At a time when the media are regularly scorned, insulted by a president who wants to discredit them and considers them an “enemy of the American people,” it’s worth remembering that the work journalists do — keeping the world informed — can be dangerous.
That’s why this week McClatchy, the Miami Herald’s parent company, is marking five years since journalist Austin Tice went missing covering the civil war in Syria.
The company, which hired Tice as a freelance correspondent, raised a banner outside its corporate headquarters at The Sacramento Bee to honor the kidnapped newsman and draw attention to his plight. Tice’s family believes that, despite the fact no one has claimed to be holding him and no ransom demand has been made, Tice is alive. But where? Indications are he’s being held by a branch of the Syrian government, which has denied any involvement.
The banner, with a photo of Tice superimposed over the American flag, reads, “American Journalist Austin Tice … “Now is the time to bring him safely home. #FreeAustinTice.”
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McClatchy President and CEO Craig Forman, who in an article marking Tice’s capture, called the journalist’s disappearance “an unjust and senseless detention in Syria.” It is a timely indication that Tice and other journalists who have disappeared have not been forgotten.
Tice, 36, is believed to have gotten into a car headed toward Lebanon. He has not been seen since, except for the release of a 43-second video five weeks after his disappearance that was titled “Austin Tice is alive” and showed him being held by a group of armed men.
In the final days of the Obama administration, finding Tice become a U.S. government priority. But there’s only silence now. That’s unfortunate, and sends a perilous message.
“We at McClatchy want to tell you about him and other journalists who have risked and sometimes given their lives to bring us stories that would not otherwise be told. Some have been tortured. Several have been imprisoned. At least three were murdered — simply for doing their jobs,” the company said. And doing those jobs in dangerous parts of the world.
The best-known names include Steven Sotloff, who grew up in Miami-Dade, and Daniel Pearl. But there is also Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Michel Seurat, Jason Rezaian, and James Foley.
Pearl, a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, went to Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was investigating the alleged link between al Qaida and British citizen Richard Reid, commonly referred to as the failed shoe bomber.
On Jan. 23, 2002, on his way to what he thought was an interview, he was kidnapped. Nine days later, he was beheaded. A gruesome video was released on the internet.
Sotloff, an American-Israeli journalist who worked for Time magazine, CNN, Fox News and other outlets, was captured near the Syrian border on Aug. 14, 2013. A year later, ISIS released a video showing his murder.
And then there is Tice, a Marine Corps veteran who traveled to the Mideast, found media organizations to publish his work and made his way across the border into Syria. He focused largely on what the war meant for everyday citizens there.
Journalism is an honorable profession — and we don’t leave soldiers behind. At a time when the media are regularly scorned, it’s worth remembering their sacrifices.