The Digital Journalist
The Sky is Falling

by Paul Taggart

August 2006

I woke up early on July 12 in my small suite apartment at the Mayflower Hotel in Beirut, my base between working on different stories in various countries for the previous four months. As usual, as I rolled out of bed and flipped on the tele … "BREAKING NEWS" flashed across the screen.

Flames from burning fuel tanks at Beirut International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, on July 14, 2006. This was the third day of Israeli air strikes in Lebanon, resulting in the destruction of all three runways at the airport and many of the bridges leading to the south and east to Lebanon's borders.

(Paul Taggart/WpN)
I had caught a late-night flight out of Amman back to Beirut knowing that conflict was bubbling to the surface on Lebanon's southern border after the kidnapping of two Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) soldiers by Hezbollah. The breaking news bulletin read: Beirut International Airport bombed…. All that was on the screen was a talking head and no visuals because cameras had not yet arrived on the scene. I grabbed my cameras, ran down the stairs and hopped into a taxi. Ten minutes later I was staring at a huge crater in the middle of the runway that I had landed on a few hours earlier. It was as simple as that: I was back in a war zone. This was a bit surreal because I usually find myself traveling to the story. Instead, the story had literally landed right in front of me. This would prove to be a pattern over the next few days.

The original plan for the day was to drive to the Hezbollah stronghold on the southern border along the blue line to cover the escalating situation over the two kidnapped Israeli hostages. I never imagined the violence reaching Beirut. I stuck around town and photographed the situation at the airport, deciding to drive south later in the day with my trusty driver, Ahmad. When he and I were finished at the airport, we drove to the Hezbollah media office to talk to their consistently difficult representatives. We arrived a few hours after a bomb had dropped next to their office. The sky really seemed to be falling. Ahmad and I decided to head south, darting around the bridges bombed in the previous day's air strikes. We could occasionally hear shelling in the distance but everything seemed to be going as planned. Ahmad and I had a circular conversation that lasted the full hour and a half of our drive down a road in the midst of being bombed. We traveled at speeds reaching only 45 mph at best. It went something like this:

Me: Ahmad, can we can we pick up the speed a bit?

Ahmad: Yes.

Me: Ahmad, we're going the same speed.

Ahmad: Yes, Mr. Paul we will make it there in time.

Me: I don't want to be on this road any longer than necessary.

Ahmad: Yes, Mr. Paul.

Ahmad, of course, kept to his painful crawl of 35-45 mph, ignoring the stupid American journalist.

A Lebanese youth from a southern suburb of Beirut shows the shrapnel he has collected from the day's destruction caused by Israeli air strikes on Friday, July 14, 2006. This was the third day of Israeli air strikes in Lebanon. There were an estimated 53 casualties from the previous day's Israeli offensive.

(Paul Taggart/WpN)
Then BOOM, the IDF drops a bomb directly in front of our car, throwing pieces of road a few dozen meters away into our path, shaking our car and leaving smoke everywhere. Ahmad, at his slow crawling speed, patiently turns left over a traffic barrier and down into a loading dock for trucks three floors below ground and gently parks the car…then looks to me and says:

"If I had been driving any faster there would be an Israeli bomb on top of you, Mr. Paul."

Lesson learned: If your taxi driver survived the civil war and is still here to talk about it, let him drive at whatever speed he damn well pleases.

I've now been here in Lebanon for over two weeks covering this recent Israeli invasion of the country and it's turning out to be a troublesome story to tell. There are few bullets being shot, there are few militants running around with weapons, only bombs falling from the sky with little or no warning on just about any "target." In the last week the IDF has bombed Red Cross vehicles, civilian apartments and the U.N. compound, showing that the usual safe zones are anything but sacred. The Internally Displaced People (IDP) population from the south is extremely reluctant to allow any photographs to be taken. Getting a photo of a Hezbollah member with a weapon is damn near impossible and editors don't seem to understand why.

U.S. citizens evacuate war-torn Lebanon via sea to Cyprus on Friday, July 21, 2006. The American citizens were transported to the USS Trenton onboard landing crafts at the beach in Beirut with the aid of U.S. Marines and Lebanese commandos.

(Paul Taggart/WpN)
Even with all these obstacles I still go out and make pictures every day but what is most unsettling is another news bulletin that I've seen pop up on the American television news since the beginning of this conflict. It's the kind of news bulletin that makes my head hurt and ask myself, "why are we even here trying to tell this story?" It reads:


It's usually followed by wide shots of people with their SUVs at the filling station and then a cut away to the gas prices on the filling station's sign. This makes me wonder what it takes for people to notice, what it takes to bid for a moment of their attention. Clearly a war that, at this point, has over 400 casualties in just two weeks isn't it enough to make people think about the pain of those directly affected? Only the price of gasoline makes it relevant to them. Today I'm heading down the road leading south towards the front line with Ahmad again: The same road where a bus full of civilians was bombed, leaving 15 dead. The same road that a young freelance journalist most likely took to the south last week when she was killed by an IDF air strike. The same road where three days ago it was reported here that nine vehicles were destroyed by IDF rockets while traveling.

At cynical moments I wonder if it's worth the drive to get pictures that most likely won't be published and even if they are will most likely fall on blind eyes that only want to know how this conflict will affect the Dow Jones. There are photo editors that give you long lists of reasons why they can't put you on assignment but would rather just pick up your pictures on spec. Perhaps they should take the keys to the car and drive down that southern road. I'm sure Ahmad would be happy to drive them. But, unlike many of the photojournalists covering this conflict, he will expect to get paid for his work.

© Paul Taggart

Paul Taggart is a photojournalist based out of New York City. Recent assignments have taken him to Indonesia, Nigeria, Niger, and Liberia. Taggart's work has appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, Boston Globe, Harpers & Queen, U.S. News and World Report, The International Herald Tribune and The Times of London. He is represented by World Picture News.

Visit Paul Taggart's Web site at

Dispatches are brought to you by Canon. Send Canon a message of thanks.