Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Heroic and irreplaceable journalists die

Within one week the world has lost three of its best, in the line of duty. Today, the revered American journalist Marie Colvin, working for The Times of London, was killed in Homs, Syria, along with the prize-winning photographer Remi Ochlik. Less than a week ago, the journalistic community mourned Antony Shadid, the Lebanese-American who suffered a fatal asthmatic attack brought on by allergies to the horses that transported him and Tyler Hicks, the famous New York Times photographer, after they secretly crossed through barbed wire into forbidden Syria.

Antony Shadid, a Lebanese-American, was, by all accounts, one of a kind. He was fluent in Arabic, deeply immersed in the culture of the Middle East, and a writer with an almost poetic gift. Many said, at the time of his death, that he understood the nuances of Arabic life better than any other English-language journalist now writing. He was young, only 43, and left a wife and two young children. At his memorial service in Beirut, Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, recalled Mr. Shadid’s words: “He wrote something that is incredibly moving and true. He wrote: ‘No one really knows the script for days like these, and neither did we.’”

Mr. Ochlik, in his late 20s, had covered wars and upheaval in Haiti, Congo and the Middle East, and had won one of the most coveted awards for photography. His colleagues explained that he was uniquely able to tell stories with his photographs. Ms. Colvin, 55, was a veteran of many conflicts from the Middle East to Chechnya and from the Balkans to Iraq and Sri Lanka, where she lost an eye covering a civil war. She wore a distinctive black eyepatch. She also had won many awards for her work. She did not like being called a "war correspondent," insisting that what she was interested in was the human story.

Jon Snow, an anchor for Channel 4 News in Britain, which interviewed Ms. Colvin from Homs on Tuesday evening, called her “the most courageous journalist I ever knew and a wonderful reporter and writer.” She was also interviewed by the BBC, recounting how she had watched a child die in Homs. “ I watched a little baby die today. Absolutely horrific, just a 2-year-old,” she said.
Karl Barth regularly included journalists in his prayers. The best of them are not muck-rakers, but truth-seekers. I belong to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is a world-wide organization of reporters (and their supporters) who work hard to defend their colleagues--but their best, as we learned again this week, was not enough for three of their most luminous stars.

For more on this subject, see the recent column by the estimable reporter Clyde Haberman: