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The Power—and the Risk—of the Pen

October 31st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

lydia-cacho.gif
Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho

Last night I went to an event called the Courage in Journalism Awards
where the International Women’s Media Foundation honored eight women journalists who have risked everything to report the truth they saw around them.

Since awards nights like this inevitably function also as fundraisers, the affair was suitably glitzy, featuring a dinner held in one of the ballrooms at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with actresses Meg Ryan and Angelina Jolie somewhat incongruously introducing several of the awardees. Yet none of the Hollywood flash could obscure the heart of what took place.

The women celebrated included a fresh-faced 27-year-old Ethiopian
reporter and newspaper publisher named Serkalem Fasil, who was arrested, beaten and charged with treason for criticizing the government’s conduct in the 2005 parliamentary elections (she has since been released).

Also honored was a particularly remarkable Mexican woman journalist
named Lydia Cacho who now is followed everywhere by four bodyguards because of the very credible threats made against her after she wrote a meticulously documented book alleging that certain wealthy and prominent Mexican politicians and businessmen were pedophiles involved in a ring of child pornography and prostitution. (Her description of things confided in her by some of the six and seven year old little girls who are among the victims made it clear why she does the work despite the risk.)

Yet, the most vivid moment of the night
was when the award was presented to six Iraqi women journalists who work in the Baghdad bureau for McClatchy news service.

Right now Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for reporters. 32 journalists and staff have been killed last year alone. Since the beginning of the war in 2003, 153 reporters and news personnel have been killed—80 percent of those Iraqis. Yet, still women like these six who continue to go the places that the Americans and the rest of the international news corps can’t go, and do the bring back the interviews and stories that the Americans and the internationals can’t touch.

We were forbidden to photograph the Iraqi women,
four of whom were present at the dinner, because if anyone in Baghdad got hold of the photos their lives and the lives of their families would be in grave danger. One of them has already had her husband, daughter and mother-in-law killed by insurgents. A second woman was herself nearly killed by an IED. A third, Sahar Issa, has had her son killed in a crossfire, her nephew killed in a market bomb.

Here’s a fragment of what Issa wrote for a McClatchy story about the experience:

“We were asked to send the next of kin to whom the remains of my nephew, killed on Monday in a horrific explosion downtown, can be handed. From the waist down was all they could give us. ‘We identified him by the cell phone in his pants’ pocket. If you want the rest, you will just have to look for yourself. We don’t know what he looks like.’ Now begins the horror that surpasses anything I could have possibly envisioned.” – Sahar Issa

It was Issa, a head-scarved woman with an elegant bearing, who acted as the spokesperson for the other three when they stood up to accept the award:

“We live double lives,” she said….

“My children must lie about my profession. Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again – today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.

“I smile as I give my children hugs
and send them off to school; it’s only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.

“So why continue? Why not put down my pen and sit back? It’s because I’m tired of being branded a terrorist. Tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all in the eyes of the world. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless.

“I have pledged my life
, and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are—ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations—and not what we have been portrayed to be.

“Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, to reach out. Help us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even though the war has cast a dark shadow upon your nation and mine. It is not too late.”

After Issa stopped speaking, there was a loud, long and raucous standing ovation, with many damp eyes among the scores of journalists and editors in the room .

Yet, as everyone streamed out of the ballroom
and raced to shove their claim tickets into the hands of the uniformed guys at valet parking, it was unclear if the emotions behind the teary faces would last long enough to trigger some kind of surge of greater courage on the part of any of the American press present. Or whether last night was just another nice, poignant, but easily forgotten evening at the Hotel California.

*******************************************************************************************

PS: When I finally made it home from Beverly Hills
, turned on a Tivo’d recording of the Democratic debate and heard Tim Russert ask Dennis Kucinich and Barak Obama about space aliens, followed by Brian Williams questioning Obama about what he’d be wearing for Halloween….I did not consider it a hopeful sign. (And I see, neither does blogfather, Marc Cooper, who sat directly to my right.)

