I have always respected America’s soldiers, and it bothers me when a politician uses an event honoring veterans as an opportunity to attack reporters.
Nearly always, the patriot/politician will say our veterans fought and bled so that reporters could exercise their freedom to report on the war.
We fight wars for many laudable reasons: to protect ourselves and others against terrorism, end humanitarian crises, topple tyrants who make trouble for their neighbors and our allies, guarantee economic lifelines, and others. But to believe that our soldiers fight for the First Amendment, one would have to believe another country could defeat and conquer us, take over our government, suspend the Constitution and shut down the presses.
If you actually took a moment to think about it, there hasn’t been the remotest possibility of that happening since about 1812. Even during World War II, no one seriously thought Germany or Japan could take over the United States, even if they had won.
Journalists, on the other hand, do fight battles every day for your right to be informed, and sometimes they pay a heavy price.
If you want to know what life is like to be a reporter on the front lines of battle, read Charles Bracelen Flood’s book about Vietnam, “The War of the Innocents.”
While some reporters attended the “Five O’Clock Follies” to hear daily disinformation, others like Flood, David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan went with the warriors into battle, talked with captains and lieutenants and reported the truth.
Sometimes journalists’ careers suffer because of what they write or broadcast. Or they are jailed. Some die in the fighting.
Last year, according to Reporters Without Borders, 57 journalists died in the line of duty, and that number was lower than in previous years.
Often reporters are murdered. Last year, seven were killed in Colombia alone, and everyone remembers the tragic case of Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded by the Taliban.
Even those soldiers who survive suffer emotional trauma.
On the last night of the recent revolt in Egypt, Lara Logan, a veteran television correspondent for CBS News, was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Fortunately, she was rescued by some Egyptian women and soldiers, and last week was released from the hospital. But she’ll bear those scars the rest of her life.
A tough South African reporter whose career took off when she went to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to report for a British TV show, Logan routinely covers dangerous assignments. One of the most memorable was her reporting from Haifa Street in Baghdad, where the fighting was so intense CBS News at first refused to show it, but later aired it on “60 Minutes.”
It’s ironic that she was assaulted, not in the violence surrounding the uprising, but during the victory celebration that followed.
Logan’s experience, however, is typical of the growing risks reporters and photographers face.
“Journalists are seen less and less as outside observers,” said Reporters Without Borders in its ‘Freedom of Press Report 2010.’ Their neutrality and the nature of their work are no longer respected.”
They should, however, have our respect for the sacrifices they make to provide accurate, unbiased information that is essential to democracy work. And we should remember them the next time we hear some blowhard slander the reporters who tell the soldiers’ stories.
To learn more, visit the Committee to Protect Reporters’ website, http://www.cpj.org/