A couple of weeks ago, a man was murdered right across the street from Steve Harrigan's house in Miami Beach. ‘‘Unsettling," the Fox News correspondent admits. So a chance to get out of town on
assignment sounded pretty good. Unfortunately, the assignment was covering Russian tanks rolling into the beleaguered nation of Georgia -- and on Friday, Harrigan found himself a target when somebody started shooting at reporters. His mile-long sprint to safety was caught on camera. ‘‘It wasn't as dramatic as facing a tank, but still, you don't run like that every day," he says by telephone from Tbilisi, the Georgian capitol.
The idea that a Miami-based correspondent has been covering a war several thousand miles away on Russia's southern border seems at least mildly counterintuitive, but Harrigan, who worked in the region 10 years and speaks the language fluently, hardly spends any time here anyway. He's always running off to some hot spot.
""It's an unusual skill set you need for these kind of stories, getting a television picture on the air in a place where there's a threat and a shortage of electricity and you have to move fast," he notes. "It's a small group of people who do it, and we tend to run into each other a lot at different spots around the world."
When violence between Russia and Georgia flared last week, he headed there right away, flying from Miami through Frankfurt and Istanbul before finally reaching Tbilisi. War coverage is always dangerous, but during the first few days, staying safe mainly was a matter of being careful not to wander into a crossfire.
But now the war-torn region of South Ossetia, the part of Georgia trying to break away to join Russia, has descended into banditry, and the level of danger for reporters has jumped significantly. The shooting Harrigan had to flee Friday wasn't political, but an apparent robbery attempt by "a great big fat guy with a giant pistol in his hand," precise affiliation unknown.
"There are a lot of irregular forces in the field now," says Harrigan. "People are waiting at checkpoints to rob journalists. They'll steal your car, your equipment, your money -- maybe even worse. There were some Turkish journalists who were attacked and it certainly looked like the gunmen were trying to kill them. You could see bullets going through the car and everything.
"And you can't expect any help from the Russian army. The Russians aren't going to do anything to save a journalist, especially a Western one."
Harrigan hesitates to make a guess where things are headed in Georgia ("Whenever I've made predictions in a war before, in Afghanistan and other places, I've been wrong") but he doesn't expect the Russian army to try to capture Tbilisi. On the other hand, he believes the attack on Georgia may signal a new and ongoing Russian bellicosity.
"There's a real fear in Russia these days, a real distaste for things that have happened since the Cold War," he says. "They believe there's an attempt by the West to surround them, through the expansion of NATO. I don't think they're withdrawing from Georgia anytime soon. There's a real chance that they country of Georgia is going to get a little bit smaller, and it's not clear that anyone can do anything about it."
For more of his analysis, along with reporting from the Russian side of the border by Fox New correspondent Dana Lewis, you can watch Russia: The Angry Giant, a special airing on Fox News at 8 p.m. Sunday.