Posted in Free Speech, War | 28 Comments »

28 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    What O’Bama will wear on Halloween–a mask of a timid, rookie, left-wing politician. Shows no originality.
    http://www.forbes.com/static_html/halloween/2007/barackobama.html

    I appreciate honoring these women, but I suspect a lot more men have put their lives at risk in reporting than women. Why do you have to have awards that exclude others? Last night probably was just another feel-good banquet for the Hollywood and L.A. left.

    I might disagree with this statement: Right now Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for reporters. Aren’t there other places so dangerous that reporters don’t even try?

    Don’t you hate valet parking? I do.

  2. Randy Paul Says:

    Here’s a statistical review from the Committee to Protect Journalists on journalists killed for their work from 1/1/92 to 10/18/07.

    Iraq places first in the number of journalists killed while on duty by double the next highest country, Algeria. Here is their methodology:

    CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case “confirmed” only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents—such as car or plane crashes—unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire).

    We include only confirmed cases in our database and in the statistical analysis above.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  3. richard locicero Says:

    Of course none of them have seen or been abducted by UFOs. (H/T to Marc Cooper)

  4. maggie Says:

    Whenever I hear about or meet journalists like this through similar organiations, it is a stark reminder that writing is a political and dangerous act just by virtue of picking up a pen and shining it on a dark corner. I’m also especially perturbed by similar reports out of Mexico, including murder of journalists who pursue such stories about powerful people, from politicians to drug dealers (little difference sometimes) since with our huge local Hispanic population, our local politicians often play up our “cultural similarities and continuity” during countless festivals and feel-good events, but never, ever acknowledge the depths of corruption and lack of respect for first amendment rights that they vociferously demand for their citizens here. It would be nice if they had the guts to call the kettle black sometimes, as a real basis for moving forward in relations.

    (Meanwhile, the Dems just had to choose this delicate time to call out Turkey over the Armenian genocide. Yes, that was one of history’s horrible and shamefully covered-up events, but going back in that part of the world, there are other countries with grievances against the Turks, too. It’s sometimes a case of how many cans of worms one wants to dig up, and when.)

    Mexico is a contemporary can of worms — which makes it althemore relevant, and hence, apparently untouchable.

  5. maggie Says:

    ric, you’ll have to ask kucinich about the ufo’s. Gotta hand it to him, though — admitting a sighting in the middle of the dem debate last night. At least he can’t be accused of needing a two-faced mask tonight, like Hilary or Romney — or all the rest of them, actually.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Woody…

    I hereby confer upon you the Silliest Criticism of the Month Award (a non-gender-specific prize).

    Why women? Because the organization giving the awards is the International Women’s Media Foundation—meaning it specifically supports women working in media. PEN USA gives a similar award (our big dinner is next week)…to men AND women. And why would that be? Because it’s not an organization with “Women” in its title and/or mission statement.

    And, yes, I do hate valet parking.

    Maggie, you’d have loved the Mexican woman, Lydia Cacho. She was unbelievably moving and inspiring. (And a stone babe.) Among other things, she read excerpts from some of her interviews with these abused little girls. I originally intended to write about her, but then the Iraqi women got the last Courage award and blew the room away. Actually, with your comment as motivation, after I have another cup of coffee, I’ll see if I can slip one of her quotes into the post in an update.

  7. Woody Says:

    Woody: Aren’t there other places so dangerous that reporters don’t even try?

    Randy: Iraq places first in the number of journalists killed…. Draw your own conclusions.

    Of course, Randy, in his on-going feeble attempts to contradict me with “facts” when he has nothing to add of substance, which is always, fails to notice that my question, notice “question,” implied that there may be more dangerous places with fewer deaths only because journalists recognize the greater danger and won’t even report from there or the media doesn’t desire as heavy of coverage from those areas as it does in Iraq. Randy’s methodology considers total deaths rather than the rate of deaths, which is the best indicator.

