Twelve years ago, the beheading of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl by al-Qaida jihadis in Pakistan reaffirmed the dangers of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places.
Caught up in the turbulent times just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pearl died at the hands of radical Islamists committed to violence against America and its closest allies. The ghastly manner in which he perished — a videotaped beheading — made it all the worse.
Twelve years later, two more American journalists have suffered similar fates — not by al-Qaida, but by the Islamic State, a nebulous group that claims to have established an Islamic Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq. James Foley, a reporter and videographer captured in Syria in 2012, was beheaded in August as retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State sites. On Tuesday, the world learned that another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, had also been beheaded.
Journalists have died in dangerous places for as long as newspapers and war correspondents have existed. Some left behind spectacular examples of reporting and photography — think Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist killed in the Pacific during World War II in 1945. Others have been lost to history, a statistic for those who document the risks journalists in war zones take.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 1,073 journalists have died, worldwide, since 1992. The deadliest places for journalists coincide with nations corrupted by war and unrest, and those whose governments turn a blind eye toward press freedoms.
The Islamic State governs neither a nation, state or recognized boundary. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA and White House official now at the Brookings Institution, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Islamic State “is far more difficult to deal with” than Iran or the militant group Hezbollah.
The group “wants to terrorize Americans, it’s not really interested in deals.”
We remind those who say journalists shouldn’t be in these places of extreme violence that despots, warlords and jihadis would act free of detailed scrutiny if this reporting was silenced.