Marie Colvin was killed in Homs today just a week after another one of America and the world’s best journalists, Anthony Shadid, was lost.
It is a reminder of the painful number of journalists killed each year while working and the importance of ensuring greater safety for these journalists. Journalists as forces for potential subversion are at greater threat; Al Jazeera bureaus in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed during the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, with AJ Arabic journalists at the Kabul bureau warned by US commanders to evacuate. The now Al Jazeera – and then BBC – correspondent Rageh Omaar believes they were deliberate attacks by the US, having witnessed both.
There is also a reminder about the responsibility journalists have. As a reporter for the Sunday Times, Colvin still managed to tell the story of the victim more than most. Ann Leslie at the Mail has managed to do the same as have John Simpson or Paul Mason at the BBC – even with the faults of those particular outlets. It’s easy to set particular papers or outlets up as having a monopoly on truth. The most dangerous thing media does when proclaiming an unbiased attitude is to conflate neutrality and objectivity. Martha Gellhorn – Colvin’s idol – said objective reporting meant reporting exactly what you see and hear in front of you, even if ideologically biased. When reporting from Dachau she didn’t document the horror by saying “On the other hand” – she would ask generals at press conferences “Why did you kill so many people then lie about it?”
There is a greater degree of truth to be found, especially in war reporting, in embedding yourself with people rather than politicians or generals. Great journalists don’t have to conform to Gellhorn’s leftism in order to see they are most objective by holding truth to power rather than acting as de facto spokespeople. In Colvin’s words, “My job is to bear witness. I have never been interested in knowing what make of plane had just bombed a village or whether the artillery that fired at it was 120mm or 155mm.”
Marie Colvin lived in such a Gellhorn-like tradition with tremendous pity but not sentimentality for the victims of war and thus a genuine commitment to the idea that reporting truth to power can curtail suffering.