    Here’s a possibility and a sample:

    UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 (IPS) – Sri Lanka, which is fighting a longstanding insurgency against Tamil separatists, is fast gaining notoriety as “one of the world’s worst places” both for journalists and humanitarian aid workers — due primarily to a rising death toll and veiled threats from government and paramilitary forces in the country.

    Randy, quit your continued nit-picking, inconsequential, and always refutable attempts to show that I am wrong. Don’t make Celeste put on her “mother” cap and come chew you out, again. Stick to the topic. Sheesh.

    = = =

    Thank you, Celeste, for the silly criticism award. I cherish it. Keep it on the shelf for me, because I’ll be back to claim it at the next banquet which only honors black journalists. In turn, I’ll let you complain when some honored organization of only men specifically excludes women from awards. Oh, wait, those aren’t politically correct, so that may not happen. It’s hard to tell the difference between a high number of sissy and emotional male journalists from their female counterparts, anyway, so the women have victory of sorts then, too.

    I think the next justice article should be about eliminating valet parking.

  8. Woody Says:

    BTW, I didn’t mean to take away from the good work and risks of the honorees. They do deserve congratulations.

    Another justice article suggestion: Why didn’t Celeste win something for her posts covering the bars and bear habitats of the west?

  9. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    If you think that it was me that Celeste was chewing out before, perhaps you should write her and ask. As I recall, she did not specify any names.

    Woody, all the hostility and bile here is coming from your side. You made a claim, I provided additional information – on topic -from the most highly regarded organization in the world on the subject. If you had bothered to look at the totals for each of the years, you would have learned that with the exception of one journalist’s death in 1994, all of the deaths in Iraq have come after the US invasion.

    Woody, I have made a point in being civil to you over here. If you do not want to have me or someone else dispute your contentions, then you shouldn’t make them.

    Until such time as Celeste boots me out, I will contribute my thoughts here. I will also be civil. I suggest that you afford me the same courtesy.

  10. Woody Says:

    WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS COMMENT. IT IS OFF TOPIC AND IS ONLY TO RESPOND TO A (UNINTELIGIBLE)CHO.

    Randy, not everything has to do with Iraq, and your death statistics of Iraq vs. other countries is like trying to compare crime statistics of New York City to Wedowee, Alabama. Absolute numbers would be higher for NYC, but the crime rates per thousand may reveal something else. Further, your disproportionate response to a side question just shows your real intent of one-up gamesmanship. Either you just don’t get it or you just don’t care.

    Actually, I complained to Celeste after someone, it may have been LA Resident, went to Marc’s site attacking me and linking to a remark of mine on Celeste’s site–after I quit commenting at Marc’s. So, next thing, here you and others come to pick fights. That’s really civil. I responded, as I did here, but it’s one thing to let you say something stupid vs. another thing to say something stupid simply to try to falsely make me look bad.

    Give it a rest.

    NOW, RESUME REGULAR READING.

  11. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    I also complained to Celeste. I have been civil to you. Do not call me stupid.

    Either you just don’t get it or you just don’t care.

    It’s also possible that I don’t accept your characterization of my remarks nor do I feel my response was disproportionate.

    If you feel a need to indulge in attempted character assassination when someone has the temerity to disagree with your claims, then you shouldn’t make them.

    I have responded to you courteously and factually. If you can’t afford me a similar response, then that is an issue with which you will have to find a way to deal.

  12. Woody Says:

    So, Randy*, will you civililly and honorably admit that your factual information did not address my question and was misleading? You should.

    As I revealed, yours was a false implied conclusion based upon correct but incomplete data. It’s about your numbers vs. the appropriate rates. Also, even rates can be distorted if reporters have the good sense to stay away from bad areas where they are threatened by foreign governments. If you don’t understand it now, you never will. We may just have to put an asterisk by your comments.

    Finally, will you let me know why that side issue was so important to make a big deal over it?

    Civilly yours,

    W

    *Commenter may not grasp all issues.

  13. Randy Paul Says:

    *Commenter may not grasp all issues.

