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No Rest for Freed Journalists

Sep 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig enjoyed a great deal of relief but didn’t get much rest in the week following their release by the terrorists who held them hostage for 13 days in the Gaza Strip.

The journalists got a lot of sleep during their time in captivity. “The more you slept, the better the time went by. You retreated into dreamland and didn’t have to think about grim reality,” Mr. Centanni said.

The grim reality was that they were being held by a heretofore unknown group calling itself Holy Jihad Brigades, which in exchange for the pair demanded the release of Muslims in U.S. custody within 72 hours. When that deadline passed, the terrorists forced Mr. Centanni, 60, and Mr. Wiig, 36 and from New Zealand, to make a videotape in which they said they had converted to Islam.

There were a lot of moments fraught with fear. “Every minute of every day, the possibility of being handcuffed again, or being deprived of food, or being beaten up, or tortured, or shot and killed, or detained for a month or years, always was in our minds,” Mr. Centanni said. “We went through all the possible scenarios. You can’t help but think about the worst case at certain times. We had to struggle to direct our thoughts in a more positive way and to help each other remain strong.”

Then, without any discernable concession on the part of the U.S. to meet the terrorists’ demands, they suddenly were delivered back to their accommodations, the Beach Hotel in Gaza City.

“We didn’t believe they were actually driving us to the hotel where we had stayed before the kidnapping-where all our friends, the journalists, were-until we got out of the car and stumbled down the driveway, looked up and there it was,” Mr. Centanni said. “We were delivered back into our old lives, which may never be the same again, but if there are extreme changes, I suspect they will be for the better.”

There hasn’t been much time to consider these less-scary scenarios since they were released Aug. 27. Their days and nights became pretty much a wild ride-sometimes on News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s private jet-and a blur of emotion, reunions with colleagues, friends and family, pulse-taking and answering questions about their ordeal.

There was “not much” chance to sleep or otherwise decompress last week, Mr. Centanni said. “It’s all very overwhelming. I’m kind of in a daze. While I was there, I felt like I was living a nightmare. Now I feel like I’m having a good dream. It still seems a little unreal, but very good.”

He also was still adjusting to being the news instead of reporting the news. Talking about himself was never anything he wanted to do. By last Thursday, the intrepid Fox duo had been interviewed on Fox News by Greta Van Susteren, among others; on radio and local TV stations throughout the country; and on ABC’s “Good Morning America” by Diane Sawyer. “GMA” also booked Mr. Wiig’s wife, Anita McNaught, the journalist who, like a number of Fox News executives, worked tirelessly to get the men freed. “Relentless” is how Mr. Centanni described the effort he would learn about only after their release.

The interview with TelevisionWeek was just one more down with a number still to go before Mr. Centanni could think about going back to Washington, where he is based.

Mr. Centanni said he was ready to “enjoy life, enjoy my freedom and enjoy my family and my friends.”

Asked if he knew when or in what role he wanted to get back to work, he said: “I’ve thought about things, but I don’t know what my options are. I’m happy with the job I have.”