Two German journalists working for Deutsche Welle were shot by unknown persons in northern Afghanistan while camping in a tent overnight. Afghanistan is still a war zone no matter how many times the Bush administration trots out puppet Hamid Karzai (as if that act makes Afghanistan a civilized democratic republic).
Because of the conditions in Afghanistan, it is understandable that reporters can die while covering the war there. But what is one to think when a veteran war reporter is killed on the streets of her home town?
Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist who worked for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was known as a fierce critic of the rights abuses commited by Russian troops in Chechnya. Ms. Politkovskaya was found shot dead in an elevator at her apartment block in Moscow. The murder weapon was found at her side – a sign of a professional hit.
At least in America, the reporter who covers the story of US Marines in Iraq who murdered an Iraqi man and tried to plant evidence that the shooting was justified won't get killed for this reportage – yet – but I wouldn't hold out much hope for the Navy Corpsman testifying against these Marines, even if the Navy has already transferred him to another base.
That is itself a topic for another post.
Here in America, reporters and other publishing staff still suffer consequences for their story reporting, even if death isn't likely to be on the list. For instance, Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey Johnson has been forced to resign by the Tribune Co., owner of the Times, after publicly supporting a published protest by Times Editor Dean Baquet against the additional staff cuts demanded by Tribune.
Johnson stood up for what is right for his staff, and it cost him his job. He shows an integrity which is all too rare in American journalism today.
So does Jesus Diaz Jr., now ex-publisher of the Miami Herald, who resigned after three reporters (fired for conflict of interest after it was discovered that they were being paid by Radio Marti, a US government-run propaganda broadcasting entity) were to be rehired. He believes the journalists' acceptance of these payments "was a breach of widely accepted principles of journalistic ethics."
We can also point to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann as having such integrity, for he is one of a very few working in the mainstream media to put his lucrative career on the line when he points out that Bush would sell America out to preserve GOP power.
The pressure campaign against MSNBC to convince them to muzzle Olbermann is underway, with Time Magazines' media reporter attempting to appear "balanced" by blaming MSNBC's competitor Fox for Olbermann's "wacky" reporting, as if that is going to register with Fox broadcaster (and Republican Party media asset) Roger Ailes and induce Fox to balance out their – as Time's James Poniewozik opines – blatantly rightward tilt to aid the effort to rid the Republicans of Olbermann's observations.
One thing of which Olbermann can be assured: he won't suffer the fate of Reuters reporter Taras Protsyuk, a Ukranian covering the Iraqi war. He died on April 8, 2003 after an American tank fired at the Palestina Hotel in Baghdad, allegedly to eliminate an alleged Iraqi target.
About 100 international journalists were widely known to be staying in the Palestine Hotel at the time of the attack, so clearly this was a warning to the international media not to get too close to the real story of the US invasion of Iraq. At least that incident has the cover of an active war, communications ambiguity, and the vast Army command and control structure in which to bury liability.
That isn't the case with the Navy Corpsman I cite above, nor with the Marines who murdered and raped in Haditha. Those two incidents involve smaller groups, so if anything happens as it did to Politkovskaya to those witnesses whose testimony leads to conviction of the perpetrators, the list of suspects isn't necessarily very big.
While there have been suspicious 'suicides' involving US reporters, such as Gary Webb (who suffered the destruction of his reputation and employment prospects when "the major news outlets focused on attacking Webb or less relevant parts of the story, leaving Webb's thesis largely intact"), few American reporters have suffered Politkovskaya's fate since Denver radio host Alan Berg was murdered by white supremacists.
Thankfully, today that doesn't seem to be a likely future for domestic American reporters who cross powerful interests – yet. But as more Olbermanns and Johnsons and Diazes emerge from behind the screen of corporate control over free speech, can we be sure that it won't?
With the Bush Administration insisting that Congress confirm their assertions that they can torture prisoners in complete disregard for the Geneva Conventions, and can declare that American citizens are enemy combatants at will and without judicial review, can we be sure that government torture and terrorism won't emerge in the United States?
It did in so many countries whose leaders were taught by the top secret School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) to conduct torture and terrorism of political opponents in order to maintain power in their homelands. Media figures were often the subjects of such "control" by government agents.
There is every reason, especially with the Foley scandal damaging Republican voter support, to believe that the power whores who infest the White House just might decide to turn to such efforts, efforts of which they have demonstrated at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo that they are perfectly willing to exert – and they would also start with the eyes and ears of the people, the media.
They would prefer such a consequence to those they themselves would face if they lose power to an angry opposition.
"The duty of [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees in the reality. I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job… and I cannot stop because it's my duty." Anna Politkovskaya