your chances with an international word than use the Turkish (in this case) word. In many recent battles, though, I suspect identifying yourself as a member of the press may make you less safe . . . though if you're being shot at, there's no harm in trying.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:14 PM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jesus fucking Christ. Well, that's one more thing I know in life and I'm glad I didn't have to experience it first hand. I'm also glad none of them were killed, they are brave brave men for staying so calm in such a situation.

One thing this kind of journalism always says to me is to always keep filming. Always keep a camera on hand, always keep shooting, because a picture speaks a thousand words. Oh, and for some reason I didn't realise how internationally powerful the word "Press" is. Brian Wood's DMZ alludes to this, but I'd never seen it in play in real life.
posted by saturnine at 5:16 PM on August 21, 2008

Dee, am I correct in surmising you've read Vollmann's stuff, or are you just nodding at my comment? If you've read it, without generating a massive thread derail, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, and if you've read other stuff by him. Mefi mail me if so inclined.
posted by mwhybark at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, I can't believe every movie director has been wrong about the sound of a shot up car. The silence is much more frightening than any whizzing bullet effect. That's a clip that's going to stay with me a while.

Oh, and great presentation by Current TV. If this were on any other channel, I'd have to watch an edited version with voiceover commentary.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was most impressed by the gentleman who was shot, yet who seemed to be the calmest: "Guys, I am losing a lot of blood here."

That's the kind of man I want to have around me when it's all gone pear-shaped.
posted by An Infinity Of Monkeys at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

I feel compelled, if apologetic, to note that the video as presented was clearly edited - both the titles and subtitles and at least two cuts represent editorial and cinematic decision-making. Whether the cuts were in post or in the moment is not clear, though my guess is in post.

I first started thinking about this as I was scrubbing the section of the clip where the sunroof falls in, and become irritated by the transparent grey overlay on the left of the screen which obscured sectiond of thw windscreen as shots struck it.
posted by mwhybark at 5:55 PM on August 21, 2008

I like Vollmann's writing. I've read Europe Central and Poor People, loads of articles too, including the Spin one. His books are a bit flawed in that he seems to put a lot of himself into them in a way which is distracting, particularly as he seems to be a kind of strange fellow! This was especially true in Poor People, which made it feel more like a memoir instead of what it was presented to be. That's a shame, because the idea was great . . . my main memory of it is his description of his living situation in a building surrounded by a kind of homeless person campground!

But (in closer relation to the original post) one of the things I like about him is that he doesn't over-romanticize things. I read someplace an interview with him in which he describes the mining outside Mostar, and he says essentially that he viewed it just like a car accident of any other kind, and that his friends died quickly and without pain, and that their story isn't as intense as those people who had to live in Mostar day in and day out. That's the truth and few people realize it; I was impressed that he did and that he kept the unfortunate death of his friends in a sort of reasonable perspective.

That's kind of what I thought when I saw the video of the Turkish journalists. It's good footage, and I like the fact that it conveys some of the surrealistic quality of being attacked - the serene quiet and slow motion, the lack of Hollywood bombast and the invisibility of the shells and bullets. But to be honest, when these sorts of things happen, one is so deeply in an unconscious psychological state that the things people mention about the video (they're so calm about the shooting, they were so concerned for each other) are actually the things that one has the least amount of control over - it's absolutely automatic. (I speak from experience.)

There's not much heroism in these situations. You either do something or you don't. Dumb luck is a big factor. There's no time to think, really. The heroic possibilities don't actually present themselves until days or weeks later when you have to struggle to carry on or to cope with what occurred. This can suck up every last bit of energy you have. A lot of journalists are looking for action, and it's part of their job. I admire journalists (in general) for many reasons. Journalists absolutely save my life, and it takes something to enter a warzone to try and tell a story the world should hear. But I've noticed a bothersome trend of journalists making themselves the story - though I suppose that sort of thing even predates Hemingway! We really should be hearing from the Georgians, Ossetians and Russian soldiers who will have to live in an unstable situation for who knows how long. I'd like to see more journalists take not of what Vollman said about that.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

What's TRULY awful here is flapjax's

"scattered throughout the production like bullets from an automatic weapon"
posted by mattoxic at 6:12 PM on August 21, 2008

Thanks very much for this post. What an incredible piece of film.
posted by languagehat at 6:15 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, that was fucking brutal.