    Just can’t help yourself, can you?

    Woody,

    In the last two years more than half of the deaths throughout the world noted by the CPJ have occurred in Iraq.

    Please read your penultimate paragraph in your comment #1:

    I might disagree with this statement: Right now Iraq is the most dangerous place in the world for reporters. Aren’t there other places so dangerous that reporters don’t even try?

    You brought up the issue. I addressed it with some facts.

  14. Woody Says:

    Sorry, Celeste. I’ll ignore Randy*, even when what he says is wrong.

    I see that Marc Cooper went to the same event and commented on it at his site today. (This is not an attempt to send people over there.) He was being sarcastic, but a lot of people with no sense of humor might miss that. Did you sit with him?

    How does Linda Cacho afford four body guards?

    Speaking of courage, I rarely see journalists say anything negative about Islam as it relates to terrorism. No courage there.

    Do you believe in UFO’s? That issue may make or break who gets my vote. I think Al Gore may be an alien.

    *Commenter may not grasp all issues.

  15. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    I call your attention to this comment by Celeste:

    Enough. Attack issues and/or opinions, not individual people.

    Out of respect for Celeste and the readers of this blog, stop this:

    Randy*

    *Commenter may not grasp all issues.

    Now.

  16. Dr. Phil Says:

    “Woodyliberalphobia” ;

    A strange new psychopathology recently discovered by researchers from the Center for Disease Control, Washington DC. This new phobia mimics the more common and well known psychopathic disorders such as paranoid schizophrenia, delusions of grandeur and uncontrollable feelings of persecution and over suspiciousness.

    The primary symptom of this new neurosis is conducting a furious unrelenting assault by computer against multiple unseen and unknown foes. Some of the foes are Reg, Randy Paul, Richard LoCicero, PoPloCk, and of course the newest guest to this blog, the handsome, highly esteemed and witty L.A. resident. :wink:

    Another symptom of “Woodyliberalphobia” is an extreme paranoia and fear of Hillary Rodham Clinton and at to view her as the anti-Christ or reincarnation of the devil.

    When encountering a person suffering from “Woodyliberalphobia”, it is best to ignore such individuals, unless you which to be subjected to personal “argumentum ad hominem” attacks.

  17. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Let me settle this argument then let’s move on. It’s getting ridiculous again.

    Yes, Sri Lanka is high on the Most Dangerous list, so is Mexico, and surprisingly, the Philippines. And, in answer to your question, Woody, there’s no place that I can think of where people don’t even try. They may go underground with their work, or flee to neighboring countries, then publish or broadcast from there, but there is something about the human spirit that continues to say NO to the tyrants who would try to shut down the expression of free thought.

    Yet, however you want to frame it, Iraq continues to top every list of the organizations that monitor such things: Reporters sans Frontieres, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and so on. It is dangerous for international journalists, but far and away more dangerous for those Iraqis who are trying to report on the country they love.

    The most recent death—the kidnapping and murder of Iraqi editor, Shehab Mohammad al-Hiti—took place this past Sunday.

    http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=24480&Cr=Iraq&Cr1=

    P.S.: And, Woody, please put your gun down. Honestly, from a neutral perspective, since I have no dog in this fight and am very fond of both of you, I think if you’ll reread the thread from the beginning you’ll see that Randy has been civil and only argued with your point, not your person.

    PPS: I too wondered who pays for the bodyguards. But it seems like loads of people have ‘em in Mexico. Cheaper cost of labor. (And, yes, I sat next to Marc.)

    Okay, back to other deadlines.

  18. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Oh, dear. Dr. Phil got a comment in before I managed to post.

  19. Woody Says:

    Randy¹, you did not only not civilly answer my questions, you ignored them. Let’s try again.

    QUESTION 1: So, Randy, will you civilly and honorably admit that your factual information did not address my question and was misleading? You should.

