Martha Raddatz, Putting Herself in the Thick of Things

The ABC correspondent reports from Islamabad last week. She's also made 14 trips to Iraq.
The ABC correspondent reports from Islamabad last week. She's also made 14 trips to Iraq. (Abc)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

ABC's Martha Raddatz was taping a stand-up report in Islamabad last week when a Pakistani police officer grabbed the arm of a top lawyer organizing anti-government protests and began leading him away.

When Raddatz walked over to investigate, the officer dropped the man's arm and police insisted that he was not being detained.

Raddatz has a knack for showing up at the right moment. Although she is a White House correspondent, she has also made 14 trips to Iraq, the last of which coincided with a secret visit by President Bush. Last week Raddatz was making a stop in Pakistan on the way to Afghanistan with a top U.S. military official, but decided to stay behind when it became clear that President Pervez Musharraf was about to impose a state of emergency.

"She's just gritty, without sacrificing any femininity -- more comfortable in fatigues than in mufti," says ABC anchor Charlie Gibson. "She really is a wonderful hybrid correspondent. She brings a sensibility and sensitivity to these [Middle East] issues that is tough for a male correspondent to match. . . . One thing I believe in most is original reporting, and she does a lot of it."

Raddatz, 54, relishes the dual role. "I'd probably go crazy if I had to stay every second at the White House and not go out and be a reporter," she says by phone from Pakistan. "I don't want to be a stenographer." President Bush, she says, "knows when I push him on Iraq or Pakistan that there's a depth of knowledge there and personal experience."

Raddatz grew so absorbed by the Iraq conflict that she wrote a best-selling book, "The Long Road Home," about a 2004 battle in Sadr City that left eight members of the 1st Cavalry Division dead. "It was such a gripping human story," says Raddatz, who first interviewed the survivors for "Nightline." "The emotion pouring out of these guys was amazing." The book was recently optioned by Phoenix Pictures and may be made into a feature film.

"Americans aren't connected to this war," Raddatz says. "The only people really paying the price are service members and their families. That's why I feel strongly about telling their stories."

Raddatz is well aware of her work's impact on her family, particularly her 16-year-old son. It helps that she is married to a former war correspondent, Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio, where Raddatz worked before joining ABC in 1999.

Her daughter, Greta, a law student, wrote an article last year for her college paper at Berkeley that dealt with her mother calling to say that ABC anchor Bob Woodruff had been badly wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq:

"My mom began to cry, and her tears fueled my own. I cried so hard I was gasping for air. I'd obviously heard the horror stories about journalists being wounded, kidnapped, and even murdered in Iraq. But this was different -- it could easily have been her."

Raddatz says her globe-trotting lifestyle is "not your normal mom routine, absolutely not. But we have a normal life when I'm there. I go home and cook dinner."

A Salt Lake City native who dropped out of the University of Utah to join a local station there, Raddatz spent a dozen years at the ABC affiliate in Boston. She covered the State Department and Pentagon for ABC before shifting to the White House two years ago. A two-time Emmy Award winner, Raddatz has racked up a series of scoops, including her report last year that terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad.

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