Unsung 'Fixers' Protect War Reporters

'Fixers' are local people who live in the war zones that correspondents cover.

ByABC News
May 18, 2007, 1:06 PM

May 18, 2007 — -- Almost nobody knows their names except for their close friends, their immediate family and those whose lives depend on them.

In the trade they're called "fixers."

They're the local people who live in the war zones we cover. They speak the language of the combatants, and they keep the often clueless correspondents from getting shot. No one but the recklessly stupid ventures forth into a combat zone -- Iraq, Gaza,Bosnia, for example -- without a fixer or two at his or her side. They are indispensable.

Sometimes they serve only as translators. Sometimes they are photographers or soundmen. Sometimes they are the ones who know somebody powerful who can spring you from jail, or they know a restaurant that stays open all night to combat starvation. And sometimes they are all of the above.

Imagine walking into a Gaza refugee camp as a clash erupts between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian rioters. Tear gas fills the air. Bullets "ping" off the Dumpster behind which you've taken cover. It's the fixer accompanying you who can spot the safe house in the rabbit warren of a hostile neighborhood. He knows who's inside -- or at least knows a room where you can take cover.

When you come to a checkpoint manned by drunken "Chetniks" (the nickname for Bosnian-Serb militiamen) on the outskirts of Mostar, the fixer is the one who approaches the heavily armed and menacing group while you stay back in the car.

A really good fixer knows all the right people. Indeed, when I was in Honduras back in the mid 1980s, our ABC News fixer on the ground in Tegucigalpa seemed to know everyone in the country -- by their first and last names!

More than once have I been ushered onto a plane for a flight out of hell without the benefit of a ticket for my seat. On one occasion, when my son was born prematurely in Washington while I was in Israel covering the long-running conflict, a fixer leapfrogged me over a long line of Israelis waiting impatiently to check in at Ben Gurion Airport. They were not amused. But I was as I made my way back to the states.

In a more serious vein, the fixers are the ones who tell you, "This far and no farther."