    As I revealed, yours was a false implied conclusion based upon correct but incomplete data. It’s about your numbers vs. the appropriate rates. Also, even rates can be distorted if reporters have the good sense to stay away from bad areas where they are threatened by foreign governments. If you don’t understand it now, you never will. We may just have to put an asterisk by your comments.

    QUESTION 2: Finally, will you let me know why that side issue was so important to make a big deal over it?

    ¹No insult intended, but very sensitive

  20. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    To do so, I would have to accept your argument. As I don’t accept your argument, I have no response to it.

  21. Woody Says:

    Randy, well, you didn’t have the courtesy to say that. I will accept that you don’t accept my argument, which just proves why I suggested an asterisk.

    Celeste, if you had been putting up with Randy as long as I have and following his pattern, you would understand that his petty attacks are meaningless to the discussion but are simply his way of trying to pretend that he has some phony superiority, which he doesn’t and never will.

    Dr. Phil, the CDC is located in Atlanta–not Washington, D.C. Isn’t your comment an ad hominem attack in itself?

    The real Dr. Phil: My father used to say, you would worry less about what people think if you knew how little they did.

    Precisely.

  22. Jayna Byrd Says:

    Ad hominem (and untethered personal) attacks that will ruin your blog Part II:

    “feel-good banquet for the Hollywood and L.A. left.”

    “Randy, in his on-going feeble attempts”

    “contradict me with “facts” when he [Randy] has nothing to add of substance”

    “Randy, quit your continued nit-picking, inconsequential, and always refutable attempts”

    “Thank you, Celeste, for the silly criticism award”

    “hard to tell the difference between a high number of sissy and emotional male journalists from their female counterparts, anyway, so the women have victory of sorts then, too”

    “[Randy] Either you just don’t get it or you just don’t care.”

    “let you [Randy] say something stupid vs. another thing to say something stupid”

    “If you [Randy] don’t understand it now, you never will”

    “Commenter [Randy] may not grasp all issues.”

    “his [Randy's] petty attacks are meaningless to the discussion”

    “I think Al Gore may be an alien.”

  23. richard locicero Says:

    Randy you’ll have to forgive the Woodster as the news that Hillary will beat any and all GOP wannabees (latest polls) has to have seriously unhinged him. Also the fact that Atlanta will be dry in 45 days – according to news reports – means that his bourbon and branch days are severely limited.

  24. maggie Says:

    Ric, latest polls actually show that Rudy would beat Hilary right now, and that and the way the dem guys ganged up on her last night, catching her contradicting herself on what she thinks re: drivers’ licenses for illegals, has her at her lowest point in some time. (Though sorry, Woody, I think she’ll recover: as Biden said, Rudy’s sentence structure consists of Noun, Verb and something about 9/11… And the rest are too dull or not mainstream enough.)

    Anyway, which country is scariest for reporters isn’t necessarily a numbers game. Somalia — which is featured on the front page of Monday’s, 10/29 L A Times, is frightening because of the total lack of any governmental entity to turn to for help. The very name of the country, and its capitol Mogadishu, strike terror in the heart. Story leads off with a reporter getting a verbal threat: “Enjoy the last 3 hours of your life, take the time to say goodbye to your family.” I paraphrase from memory… The fate of reporters in Nigeria is really horrible, too. Anytime warlords with no semblance of a counterbalancing opposition or judiciary run a government, terrifies me most. Countries run by gangs with no conscience. This seems to happen mostly in Africa.

    In Iraq, the translators seem the most endangered: they are considered traitors for helping the foreigners, and many try to leave the country for their own safety. I think any U S or foreign media which uses them knowing this, should be prepared to offer assistance in getting them exit visas if necessary. Otherwise, I question the journalists’ ethics.

  25. Woody Says:

    Jayna Byrd, your very own comment is nothing but one big ad hominem. Think about it and consider the hypocrisy.

  26. Woody Says:

    rlc, this will upset you…even though the city water line runs past us, I’m on a private well system and we have enough water to last us months and months after everyone else has dried up. We are pretty smart and limit relying on government for much of anything. You guys just keep it up.

