God Bless 'The New York Times'

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Nick Kristof reports the delightfully heartening news that his employer has placed Joao Silva, the photographer who was severely injured in Afghanistan -- he lost his lower legs to a landmine -- on staff:

Joao was not actually a member of the Times staff, but a contract employee -- a common arrangement for photographers in war zones. Still, he was a part of the Times family, and he had risked his life getting photos to our readers. So, I recently learned, after the amputation the Times committed to hire him as a full-time staff member.

Frankly, news organizations don't always treat their people with the professionalism they deserve, and that is especially true of photographers and freelancers. Freelance photographers may have it worst of all. One could easily imagine a company saying that a photographer who lost his legs was now on his own. I once worked with an American television correspondent who was badly beaten up in Asia and left unable to work -- and his network pushed him out of a job.

The Times, of course, is not in the healthiest financial shape, but its management knows what the right thing is, and this is the right thing.

Silva is one of the best war photographers in the business. I've only seen him work up-close a couple of times, but he is a fearless professional, and people who know him much better than I do are hoping he'll be back shooting one day soon. These war photographers are a breed apart. I keep on my desk a photo taken by my friend Laurent Van der Stockt, who once stayed with me in a Pakistani madrassa, that reminds me of this kind of bravery. The photo was taken several years ago in Ramallah. In it, three Palestinians are running toward Laurent's camera. In the distance, four Israeli jeeps are lined up, the soldiers barely visible. Three seconds after Laurent took this photo, he was shot in the knee by one of the soldiers, just after the Palestinians had run past him. It never occurred to him to do anything but plant himself where he could get the best picture. He didn't lose his leg, but he suffered for years from his injury. To the best of my knowledge, no soldier was ever punished for kneecapping him.

The amazing thing about the photo is not its clarity, but the way he signed it to me: He wrote "To Jeff," and in the "o" of the word "to," he drew a smiley face. He is just irrepressible. Like all the best photographers.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/12/god-bless-the-new-york-times/67852/