Daniel Pearl

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Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with a gun to his head

Daniel Pearl made his name at the Wall Street Journal writing "A-heads," those quirky and colorful feature articles that run down the middle of the paper's front page, and in a macabre way his own story might have appealed to him.

A journalist, lured by the promise of an exclusive interview, is taken hostage by a militant group calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. The group, using the free email account kidnapperguy@hotmail.com, claims the reporter is a CIA agent — no, wait, a Mossad agent — and gives the U.S. 24 hours — no, make that 48 hours — to meet its demands, which range from freeing all Pakistani terror detainees to releasing a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government.

"We give u 1 more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel," said the message. "Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan." Haunting pictures of the captive in classic B-movie poses — handcuffed with a gun at his head, holding up a newspaper — are attached.

Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl

And all this would be material for that central column, but for the fact Daniel Pearl, whose wife, Marianne, is pregnant with their first child, is being held somewhere in Karachi, Pakistan, with a gun to his head. By kidnappers who do not appear to know what they are doing. Pearl's old boss scoffs at the idea he was working for anybody but his editors — "Of all the reporters who worked in the Washington bureau he had the most jaundiced view of government," Jill Abramson told the New York Times. This is a journalist — a journalist in deep trouble.

As a media story, of course, the Pearl saga has the added hook — much like the anthrax letter to Tom Brokaw — of being about one of our own. Pearl's boss, Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger, pleaded with the group to at least restore Pearl to the role that led him to the Village restaurant the night of Jan. 22 — "View Danny as a messenger," Steiger wrote — and that is what shakes journalists most about the story. Hotspot reporters know the risks, but they're also used to thinking that what they can offer professionally — a mass audience — will be more valuable that what they can bring in ransom. Or in death.

Daniel Pearl's old friends say the man in the digital photos is probably doing fine. Craig Sherman, who has known him since both were 11 years old, told the Times this week that Pearl was "perfect academically, everybody's friend and no matter how stressed out he was, he seemed perfectly relaxed."

"Danny's that way right now, knowing him," Sherman added. "He's relaxed, and the rest of us are stressing out."