Islamic extremists yesterday posted a video purporting to show the beheading of GlobalPost.com photojournalist James Foley, a New Hampshire native in Syria nearly two years ago. U.S. intelligence is still not confirming the grizzly death as of 7 a.m. this morning, and GlobalPost CEO Phil Balboni has not yet confirmed the tragic event, said by ISIS terrorists to be retaliation for U.S. bombing in Northern Iraq. But Foley’s family, in a Facebook statement, reposted on GlobalPost, has “We have never been prouder of our son and brother Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people…”We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”
As Dan Kennedy points out in his Media Nation blog, it’s the journalists who go into combat zones at their own peril who are the true heroes of the profession. I couldn’t agree more.
The most dangerous thing I ever did as a journalist was criticize a politician or slam a government agency. Well, yes, throw in an occasional snipe at Whitey Bulger (albeit from a distance) or pounding the pavement at “grueling” national political conventions. The greatest risk to me was verbal attack or contempt, never physical danger. You don’t die from not being liked (something every journalist has to accept). And yet Foley and other wartime reporters and photographers have put themselves in jeopardy time and again, disregarding their personal safety to go into combat zones and bring us the true story.
This horrible news about Jim Foley brings back the beheading of Wall St. Journal reporters Danny Pearl, murdered in Pakistan 12 years ago. The Boston Globe’s outstanding correspondent Elizabeth Neuffer died in a car accident while covering Iraq a year later. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus was shot and killed in April in Afghanistan.
We remember the famous ones. Think Ernie Pyle in World War II. George Polk in the Greek Civil War. The AP, Time and Newsweek reporters killed following the story of the Vietnam War. But there are so many more. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists well over a thousand killed since 1992, in Iraq, the Philippines, Rwanda, Mexico and other countries around the world. They cover everything from war to human rights, politics to business. There’s little consolation that they died doing what they loved to do.
Every time we read a story from a war zone or from some far-flung government upheaval, we should remember those journalists who are daily putting their lives on the line to bring that story to us. The enduring truth is that we all owe then an enormous debt of gratitude.
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“Man is the cruelest animal” – Friedrich Nietzsche