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Friday, September 11, 2009

How many lives is a journalist worth?

The rescue of NY Times reporter Stephen Farrell from his kidnappers, and the death of four people in that rescue, is leading to a level of controversy that is making the NY Times a bit testy.

Bill Keller, the NY Times editor called the criticism “simplistic.”

"That Sultan and the soldier lost their lives in this episode is heartbreaking, and it's human nature to look for someone to blame, but to blame the journalist is simplistic at best."

“Simplistic” is one of those words beloved of the press, who use it as a catch-all phrase of criticism to anyone who disagrees with them, when they are not characterizing their ideological opponents as crazies.

For ordinary mortals not living at the Olympian Heights, we have to ask orselves to what extent lives should be risked for people who decide to deliberately put themselves at obvious risk.

Soldiers, police and firemen go to each other’s rescue all the time, it's part of the "code." Their job is to go where civilians are told to stay away. They go with the understanding that they, or their bodies, will be recovered as they go about jobs that – by definition – put them at risk of life and limb.

But what of reporters? Reporters may claim that they have to put themselves in danger from time to time. But their jobs are not – by definition – physically risky.

Then there is their self-described position as being above the fray. Unlike soldiers who rescue their comrades, reporters point with pride that they have distanced themselves from their country by claiming the mantle of impartiality and shunning allegiance to a particular society or culture. They have set themselves apart and yet – demand that when it comes to rescue they are suddenly part of us.

And when their search for a story puts them into an obvious place of physical danger, despite the fact that their story line was that “our side” are wanton, reckless killers, they whine when lives are lost and fingers are pointed that it was all a tragic episode and blaming the people who created the situation is “simplistic.”

Just how many lives of ordinary mortals is a “reporter’s” life worth? Perhaps Bill Keller will tell us.

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