D.C. neighbors await news of correspondent

Brother on Fox reporter: `You can't keep him away from this stuff'

August 24, 2006|By Nick Madigan and Jonathan Rockoff | Nick Madigan and Jonathan Rockoff,Sun reporters

Steve Centanni's neighbors are worried about him.

Shortly after the Fox News correspondent's abduction in Gaza Aug. 14, a sign went up in the lobby of his 200-unit apartment building in Washington asking residents to pray for his safe return.

"He's very popular, a very nice fellow," longtime tenant Jim Cooley said last night, adding that, unlike some of his neighbors, Centanni always took the trouble to say hello to everyone.

They all recognized the veteran reporter, Cooley said, when his photo appeared on TV with news of his kidnapping.

Centanni, 60, and his cameraman, Olaf Wiig, 36, remain in the hands of their abductors, who yesterday released a videotape of the pair and a statement that their freedom depends on the United States' freeing all Muslim prisoners in its custody.

Reached at his home in San Jose, Calif., Ken Centanni, one of the reporter's six siblings, said he was still trying to formulate a response to the barrage of media inquiries he has received since the kidnappers' demand was made public.

In the meantime, he declined to respond to questions.

But in an interview he gave a few days ago to the Mercury News in his hometown, Ken Centanni said that covering stories like the unrest in the Middle East is his brother's passion.

"This is what he is all about," Ken Centanni said. "You can't keep him away from this stuff."

Another brother, Nicholas Centanni, said in the same Mercury News article that when Steve Centanni left for his first assignment in Israel, he was excited: "He thought this would be a safer place than going to Iraq."

In Iraq, Centanni, who has been with the Fox News Channel since 1996, was the first television correspondent to report from the building where Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, were killed after a gun battle with soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in July 2003, the Fox News Web site says.

Centanni was the first to report that the United States had captured two oil terminals off Iraq's coast, preventing them from being blown up by the Iraqis, the site says. He also reported from Afghanistan and on hostilities between Pakistani and Indian troops in Kashmir.

Along the way, Centanni gathered a few fans. Jed Babbin, a contributing editor at The American Spectator and a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the first President George Bush's administration, expressed his admiration for Centanni in a column on National Review's Web site in March 2003:

"It's time for me to admit something. I'd give significant parts of my anatomy to change places with a young guy named Steve Centanni. He's a Fox News reporter embedded with the Navy SEALs, running up and down Iraq with some of the smartest, toughest and most skilled adrenaline junkies in the history of warfare."

Wiig, the freelance cameraman, is a native of New Zealand. His personal Web site says he lives in Sussex, England, and is based in London.

He has worked on TV documentaries in Britain and New Zealand, as well as on television commercials. A decade ago, he was technical director of a children's TV channel in New Zealand.

Anita McNaught, Wiig's wife, who is also a television journalist, joined Palestinian journalists last week in appealing for the men's release, the Los Angeles Times reported.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com jonathan.rockoff@baltsun.com

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