Daniel Pearl: 1963-2002

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Daniel Pearl

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 is a spy and gives the U.S. two days 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 — were attached.

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, was being held somewhere in Karachi, Pakistan, with a gun to his head.

As a media story, of course, the Pearl saga had 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 do for a living, namely, tell their stories to millions of people, is more valuable than anything they could bring in ransom.

In Daniel Pearl's case, that assumption proved tragically incorrect. Thursday the Wall Street Journal confirmed that Pearl had indeed been killed by his captors. All journalists will mourn him as a courageous colleague whose story has reminded us that the pursuit of truth is sometimes no protection in a dangerous world.