The one time I got caught in a crossfire while working up in North Philly my automatic impulse was to ease my seat back in order to make myself as close to horizontal as possible. I didn't even know why I did that at the time, it's not like I ever got shot at before, certainly wasn't prepared to get shot at right then and didn't have a plan for it (though I clearly should have). Maybe it was because when you're in the passenger's seat of a car that's being shot at dropping your seat is really all you can do. It wasn't until later that afternoon that I realized getting horizontal like that had dramatically reduced the chance of my catching a bullet in the head, and that somehow I managed to automatically do exactly the right thing at that moment without even thinking about it through some precognitive, survival-triggered neuron burst or some shit.
posted by The Straightener at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2008

These guys really do take huge risk, giving up pictures that give more meaning to the words of Major General Smedley Butler , who was awarded TWO CMOH medals (the most important medal in the US of A) and who wrote a book that shows it plainly, War Is A Racket.
Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few -- the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.
posted by elpapacito at 6:41 PM on August 21, 2008

wtf is up with all this "IED" shit? when i was a kid, we called a bomb a bomb. it's easier to say too. bomb. one syllable. bomb. rips the limbs off every bit as good as your fancy-schmancy IED.
posted by quonsar at 6:43 PM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this post.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:46 PM on August 21, 2008

Yup, in Double-U Double-U Two we just called them bombs.
posted by Flashman at 6:55 PM on August 21, 2008

It was surprising that they yelled press in English. Is that standard practice?

They probably thought they were Americans.
posted by Mr_Zero at 8:43 PM on August 21, 2008

The sound of the bullets hitting the car is what got me, too, as well as the calm but plaintive tone of the poor guy who got shot.
posted by Forktine at 8:56 PM on August 21, 2008

Another journalist shot in Georgia.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:11 PM on August 21, 2008

Reporters run from gunfire in Georgia.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:14 PM on August 21, 2008

There must be a painkiller in here. Give it to me immediately.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:57 PM on August 21, 2008

Wow, no warning shots at what is obviously a unarmored civilian vehicle. Classy.

It's all part of the proud and glorious tradition of the South Ossetian Irregular Militia.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:36 AM on August 22, 2008

The same excact vehicle I've got. The most danger it has seen in it's life has been pulling heavy horse trailers...

(And BTW: It's a Discovery, not a Range Rover)
posted by Harald74 at 3:28 AM on August 22, 2008

my automatic impulse was to ease my seat back in order to make myself as close to horizontal as possible.

Remember, the enemy gate is down.
posted by DreamerFi at 3:29 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

That's the thing about weapons. Rarely what you expect. I've never been shot at by someone who was actively trying to kill me, but I have had bullets going quite close over my head on a rifle range, and the snap-pop that they make is really not what you expect.

Also, I remember firing a rifle for the first time, and being really surprised that what appeared to be the loudest sound to me was the almighty twang that the bolt spring made next to my ear, rather than the boom of the weapon firing itself.

Zip, pop, thump, thock and twang, that's pretty much what bullets sound like up close. But then, since they are just incredibly complex ways to hurl metal at each other, that makes an odd kind of sense.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:51 AM on August 22, 2008

That was fucking insane. You could see the bullets smashing through the front windscreen.

And sticking a monopod out the window was not the smartest thing you could do when the ruski's are opening up on you. But kudos to them. They seemed pretty calm all things considered. I'm glad they are all allright.
posted by Po0py at 5:15 AM on August 22, 2008

What in the world is wrong with people?

A lot of them allow themselves to be convinced that war is a reasonable thing to do at some time or other. They're almost always completely wrong about that. Every time it happens, some small fraction of them see enough to realize how wrong they were. Unless they're participants or the war is happening where they live, though, the vast majority get to the end and say, "Well, that was kind of unpleasant, but now my friends and I are OK, so I guess it wasn't all that bad." That makes it easier to let themselves be talked into the next stupid, brutal, dehumanizing, horrifically expensive and wasteful war.

That's what's wrong with people.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:41 AM on August 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is a great post. But where is the idea that these are Russian troops coming from? Don't they say "these are supposedly Georgian forces" in the beginning? (Not to say that the Russians wouldn't shoot up a random civilian car, of course.)
posted by nasreddin at 7:33 AM on August 22, 2008

yes, the sound of bullets hitting the car - so fast, so sharp, so precise - is the really scary part.
posted by dabitch at 8:19 AM on August 22, 2008

nasreddin: because teh Georgians are the GOOD guys!
And as we all know, the good guy's soldiers never do no wrong, no siree.
posted by vivelame at 9:17 AM on August 22, 2008

I found myself ducking down close to my keyboard when the bullets started coming through the windshield. Damn, not like in the movies where they keep driving backwards until they swing the car around and drive away.
posted by homeless Visigoth at 2:39 PM on August 22, 2008

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