Life, Death, Stories
I count many journalists among my friends and acquaintances.
They are, as a group, inquisitive, brave, open minded, and
often quite funny. Many of them seem to be powered through
their workdays by a special energy; journalism has been characterized
as a calling, and it appears to me that it really is a calling.
So the deaths of reporters and photojournalists in Iraq over
these past few days, breathtaking and sad, should make us
take stock of this profession- and what it means to everyone-
A free press is part of our culture, an element of our freedom
so deeply ingrained that we don't think about the alternative
until we observe it in other cultures. We revel in our ability
to criticize every element of our lives, to the point where
other societies think there's something wrong with us. We
can't really imagine what it would be like if one guy ran
all of American opinion; it simply is beyond our ken. In Iraq
this past week, people could actually express themselves honestly
about the government for the first time in more than 30 years,
and their sense of relief and joy was so palpable, it tumbled
right through the glass and onto our coffee tables as we watched
on TV. It was the joy in the realization of objective truth.
Not self-serving opinion, not political manipulation of truth
("There are no Americans in Baghdad!"). Just the
What we've been reminded of again is that people are willing
to risk everything for truth. The people who do it as war
correspondents clearly have chosen to be on the outer rim
of the profession, and we scratch our heads and are awed by
their courage. We can imagine the adrenaline rush, the opportunity
to see and make history, and we can think about how great
that must be. But I have friends in New York and Los Angeles
who have worn flack jackets to work-in New York and Los Angeles.
I know guys who have traveled back to the newsroom still smelling
of smoke from the wildfire they've been covering during the
day. I've worked in newsrooms that had to repair vans and
choppers that had been fired upon or trashed in civil disturbances.
This stuff doesn't happen every day, but it can happen on
any given day.
When I worked for NBC News in New York, there was a memorial
to the NBC crew killed at Jonestown in 1978. It was in the
waiting area for the elevators on the Sixth Avenue side of
30 Rock. The elevator doors would open and there it was, a
reminder, always a little startling and unexpected, of what
is at stake when a heavy hand is laid upon the truth. For
a moment, however brief, I'd find my self thinking about the
sacrifices, and not just the adventures, that happen in the
practice of journalism.
If it were up to me, there'd be a place in every newsroom
in America where we could find the names of all these amazing
people who have laid down their lives this way, and feel proud
to be in the same line of work as they were.