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Mares: Reporter Murders

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
A video image of Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is played during an event to remember Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

In my first week as a cub police reporter in Chicago, when I called in to ask the night editor, Arnold Dornfeld, “What do you have for me?" he replied with drill-instructor like scorn: "Infinite contempt, chum!" It was my first taste of the methods he employed to terrorize us novices to get the facts right and to stoutly question authority. But of course, that was nothing compared to what journalists now face as they go about doing their jobs around the globe.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than thirteen hundred reporters have been killed in the line of duty since 1992 – with forty-two so far just this year - in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Mexico, and so on.

Some – like Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, Russian Anna Politkovskaya, and the Charlie Hebdo Magazine reporters in Paris – are now famous.

Most recently, journalists have died in places as seemingly unalike as a newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland and the Saudi embassy in Turkey.

In every case the offense is seeking out or speaking the truth without fear or favor, and conducting society's perilous work of calling out bad people and bad actions. Reporters shine their flashlights into dark places and dark minds at considerable peril to themselves.

Chicago-based author, writer and humorist, Finley Peter Dunne, has long been credited with saying that journalists must comfort the afflicted, but far more importantly they must afflict the comfortable.

And the Washington Post's slogan reminds us that "Democracy dies in darkness" – because there is indeed no independence of thought, truth, or political freedom without a free press.

It's outrageous to label the press "the enemy," rail against so-called "mainstream fake news," or praise anyone for physically assaulting a reporter.

We might want to remember the words of Henry Grunwald, a refugee from Hitler's terror, who became managing editor of Time Magazine, who wrote: Journalism can never be silent: That's it's greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echos of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air."


Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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