    = = =

    Thank you, Maggie. I made a simple off-handed question and it took comment after comment and attack after attack for anyone to acknowledge my intent and to see that there may be countries at least as dangerous, if not more so, as Iraq, for reporters to cover, until your comment. Was that because of stupidity or dishonesty or blindness on the part of those arguing? “Draw your own conclusions.”

    Danger is not measured in absolute numbers of deaths but in the potential for death. I assure you, there are a few neighborhoods in Atlanta where the risk of death are greater than for reporters in Iraq. The only reason that you don’t hear about that is because everyone has the good sense to stay out of those neighborhoods. Other countries just don’t have the coverage by the media because, for instance, there is nothing to be gained in the media’s left-wing attack against Bush by covering the attrocities in those areas–thus, the fewer numbers.

    Even Celeste avoided admitting that, but she did say that journalists might cover another nation’s problems from where?–another country for safety reasons. Without admitting it, that says a lot in my defense. It sure is hard for any liberal to say, “You know. You have a point. Maybe Iraq isn’t the worst place in the world and this isn’t a point that we need to stretch just to have a platform to attack Pres. Bush.”

    I wonder if life insurance companies charge lower premiums for a reporter inside of Somalia, that Clinton made safe from terrorists (sarcasm), than for a reporter inside of Iraq. I doubt it, but I’m sure that someone can find a semi-related but incomplete and non-conclusive study to start a fight over it.

    = = =

    I guess the subject of female journalists in “The Power-and the Risk-of the Pen” wasn’t important enough for others to discuss–when an another agenda presents itself. Pretty sad.

    “If you can somehow force a liberal into a point-counterpoint argument, his retorts will bear no relation to what you’ve said — unless you were in fact talking about your looks, your age, your weight, your personal obsessions, or whether you are a fascist. In the famous liberal two-step, they leap from one idiotic point to the next, so you can never nail them. It’s like arguing with someone with Attention Deficit Disorder.”Ann Coulter

    You don’t need a sack of hammers to shave a weasel.Dr. Phil’s Quote Generator

  27. Sharon R. Davis-Bell Says:

    Dear Celest, Strange as it may seem I happened upon this website when researching information on John Leone. (I dated his brother in 1978). And, it is rather ironic that this site, and you Celest are promoting women speaking out against injustice which is exactly what my book JUSTICE SERVED COLD does.
    Odd as it may sound there have been a few occasions in the recent past that I have given thought of contacting John to see if he would be interested in my story, since he is a director and his brother did play a brief (5 months)yet memorable part. And, yes, I am aware of Michael leaving this world. That too was devastating when Dartmouth informed me after attempting to locate Michael several years ago.
    If you are in fact good friends with John and would be so kind as to contact him with this information I will be forever grateful. Perhaps he will be interested in reading what I have written and find it worthy of support. All of the major law schools in the United States have downloaded my book and it has also drawn interest in Europe.
    I am residing in Aspen, Colorado, still single and poor in purse.
    Best Regards,
    Sharon

  28. Sharon R. Davis-Bell Says:

    Dear Celeste, Strange as it may seem I happened upon this website when researching information on John Leone. (I dated his brother in 1978). And, it is rather ironic that this site, and you Celeste are promoting women speaking out against injustice which is exactly what my book JUSTICE SERVED COLD does.
    Odd as it may sound there have been a few occasions in the recent past that I have given thought of contacting John to see if he would be interested in my story, since he is a director and his brother did play a brief (5 months)yet memorable part. And, yes, I am aware of Michael leaving this world. That too was devastating when Dartmouth informed me after attempting to locate Michael several years ago.
    If you are in fact good friends with John and would be so kind as to contact him with this information I will be forever grateful. Perhaps he will be interested in reading what I have written and find it worthy of support. All of the major law schools in the United States have downloaded my book and it has also drawn interest in Europe.
    I am residing in Colorado, still single and poor in purse.
    Best Regards,
    Sharon

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