Editorial: Fallen Heroes5/14/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Technology has made it so easy to get footage of
unrest around the globe into the nation’s living
rooms—and trains, planes, cars, cabs and coffee
shops—that it allows us to forget sometimes how
difficult and dangerous it actually is for those
whose content rides that magic carpet.
Satellites, the Web and digitization have made the speed and reach of newsgathering
a modern marvel of, generally speaking, great efficiency. We can see
the tanks roll, but without the people who risk their lives to use that technology
to educate, inform and move us, it is only, to paraphrase Ed Murrow,
bits and bites in a box.
We were reminded of that last week, in a reflective period between the celebration
of World Press Freedom Day (May 3) and the May 14 ceremony honoring
the journalists killed in the line of duty over the past year. In a sense, there’s
no way that ceremony could ever get enough press, not only for viewers and
video-accessors who have come to take the 24/7 news cycle and instant access
to unrest, violence and strife abroad—or at home—as a given, but with every
bean counter poring over an expense report of a reporter who this week may be
covering Cannes and next week might be asked to put themselves in the line of
fire somewhere else around the globe.
As if we needed another reminder of this, and we don’t, it came this past February
with the death of Marie Colvin, the famed Sunday Times reporter who was
killed covering the Syrian conflict. Ironically, Colvin had only hours before appeared
on CNN to talk about the civilian victims—particularly the children—of
the shelling there.
Her death brought total recall to the cost of that “easy” access to stories that
can change hearts and minds.
And there are more, far too many more, casualties, from dozens of other countries.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have died
in the line of duty so far this year, including a half-dozen in Syria.
CPJ lists another 14 journalists who were killed, circumstances unclear, and
there are many more who have been injured or intimidated.
On May 14, the Newseum in Washington will rededicate its journalist memorial
with the addition of new names to its wall of honor—a wall that already
includes David Kaplan of ABC, killed by a sniper while covering wars in
Yugoslavia in 1992; George Polk of CBS, who died in Greece in 1948 while
covering a civil war there; Larry Greene of WCBS-TV New York, who was killed
in a helicopter crash in the Middle East in 2002 while covering United Nations
sanctions on Iraq; NBC cameraman Robert Brown, killed in an ambush during the
Jonestown massacre in 1978; and The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, executed by
Pakistani terrorists in 2002.
It would be comforting to think there will be a time when no names are added
to the wall, but that would be unrealistic. As long as there are conflicts or breaking
stories that need to be told, there will be casualties. And as long as journalists
are willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to tell those stories, they too
run the risk of being counted among the fallen heroes.